A Perfect Dinner…ou presque

Homey & Designy Little Giant

Homey & Designy Little Giant

So here we are at Little Giant (Lower East Side). The sun is actually shining this time. A perfect Saturday evening is unfolding before our eyes (I know it is a perfect day when I sing Lou Reed’s “oh it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you” for myself – no kidding).
I love the decor of the restaurant, there is a table on the terrace and Florent and I can sip our cocktails there – and we end up eating there as well. The menu sounds promising, all the more that there are some ingredients I quite don’t understand – and one in particular that pops up almost everywhere in the menu: RAMPS.

“Euh, excuse me, miss, please – what are “ramps” ?
“It’s a wild leek – tastes between a leek and a scallion.

Niiiiiiiiice, I thought: the sweetness of the leek with an onion twist.

So, as I said, it all started well, with a truly homy yet designy decor.  Florent, his cousin, his uncle and I ordered some of the “nibbles” well, to nibble on. The deviled eggs were a bit too dry for me, not enough mayo, quoi. I liked the ricotta in the braised artichokes: very rich. The artichokes were not very tasty though. I really liked the warm spinach & feta dip. I couldn’t quite taste the feta in there , but it reminded me of a dish I loved when I was a kid. My mother’s ex-boyfriend’s mother (my mother’s love life is…complicated) used to make it for me for Sunday lunch. That’s how I learned to like spinach:  it was a very rich and creamy spinach gratin, with the spinach du jardin and a nice thick bechamel. Delicious. And Little Giant is right to serve this as a nibble. It is pretty heavy, as you can imagine. So, Little Giant: for your Spinach Feta Dip – I am eternally grateful.

The Menu looked appetizing too

The Menu looked appetizing too

So far so good – or at least OK. I can’t say I was hugely impressed by the appetizers (besides the Feta dip, that is), but I was in good company and I liked the waitress (efficient but not in your face). In fact, we were in such a good mood that we barely noticed that 30 minutes had passed and our entrees were still not served. Let me be clear here: I hate, HATE when you are barely done with your appetizers and they already serve the entrees. I may have a big appetite (and I think Florent tends to think that my appetite is really too big these days) but I need time  between my dish, so that I can look forward to the next dish. Donc, a good 45 minutes after we finished our “nibbles”, entrees were served. And that’s when disappointment arised. Big time.

We had a ramp theme going on on our table. I was rooting for the “ramps & orrecchiette, with ramp puree & braised ramps, poached organic egg & bread crumbs” but was keeping a close eye on Florent’s “veal shortribs, all-natural milk-fed veal, sauteed ramps stone-ground grits, roasted cherry tomatoes”. Let’s start with my dish:

  • the pasta was al dente – much to my liking;
  • braised ramps. What? Braised ramps? Where? Believe me I looked. But I couldn’t find them. So I asked:

“Excuse me euh sorry to ask but, where are the braised ramps please (and sorry again)? Well, they are in the sauce. Ah, ok”*

I was not convinced by her answer. Don’t mention braised ramps if they are not visible on my plate.

  • and then the taste.  Well, let’s just say ramps are very, very powerful, more on the garlic side than the leek side of the family. And that’s something I would have liked to know before ordering. Second, I am a firm believer of using garlic & onions in reasonable amounts. Florent doesn’t like garlic or onions so I have to play tricks. Here, I couldn’t finish my plate. Which is highly, highly unusual (to Florent’s great despair). Since then, I did a little research. Turns out it is a wild leek – which smells & taste half way between garlic & scallions and looks similar to scallions. It’s harvested in the Appalachians and apparently they go crazy over that little thing there. There’s a Ramp Festival, and even an entire website dedicated to wild leeks recipes.

Let’s focus on Florent’s plate now:

  • Sauteed ramps? Check . And it was not nearly as strong as my ramps puree (or maybe my palate was numb after the orecchiette)
  • Stone-ground grits. Ok, that definitely sounds cool and natural and fancy too. But does it imply that I can actually feel the grains of grits under my teeth? Well, not in my world. In my world, polenta – and grits are all about creaminess, smoothness and tenderness. Ok, there might be some graininess involved too. But these grits were not cooked enough.
  • Veal shortrib : tenderness? Check. But the ribs were white. I mean there was no color or crispiness there. It was a bit sad.

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

So yes, I was disappointed. Luckily the desserts made everything better. I am not usually not a fan of desserts but I would give a big high five for the sticky toffee pudding. And the lemon-ricotta fritters with lemon curd were also very light and the tanginess of the curd was nicely counterbalanced by the ricotta…

Sadly, the bill came. L’addition etait plutot salee.…$90 per person (we did order two bottles of wine though).

Would I go back? Well…maybe. First because I completely trust Catherine’s tastes, (she recommended the restaurant) and I am pretty sure that she had a very nice meal when she went there. Also, they change their menu all the time (they are all about seasonality, organic, all-natural, etc.) and I certainly commend them for using unusual ingredients. And, they made me want to try and cook ramps (if I ever find any).

*I have to say that, to my despair, I am not the most assertive kind of gal. I hate scandals and people yelling and am usually a perfect well-behaved costumer.
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10 responses to “A Perfect Dinner…ou presque

  1. Ramps are definitely serious. I made some risotto and pesto with them and it was pretty intense. I love love love garlic though, so I was pretty okay with it, but I could see if you weren’t as rabid a fan the whole thing would be a bit too crazy.

  2. well… you’re being too nice here… i smelled garlic for the following 2 days… these orrechiettes were a massacre!

  3. Thanks Nate! I had no idea Ramps were so big in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love garlic (I am French, after all) – but I am sure there is a way of eating & enjoying ramps without getting too intense. So I might try with your risotto and pesto! Sounds great…Or, I was thinking garlic bread (well ramps bread).

  4. Ramps are in season for only six to eight weeks a year. Figure late March/early April to roughly late May/early June.

    Used raw, they’re quite powerful so I usually use them in small amounts. Heat tames their pungency but not enough that I’d serve them in an all ramps plate, especially if it were someone who’d never had them before. I like to pair them with pork (e.g., bacon) or with eggs.

    I have a feeling that the season’s almost gone — a pity, because I had been ruminating about making a ramps strata. I just haven’t gotten around to it, and the bunch that I have left — down from 10 bunches — isn’t enough.

    By the way, a pound and a half goes for about $30. They’re expensive but well worth it.

    • PS. You can find them at farmers’ markets. Union Square Greenmarket has vendors available on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Not all vendors are available at all times. Most of the stalls that sell ramps are around on Saturday.

  5. Thanks spamwise! Or: you can also pick them up yourself. Check this out: http://tinyurl.com/csmryk. I’m tempted!

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  8. looks like a decent post however I am not in America so I don’t get much. but was an interesting read. 🙂 xx Rico|Recipes

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