When I lived in Manhattan I worked right across from PJ Clarkes. It’s an iconic restaurant with a history that includes being one of the oldest bars in the city, surviving prohibition and two world wars, where you might have seen Johnny Mercer penning the tune “One for My Baby” on his napkin while sipping a cocktail at the bar, or looked up to see Buddy Holly get down on one knee to propose to his wife, or overhear Nat King Cole claim that PJ’s burger was the “Cadillac of burgers!” You could catch a glimpse of Frank Sinatra at table #20 after singing on the town and Jackie O when she brought her children for Saturday luncheon dates. Today you can see the restaurant on Madmen or the French Connection, visit ballplayer Phil Kennedy’s ashes that reside behind the bar or just stop in for a famous burger. PJ Clarkes is the “Vatican of Saloons,” or so says the New York Times. But you wouldn’t find me in the bar or at table 20, I was around the corner through an almost hidden door that you had to be buzzed in to access at Sidecar. See, PJ Clarke’s had upstairs neighbors the Lavezzo’s. They were lovers of old things and dealt in restoring and selling antiques. When PJ passed, the Clarke family sold the business to them and in 2003 when the newest owners purchased and remodeled the building they opened up the former living quarters of the Lavezzo’s to diners in the know.
Sidecar is full of dark, stained wood and floor to ceiling windows that let the New York City light pour in. It’s a classic and I love it. Here is where I would sit and have oysters after a long day at the office, where I took every out of town visitor for dinner or cocktails, where I would often grab a to-go order lunch for my boss (even though they don’t do to-go orders), where big moments happened, like when I rushed to meet my best girlfriend Heather the day she knew she would have to move back to London and we cried over a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and where my then boyfriend now husband and his best friend Jenn and I would snuggle into a booth and fill ourselves with some of the best steak in the world to celebrate his birthday each year. It was my haunt if I ever had one in the City; a place where they knew my name and I was one of the regulars.
Now, they did steak and they did burgers and shucked some of the best oysters around but their Niçoise salad was to die for. It has these huge slices of seared, sushi-grade ahi and dressing that took you right to heaven. I miss the city and Sidecar, so in an act of pure nostalgia, I am sharing my version of this salad today but with a Marcella Rose twist. Traditionally this French dinner staple has green beans blanched to perfection, alongside canned tuna, Niçoise olives, tomatoes and potatoes. But it’s spring and with the beautiful weather come the fiddlehead ferns. These fantastic and gorgeous plants are full of flavor. Some people describe them as bean-like, or asparagus-like, I say they taste like artichokes but milder. I am substituting the traditional green beans with these magnificent little florae. Not only do they give this salad a punch right in the palate but they make any plate look spectacular.
- Tuna Steak
- Head of Romaine letters – Chopped
- Medium boiled egg per person
- Fiddlehead ferns or sub green beans
- Purple baby potatoes – or sub red
- Niçoise olives – sliced long way
- Tomato – sliced into wedges
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- French dressing – recipe and instructions below
- In a small pan bring cold water and eggs to boil
- for an almost runny egg, for 5 minutes then drop in ice bath to stop cooking
- Peel egg and slice in half
- Bring potatoes to boil in salted water and cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes then cool in an ice bath and cut across
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, blanch the fiddlehead ferns until crisp but tender; about 4 minutes. Remove from boiling water and instantly shock in an ice bath – do the same with green beans if subbing
- Salt and Pepper tuna steak, warm pan on high heat and coat with olive oil. When pan is hot, add tuna and sear each side for 1-2 minutes depending on thickness; slice
- Arrange all ingredients on a plate, drizzle with French dressing and enjoy.
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
- 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 2 Teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- Mix all together by whisking or shaking in a jar
To Nice and niceties and Niçoise,