Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Central Park picnic in three easy steps

Wouldn't you rather be here right now...

Now that summer is here, it’s time to get off your couch and get outside. What better way to celebrate the season and experience New York than by having a picnic in Central Park?

Whether you prefer to enjoy a feast while taking in Al Pacino performing in The Merchant of Venice or just want to relax in the sweet grass of the Sheeps Meadow on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Central Park is the place to be during a New York summer.

Luckily, the edges of the park contain some fantastic food stores from which you can procure tantalizing treats. Here are some suggestions for putting together a perfect Central Park picnic basket with minimal effort:

A great picnic always starts off with some appetizers, or as I like to call them in this setting, snacks. Swing by the Whole Foods in the basement of the Time Warner Center (10 Columbus Circle, southwest corner of the park), drop 2 or 3 of the following ideas in your basket, and you’ll be off to a great start:

Trail Mix – Always a classic for outdoor eating

Blue Corn Chips and Salsa – Simple but delicious

Specialty Cheeses – Pick a familiar favorite and something that will challenge your pallete

Fresh Fruit – Did someone say watermelon?

Shrimp Cocktail – Delicious decadence

Sushi – Easy for sharing, can be an entree too

Gazpacho – Is there anything better on a hot day?

For the main event, you’ll want something hearty and satisfying to sustain you through the summer’s warmth. A great place to pick up entrees would be Salumeria Rosi, a small, neighborhood salumi shop and restaurant (283 Amsterdam Ave and 73rd St). Depending on the size of your party, 1 to 3 of these dishes should suffice:

Mezzi Rigatoni all’Amatriciana – A blend of 9 meats, onions, tomatoes and artisanal pasta.

Costina – Spicy Tuscan spare ribs, slow-cooked with tomatoes, rosemary and garlic.

Torta di Porri -Individual size savory tart of leeks, pancetta and Parmigiano.

Matuffi con Polenta -Greenmarket zucchini braised in tomato with parsley, basil and Parmigiano over polenta.

Selezione Piccolo – If you can’t decide, this has seven different styles of salumi, about two pieces of each depending on size. This plate is perfect for two people to share or for one very hungry person.

Finally, no proper picnic ends without something sweet. Bouchon Bakery, on the second floor of the Time Warner Center (10 Columbus Circle, southwest corner of the park) has many mouthwatering confections from the chef behind Per Se, Ad Hoc, Bouchon and French Laundry. Here are some highlights with descriptions from Bouchon:

Macarons – This classic French pastry filled with rich buttercream has been adored for centuries. Precise baking produces a cookie that has a light and crisp outside and a soft and chewy inside. These two textures are what make the macaron such a special confection. The flavors of their macarons change with the seasons.

TKO – Homemade Oreos – An oreo cookie is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s favorite snacks, reinterpreted here using a chocolate sable dough and a sweet white chocolate ganache filling.

Chocolate Bouchons – These small, chocolate, brownie-like treats are moist, rich and named for their shape, which resembles a cork. They bake them with chocolate chips in the batter and dust them with confectioner’s sugar.

Doughnuts – It seems doughnuts are Bouchon Bakery’s best kept secret. In New York City these treats of a varied selection are available every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While they are available from 7am to 11am on the specified dates, stop in early since high demand often causes the bakery to run out before then.

Now you’re all set, planning this picnic will be a walk in the park!

Central Park’s website has some great information about the do’s and don’ts of park picnics.

If you’re in from out of town and want to stay as close to the park as possible, book a room nearby at the Mandarin Oriental New York, The Empire Hotel or The Ritz Carlton – Central Park.

Now get out there and enjoy!

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