Last Saturday, my cousin Jason and his lovely wife Abby invited me out to Brooklyn for dinner. They moved to Greenpoint late last year, and are loving the neighborhood. I'd never been, so I was eager to visit and check out their new digs and environs. Jason came and picked me up from my apartment (He has a car - very exciting for this Manhattanite!) and took me on a little tour of the neighborhood before we headed back to his place for a cocktail with Abby. Abby's brother Richard was there as well - a most excellent surprise - and after a martini, we headed around the corner for dinner at Anella.
Jason and Abby are no slouches when it comes to food, and since they've been raving about Anella ever since they discovered it last fall, I knew I was in for a treat. It's a tiny, U-shaped space with a little bar running along the center of the restaurant. We had to wait about half an hour for a table, so we enjoyed another cocktail. I went for the Heering Manhattan, made with rye, Heering cherry liqueur, dry vermouth and bitters. It was fabulous - a bit sweet, but complex enough to keep my attention.
Everything we ate was delicious - the asparagus with crispy egg, the mussels with brie butter and french fries, the strozapreti with bacon. But my favorite dish of the night, far and away, was the romaine heart salad. It was served chilled, on an ice-cold plate. The dressing was a simple combination of crème fraiche and lemon juice, and sprinkled atop the whole thing was a smattering of dill, some buttery bread crumbs, finely chopped white onion and - the pièce de resistance - fried capers.
If you've never had fried capers, now is the time to start. They are absolutely divine. Frying a caper for a couple of minutes opens it up into a flower-like shape, and brings out the nutty qualities of the normally briny berry. They're fantastic with loads of different dishes - try sprinkling them on top of pasta, salads, or even scrambled eggs. You can't go wrong.
But first, of course, try them with this. I feel pretty good about this tribute to Anella's delicious dish, but please let me know if you can think of ways to improve upon it.
Hearts of Romaine with Lemon, Crème Fraiche and Fried Capers
Adapted from Anella
1/4 cup plus one tablespoon canola oil, divided
2 tbs. capers, rinsed, drained and dried for 30 minutes on paper towels
1 tbs. butter
1 slice bread (I used whole wheat, but you can use whatever you like.)
3 tbs. crème fraiche
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 romaine heart, halved lengthwise
1 tbs. dill, finely chopped
1 tbs. white onion, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fry the capers:
In a small skillet or saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat 1/4 cup of the canola oil until very hot. (A drop of water flicked onto the surface should crackle and evaporate immediately.) Add the capers and fry until they turn dark brown and smell nutty. Turn off the heat and, using a slotted spoon, remove the capers to a plate covered with paper towels. Set aside.
Make the buttery croutons:
In a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the remaining canola oil with the butter. Once the butter has melted and is slightly foamy, add the slice of bread and turn the heat down slightly. Toast until dark brown on one side, then flip and toast the other side. Remove to a cutting board and slice into 1/4 or 1/2 inch squares. Set aside.
Make the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraiche and lemon juice. The dressing should have a thick but drizzle-able consistency, like homemade ranch dressing. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Assemble the salad:
Place the romaine heart halves side by side on a chilled plate. Drizzle generously with the dressing (Use it all; don't be afraid.), then sprinkle with the dill. Follow with the onion, then the croutons, and finally the capers. Finish with a bit of salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Serves one, generously, or two, if you're really, really good at sharing.