For me, there is almost nothing more sensational than a well-prepared mushroom. Pureed into a creamy soup or pate, grilled like a burger, roasted until crispy, or straight up raw and dipped in hummus – I have yet to meet a mushroom I didn’t like. These earthy, hearty growths have a long, rich culinary history. From the prized morel to the humble button mushroom, no other fungus (that I can think of, anyway) has been so celebrated.
From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are a knockout. They’re dense and filling, yet extremely low in calories. They are low in sodium, cholesterol free, fat free, and packed with potassium, niacin, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B. Best of all, the profoundly rich umami flavor makes them intensely more satisfying than other competing vegetables (although mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables). Sure, eating an entire bowl of lettuce will fill you up, and sure, you won’t be packing in any extra calories or fat, but does a head of romaine really satisfy the palate, and the stomach, the way a bowl of grilled mushrooms does?
No. The answer is no.
Since moving to New York, three restaurants in particular have impressed me with their mushroom masterpieces. So much so, I couldn’t pick just one to write about, or just one dish to recommend. Here’s my round-up of the best spots in New York to order up this mouth-watering morsel.
Saxon + Parole
316 Bowery, New York, NY [NoHo]
Truth be told, my first bite from this restaurant was actually on the rooftop of the JetBlue headquarters in Long Island City. They were serving up Mushroom Pate with pickled mushrooms and whiskey jelly on their housemade sourdough bread. It was unseasonably warm, beautiful, and I was enjoying an early taste of what the JetBlue Mint Experience would be offering on their tapas-style menu. Chef Brad Farmerie, of Saxon + Parole, has been largely responsible for designing this upscale, in-flight menu. And so, after dipping into the pot for seconds, I immediately made a reservation to try his restaurant.
On Friday night, Saxon + Parole was offering a special appetizer: a housemade burrata with truffles and truffle oil. The dish came with the added treat of tableside presentation. Our waiter came with a truffle, one of the most-prized of all fungi, and a truffle shaver. For audience participation, we simply told him when to stop.
A Little Note: Under no other circumstance could I have included this dish as as LWB-recommendation. It wasn’t vegan, it wasn’t gluten-free, and it certainly wasn’t low-fat, low-cal, or light. But honestly, when you’re sharing an appetizer with four of your most voracious family members, and there is a ball of cheese covered in coveted truffle shavings and truffle oil, how can you say no? You can’t. And you should not.
In addition to the pot of mushroom pate I had first sampled at the JetBlue Mint event, my family and I also ordered a side of the creamy polenta, which came in a rustic, cast-iron pot and was filled through with wild mushrooms and corn.
Petrarca Cucina E Vino
34 White St., New York, NY [TriBeCa]
The following day, my parents and I met in TriBeCa for lunch, and the mushroom-madness continued.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a pretty tremendous fan of mushroom soup. And yet I can’t recall having ever in my life ordered a bowl or purchased a can. Instead, I’ve reserved myself to stealing bites from my unfortunate dining-companions.
Cream of mushroom soup has more or less taken one of nature’s most unique, earthy flavors – one of the most naturally healthy, low-calorie substances – and covered it with cream and butter until it is almost unrecognizable.
That’s why when my father ordered Petrarca‘s Zuppa Del Giorno, a mushroom soup, I was skeptical. But when the large, shallow bowl arrived at the table, it was all I could do to keep from eating the entire dish. Unlike any mushroom soup I have ever seen before, this one was made with a clear broth, and was thick with large slices of mushrooms – porcini, cremini, and white (to name a few). After chatting with our waiter, coincidentally the son of Petrarca‘s chef-owner, we confirmed that the soup was entirely cream-free. Mushroom soup the way it should be.
For myself, I ordered an egg-white scramble with zucchini, onion, and mushroom. The dish was perfectly prepared, and the sweetness of the onion and zucchini was just the right balance to the earthy mushrooms. Already full on my father’s soup, I was thrilled to take half of the large entree home for breakfast the following morning.
31 Cornelia St., New York, NY [West Village]
In general, I avoid returning to the same restaurant more than once, because it’s not as if New York City has any shortage of places to dine.
And yet after only living here for just over three months, I have already returned to Pó twice. On both occasions, I ordered the Grilled Portobello Insalata. This dish gives you two thick, grilled portobello mushroom caps on a bed of arugula with shaved parmesan. And because one mushroom cap has approximately 30 calories, there’s no reason not to eat both if your appetite is large enough (even grilled with butter or oil, this dish is still incredibly light for a main course.)
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a number of mushroom-centric dishes in New York. At The Coffee Shop, a Brazilian diner in Union Square, the kitchen transformed their portobello sandwich special, with bell pepper and onions, into a salad not unlike the one I love from Pó.
My friend and I also split their taco special, with portobello and enoki mushrooms, caramelized onions, and zucchini. Yet because neither of these are consistently available, and because both had much less-healthy preparations than the previously mentioned dishes (think, a little-too-greasy and a little-too-much-queso-blanca) The Coffee Shop just didn’t make the mushroom-mark.
Finally, I’d like to note three Boston mushroom dishes that have not yet met a NY match. The Crispy Wild Mushroom side dish from Deuxave was worth every dollar (all thirteen) and has lingered with me since I first wrote about Deuxave a little over a year ago.
The Seasonal Mushroom Timbale with fontina and baby spinach, from my old neighborhood favorite, Bricco Ristorante, is still the most beautifully-plated mushroom meal I have seen to date.
And finally, the Setas Al Ajillo, (pictured at top) or Sauteed Portobello Mushroom tapas from Tapeo, also a past LWB feature, is everything a mushroom should be. A straight up, giant bowl of honest-to-mushroom-goodness.
Because I clearly can’t contain my mushroom madness, this week, LWB gets a bonus post. It’s been a little too long since a double dip, don’t you think? Check back soon for my healthy interpretation of one of these spectacular “champignons” of the mushroom.