Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The new fauxhawk

November 29

"Handlebar moustaches are the new fauxhawk."
Thus declared my new friend Jason Sheeler, who is old friends with my friend Clark at Travel + Leisure, after we left Paris Commune. The owners of that restaurant and wine bar threw a party celebrating their first year on 99 Bank Street and their 26th year in the West Village.
It's good to get a slice of pizza before going to parties organized by the publicists in charge of this one; they tend to go heavy on the booze and light on the food. But their parties are fun and the people are fashion-forward, especially if the party's in the West Village. Jason saw one handlebar moustache in full bloom and the beginning stages of another one, meaning it was going to sweep the gay community and spread from there, he says, just as the fauxhawk did.
In case you don't know, as I most certainly did not, a fauxhawk is the hairstyle in which you comb your hair toward the center of your scalp and then make it stick up in the middle, like a Mohawk.

Monday, November 28, 2005


November 28
I had lunch at Country, Jeffrey Zakarian's new restaurant, sequel to Town, with a guy who recently launched a company that wants to be both manager and agent to chefs. It turns out we both have dining traditions of our own on the days around Thanksgiving. He does a sort of high-end dinearound in New York on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. On the Friday afterward I meet with friends in Chinatown around noon and then we work our way uptown, eating and drinking until we run out of steam. We have a lot of steam.

What I ate (at Country):

White gazpacho with grapes
Lacquered pork ribs with cheese grits, apple butter and biscuits.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tuscany meets Emilia-Romagna

November 27

I was trying to figure out how the all-Italian wine list at Gradisca on W. 13th Street was organized. Clearly it wasn't alphabetical or by price. After further scrutiny I realized the arrangement was geographical, with northern wines from Trentino, Veneto, Piedmont etc. on top and Sicilian wines at the bottom. Wines from Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio and so on were in the middle. I don't think I've ever seen that before, certainly not without subject headings to let the diner know what's going on.
The list even had two red wines from Emilia-Romagna, a region widely regarded as having the best food in Italy, but I've even heard people from there disparage its wine. I respect that: If you're proud of where you come from, you also can admit to your home's shortcomings. So when eating in fine-dining restaurants in Emilia-Romagna cities such as Parma and Bologna, it's not uncommon for the sommeliers to recommend fancier wines from other regions, such as Lombardy, Piedmont or Tuscany. Locals, of course, drink the local stuff, which is produced to go well with the local food.
Gradisca’s owner, Massimo Galeano, is from Bologna and his chef, Matteo Boglione, is from Florence, in Tuscany, so the food reflects those two culinary traditions, which in many ways are opposite. Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine is known for its complex preparations, while Tuscan food is known for its straightforward, almost rustic approach.

What I ate:

Parmigiano crisp with sautéed chanterelles
Pappa Pomodoro
Polenta with cheese sauce and porcini
Carpaccio with porcini, Parmigiano-Reggiano and thyme pesto
Bocconcino di bufala with Prosciutto di Parma and truffle sauce
Pistachio-crusted scallop and carrot puree
Spinach lasagna
Cinghiale with potato gnochetti
Beef filet over white asparagus puree, potato cake with truffle and leek
Warm chocolate cake with crème anglaise
Four gelatos: vanilla with candied chestnut, nougat, limoncello and hazelnut

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Whisky at Seppi's

November 23

The holiday season, between Thanksgiving and New Year's, usually is a slow time for food writers. Restaurants are busy dealing with paying customers, so it's my opportunity to take some downtime, relax, spend more time at the gym and generally do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and instead enjoy some nice alone time.
I closed off my busy season, between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, by having dinner with a publicist at a restaurant that she doesn't even represent. We went to Seppi's, next to the Parker Meridien, where her boyfriend is the bartender. I had a stiff celebratory scotch, with half an ice cube to open it up, and then the Swiss chef's tarte flambée, a flat bread topped with onions that more often than necessary is compared to pizza. Then we had some kombu seaweed noodles that I'd just written about, tossed with avocado, tofu, tomato and a vinaigrette. For the main course we both had a hanger steak au poivre, rare, with fries, and for dessert we split a caramelized banana tart with ice cream and dark chocolate. My host's boyfriend, the bartender and a good Irish storyteller, regaled us with a tale of Latin American businessmen who were drinking Middleton Very Rare, a scotch (or rather, an Irish whiskey; see comment #5 below) that sells for $30 a shot, and mixing it with ginger ale. He also gave me a taste of a premium Irish whiskey, Redbreast. He said his family traditionally sold barley to that whiskey's producers. He used a drinking straw to stir a drop of water into my whiskey to open it up. It worked.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Little Bistro

November 22

I had dinner at Little Bistro, somewhere on the border between Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill in Brooklyn. If you know the actual boundaries between those neighborhoods, please let me know.
It was good to see the chef and co-owner, Chris Cheung, again. I hadn't seen him since shortly after he'd opened Tiger Blossom, a restaurant that failed to thrive in the East Village and that closed soon after September 11.
He's a good guy who cut his teeth under Ed Brown when he was at JUdson Grill and then became a protégé of Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
He's a Cantonese-American (Toisan, actually) raised in Bensonhurst, which means that when you talk to him he sounds more like a Sal Gianelli. His plural for "you" is "yous."

What I ate:
Fried calamari with cardamom salt
Lobster pot pie
Crab cakes, baby spinach with tarragon vinaigrette, and slaw of napa cabbage, carrots and green mango
Pan-roasted snapper with sautéed arugula and balsamic jus
Hanger steak with horseradish whipped cream and sriracha sauce
Lychee custard
Apple pie à la mode.

Funny hats

November 21

If you get invited to a party at the French Consulate in New York City, try to go, just so you can check out the ornate space. The residence of the Swedish consul general in New York also is a nice place, actually, and you're almost guaranteed to have a good time. But remember to make eye contact with anyone you toast — it's considered rude to do otherwise in Germanic cultures, which includes Scandinavians.
But I digress. Tonight the event was at the French Consulate and the occasion was the induction of new members of the New York chapter of the Ordre Des Compagnons du Beaujolais. You also should try to go to parties thrown by any food- or wine-related French guild. They wear funny hats, and sometimes robes and other regalia and in general are good for a laugh and nice people besides. The Beaujolais compagnons wear sommelier's cups around their necks and, when inducted, have to chug wine from a giant sommelier's cup.
I met a guy who runs a semi-legal "supper club" out of his home. I'd heard about these before. They're sort of unlicensed restaurants where you show up with cash and eat what they're cooking, dinner-party style. In the case of this guy's supper club, the price of admission is $20 plus a bottle of wine, although he's planning on reducing the number of attendees from around 20 to 10 and raising the price to $30.

Friday, November 18, 2005


November 18

I had a very long press lunch at Scarlatto in the theater district today. The new chef, Roberto Passon, replaces Roman chef Camillo Bassani, who apparently was taken out of commission by a traffic accident while riding his Vespa. How quintessentially Italian.
I had a nice time talking to my companions, all women again, one of whom was a television producer for, among other people, Phil Donahue. So we talked about the evolution of daytime talk shows from Donahue through Oprah and on to the variety we have now. It turns out that another of my luncheon companions was on Oprah, talking about her book on battered women. I also learned a bit about clubs for the Italian-American 20-somethings in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. You know, from Saturday Night Fever (although that actually was Bensonhurst). I want to go.
Strangely, a normally nice and well-behaved newspaper editor, who also was at my table, yelled at the busboy because she thought her coffee was too weak. She said it looked like tea. He thought she meant that she’d like tea, which he dutifully brought her, so she yelled at him again.
I mean, it’s coffee. If it’s so bad, don’t drink it.

What I ate:
Bruschetta with mozzarella, porcini and truffle oil
Parmesan cup with fried artichokes, caramelized tomatoes and grated Parmesan
Wild boar fettuccine
Grilled branzino, straight-up with olive oil
Rabbit ragù with creamy polenta
And for dessert, profiteroles with chocolate sauce, ricotta cheesecake, tiramisu, panna cotta, espresso semifreddo and chocolate cake.

Don't be a chocolate hater

November 17

6:00 P.M. Opening party of Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria

Big hair’s back. Not the Farrah Fawcett style of the 1970s and ’80s, but the grand, poofy hair of decades before. A couple of women’s coiffures caused gasps from younger attendees. The gasps combined delight and horror as we regarded one elderly woman with a spider plant of teased hair-sprayed strands arching up and then hanging down from her head. Another woman in late middle age had her hair molded into a sort of grand, lopsided puffball. Both hair-dos clearly required so much work as to seem anachronistic, but they were also kind of cool.
“The Peacocks are out!” marveled one friend, a nice reference to the origin of the name Peacock Alley, which is where New York’s upper crust would come to strut and in general put themselves on display.
“If you’re that homely, you have to have a personality,” said another friend, perhaps too loudly.
I would have stayed until the party was over, but I was having dinner at the Beard House again.

7:30 P.M. James Beard House. Featured chef: Steven Peterson, executive chef of MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas.
The MGM Grand brought its own plates, which apparently is what the MGM Mirage group does when one of its chefs comes to the Beard House. I’m not sure why. I and the other journalists were seated with the hotel group’s publicist at Table 11, not Table 5 where press usually sits.
Table 11 is great because it’s in James Beard’s former bedroom, as evidenced by the mirrored ceiling.
It was a good group – a mix of trade writers, writers from celebrity magazines, and one from Life. I was the only man at the table, which is not unusual, but three of the seven women detested chocolate, which is pretty odd.
I’m coming across more and more people who aren’t big fans of chocolate. This confuses me.

What I ate and drank:

Kobe Beef Tartare in Parmesan Cannoli
Crispy Prosciutto Grissini with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Italian Parsley
Big-Eye Tuna on Sesame Rice Crackers
Marinated White Anchovies on Dried Tomato Crostini
Foie Gras on Warm Brioche
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV

Eggplant and Asparagus Martini with Oxtail Gelée, Olive Oil–Potato Purée, and Truffled Lobster Salad
Prager Hinter der Berg Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2001

Chayote Squash Salad with Cava Vinegar
Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Brut NV

Braised Sweetbreads and Caramelized Scallops with Fennel, Celeriac, Verjus, and Baby Arugula
Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres 2001

Tasting of Four Story Lamb with Pomegranate, Porcini, Onion Daube, and Lamb Charcuterie
Coto de Imaz Reserve Rioja 1999

Butternut Squash Gratin with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream and Spice Cake
Alois Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese NV

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Ocean Room

November 16

Dinner at the James Beard House. Featured chef: Chris Brandt, chef of The Ocean Room at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, in South Carolina.
I sat next to the hotel group’s publicist, Matt Owen, a native of Liverpool who ended up in Charleston on a soccer scholarship. He is the second dashing, blond-haired Englishman who arrived in the United States because of a soccer scholarship and then got involved with restaurants whom I've met at the Beard House. This might be worth further investigation.
But the best thing I learned is that someone from Liverpool, apart from a being called a Liverpudlian, is called a scouser, because of the local poor-man’s stew, scouse. Scouse also is the name of the local dialect of Liverpool, just as Cockney is the local London dialect. I also learned that you don't have to be a working-class Londoner to be a Cockney; that's a nickname for any Londoner.

What I ate and drank:

Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail with Granny Smith Apple,
White Truffle and Chive Foam Salad, Finished with American Caviar
2003, Petaluma, Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia

Organic Baby Arugula and Watercress Salad
Served with Crunchy Toasted Cashews, Asian Pears and Warm Brie Dressing
2003, Boilliot, Montagny, 1er Cru, Burgundy, France

“Maine Lobster Three ways”
Lobster Rillettes, Lobster Risotto and Champagne-Lobster Nage,
With Roasted Porcini and Fava Beans
2003, Joseph Drouhin, Meursault, Burgundy, France

“A Study in Duck”
House Cured Duck Prosciutto, Fig Jam and 50 Year Balsamic,
Duck Confit, Herbed Crêpe, Macerated Blue Berries and Foie Gras Mousse, Toasted Brioche with Cherry-Vanilla Compote
2003, Fazio Nero D’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sicily, Italy

Decadent Chocolate Fudge Tart,
Espresso Parfait and Blood Orange-Tarragon Salad
NV, Romariz, Ruby, Porto, Portugal

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


November 15, 2005

On the way to dinner at askew, on LaGuardia right near NYU, I walked past Señor Swanky’s, which has been around for five years or so and which, because I’m dense, I just noticed declares itself to be a “Mexican Café and Celebrity Hangout.” I guess I respect the owners’ pluck.
askew opened just a couple of weeks ago and is the first restaurant venture of owner Edwin Chong, who started out in computers but likes restaurants and thought owning one would be cool. It’s tricked out with hip lighting and slightly askew décor (get it?) by Karim Rashid, who also designed Morimoto in Philadelphia. The food, all appetizer-sized, ranges from Caribbean-Southeast-Asian fusion, like jerk chicken and green mango slaw, to hanger steak.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Hello, best wishes and thanks for taking a look at my diary. If you’re looking for restaurant recommendations, I apologize. Although I have been a restaurant critic in the past, I am no longer. Instead, I report on food in restaurants for the benefit of restaurant operators. I don’t say whether it’s good or bad, just what it is. Here in my blog I’ll be sharing other observations too, but it wouldn’t be right for me to tell you where to eat; I’m based in New York, and the savvy restaurant operators here know who the food writers are, so I might get different treatment than other diners. That’s nice for me, but I’d hate to tell you “That restaurant’s great! Everything’s free and they give you Champagne,” when your experience might be different.
So please take my observations for what they’re worth, comment if you want to, and make your own judgments when eating out.