The New York Diet

Porchetta Chef Sara Jenkins Always Goes for the Salty Desserts

Jenkins tastes the ragu at Porchetta.
Jenkins tastes the ragu at Porchetta. Photo: Melissa Hom

Sara Jenkins’s upcoming, unnamed pasta restaurant was almost a food truck. “This guy had been talking to me for a long time about investing in a Porchetta truck,” she says. “And I had a guy ask me to bid on putting a truck at South Street Seaport.” But the truck lifestyle isn’t quite what Jenkins is feeling right now: “It’s more money to open a restaurant, but there are lots of what-ifs to opening a truck: What if nobody comes? What if too many people come? I’d like a truck at some point, but by then it’ll be almost like jumping the shark.” Instead, Jenkins is keeping her restaurants in the East Village — and last night, she cooked for the neighborhood at Taste of the Lower East Side, which “really benefits my community hugely.” See where else in the city she eats in this week’s installment of the New York Diet.

Friday, April 23
For breakfast I had a grapefruit, which my cousin brought me back from his grandmother’s yard in Phoenix. They’re completely amazing — I look forward to getting those every year when he goes out there. I also had iced coffee.

I went to lunch at Ma Peche because my dad was in town. It was fantastic. My dad loves Vietnamese food, and he wanted to go to Momofuku Ssam Bar, but I was dying to get into Ma Peche and we did! We had a lot; there were four of us at lunch: the squid salad, the beef tartare, the fluke seviche, the chicken and morel terrine, the snails, the mussels, which were insane — they’re steamed with beer and shrimp paste, and they’re these little tiny things. I think they’re Bouchot mussels, a very small dark mussel from Canada, and they’re very sweet and yummy and perfect. We had the fried cauliflower which I recognized from Ssam Bar, and they sent us pork ribs with lemongrass caramel. On our way out, we had the salty pistachio soft serve, and that was also really, really yummy. I’m not a huge desert person at all, so whenever there’s salt in it, I really like it.

For dinner, I came home, and my husband had made broiled striped bass filets sprinkled with this Dubai curry powder that my father had brought back from Dubai. We have no idea what’s in it. Every time we use it we’re like, “Hmmm, what can we identify?” And we had spinach. We drank water. We don’t actually drink that much at home.

Saturday, April 24
It was an early morning, because we were at Brooklyn Flea. I started out with iced coffee at Abraço, and they had a lavender-lemon cake that was divine. When we got to the flea market I had hibiscus tea, and we were selling porchetta, and we also brought a side salad that was freekah, a Middle Eastern green wheat that’s toasted, and it’s quite yummy. We made a salad of that with ramps, asparagus, and snap peas, and a ramp vinaigrette, and I had a little of that.

I ate a lobster roll from the lobster-roll place [Red Hook Lobster Pound], but I just ate the lobster meat. There’s two ways to do a lobster roll: plain with drawn butter, or with mayonnaise, and I definitely like the mayonnaise kind. But they put lettuce on it, which I thought was weird. My mother’s from Maine and I grew up being totally obsessed with going to Maine and getting a lobster roll. Everything you eat when you’re a kid, you get very picky about it when you’re older. It’s got to be exactly the way you remember it.

Then I had a salted-caramel chocolate from Nunu Chocolate, another flea-market seller. McClure’s Pickles had a tomato bloody-mary mix they were selling — pickle juice, spicy, tomato stuff, no vodka — and I had some of that. I had some apple-ginger soda from the Brooklyn Soda Works people. I’m not a soda drinker and their soda is like something else all over again. I was like, “Oooh, can we get this at Porchetta?” But they only do it for the one restaurant where they make the soda, Palo Santo. Something about the freshness.

My booth is right next to the guy from Scratchbread, so he sent me over a plantain bread pudding with a mole streusel; it was really good. And then there’s all the Red Hook vendors at Brooklyn Flea — that’s who I got the hibiscus tea from earlier. They have all this fruit and they put lime chili and salt on it, and I got watermelon. It’s so good. My first weekend out there, I went through eating everything, grilled cheese, this and that. I was like, “Okay, now you got that out of your system, have some fruit.” It’s all really fatty food out there, including our porchetta, and then this fruit stand is like this beaming banner.

We sold out by three, and I went home. My kid was eating these pixie tangerines that someone gave me, from some ranch in California. He’d been telling me about them and said he’d drop some off. My kid is a tangerine nut, so I got very little out of him, but they’re amazing. They’re small, very fruity and very juicy, not super sweet. They’re just perfect. They’re everything a tangerine should be.

I did drink Saturday night. I had a bottle of Lambrusco in my fridge so I had a couple of glasses of that. Our default meal at home is broiled fish and vegetables, and we had swordfish and roasted cauliflower and rice.

Sunday, April 25
For breakfast I had sheeps’ milk yogurt, toast, and then I put on top this olive oil from my family’s house in Italy, and za’atar, which is this Mediterranean spice mix. That’s like the Lebanese breakfast: flatbread, yogurt, olive oil, zaatar. That’s my ideal breakfast. Well, it’s a tossup between that and Vietnamese soup, but this is easier.

I went and got a cemitas sandwich from Tulcingo del Valle. I went with my cousin and got a beef milanese. I ate half, and then later I had the other half for dinner.

Monday, April 26
I had toast with peanut butter for breakfast, and then my kid asked for another bowl of yogurt and muesli and he didn’t eat it, so I ate it.

I went to a late lunch with a friend of mine. We’d taken my kid to the aquarium in Coney Island, and on the way back my friend, who lives in Park Slope, was like, “My new favorite place is Mile End Deli,” so I was like, “Let’s go in and check it out!” We had the Mile End Poutine, the whole deal, and I’d never had poutine before, only read about it, and I’d say that this is the poutine to have. It’s a bomb. We had a brisket sandwich and a turkey sandwich, and they had a really great cole-slaw salad that was much more vinegary; it had no mayonnaise. It was almost pickled in a way, and it was red — maybe from grated beets? It’s very clean, definitely a very good foil to the poutine, which is not clean.

That was a really late lunch, so that night for dinner I had pistachios and leftover guacamole.

Tuesday, April 27
I had sheeps’ milk yogurt for breakfast. I’m big on the whole Chatham sheeps’ milk yogurt.

I was in to work around 12:30, so for lunch I had a sandwich from Abraço. It was sautéed kale and Cheddar. I had ramp-and-potato soup at work, and iced coffee. I tasted the ragu — we have the slow-cooked porchetta ragu which I hadn’t had in a long time, so I checked that out.

Then I went to dinner at Veloce Pizzeria. We’ve been working on pastas over there, and I wanted to see how they were doing. I’ve really encouraged [partner Frederick Twomey] to put pasta on the menu over there, and we’ve been doing some really basic, foolproof pastas. I had the Bolero Salad, which is romaine, cucumber, grape tomato, red onion, in a really lemony oregano dressing. I had the fritto misto, and I was with my friend [Sebastian Jaramillo] who will probably be the chef de cuisine at my new place, and he helped me open Veloce Pizzeria, so we were both being really critical — not in a bad way. We had the clam pizza; we love it. And then there’s a tortellini I’ve been working on over there and we started arguing about it. We were arguing about whether the butter should be emulsified or not — I’m of the camp that it should just be brown butter on the plate, and he was arguing that it should be emulsified with a little water. We haven’t resolved the issue yet.

Wednesday, April 28
I had another one of those grapefruits for breakfast.

I went to Marea for lunch. I’ve been dying to go for a really long time, and a friend of mine was free for lunch and he was dying to go to. We had the uni crostini, the famous uni crostini, and it lived up to the hype. We had a braised calamari — it was really a stuffed calamari with greens— and then we just went nuts on the pastas. We ordered a bunch of half-orders: spaghetti with uni and crab; something they call spinozzini wtih clams; we had the famous fusilli with bone marrow, which completely lived up to the hype; a rigatoni arabbiata with salt cod which was delicious; a pansotti that was amazing. And then we finished with two glasses of white Burgundy, because how could you not.

I had dinner at home: We had pan-roasted chicken breast, rice, and greens.

Porchetta Chef Sara Jenkins Always Goes for the Salty Desserts