Chef Michael Lomonaco Taste-Tests Macarons at Home, Eats Pig-Brain Croquettes at Atera
Though Porter House's Michael Lomonaco runs one of the city's most popular steak houses, he's no carnivore. Aside from the obligatory meat tasting, he actually eats super healthily. "My wife is a pescatarian, so I tend to mirror what she eats," he says. This week, that included quinoa risotto and beet juice. Of course, it's not all vegan this, gluten-free that for a man who spends the bulk of his time in a kitchen that serves up Cowboy Rib Steaks and Lamb T-Bone chops. "January and February are restaurant catchup months for me," he says. "I go to see what new openings I missed during the later fall and December months, when I'm too busy." 2012 was particularly hectic for him with the opening of Center Bar, his small-plates-centric restaurant, but Lomonaco makes up for lost time by hitting Resto, Cascabel Taqueria, and Atera. Read all about his admiration for Matthew Lightner's vegetable dishes and what it's like to dine at your own restaurant in this week's New York Diet.
Friday, January 18
I’m an early riser, and breakfast is my chance to try to keep it healthy, if I can. I started today with steel-cut oatmeal and maple syrup that I picked up at a farm stand in upstate New York, where I have a house. I also had coffee and juice.
A bowl of oatmeal will hold me off for a while, so lunch was really light: a small taste of the soup of the day at Porter House, Manhattan clam chowder. I followed that up a half an hour later with an apple.
A little later, we had a tasting of a new dish, a pâté campagne. It’s a coarse, country-style pâté with grain mustard, grilled country bread, pickled beets, and other vegetables. I thought it was great. I took a few bites of everything on the plate but didn’t finish it.
Friday night turned into a busman’s holiday for me. My wife, Diane, and I had two tickets to Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is right here in the Time Warner Center. This was to be my night to see Wynton Marsalis and the JALC band. These are tickets that I bought back in November. My birthday is in early January, so this was my birthday date night.
To make the busman’s holiday complete, dinner was a few dishes at our new lounge, Center Bar. Aside from an early tasting and nibbling on occasion, I hadn’t sat down at a table for a fuller experience to evaluate our progress. We tried the arancini, the braised Berkshire pork belly, and the slow-roasted halibut. I was very happy with all the dishes; the smaller portion sizes were just right for the concept. But I made some mental notes! I want the pistachios that come with the pork belly roasted and chopped a bit more; they were too hard to eat and rolled around the plate.
Saturday, January 19
A half bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal with some blackberries. I love blackberries; I buy frozen American Western blackberries out of season — they’re harvested and frozen at their peak.
We tasted a cut of beef we are considering adding to our menu, and that was lunch. My chef Michael Ammirati grilled some of these steaks — secondary cuts from the shoulder, which is tender and flavorful. Not the prime cuts we sell for dinner, but great for a small steak frites dish.
Family meal on Saturday is usually burgers and fries. I wasn’t that hungry at 4 p.m. so I asked our team to make me organic, slow-roasted salmon with quinoa-based citrus risotto as dinner service was just beginning. Later that evening, I went home after work and had a few dry-roasted nuts and a clementine.
Sunday, January 20
I went out early and picked up some of Francois Payard’s croissants and pain au chocolats. He reopened on the Upper East Side, and he makes a honest-to-goodness genuine French croissant. A special Sunday morning treat for my wife and me.
I went into work for lunch service. It was the first Sunday service in the Restaurant Week promotion and was especially hectic. The lunchtime staff meal of huevos rancheros was my lunch, with some salsa on the side. No bread or soft tacos.
I headed home at the end of lunch service to start cooking for an early dinner at home, which I love to do. It should always be relaxed and comfortable. We were having our friends Nancy and George over for a postNew Year’s celebration.
I put out some soppresata and olives and smoked mozzarella as a small nibble with Champagne. Next came chicken and sausage with garlic and lemon, and then filet of red snapper with San Marzano tomatoes, capers, and olives. Roasted Brussels sprouts, fennel, and blood orange salad rounded out the meal.
For dessert, I made Bosc pears poached in white wine to have with macarons. The macarons came from both Payard Bakery and Bouchon at the Time Warner Center — kind of a taste-off. The clear winner was us.
Monday, January 21
Breakfast was Kashi GoLean cereal and blackberries.
I went to the Porter House kitchen, and we worked on a special-event menu. We have an Italian wine dinner this Friday in our private dining room with a Venetian Carnevale theme. After working, I went out to visit an Equinox gym to taste some drinks from Creative Juice, a new brand that’s making chef-developed, organic juices. Michael Romano’s an old friend, and I’m interested in what he’s doing.
I put juicing on my New Year’s resolution list. I’m interested in how it relates to diet and health, which I know is crazy — I’m an Italian chef! I bought a bunch of the bottles. But when I got home and looked at the plan of how to cleanse, I thought, There’s no way that I can drink five fourteen-ounce bottles a day and be “clean, lean, and green." I do like the flavors, probably because I love vegetables. The blends don’t at all taste like hay or grass, nor are they too sweet and fruity. Nice balance.
My real lunch was a bowl of mushroom beef barley soup that was on our menu that day, and not much else. The juices have real heft to them.
After dinner service got started, I went home a little earlier. Diane and I went out to Cascabel Taqueria on the Upper East Side. The plates are small and really great to share with a drink. I prefer the malbec to margarita — especially on a work night — and we shared vegetable tacos with onions, mushrooms, and black beans, some tuna belly fish tacos with hearts of palm and green olives, and freshly made guacamole.
Tuesday, January 22
I switched it up a bit today with low-fat Greek yogurt and honey for breakfast.
At work, I didn’t really eat anything other than a small taste of the daily soup, potato leek. No cream.
After service, I went out for a quick lunch at Resto, which now has chef Preston Clark at the helm. We ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, and I had the escarole and pear salad with Parmesan cheese and hazelnuts, the skate wing with juniper broth and celery root purée, and the panna cotta with orange jam and candied pistachios. The chef also hooked us up with a taste of the tête de cochon po’boy, a luxurious pork headcheese with tomato, pepper, and pickled aïoli on a bun, and the charred octopus with salsa verde.
I went back to work for dinner service and spent the evening there. I had a menu item, the arugula salad with roasted peppers and pecorino cheese, afterwards.
Wednesday, January 23
I wanted to try another Creative Juice, so I had a bottle of Zest for Life for breakfast. The immunity blend has red beet, blood orange pulp, fennel, and shiso. Very satisfying.
We did some trial runs of the pasta course for the Carnivale dinner. Lunch was a tasting of the Timballo di Maccheroni. It took a few versions to get the result we wanted, and I had to taste it a few times to be sure, so this was really more than enough for lunch.
Dinner at Atera. Guest chef Rafa Costa e Silva, in from Spain’s Mugaritz and on his way to open a place in Brazil, was cooking with Matthew Lightner. With a charitable donation to Sandy relief, I couldn’t pass on this one. I made this reservation back in December when it was announced. This is the only time of year when I have the time to get out and explore. And, baby, explore I did.
The first course was baby romaine hearts blanched in a broth of star anise and with melting lardo on top. It was like a crazy version of a BLT. There was also a pig-ear dish, which was actually pig brain. They made a small croquette out of pig’s brain that was hardly even two bites, and it was set on a crispy pig’s ear. Nothing ever puts me off, maybe because what I do for a living is eat as well as cook. The first dessert, which was guava filled with cheese and served with salted ice cream, was great.
It was a big-bang ending to my week of eating Kashi cereal and drinking blended health juices! But the good thing is that it’s one or two bites of each dish, and there are so many vegetables. Luckily and happily, it wasn’t an overly rich meal. Very little butter and fats.
For me, dinners like this are inspiring; they’re educational opportunities. There’s something that all of us can learn about what we do from seeing other people’s work. Writers read other writers; chefs should eat other chefs' food.