One Mother's Day, several years ago, chef Michael Romano's mother made an unforgettable visit to her son, who was then the executive chef of New York's Union Square Café.
"She didn't come to the restaurant that often, but there was a special Mother's Day meal that she came for. Unbeknownst to me, the staff gave her cards with numbers on them, so she could score the dishes as they came out to the table, like an Olympic judge, saying how well her son had done with her meal," recalls Romano with a laugh.
Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), where Romano is now culinary director and a partner, is known for fostering a warm, second-family feeling among the staff working in its dozen-odd New York restaurants. Romano says that this legendary warmth naturally extends to the restaurants' guests—thanks in part to the "family meal" that the staff enjoy each day before beginning lunch and dinner service.
"Just as in any family, what is cooked and put on the table is a sign of the internal health of that structure," says Romano. "It's a way of caring. If you produce wonderful food for the people who work in a restaurant, it's a sign that restaurant cares for them. They in turn will feel taken care of, and they will be much better-equipped to take care of our guests." Seeking to share some of the best dishes and stories that have come from many, many years of twice-daily family meals, Romano, USHG CEO Danny Meyer and co-author Karen Stabiner have collaborated on a new cookbook, Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals From Our Restaurants to Your Home. It's full of simple, satisfying recipes contributed by more than four dozen USHG staff members.
If you'll be cooking for your family this Mother's Day—Sunday, May 12—we suggest two recipes from the book: holiday roast pork, a traditional centerpiece of a USHG holiday staff party that's great any time of year (and makes plenty of leftovers), and a crisp, flavorful escarole and apple salad. Round out the table with a big pan of cornbread or a stack of toasted corn tortillas, and mom's favorite dessert. To pour with this Mother's Day meal, try a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, such as those from California or New Zealand, whose fruit and herb flavors reflect the elements of the salad and the pork brine seasoning. We have put together a list of 12 recently rated Sauvignon Blancs below.
(Recipes and text excerpted from Family Table, © 2013 by USHG, LLC, and Karen Stabiner. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.)
At Union Square Events, this is what's become known as "holiday pork," a brined and slow-cooked roast with a citrus-and-apple-cider tang. You can slice, shred or cut it into chunks and crisp it in a skillet for instant carnitas. Ask for Boston butt or pork shoulder at your market; they are the same cut.
For the brine:
• 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 2/3 cup kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cups coarsely chopped onions
• 2 heads garlic, cut horizontally in half
• 12 fresh thyme sprigs
• 6 fresh oregano sprigs
• 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
• 5 bay leaves
• 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped apples (not peeled)
• 1 1/3 cups apple cider
• 2 oranges, halved
• 2 limes, halved
• 2 lemons, halved
• 1 6- to 8-pound bone-in pork shoulder
1. To make the brine, combine the brown sugar, salt, pepper, onions, garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, apples and apple cider in a container or pot large enough to hold the pork and brining liquid. Squeeze in some juice from the citrus halves and then add the lemons and limes to the container.
2. Add the pork and enough water to cover. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
3. About 1 hour before you want to start roasting the pork, remove it from the refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry. Transfer to a Dutch oven and roast, covered, for 4 hours.
5. Uncover and continue cooking until the pork is browned and meltingly tender, 20 to 30 minutes more. The pork is done when it can be shredded easily with a fork. Carve and serve. Serves 12 to 15.
There is no oil in the dressing for this salad, just maple syrup spiked with smoked paprika. This may make you skeptical. But the allure of the salad lies in its surprising combination of ingredients—and in the simple preparation, which requires only toasting pecans, some chopping and slicing, and mixing the dressing. It will make you wonder how you never thought of it yourself.
For the salad:
• 1 cup pecans
• 1 head escarole, cored and coarsely chopped
• 1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored and thinly sliced
• 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
For the dressing:
• 1/2 cup plain yogurt
• 1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
• 1/2 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1. Spread the pecans in a large dry skillet and toast over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring and watching carefully so they do not burn. Transfer to a plate to cool.
2. Combine the escarole, apple, pecans and onion in a large serving bowl.
3. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients except the mint in a small bowl and mix well.
4. Toss the salad with the dressing, sprinkle with the mint, and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
RECOMMENDED SAUVIGNON BLANCS
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
For all WineSpectator.com visitors: