We were paralyzed by indecision and had no appetite.
Dan and I had two days open to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. This was supposed to be a big milestone worthy of a few more fireworks than normal, and something about doing what we’ve always done to celebrate—pick a killer restaurant in the city and overeat to our hearts’ content—didn’t seem right.
Horrible to say that a glitzy, glamorous meal in Manhattan felt claustrophobic, but it did. The city was closing in on us and I just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. Somewhere within a few hours’ drive, somewhere not too pretentious, somewhere we could just breathe for 36 hours or so. With five days to go and no reservations made, the planner in me was getting desperate. Then Dan threw out a wild pitch: how about Cooperstown, New York?
Anyone who has a mental picture of quintessential New England will recognize the setting of Cooperstown: stately Colonial and Victorian homes on wide tree-lined roads, a main street (in this case, literally Main Street) of shops, diners, and small-town offices, and at the end of this particular street, the casually ambitious restaurant Alex & Ika.
The menu was significantly more intriguing than the rest of the dining options in town—though the view of Lake Otsego from the imposing Otesaga Resort Hotel might be more soul-stirring, something about the phrase “chocolate chocolate port thing with bourbon vanilla crème anglaise” clued me in that this would be the more entertaining meal.
After appetizers (read: drinking a few selections from Cooperstown’s own Brewery Ommegang at Cooley’s Stone House Tavern), we strolled down Main Street past the souvenir shops, custom Louisville Slugger engravers, and the locked gates of Doubleday Field for what we hoped would be a successful culinary gamble.
I’m a sucker for big flavors, but I worried that a dish described as “char grilled rack of lamb with slow roasted tomatoes, artichokes, saffron porcini spinach risotto, toasted pine nuts, white truffle oil” might be a bit too much. Although not quite as simply prepared as “a good home-cooked meal,” like our server assured us, the combined effect of so many elements didn’t overwhelm but melded into a rich, soothing fall stew.
Dan’s ruddy pink hanger steak did justice to the cow it came from, and I cheerfully commandeered his fragrant buttons of garlic braised mushrooms and somehow used them to make off with half the tarragon mustard cream on his plate too. As a good wife, I left him with his entire portion of crunchy-skinned fried fingerling potatoes. This was city cooking for two urban escapees, but we didn’t mind a bit.
We basked in the calm and quiet with the remnants of our 2007 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel bottle (shades of our first honeymoon meal in Monterey) as the only diners left at the tables while regulars wound things down at the bar. The open kitchen, facing through the front window onto Main, was empty and lit by the full harvest moon in the sky.
(OK, the night might have ended with me running down the middle of the empty street like Frank the Tank yelling, “We’re going streaking!” but that takes a little of the romance out of the story, right?)
Inspired by my appetizer at Alex & Ika, where julienned apples and radicchio came studded with cloves of roast garlic and balsamic onions, I’ve adapted the salad components into a creamy dressing to get the mellow flavors of the slow-cooked garlic and onions in each bite.
Radicchio and Apple Salad with Roasted Cipollini and Garlic Dressing
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes 4 servings
- 8 cipollini onions
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- juice of 1 orange
- 1 head of garlic
- olive oil
- 2 heads radicchio, julienned
- 1 tart apple, julienned—I’ve been using Honeycrisp lately, but pick your favorite fall variety
- 2 oz. crumbled gorgonzola dolce
- 1/4 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
Blanch the cipollini onions in boiling water for 15 seconds, then strain and cool slightly before peeling. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a small pan and sauté the onions over medium-high heat until slightly browned on both sides (about 5 minutes per side).
Add the balsamic vinegar and orange juice to the pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the sauce is reduced and syrupy, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
While the onions are cooking and cooling, roast the head of garlic and extract the puree from the cloves. Blend the onions, balsamic syrup, and garlic puree in a mini food processor with 3/4 cup olive oil until emulsified. Add salt to taste.
Toss with the radicchio, apple, gorgonzola, and nuts to serve.
The dressing makes more than you’ll need for the salad, but keeps in the fridge for a week. I’m eating leftovers with a can of olive oil-packed tuna, chopped artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes, and extra julienned radicchio right now.