Thursday, December 29, 2005

Manhattan, Mainhattan

December 28

A quick Manhattan at Oscar's at the Waldorf-Astoria before attending a holiday party where I got to chat with nutritionist Marion Nestle, who had spent the day at an Oprah magazine shoot. She's promoting her new book: "What to Eat." It's a guide to how to shop in supermarkets.
Then it was off to dinner at Mainland, whose chef, Brian Young, is the only former Cordon Bleu classmate of mine I know of in New York. We had shrimp, chicken and pork dumplings as well as half a Peking duck and Brian's version of beef and broccoli -- dry-aged sirloin with sweet onion rings, wok-seared garlic broccoli and wasabi sauce. We had sides of crispy Szechuan bread, ginger-garlic choy sum and some baby bok choy as well.
I sampled one of their signature cocktails, the Mainhattan.
Brian sent out a bunch of desserts and came out to chat. I hadn't seen him since his brief stint as chef of Citarella, and before then I hadn't seen him since cooking school. He has a 19-year-old kid at SUNY Purchase.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Aroma Kitchen & Winebar

December 27

I had dinner with my friend Clark Mitchell, from Travel + Leisure, at Aroma Kitchen & Winebar. The East Village restaurant is run by career-changer Alexandra Degiorgio and her boyfriend, Vito Polosa. Alexandra's been in New York for a decade, but she was raised in Australia and is originally from Malta. Previously in "computers and banking," she says running a restaurant is the hardest job she's ever had. Well, yes.
Vito comes from an olive-oil producing family in Potenza, the main city in Italy's Basilicata region, the instep of the great Italian boot. He described the mostly inland region as "Byzantine," and he didn't mean confusing and bureaucratic.
He's in charge of the wine list, which is all Italian and mostly small producers using indigenous Italian grapes. He's really into it.
Chef Chris Daly sent out a massive tasting, and the final, fruit-and-cheese course was brought out by the sous chef and pastry chef, Shawn Darling, who addressed me as "Mr. Thorn." There's something I like about that.

What I ate and drank:

House olives with rosemary-infused olive oil
Sunchokes, squash and beets in artichoke vinaigrette.
Sparkling white wine from Veneto: Non-vintage Valdobbiadene Silvano Follader Prosecco

Cavateli bolognese with veal ragu
Red wine from Basilicata: Eubea Aglianico del Vultura

Lobster broth with foie gras ravioli and shrimp
Sparkling red wine from Lombardy: Negri Gelsomina Lambrusco Mantovane

Crispy-skinned Chatham cod with fennel, oranges and olives
White wine from Friuli: Gradis'ciutto Bratinis, which uses Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Tokay grapes as well as Ribola Gialla

Pomegranate sorbet

Veal shoulder in its own juice with Val Grana Gnocchi
Red wine from Le Marche: Il Morellone, a blend of Sangiovese and Montapulciano

Braised duck salad with diced pancetta, balsamic dressing and a poached egg.
Red wine from Umbria: Montefalco Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrentino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chocolate cake with creme fraiche, walnut-peanut butter pesto and peanut praline
New York-style cheesecake with dried cherries and cherry syrup
Dessert wines: Sicilian Marsala and Pacinto Sagrentino

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Brooklyn meets Charleston

December 19

"That tattoo has texture," I said to Brett McKee, chef of Oak Steakhouse in Charleston, S.C., who was the evening's featured chef at the James Beard House. The image of a writhing snake working its way down his left arm looked like it had real scales.
It turns out the tattoo was just a couple of days old and hadn't healed yet. I guess I don't know enough about scheduling tattoos to know if it's so hard to get appointments that you need to do it whenever they can squeeze you in, even if it's right before cooking at the Beard House.
At any rate, it fit in with his crew of young, lean, earring-wearing tattooed cooks. And it contrasted nicely with the diners, an unusually stylish and good-looking crowd. It seemed to be mostly comprised of two groups: the type of Charlestonians who would fly to New York to have dinner prepared by their favorite chef, and a group of Brett's New York drinking buddies, most of whom seemed to work on Wall Street and were tall, sharply dressed and had elegant spouses. I felt a little bit like I was at a cotillion.
Brett had brought cases of beer for his drinking buddies while the rest of us drank Prosecco.
The kitchen crew was stylish and good-looking, too, by the way, but in the tattooed-earringed way that's really more appropriate for cooks.
Brett sounded kind of Cajun to me when I met him, but it turns out he's from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I think he had picked up a bit of that South Carolina accent, which when blended with some Bay Ridge came out as Cajun. At any rate, as the evening wore on the Brooklynite came out. So when he was introduced at the end of the meal, as is the custom at the house, he told the guests that he'd brought a "shit-pile" of crew members with him, by which he meant "a lot." That was a first for me at the James Beard House. I'd never heard anyone use the F-word when speaking into the Beard House's mic before, either.
The wine distributor of the evening also owns some restaurants in Tampa and describes their cuisine, a fusion of the area's different communities, as Tampesca. He said it differed from the Floribbean cuisine of farther south in the state in that it was a more gentle melding of flavors, with fewer fruit salsas.

After dinner the chef announced that he and his gang were going drinking at a place called The Hideaway, but I already had plans to go to a party at Tia Pol featuring sherry. Beverage consultant Steve Olson throws the party every year, with sponsorship, obviously, from the sherry folks and Wines from Spain. It's a party for wine buyers and sommeliers and some press. Usually it's a good place for gossip, but this year, I think because I was overly full from dinner, I mostly lay low and sampled a little Dry Sack as a digestive, as well as some sherry cocktails that were featured in a contest earlier in the day. The winner contained both sherry and tequila.

What I ate and drank:

Hors d'oeuvre:

Mini Caprese Napoleon
Clams Casino & Oreganato
Eggplant Caponata Bruschetta with shaved Parmigiano-Reggianno

Prosecco di Valdobbiaden, Villa Castalba
Foie Gras & Duck Confit Ravioli with Shaved Black Truffles
Torre Fornello Malvasia Dolce
Roasted Beet & Baby Bibb Salad with Candied Pecans, Golden Raisins and Goat Cheese
Antinori Vermentino
Grilled Marinated Quail with Asiago Polenta and Bing Cherry Sauce
Barbera D’Asti, Agliano Pavia and Figli,
Pancetta wrapped Rack of Lamb & Tuscan Rubbed Filet Mignon with Roasted Butternut Squash Gnocchi, Braised Cabbage and Saia-scented Demi-Glace
Saia Nero D’Avola, Sicily
Warm Apple Tart with Honey-Vanilla Gelato and a Winter Berry Compote
Michele Chiarlo, Nivole

The sherry cocktails:

La Perla
Created by Jacques Bezuidenhout, Tres Agaves, San Francisco and
winner of the 2005 sherry cocktail competition
1 1/4oz Domecq Manzanilla sherry
1 1/2oz Gran Centenario Reposado Tequila
1oz Pear Liqueur
Stirred, chilled, up.

Le Jardin Verde
Created by Brian van Flandern, Per Se, New York
1 1/2 oz. Sandeman Rare Fino Sherry
1/2 oz. Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka
1/2 oz. Cucumber Puree
Splash of Fresh Lime Juice
Splash of Simple Syrup
1 oz. Muscato D’Asti (Perrone)
Shaken, chilled, up, with micro green flowers.

Emilio Martini
Created by Jason Erwin, Picasso, Las Vegas
1 1/2 oz. Lustau Rare Cream Solera "Superior" Sherry
1 oz. Level Vodka
1 oz. Nocello
1/2 oz. Tuaca
Shake & strain, chilled up, orange twist.

El Cid (Campeador)
Created by Mike Mraz, Hearth, New York
2 1/2 oz. Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
3/4 oz. Orange Juice
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
1 1/2 oz. Tonic Water
Powdered Roasted Almonds on glass rim
Shake & strain, up, garnish with orange wheel

Junior Merino, The Modern, New York
2 1/2 oz. Lustau Solera Reserva – Manzanilla Papirusa
1/2 oz. Barenjager Honey Liqueur
1 oz. Charbay Green Tea Vodka
Stirred, chilled, up.
Garnish with an orchid or a wheel of blood orange.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Body paint and tamales

December 14

Once again my assertion that the holidays are a quiet time for food writers was ripped to shreds. I decided to forego the province of Quebec's New York celebration, as well as the opening of Emperor's Roe in Harlem, and focused my energies on the opening of Gilt.
It was a wise choice: Certainly it was the event of the evening, possibly of the week.
The courtyard of the New York Palace hotel was decorated in its usual Christmastime glory, augmented by a giant clear plastic bubble with a person inside wearing very little more than metallic body paint, slowly moving from one pose to the next. I think he was supposed to be an ornament.
Inside the space that Gilt now occupies were really two parties. To the left, electronic music was playing in the bar area, the lighting was subdued and posing in the corner was another gilded, nearly naked man. To the right, a woman was singing jazz in a more grown-up setting. A gilded woman, wearing quite a bit more clothing than her male counterparts but apparently every bit as much body paint, and wearing on her head, like a hat, the capital of a Corinthian column, was also striking slowly changing poses. Everyone was drinking Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle non-vintage Brut Champagne and sampling nibbles of chef Paul Liebrandt's cuisine, which defies description.
Mr. Liebrandt combines flavors in such a way that you can taste all of the components, often one after another, which delights some diners and confuses others. It does tend to make everyone think, though.
I didn't get much of a chance to talk to the chef, but I did talk to the sommelier, Jason Ferris, who is introducing an extravagant wine-by-the-glass list — including glasses for upwards of $500. To pair with dessert he'll be offering flights of Château d'Yquem, a notion that fits well with the double entendre of the restaurant's name.

It was a good party, but perhaps not as good as the next one I went to. My friend Kenny Lao, who owns Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on 23rd St., was having his holiday staff party and he invited me to stop by. He ordered pizza and his crew made tamales, which I ate as Kenny and his managers served margaritas and vodka-spiked lemonade. I met an 18-year-old, something I hadn't done in a long time, and couldn't help giving him advice about life. I also met some NRN readers — apparently it's required reading for people studying restaurant management at NYU — and in general enjoyed watching Kenny celebrate his employees and breezily switch from English to Spanish to Mandarin. I even got to practice my Chinese with a guy from Shanghai. We talked about the rapid economic development underway in his hometown. At least I think we did; my Chinese is pretty rusty.
I got home at around 2 a.m.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bruce Hornsby and Saracen ice cream

December 13

I took a brief trip to Williamsburg, Va., and mostly ate the food of Bob Kinkead, chef-owner of Kinkead’s in Washington, D.C., Colvin Run Tavern in McLean, Va., and Sibling Rivalry in Boston. He was in Williamsburg with his friend Marcel Desaulniers, who owns The Trellis in Williamsburg and was helping Bob promote his new book — or newish, since it was published in 2004 — "Kinkead’s Cookbook: Recipes from Washington D.C.'s Premier Seafood Restaurant."
Marcel held a lunch at his test kitchen and studio, Ganache Hill, for various local food editors. Since I was in town, I was invited too, and I stayed later to interview Marcel and Bob. We chatted about the evolution of restaurant food in America. Marcel recalled working at the Pierre hotel in New York in the 1970s and opening cans of white asparagus and chanterelles.
The lunch featured items from Bob's cookbook.
Then we had dinner at The Trellis, featuring more items from Bob's cookbook. The dinner also featured the art of local painter and photographer Kathy Hornsby, wife of famous musician Bruce Hornsby. I sat across from Kathy and next to her mother, Ann Yankovich. Bruce was farther down the table, which seated 12 people, so we didn't get a chance to chat much. He was about to leave when dessert arrived, and he gleefully sat back down. He's the second guy I've seen in the past two months to be stopped dead in his tracks by dessert. The first guy was a representative from Wild American Shrimp who was actually unable to speak when the dessert cart rolled by at Gottlieb's in Savannah, Ga. I think it's an endearing quality, being enamored of dessert.
Bob sat in the middle of the table, busily signing copies of the cookbook with a sharpie with the same color as the cover of his cookbook. He was very proud of that.

What I ate for lunch:
Arugula Salad with Haricots Verts, Roasted Beets, and Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
Lobster and Macaroni Gratin
Mustard-Glazed Salmon with Crabmeat and Tomato-Basil Butter
Saracen Ice Cream with a Compote of Dried Figs, Prunes, and Apricots

What I ate for dinner:
Strudel of wild mushrooms and country ham
Minnesota wild rice soup with pheasant
Walnut-crusted rockfish with sherry-beet sauce and cauliflower flan
Salad of bibb and soft lettuces with radishes, Gruyère and mustard-chervil vinaigrette
Prime sirloin au poivre with madeira mushrooms and fried zucchini
Chocolate dacquoise with cappuccino sauce and more Saracen ice cream

Monday, December 12, 2005

How geese could cure West Nile

December 10

I had dinner at the restaurant formerly known as La Côte Basque, which is now LCB Brasserie Rachou, with, among other people, Jim Schiltz, president of the National Goose Council.
Jim raises or processes about 75 percent of all the geese eaten in North America, so it makes sense that he's chief of the goose council. Then again, only 200,000-300,000 geese are raised in America each year, so it's not that big a deal.
Jim's a cutting-edge guy, though, and as I munched on a terrine of pig trotters and apples, followed by sweetbreads (I don't know why I was in a weird-food mood, but clearly I was, although I had warm chocolate cake for dessert), he explained a treatment he has developed for West Nile Virus.
His flock was hit by West Nile four years ago, and it killed a quarter of them virtually overnight. The virus has been coming back every year, so Jim has been collecting blood from the geese who survive and, working with scientists who know about such things, has been using them to develop a serum.
Unlike vaccines, in which dead viruses are injected into patients so they can develop their own antibodies against those viruses in case live ones come their way, Jim's serum is a collection of antibodies produced by his turkeys that survived the virus. He says West Nile mutates a lot, which means the serum, as it has been developed over the years, has become a collection of an array of slightly different antibodies, each capable of knocking out a different strain of West Nile.
He and his partner have a preliminary patent on the serum, and it's about to start being tested on hamsters, an early step, maybe, in getting it approved for use on people.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sushi among Muslims

December 7
I'm in Dearborn, Mich., which I learned from my taxi driver, a gentleman from the Isa tribe in Djibouti, is the heart of the Detroit area's Muslim community. And the Detroit area's Muslim community is the largest in the country.
So perhaps my colleague and I should have gone out for Middle Eastern food, but my heart was set on a new place called Crave, which serves sushi and stuff and which I felt deserved investigation for the What's Hot section of NRN.
We had roasted baby octopus, seaweed salad and "crêpes Rangoon," a bottle of Washington state Reisling and assorted sushi, selection of which we left up to the chef.
Crave filled up nicely for a Wednesday night in west Dearborn. I'd say it's hot.

December 6, part II: Dinner

Whenever I think the food's going to be interesting, I invite my friend Andy Battaglia. He writes music and book reviews — mostly music reviews — for The Onion and is a true sensualist, delighted by anything that makes his senses go "Whoa, what was that?"
So he was the obvious choice to be a guest at Megu, a high-end creative-Japanese restaurant in Tribeca.
It's a pleasure to watch Andy's delight at eating food such as teriyaki foie gras skewers. He's also my source of knowledge about music. Tonight I learned that house music originated around 1985 in black gay bars in Chicago's South Side — specifically at a place called The Warehouse. Shortly thereafter, techno was developed in Detroit.
An important difference between those genres, he said, is that the source of gravity in techno is below the music; in house, it's above the music.

What I ate:

Snapper sashimi salad with pine nuts, garlic chips and walnuts prepared tableside and topped with sesame oil
"A very special egg" — mango of a shape and texture that resembled an egg yolk, floating in a sweet, clear sauce, served in a porcelain spoon
An amuse-bouche of chicken with scallions
Snapper with shaved white truffle and ginger slivers in snapper consommé
Tuna "no ten" — forehead meat — mixed with 30 percent o-toro — belly meat — in wasabi-lemon soup, caviar and tuna marrow mousse, drizzled with a mixture of soy sauce and daiginjo sake.
Foie gras teriyaki skewers topped with sesame, served on a charcoal grill
Spanish mackerel cooked sous vide with a sauce of parsley, olive oil and garlic, garnished with a salmon-and-rice beggar's purse, cantaloupe with akemi tuna, and apple gelée with caviar.
Sea urchin pasta in its shell
Baked onion with potato and udon, topped with a yuba — crispy soy milk — crêpe, and served in a temple-shaped porcelain bowl.
Chocolate soufflé filled with strawberry and red bean cream, served with green tea ice cream
Green tea crêpes dusted with macha and drizzled with green tea sauce.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

December 6

I am not a morning person, and regardless of what I may or may not have done last night I did not appreciate having to go to the opening of David Burke at Bloomingdale's at 8:30 this morning.
It's a dual-concept place. On the right is a fast-casual sandwich-salad-pizza shop. On the left is a wine bar and restaurant. Servers were squirting David Burke's new flavor sprays on various items — bacon flavor on the omelettes, for example.
I had difficulty sustaining conversation so early in the morning, but I did manage to meet a guy who said in a Russian accent that belied his claim to have been in the U.S. for 26 years: "I am inventor."
It turns out that he invented the trays on which the prosciutto-and-fruit skewers were being passed. He said they actually were meant to be little individual tables for people to carry around at parties. They were easy-grip pedestals with lipped trays that had room for your plate, glass and fork, so you could hold them comfortably, shake the hands of new people and otherwise be freed up to be as gregarious as you like while carrying food around. It even had a light in the center, in case a nighttime party moved outside. Imagine them at a picnic, or a concert, or in a dark bar.
One of the staff members seemed concerned that Russian Inventor was playing with one of their trays and politely took it away from him and began offering the skewers to guests.

distilled holiday spirit

December 5

The holiday season is such a busy time for restaurants that it's supposed to be a slow time for food writers. So I don't understand why I had two events to go to last night. I started at the Pegu Club, a cocktail-oriented bar and restaurant on the south side of Houston, near West Broadway, where the Distilled Spirits Council was throwing a party in celebration of cordials. So a variety of different cordial marketers were positioned at tables, offering straight shots or cocktails made from their products.
Distilled Spirits Council parties are always fun, with plenty of distilled spirits, of course, and always a nod to the notion of drinking responsibly, which last night drew snickers from the people standing in back of me. Fair enough, certainly I wasn't fit to get behind a wheel by the time I'd visited the second table. Then again, I wasn't getting behind a wheel. I live in New York; I don't have to.
I had a nice conversation with a fellow food writer and his girlfriend. He suggested that all food writers invest in a single mediocre restaurant — a typical diner, say — and then all write about it, create buzz and make a lot of money, just to prove a point.

We continued on to the next party, at GoGo, a club on W. 19th Street. It was supposed to be a sort of masquerade gala, but like us, no one else was dressed up, so we just stood around and drank some more as musicians played loudly on percussion instruments and we were expected to dance to it.
I left after two bourbons on the rocks.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Song of the girlyman

December 2
I went to Song, a fairly new Thai restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with its publicists and their friends. Song, which means "two" in Thai and, well, song in English, is one of two restaurants owned by Ariel Aparicio, who also is guitar player and lead singer of a band, Ariel and the Hired Guns, who were playing down the street at Southpaw. So we went to check them out.
They were fairly rockin'. But I really enjoyed the band that followed them, Girlyman: rocky-folksy, but with soul and a sense of humor.
The best suggestion of the evening: The United Nations should be moved to Governor's Island. No one's doing anything with it anyway, New York could still have the prestige of being the home of the UN but New Yorkers wouldn't have to deal with the traffic hassles.

Forgoing scotch for truffles

December 1

6:40 P.M. -- A brief stop at the Lalique boutique on 63rd and Madison, where they were teaming up with a scotch company to bottle a 50-year-old whiskey in a crystal bottle. The retail price is just shy of $6,000. But I had to settle for a taste of a 17-year-old single malt because they weren't opening the really posh stuff until 7:45, and I'd accepted a last-minute invitation for a truffle dinner at the James Beard House downtown, and they sit down there at 7:45.
But after all, I'm a food writer, not a beverage writer, and the featured chef tonight was Cathal Armstrong, a hot young chef from Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Definitely worth checking out. I had to do my duty and abandon the scotch.
The gift bag from the Lalique party had a nice-smelling bottle of men's eau de toilette, so I spritzed some on, and then realized I was an idiot: It's rude to wear scents when going to a truffle dinner (or really any dinner in which the focus is on the food), because the food's fragrance is what those evenings are all about. So I tried to wipe it off.

What I ate and drank:

Butter poached turbot with yam puree, chanterelles and white truffles
Belondrade y Lurton Verdejo 2003, (Rueda, Spain)

Sauteed boudin noir, fried quail egg, smoked ham hock and black truffle
Domaine Montirius "Clos Montirius" Vacqueyras, Rhone Blend 2003 (Vacqueyras, France)

Wild Scottish pheasant breast with pheasant-black truffle sausage, salsify and white truffles
Meinert "Synchronicity" Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Pinotage Blend 2001 (Devon, South Africa)

St. Killians farmhouse cheese with truffle soup
Guzman Aldazabal Cosecha, Tempranillo 2000 (Rioja, Spain)

Chocolate truffle cake with orange milk jam
Sullin Red Malvasia 2004 (Casorzo, Italy)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

drink duel

November 30

6:10 P.M. The same publicists who threw last night's party at Paris Commune were responsible for tonight's opening party for Mint, a new, hip-looking Indian restaurant in Midtown East. Nonetheless, food was relatively easy to come by, and I sampled samosas, grilled vegetables and other assorted goodies. The owners promise to offer dishes from all over the Subcontinent once the restaurant opens tomorrow, instead of the usual chicken tikka masala and lamb korma.
I talked to some fellow journalists, including Sara Bonisteel who told me she'd been promoted to Editor-in-Chief of the New York Resident — a reminder always to be nice to people because you never know where they're going to end up. Then again, Sara's a gem; why be mean to her?

7:00 P.M. I missed the hors d'oeuvre but had a fun dinner at Oscar's at the Waldorf-Astoria. The occasion was a dual pairing of wine and beer. In fact, it was set up as more of a duel-pairing and called "Beer is from Mars, wine is from Venus." The male owner of a Pennsylvania microbrewery would tout the qualities of the beers he selected to go with each dish, and a visiting female sommelier extolled the virtues of her wine selection. Then the guests tasted them and voted.
Apparently the brewmeister and sommelier have been doing this little road show for awhile, and tonight was the first time that beer had won. The room was kind of stacked by beer aficionados, but even so, I was a little surprised that in New York, which really is a cocktail-and-wine city, beer would win out when it didn't in other communities.
The pairing was particularly fun because often the wine would be selected to counterbalance a particular flavor in the dish while the beer picked for that same dish would be intended to complement a flavor, or vice-versa. Both are common pairing techniques and it was interesting to see them attempted simultaneously by two very different beverages. For example, the Riesling that was paired with the poached cabrales-stuffed pear was intended to offset the cheese, whereas the heady, aged beer was meant to mimic the overall earthiness of the dish.

What I ate and drank:

Poached cabrales-stuffed Seckel pear and spiced pecans
Dogfish Head Pangaea
Stonehaven “Winemaker’s Selection” Riesling, 2005, South Australia,

Winter squash ravioli with duck confit, sage-brown butter and bittersweet chocolate
Indian Brown Ale
Banfi “Centine” Tuscan Sangiovese Blend, 2004

Braised beef short ribs with roasted cipollini onions and baby root vegetables over soft herbed polenta
Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra,
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004, Puente Alto, Maipo, Chile

Chocolate brownie à la mode with ginger crème anglaise and chocolate ice-cream
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (23% alcohol by volume!)
Banfi “Rosa Regale” Brachetto d’Acqui, 2004, Piedmont, Italy