Eating Well: New York - #106

BURT WOLF: New York City, the Big Apple, with a big reputation for great food. We'll talk with Alan King about what makes New York a perfect town for food lovers. We'll discover how the bagel came to be. We'll find out why New York is famous for its steaks and cook up some pasta in one of the city's best Italian restaurants. We'll have lunch with Anne Jackson and dinner with Beverly Sills. Join me Burt Wolf, Eating Well in New York City.

New York, New York! This city was first settled by the Dutch in 1624 when Peter Minuit purchased the thirteen-mile strip of land from the Native American Indians for a bargain price of twenty-four dollars worth of jewelry. This harbor town became the gateway to America and quickly emerged into a throbbing metropolis of finance, commerce and politics. At one time it was the capital of the nation. A city of inconceivable contrasts and colossal architecture, New York owes its unique identity to the many different ethnic groups that have embraced this city of opportunity. They brought with them the taste of their heritage which blended perfectly into the ingredients of this melting pot of ideas and beliefs. This contrast of cultures is clearly seen in the diversity of the cuisine.

Today New York has over twenty five thousand restaurants. And among them you will find almost every cuisine in the world. This town has the widest selection of ethnic foods in any city on the planet. Why? Well, the answer actually goes all the way back to the time when New York was an English colony. The English had a very laid-back policy about immigration and just about anyone who wanted to settle down in an English colony in the New World was more than welcome to do so. As a result, New York became home to an enormous collection of people from different countries with different races and different religions. The English mixed with the Dutch and the French and the Spanish and the Germans. And then the Swedes arrived and the Irish came in and the Africans and the Italians. And that was just the beginning. By the 1600's New York was home to an incredible collection of cultures and cooks. And every few years a new group arrived. And that's still going on and I love it.

In New York you can eat in every kind of restaurant in the world and you can get to all of them by taxi. (WHISTLES)

There are, however certain, foods and certain eateries that are distinctly New York. New York is undoubtedly the world epicenter for delicatessen. On almost every street corner you can find a neighborhood deli. There's the Carnegie, probably the most famous delicatessen in the world. Their specialty is pastrami. Pastrami's really just a form of pickled beef; they use it to make a sandwich that is so thick that no human mouth could possibly open wide enough to take a full bite. New York is also world famous for its steaks. There's actually a cut of steak named after the city. A New York Strip. The town also has a collection of restaurants that specialize in the perfect preparation of aged beef. They're called steak joints. They buy the best meat available and place it in their aging rooms. Carefully controlled temperature and humidity results in a steak with just the right texture and taste; they're trimmed, grilled and unbeatable. But for me there is nothing as New York as a bagel. True, you can get a bagel in just about every town in the United States these days, but the original home of the bagel in America was New York. And its preparation is quite amazing. The dough is made from high gluten flour, yeast, malt and salt. It's formed into circles, put into a proofer, which is really a steam box, and given some time to rise. Then they go into a refrigerator device called a retarder; the cold air helps the bagel hold its shape. Next the bagel is boiled in a tub of hot water, sprayed with cold water and finally baked in a 500 degree Fahrenheit oven. Not the easiest process. The New York bagel is kind of an adult pacifier. A morning teething ring to help you start your day. But the original bagel was produced about three hundred years ago in Austria. The Austrian town of Vienna had been under siege by the Turks. When the Austrians broke that siege, they celebrated by producing a bread in the shape of the King's stirrup -- that piece of metal that he put his foot into when he rode into battle. The old German word for stirrup was birgel; today it's bagel.

The longer I live and work in New York City the more I realize that a sense of humor is absolutely essential to survival. This town is a joke. And I don't mean that in a negative way, I mean that every day there are twenty-four hours of absolute madness, and that goes on seven days a week. And if you can't laugh about what's going on, you're going to go absolutely crazy. People who grew up in New York City have a special ability to laugh at what's going on. A perfect example is the humorist Alan King.

ALAN KING: See New York is not a ... it's not a city, it's a country, it's ... it's a ... it's ... it's all these cultures clashing. It's ... and it's a survival city, no matter how bad it gets, the city survives. And it's ... it's like the song says, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere, you know. There's an excitement, everywhere else I know is a culture shock.

BURT WOLF: Where did you grow up?

ALAN KING: In the lower East Side and then in Brooklyn. You see, I was born on December 25th, Christmas day, not in a manger, but it was close. You know we didn't have goats running around, but my mother had a live carp in the bathroom, you know. My mother was the worst cook I ever knew. Only in retrospect. I didn't know it at the time you know, it was hearty and we all grew up filled with starch and grease and... you know I grew up in a kosher home, so you know everything was salted ...


ALAN KING: You know until it was like ... (BANGING ON A POT) My mother didn't believe that the butcher had killed the cow, so she in order to make sure she had to cook it for two days. You know there was no such thing as rare or medium ... well done was a treat. We used to scrape the top of the steak like you did with toast you know. But it's true. I'd rather not eat than eat bad food. I don't eat, you know to ... to sustain myself, it's an exotic pleasure to me, it always has been and since I was a child.

BURT WOLF: And it's a pleasure that we'll undoubtedly continue right here in the Russian Tea Room with Kabobs A La King. 

Marinade is made from vegetable oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, chopped onions and a little pepper. Cubes of boneless leg of lamb sit in that mixture in the refrigerator for three days. 

ALAN KING: That marinade ... my shoes, if you put it in there for three days you could cook it. That marinates anything ...

BURT WOLF: A cube of lamb goes onto the skewer, then a slice of onion, green pepper and a cherry tomato. When the skewers are filled they go onto a heat-proof plate and under the broiler for about twelve minutes. The meat should be about four inches away from the heat source. Give 'em a few turns during the cooking time. 

From a nutritional point of view, you're in pretty good shape with this recipe; you're starting with very lean meat and you're cooking it in a way where the natural fat inside the meat drips away. So you lower the fat content and you lower the calories. You're serving it with fresh vegetables and rice, and that grain is very good for you. When it's cooked through, slide the food off the skewer around a mound of rice pilaf. Kabobs are one of the specialties of the Russian Tea Room, and the Russian Tea Room is one of the landmark restaurants of New York.

It began life in 1926, members of the Russian Imperial Ballet fled to America after the Russian Revolution and needed a place where the members of the troupe could socialize together and meet with other Russian immigrees. Today the interior of the restaurant is like a Christmas tree decorated in green, red and gold, with a collection of fascinating Russian art and objects. The Russian Tea Room is still a favorite meeting place for people of the theater. 

This part of New York City is called Little Italy, the restaurants, the bakeries, the cafes, the markets, as Italian as any part of the homeland. 

Little Italy is the result of an enormous wave of Italian immigrants that arrived in the United States between 1880 and 1914. Almost four million people looking for a better life in the New World.

This neighborhood acted as a buffer zone between the simple villages that they left behind and the madness of living in New York City. It gave them a sense of family, even if the family was just another guy from their old home town in Italy. And most important was their love of food. Every day they ate the foods of the home country and reconfirmed their love of being Italian. And lucky for this country that they did that too, because the Italians brought us great cheeses, great ice cream, great baking and spaghetti. I mean, where would this country be without spaghetti? They also brought their love of vegetable cookery. And that's very important from the point of view of food and good health. Just when they were settling down to doing some of their best cooking, scientists were discovering vitamins. And they use the great Italian recipes for vegetables to teach the rest of us about vegetables and vitamins. 

So how about an Italian dish that brings together some pasta and a vitamin-packed vegetable in one of the city's finest restaurants?

Il Nido is the name of one of the very best Italian restaurants in New York City. The words Il Nido mean “the nest” and the owner Addy Giovanetti chose that name because he wanted to give his guests the feeling that they were coming to a little tender home, a place where they would be cared for and surrounded and protected -- and boy is that ever true. I've been coming here since 1979 and I love it. I'm a little birdy here. And today they are going to feather my nest with rigatoni pasta and broccoli. 

A little vegetable oil is heated and slices of garlic go into it. A little chicken stock, a tablespoon of bread crumbs, which are used to help thicken the sauce. That's a nice touch. Broccoli flowerettes that were previously cooked in boiling water, and finally the rigatoni pasta which has been cooked until it’s tender, but firm to the bite. The pasta is served in bowls with pecorino romano cheese grated on top. 

Using the chicken stock and the bread crumbs to make a sauce is an excellent low fat technique. But pasta is packed with complex carbohydrates and the broccoli contains vitamins A, B, C, calcium, iron and potassium. Broccoli is one of our most nutritious vegetables. 

Now it’s time to take a little walk to a second recipe from the book of classic Italian vegetable cookery, eggplant parmesan. Really easy to make.

A heat-proof baking dish is given a coating of tomato sauce and a layer of eggplant slices that have been sauteed in a little vegetable oil. Another layer of slices of low- fat mozzarella cheese, a sprinkling of parmesano and into the oven until everything melts together; that's about ten minutes. And it tastes as good as it looks.

The Irish began arriving in New York City as early as the 1600's. Kind of amazing; by 1776 when the War of Independence began, half the soldiers in the American Army were made up of men who had come here from Ireland. The really heavy immigration didn't begin until 1815. That was the year that Irish grain prices just fell through the floor and landlords began to force the Irish farmers off the land. They wanted to use that land for cattle instead of farming. Tens of thousands of Irishmen headed for New York. Things got even worse twenty years later. The Irish potato crop failed and hundreds of thousands of Irishmen headed to New York. By 1890 one out of every four people in New York City was of Irish extraction. It's a dynamic Irish community in this city, very creative, lots of painters, writers, poets, actors, actresses, including the very talented Anne Jackson. 

One of New York's brightest stars, Anne Jackson, has been delighting audiences for decades with her vibrant versatility. Her superb acting has earned her three Tony Award nominations. In addition she received the coveted Obie Award for her work in "The Typist" in which she starred opposite her actor/husband, Eli Wallach.


ELI WALLACH: You want me to tell my wife?

ANNE JACKSON: Of course, we're getting married aren't we?

ELI: But Sylvia you don't understand...

ANNE: Well, we are getting married, aren't we, Paul?

ELI: Ah, the hell with it, I'm going to eat.

BURT WOLF: Was there a meal from your childhood that you really liked?

ANNE JACKSON: Yes, chicken with mashed potatoes, you know the chicken in the pot. The chicken every Sunday, that chicken in the pot with the mashed potatoes or rice in the soup in the ... and the night game. [???] And I never got a leg of the chicken, never. My two sisters got the legs and Daddy I guess got the ... the white meat, but I wasn't interested in that so ... I was interested in that leg. (LAUGHS)


ANNE JACKSON: You know something, Burt? The ... the sensuality of food didn't really hit me until I was ... remember being in London and I had a woman from Switzerland this feizel deutch nanny for my little boy. She was sent, from Switzerland, some sausage. And when she got it, she opened it and I will never forget this, 'cause it was such a beautiful thing to behold, she smelled it and she ... the tears just streamed down her face. The meaning of that food for her was ... was extraordinary.

BURT WOLF: That she had ...

ANNE JACKSON: Just extraordinary.

BURT WOLF: And an extraordinarily well thought out dish in terms of nutrition is this chicken with lentils.

Chef Tony Wahl has been working on a series of menus to try to balance a group of important nutritional elements. Today he's preparing grilled chicken breasts with lentils and cucumber noodles. He starts with skinless boneless chicken breasts that are grilled for a few minutes on each side until they are fully cooked. That's very important these days. Undercooked chicken can carry dangerous bacteria, so cook that chicken! The lentils are cooked together with some carrots and celery. The cucumber noodles are really just very fine strips of raw cucumber. They have the look and the feel of noodles, but they're still cucumbers. When all the elements are ready, some of the cucumber goes on a serving plate and some of the lentils, the grilled chicken breast and finally a bit of grilled pimento. The chicken is an excellent source of low fat protein and the lentils contain lots of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. 

One of the most popular restaurants in New York is the Cafe Des Artistes, originally built in 1901 as a haven for artists. Today its own artistry continues in the kitchen. Co-owner Jenifer Lange makes the point with her recipe for curried pasta with seafood.

A little vegetable oil gets heated in a saute pan, some chopped onions go in, chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped garlic. That cooks together for about ten minutes. Then some chopped apple with the skin on, chopped tomato, a little thyme goes by and a bay leaf. Then five minutes more of cooking and stirring. Pasta next.

JENIFER: Down, down pasta.

BURT WOLF: Good point. Try to get all the pasta down into the water as quickly as possible. That will help it cook evenly. The pasta cooks for about eight minutes. While the pasta's cooking, go back to the vegetables. Add in a little chicken stock, tomato paste and curry powder. Let that cook down a bit while you saute some scallops, sliced mushrooms and shrimp. Then the pasta gets drained and put into a serving bowl. The curried vegetable sauce goes on, and the sauteed seafood. Nice; it's very low in fat, lots of complex carbohydrates from the pasta and vegetables, garlic to keep away the vampires and protein- packed seafood.

New York's Chinatown is a city within a city. The telephone booths are shaped like pagodas. Movie theatres show Chinese films. The food shops are packed with ingredients and cooking equipment that come here from the Orient. And there are hundreds of restaurants with every type of Chinese food, from Hunan to Szechuan.

The first large group of Chinese to settle in New York City came here from the California gold fields or after they finished their work building the transcontinental railroads. Today over a hundred and twenty five thousand people of Chinese ancestry live in this neighborhood. And much of their cooking is ideal from the point of view of good health. Especially in the area known as stir-frying. 

In the best examples, small amounts of meat, fish or poultry are cooked together with much larger amounts of vegetables and then served with rice. The food is cooked very quickly and doesn't spend much time exposed to high heat. That helps preserve the nutrients. And the cooking takes place with a small amount of vegetable oil. The traditional cooking pot for stir-fried foods is a wok. The classic design has a round base because the ancient stoves of China had round holes for the wok to fit in. The system conserved energy, made it easy to turn and toss the ingredients and allowed the cook to use different parts of the surface to get different heat levels at the same time. The area at the bottom of a wok is much hotter than the upper sides, and the angle of the wall is designed to hold food at each spot. Great piece of equipment; it can also be used to hold a steamer. And it does just that in the next recipe...

Chinese steamed sole. Two sole filets are cut into quarters. The sole is placed onto a heat-proof plate along with a dozen snow peas and some sliced mushrooms. Slivers of fresh ginger go on, a few pieces of scallion, a little sherry, a dash of light or low sodium soy sauce, and just a half tablespoon of vegetable oil. That goes into a steamer with hot water in the base. Cover goes on and the fish is steamed for 6 minutes over high heat. The heat-proof plate is carefully removed from the steamer and presented. A little rice on the side and you have a low-fat, low-calorie rich- tasting dish that is very, very easy to make. You're going to love this.

If you think the Orient is inscrutable and mysterious, just walk out of Chinatown and head south. 

Within a few minutes you will be in the Wall Street area; now you're really talking inscrutable. But I seem to be in a minority position with that viewpoint; the New York Stock Exchange is doing quite well without my help. It trades over seventeen hundred different companies, and this year they expect to transfer more than four trillion dollars. It does, however, have a gastronomic past. It all began here in 1792 in a coffee shop where a group of twenty-four businessmen got together and decided to trade the stocks and bonds of the government and some private companies. It still has some gastronomy going on. There's a dining room upstairs for members of the Exchange only; they serve some pretty good food, I've eaten there from time to time. Unfortunately, I only understand the stocks that are in their kitchen when they're transferring them into soup. So here's a soup recipe that's secure, safe and guaranteed to pay its dividend.

A chopped onion is sauteed in a little margarine. Four tomatoes are sliced and added to the sauce pan. A half cup of tomato paste, a little sugar, a teaspoon of thyme and a half cup of flour are added in. Finally, two cups of chicken stock. The soup is simmered for fifteen minutes, then it's pureed. And served with a garnish of fresh basil and a dollop of yogurt. Tomato and basil soup, definitely an asset worth holding onto. 

The French played an important role in New York's food history. It was a Frenchmen who brought the yeast bun to New York. Yeast bun is an important roll. For years to be thought of as a serious chef you had to be French. Our early American presidents loved French chefs. Matter of fact, Thomas Jefferson brought his personal chef all the way from Paris. Even today, when food critics make up a list of the great restaurants of New York, it has a distinctly French accent. Lutece, Le Corte Basque and a restaurant that's a New York landmark and seems to get better every year, Le Cirque. 

Le Cirque is French for “the circus.” And that's a pretty good description of this restaurant. The ringmaster is Sirio Maccioni, who's probably the most skillful restaurant host in America. At Le Cirque everyone is treated like royalty. And some people actually are.


America's "Queen of the Opera", Beverly Sills is an extraordinary artist whose remarkable life has touched millions of people both on and off the operatic stage. As a star of the world's greatest opera houses, her glorious voice has been a vital force in musical history. She's a native New Yorker and she's really proud of it.

BEVERLY SILLS: It is the most exciting city in the world; there's a cliche, but the truth of the matter is that when I step off a plane and my foot hits the ground in this city, I feel different from the way I feel in any other city in the world, and that includes Paris and Rome and Berlin. I've sung in all those places. It ... it ... perhaps is because I was born here, so this is my home and it will always be, and I think you have in your heart a very special feeling about the place where you were born, even if you wind up living thousands of miles away. Culturally it’s everything you could ever dream of in a city.

BURT WOLF: When you're away from New York, what New York foods do you miss?

BEVERLY SILLS: Poppy seed bagel. And it's an integral part of my life, I have to go get my thirteen, because I buy twelve and they give me one free, very important. So, social statement. And ... I miss that a lot. I mean I could be sitting in the Ritz in Paris with the flakiest, lightest croissant, I literally have to slam it down to keep it on the plate, and all I'm thinking of is that if I could just take a poppy seed bagel and put a little cream cheese, maybe even a little chives, it ... it would make my life even better.

BURT WOLF: If you could have any meal you want, your fantasy meal, what would it be?

BEVERLY SILLS: I would come to Le Cirque and eat creme brulee for the first course, and creme brulee for the main course, and creme brulee for my salad and then I would have a little dessert with creme brulee.

BURT WOLF: The dishes at Le Cirque have a French and Italian accent and these days the majority of the dishes are rather light. Which is why almost everybody has room for a dessert. One of my favorites if their fresh fruit tart. 

Pastry dough is rolled out and used to line a 9-inch tart pan. Press the edges together to make a pattern on the rim. Poke holes in the bottom of the dough to keep it from rising up in the heat of the oven. And bake the dough for ten minutes at 350 degree Fahrenheit. Take it out, let it cool, and line the base with a thin layer of thick low-fat yogurt. Arrange raw berries around the inner edge of the crust. Peel and slice the best fresh fruits that are available and arrange them in circles on the yogurt. Melt a half cup of apricot jam and paint that on the fruits to give them a graze. Easy to make, great taste, good nutritional balance. 

I've been in the food business for over thirty years and for many of those years I've made my home base here in New York City. Not an easy town. There are definitely some soft spots in the Big Apple, but when it comes to food, it's usually crisp and delicious and a very high quality. There's an enormous variety in this city, just about anything you would want to eat you could get here. And in recent years, many of the restaurant owners and chefs have figured out that there is a direct relationship between good food and good health. 

Almost every New York restaurant that I know has given over some part of their kitchen to the preparation of healthier recipes. Chefs are being trained in the basic points of nutritional science. They have begun to understand that they can have an impact on the health of their customers. That's very simple. If you help keep those customers alive, they'll keep coming back to the restaurant. Foods are being grilled so the fat can drip away. Great improvement over all those unidentified frying objects. There's less fat in their basic recipes, more pasta and lots of it with sauces that are lower in calories.

More vegetable dishes, more beans and lentils, more seafood and more fruit for dessert. 

For New York healthier food seems to have a new appeal. That's Eating Well in New York City, please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for something that tastes good and it's good for you too. I'm Burt Wolf.


BURT WOLF: Follow that car.