Monday, January 30, 2006

What I learned at Dani

January 30

I ate at Dani, Don Pintabona's new restaurant, with his publicist. I learned that New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni — who, bless his heart, is constantly recognized by New York's savvy restaurateurs — managed to slip into the restaurant unnoticed in order to write his Diner's Journal.
I learned from our waitress a strategy for what to do when the half of a couple who isn't paying the bill is flirting with you (a problem that threatens your tip and that I couldn't solve during the summer I waited tables at Azar's Big Boy in Denver; then again, it only happened to me once). You have to include the other half of the couple in the conversation, making it kind of a non-exclusionary verbal threeway so that everyone's happy.
I learned that former Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheridan can be very well-behaved in a restaurant. She was dining at Dani tonight, too, and before leaving she found Don to thank him and express her joy at eating delicious food. I'd expect her to be well-behaved, but it's good to know that she is.
I already knew that Jeff Butler was the young chef de cuisine at Dani, but I was reminded of that fact.

I ate:
Housemade ricotta with grated Marcona almonds, wildflower honey and crostini
Housemade spiced coppa with pickled cauliflower, oil-cured olives and peperoncini
Grilled Octopus with parsley potatoes, oregano and peperoncini
Bucatini with fennel, sardines and currants
Ravioli with butternut sqush, toasted pistachios and labneh
Handmade Italian fennel sausage with broccoli rabe and rosemary potatoes
Grilled swordfish with mint pesto, warm shrimp and farro salad
Grapefruit and Campari granita
Mint panna cotta with caramelized blood orange and Sicilian pistachios
Warm steamed chocolate cake with hazelnut gelato


January 25

I went to a press dinner at Momoya, a fairly new, fairly Japanese restaurant in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Each course was paired with sake, and this is what I ate:

Fluke carpaccio with grapefruit and mint, paired with Dewasansan-Nama sake
Beef tataki and kaiware salad, paired with Kamoizumi-Nigori sake
Broiled Chilean seabass in lemon miso sauce with spinach, paired with Tedorigawa-Junmai
A sushi collection that included blue fin toro, kumamoto oyster, black cod, a "Ryukyu roll" — which is yellowtail and avocado wrapped in rice and mango, topped with raspberry sauce — and the Momoya spicy tuna roll wrapped with yellotail in two spicy sauces and topped with a little raspberry sauce and toasted almonds. It was all paired with Wakatak-Junmai Daiginjo
A dessert tasting of warm chocolate cake, yuzu cramy tofu and orange coconut crème brûlée, paired with Kome Kome-Junmai

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tall poppy syndrome

January 25

Selina Kayman, one of my favorite Australians and a former producer for NBC's Weekend Today show, told my about what Australians call "tall poppy syndrome," in which someone who tries to rise above the crowd, like a tall poppy is quickly chopped down.
This, she told me, is an important part of egalitarian Australian society, in which you're not supposed to put on airs, act arrogantly or otherwise make a big fuss about yourself.
Ah, but America's different, she told me. Here, you're supposed to be self-aggrandizing and boastful. You're supposed to toot your own horn. You have to be a self-marketer.
This is what she'd heard about the United States when she moved here. So she wrote the most arrogant letter she could imagine about herself. She wrote that she was absolutely the most fantastic television producer ever to come out of Australia and that NBC would be downright foolish not to hire her, or something to that effect.
It worked, she was hired. She stayed for several years and then went home to Australia, where she has a son, Jake. He's 11 months old and just as cute as a button.
I know that because I saw a picture of him today. Selina's husband Simon is a publicist who still spends a fair amount of time in New York, where he promotes Australian products. Today he was working on a press lunch at Le Bernardin called Flavours of the Outback.
An Australian wine company brought in chef Andrew Fielke to do a tasting of indigenous Australian foodstuffs, much of it wild, uncultivated and still probably pretty much like it's been since the Australian aboriginals started eating it as early as 60,000 years ago.
To give you an idea of how long a period of time that is, Neanderthals are believed to have gone extinct just 30,000 years ago.
Australians have been promoting this stuff for awhile. I first saw it in 1997, when I lived in Thailand and met chef Jean-Paul Bruneteau, who was visiting from Sydney. I sampled sea trout wrapped in paperbark and flavored with muntries, potato soup with aniseed myrtle, and kangaroo steak in a sauce flavored with Tasmanian pepper berries.
Today, Fielke prepared a multicourse lunch, but first he walked us through a tasting of the indigenous products he brought along. Some of them were unique and had intriguing aromas and tastes, certainly a welcome addition to the global pantry. Others, mostly tiny, berrylike things, tasted like mere whispers of the fruits that we've cultivated and, if you ask me, improved on over the millennia. Some were inedibly astringent, others were pasty and bland. Some no-doubt had suffered from being frozen or otherwise manhandled during their long journey from Down Under, but some clearly just weren't very good.
Fielke described them all in glowing terms, and used words like "fantastic" and "beautiful" a lot, as though saying it would make it so. I think that he, too, had been told about the need to be a tall poppy in the United States. But finger limes, kakadu plums and bunya nuts are not tall poppies, and pretending they are takes away from the glory of the truly interesting olida, lemon myrtle, wattle seed and pepperleaf.
The presentation reminded me of the Australian olive oil producers who accosted me at a trade show once with declarations of how far superior their olive oil was to anything anyone in Europe had ever dreamed of making. It also reminded me of the Australian food writers who were on a trip to Greece with me and, when asked, as representatives from every country were, to talk for a few minutes about food trends in their country, went on for 20 minutes about how far superior the food in Australia was to anything that was coming out of North America ("Tetsuya's food brings Charlie Trotter to his knees!").
Tall poppies that silly don't even deserve to be chopped down.

What I ate:
Australian tasting plate of sugar cured barramundi and desert lime dill mustard dressing, yabby bisque with coconut lemon myrtle foam, oysters with finger lime "caviar," bunya nut hummus, marron tail in tomato-sweet pepperleaf gelée
Tasmanian ocean trout baked in paperbark with lemon aspen beurre blanc
Australian beef brisket braised in palm sugar master stock and served with Thai herb and mints salad with rivermint dressing
Australian cheeses with aniseed myrtle figs and pepperberry lavosh

hat trick

December 23

One of my bosses (I have at least five bosses, and as many as 11, depending on how you define "boss") was celebrating her birthday today, so we went to Tintol, a new Portuguese tapaslike place near Times Square, where we drank Portuguese red wine from the Douro region and ate blood sausage and anchovies and chorizo grilled at the table and sardines and salt-cod stew and lamb meat balls and beet salad and patatas bravas. And goat.
The night might have evolved into karaoke, but I had to go to a see-and-be-seen party at the soon-to-open Morimoto. This joint venture between Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr and "Iron chef" Masahuru Morimoto is the fulfillment of a promise that Starr made to Morimoto when he cajoled the chef into opening a restaurant in the City of Brotherly Love. Basically, Starr said: Come to Philadelphia now, and I'll help you open a restaurant in New York later on.
It's supposed to be very cool, very fashion-forward Japanese-ish food. I had a string bean in a crispy white-chocolate shell; you be the judge.
The party was thrown by Gourmet magazine in celebration of its 65th anniversary, and pretty much the whole New York restaurant world was there, plus some visitors like Elizabeth Faulkner, who owns two restaurants in San Francisco: Citizen Cake and Citizen Cupcake. Coincidentally, she was in town competing on Iron Chef.
I met Elizabeth in Tulsa, Okla., last year when we both went to a workshop on cooking with gums and modified starches and other things that "molecular gastronomers" use. She said that in her Iron Chef performance she talked about the utility of using xanthan gum and locust bean gum together and that I would be proud of her.
When used together, xanthan and locust bean gum form a very good gel, in case you were wondering.
Name a famous or cool chef in New York, and he or she probably was at the party, except for Don Pintabona, whose restaurant, Dani, was opening that night (more about that in a moment). I chatted briefly with Zak Pelaccio of 5 Ninth and Fatty Crab, Josh DeChellis of Sumile and Jovia, Scott Conant of L'Impero and Alta, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, and others.
One of the things I really like about Dan is that he's an avid reader of NRN.
Notice how many fine dining chefs have at least two restaurants (Blue Hill has two locations).
Jean-Georges Vongerichten was there, and Jonathan Waxman, and Tom Colicchio. Everybody, even Rocco DiSpirito.
I was kind of surprised to see him. Rocco used to be the absolute darling of the chef world. They loved his creativity, and when they came to New York they made pilgrimages to his restaurant, Union Pacific. I knew a chef in Atlanta who named his dog "Rocco" in DiSpirito's honor.
Even ubercynic Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and host of A Cook's Tour, admired him, as he told me back in 2000, just as both of them were about to become quite famous.
I wrote profiles of both of those chefs that year. Soon afterward (and not related in any way to the fact that I wrote about them) Kitchen Confidential became a smash-hit and Rocco became the first chef, I think ever, to appear on the cover of Gourmet.
I remembered who was hosting the party, and then, of course, it made sense that Rocco was there. I said hello, asked him about his new cookbook. He seemed well.
I think it was Rocco DiSpirito's appearance on the cover of Gourmet, biceps bulging as he held a great fish, that was the beginning of the transformation of his career from medium-celebrity chef and restaurant operator to the guy who was declared "sexiest chef alive" by People magazine and then became star of reality TV show The Restaurant.
If you're not in the restaurant industry, you probably don't know how much that show was reviled by restaurant operators. I mean, they hated it. They fumed that it wasn't realistic.
Well, of course it wasn't realistic: It was reality TV.
One thing led to another, Union Pacific closed, and Rocco has gone on to write cookbooks, host radio shows, appear on morning news shows and so on.
Come to think of it, I didn't see Anthony Bourdain at the party, but I came late, and besides, he's not really in the restaurant business anymore, either, and is chef at Les Halles in name only.
I lingered, chatted with Gourmet food editor Ian Knauer, who was a fellow judge with me last year at the Third Annual Celebration of Vegetables (I'm not making that up) at the Culinary Vegetable Institute (that either) in Milan, Ohio. Nice guy.
It was nearly 11 when I left, but I still stopped by Dani, Don Pintabona's new place, to see if things were still afoot.
Theoretically that party ended at 10, but I was still greeted by Don's enthusiastic business partner, Noel Cruz, who handed me a cocktail. I hung out with Dante Boccuzzi, the chef at Aureole, and others. Dante and Don both commute from Long Island, and Dante suggested that I write a feature on chefs who commute.
I told him I'd think about it.

kolivada macchi and nargisi kofta, washed down with an Umrao Jaan

January 17

I was planning on taking it easy this evening and regroup from my trip to Mexico, but a publicist called and asked if I might help celebrate Bombay Talkie's first anniversary by bringing a guest and coming to dinner. Well, twist my arm.
A few phone calls later I found a friend who was available. Often it's the busiest friends who can be most easily pinned down for a date, and that was true tonight. Kenny Lao is the owner of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, and his schedule's pretty full. Nonetheless I can prevail on him to eat with me with some frequency. If you want to celebrate with pork, Kenny's there to do it with you.
Free plug for Kenny: He's being featured on an MTV special called "First Year" that will trace the opening of his restaurant. It's airing February 4 at 2pm and 8pm, Eastern Standard Time.
We pretty much left it up to Bombay Talkie's owner, Sunitha Ramaiah, to select our food, although Kenny picked two dishes because he liked their names: kolivada macchi, which is crispy fish served with shoestring potatoes; and nargisi kofta, Scotch eggs in lamb with rosewater-cashew sauce.

What else I ate and drank:
Umrao Jaan: gin, lime juice and saffron syrup
Ankur: pomegranate seeds and juice, tequila, Rose's lime juice and Cointreau — basically a margarita
Bombay Talkie Digestive: Pastis and fennel syrup

Papdi Chat: crispy beggar's purses stuffed with potatoes and chickpeas, served with tamarind and yogurt sauce.
Nilgri coconut kebabs: lamb meatballs in a South Indian sauce of coconut and mustard seeds
Chicken chettinad: Sautéed chicken in red chiles with cardamom
Pork vindaloo: boneless pork in sweet and sour sauce
Chocolate chocolate cupcake with coconut sorbet and mango sauce
Coconut tapioca with cherries

Monday, January 23, 2006

My two bathrooms

January 12, Mazatlán

"How many of you per room?" the woman at the registration desk of the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, outside of Mazatlán, asked incredulously.
"One," I said. I wondered why she was so confused until I saw my room, or rather my gigantic suite. Apart from a relatively cosy bedroom with two twin beds and adjacent bathroom, down the hallway was another bathroom and then a gigantic sort of all-purpose living room with fold-out couch and coffee table and kitchen with dishes and silverware, and a sunny breakfast table in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked onto the Sea of Cortez.
We arrived at around 6:30 p.m. and were checking out the following morning at 10, but I tried to use all the rooms anyway — it seemed a pity to waste them. I opened the windows with their beachside view and looked out of them a bit. I sat on each bed. I hung the one shirt I was going to wear the next day in the closet. I used different outlets to charge my cell phone and iPod. The next morning I made coffee, using the hotel's own filtered water. I shaved in one bathroom, bathed in another.
I really had to rush to use all of the facilities, because we were going into Mazatlán to shop and have dinner. I was behind in getting a Channukkah present for my niece. On the downside I felt guilty, but on the upside it gave me something to shop for, and I'm happy to report that I found good gifts that I'll have to send to her soon.
I guess I'd mentioned earlier to Jorge my desire to eat whatever ordinary Mexican food was available. So, with Jorge warning us that we definitely weren't going anywhere fancy, we hopped in the van and left Mazatlán's main shopping drag for the side streets. Jorge popped out periodically to ask directions.
We eventually ended up at Cenaduria Chayito.
This being Mazatlán, the waiters even in the back alleys spoke better English than some of our farm tour guides — at least in the realm of "May I take your order, sir?" and "Certainly, but we only serve beer indoors, not on the patio." Whether they would have been able to discuss the details of water filtration and rapid air-cooling of tomatoes with such aplomb is an open question.
We sat on the patio and I drank water while again quizzing Jorge on the food. It turns out that, according to Jorge, guacamole in Sinaloa is a thin purée. Chicken enchiiladas are accompanied by a light consommé that's drizzled on top.
Allison and I split a tasting platter for two, piled high with ribs and arracherra (flank steak) and a baked potato and other tasty hunks of protein.
The highlight was probably a local soda, a yummy vanilla drink called ToniCol — I had a sip of Allison's.
We repaired back to the hotel. As much as I wanted to wander from one room in my suite to the next, I instead hung out in the bar with some of the other food writers and, having realized that the citrus, sugar and salt in the margarita really get in the way if you start out with a good tequila, I had a couple of the latter and called it a night.

Friday, January 20, 2006

My new keychain

January 12

I have a Department of Homeland Security keychain.
Armando Goncalvez from U.S Customs and Border Protection gave it to me as we ate breakfast of delicious pineapple, kiwi and cantaloupe and probably the best papayas I've ever had. The strawberries were a little crunchy.
We were at Del Campo, another produce packer. This one's shtick seemed to be security, and we were all issued badges. They told us that they were on their way to becoming the first produce company on foreign soil to be certified by CTPAT — the US-sponsored Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.
The Leyson family's influence seemed to be expanding as eggplant was on the breakfast menu, stuffed with chicken. We also had braised beef and cheese-stuffed omelets.
Armando said a weak link in food security came when produce was switched from one shipper to the next.

I think we visited a thousand packing plants today, but maybe it was just two. They're, you know, similar.
After learning about different substrates for hydroponic tomatoes, different greenhouse designs, using bumblebees for pollination, and how attractive produce can be after a nice waxing, we had a late lunch outdoors on a sort of cliff overlooking the seashore.
It was a simple affair: tostadas of shrimp ceviche and grilled robalo, a type of red snapper, spread with oregano-spiked mayonnaise. That was accompanied by steamed corn and rice, tomato-onion-olive sauté, pico de gallo and a bit of flank steak.
The topic of organic food came up. Apparently there is now an organic supermarket in Mexico City, called Aires de Campo.

dinner at last

January 11

New-age electronic music has made it to Culiacán, Mexico.
I know because it was playing at LaKazona, the funky and hip restaurant where Jorge decided we would eat this evening.
White walls. Subdued, multi-colored lighting. Mismatched chairs.
Salvador, our waiter, greeted us in a polished and charming sort of broken English. "Hello, I speak little English," he said apologetically, "Just enough to say, 'Hello, I speak little English.'" He spoke a lot more than that, in fact, but we had Jorge, at any rate. I quizzed him about the food. It turns out this cool restaurant was actually Jorge's local joint. He goes there for breakfasts of kidneys or beef liver or steak and eggs.
The music got more upbeat and technolike as young and well-groomed Culichis arrived, and we dined on cream of poblano and cream of bean soups; shrimp with pumpkin seeds and Cajun sauce (pronounced ka-hoon, because we were in Mexico); crab enchilada with chiles, goat cheese and cream; "rollos de Taipei," chicken breast, mixed greens, hot peanut sauce and cilantro sauce; grilled octopus with salsa Cajun; and steak and chicken fajitas. Dessert was guava pie, and a giant, warm cookie.

I ordered a margarita on the rocks, and ended up also drinking the margarita of one of my traveling companions. It was too strong for her. At the behest of Ernesto, the restaurant's owner, we also had wine, a tempranillo from Mexico.

I asked Jorge about fajitas. Clearly this wasn't an authentic Culichi restaurant, and I had always been under the impression that fajitas were an American creation. If they are, that was news to Jorge, who said they were a common thing to eat in Sinaloa.
While I'm on the subject of culinary origins, if you know where the burrito originated, please let me know. I'm told it emerged from somewhere near the Mojave Desert, between Los Angeles and Tucson.

berenjena = eggplant

January 11

The local-versus-shipped-from-far, far-away debate wasn't on the minds of the Mexican produce growers I was visiting. The pro-local groups in the United States, though vocal, remain relatively small and coastal. Most Americans are rather indifferent to local, sustainable, organic and otherwise special food. That's changing, but not as quickly as all the press about it would have you believe, and the Sinaloan growers of massive quantities of fruits and vegetables are aiming for the bulk buyers who want a big, steady supply of consistent, affordable, attractive product. Their mission was to convince us that their produce was safe to eat, that their workers weren't being exploited and that their workers' children were being looked after.
And so we visited Agricola San Isidro, a family farm that grows 15 percent of all the eggplant consumed in the United States.
Now, this is intriguing, because Mexicans basically don't eat eggplant. But the farm's founder had immigrated from Greece, where people eat eggplant in abundance.
The Leyson family, which owns the farm, is doing its part to add eggplant to the Mexican pantry. After we visited the schooling facilities of their workers' children, and looked at their housing and medical facilities and convenience store (none of the workers seemed to be from Sinaloa, and thus I learned that Mexican produce is harvested by migrant workers, just as American produce is), we sat down to a lunch of eggplant with eggplant and eggplant:
Parmesan crisp with ragoût of eggplant, bell pepper and tomato
Cream of eggplant soup with roasted pine nuts.
Thinly sliced grilled eggplant topped with rice, roasted fish and bell peppers
Tuna skewered with eggplant, bell pepper and smoky bacon
Hibiscus tea
Añejo tequila
Baked sweetened bread rolls filled with eggplant marmalade.

Some of my fellow travelers were unaccustomed to drinking hard liquor straight, so I finished their tequila for them. Waste not, want not.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


January 11

You know a company's interested in showing you how hygienic its food is when the servers at the breakfast buffet are wearing gloves and masks. Masks!
That's what we got at Agricola EPSA, which specializes in growing, packing and exporting vine-ripened tomatoes. I learned that I had no idea what vine-ripened meant. It doesn't mean the tomatoes are picked when they're all red and juicy. They're picked green, but "ripe" in the sense that they will eventually turn the red color we expect tomatoes to be, and they'll turn that color without being gassed with ethylene or otherwise treated with anything but time.
Some people from DuPont were at EPSA with us, so after breakfast they explained their use of chlorinated water to disinfect the produce, which then was sprayed with sanitized water that was not as chlorinated.
As we visited other farms and packing plants I learned how proud the Mexican packers are of the waxing machines with which they treat their hot-house tomatoes, the high-tech scanners that determine the shape and size of each piece of fruit and instruct the conveyor belts exactly into which line to flick each tomato.
It's all the sort of thing that freaks out many a foodie. But as these technologies were being developed the world didn't enjoy the abundance of food we have now. And most people in the developed world probably would be loath to give up the wide variety of foodstuffs we enjoy. What do you think, dear blog reader? How do we balance the desirability of local stuff bred and grown for flavor rather than ability to ship well with the demand for tomatoes, asparagus etc., year-round, and for cheap food generally?

What I had for breakfast:

Fruit cocktail
Ham and mushroom crêpes
poblano peppers stuffed with (slightly sweet) corn tamal
steak with tomato and chile
tomato with avocado salad
Mexican bean puree — much like the refried beans on which I was raised, but much thinner.
cookies and brownies

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I'm becoming a big fan of Margaritas

January 10

We had lunch in the Phoenix airport at Chili's, where I tried the new chicken Caesar salad. Others had the chicken tenders, the quesadilla, the Southwestern egg rolls. Since most of us traveling to Mexico were food writers, we naturally passed everything around, and a general consensus emerged in favor of the Southwestern egg rolls.
Then we sauntered through security check and on to the plane bound for Hermosillo, Sonora, where we were to change planes for Culiacán in Sinaloa. During the layover, most of my fellow travelers had time for a Margarita. Others had time for a smoke — indoors, to their delight.
I had time for two Margaritas on the rocks.
We arrived in Culiacán without incident, decompressed and then handed ourselves over to the wisdom of Jorge Ibarra, a representative of the local growers' association, CAADES, who determined where we were to dine.
We went to a family-owned chain restaurant called Los Arcos, which has units in Mazatlán, Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey.
Over the course of dinner conversation we learned that a bunch of people were in town as Culiacán's tomato harvest reached its peak. Representatives from DuPont were in town to audit water purification systems they had set up. Darden Restaurants was in town to audit the sanitation standards of its suppliers.
I drank two frozen Margaritas as we ate chips with mild salsa; shrimp ceviche tostadas -- basically shrimp, lime juice, tomatoes and cilantro on a round, flat tortilla; and two (soft-shelled) tacos: one of marlin, which tastes surprisingly like tuna, flavored with grilled onions and jalapenos; and one with shrimp, vegetables, jalapenos and a mild cheese made by the local Mennenites. The next day we were to see the pale, blond-haired Mennenite youths walking among the traffic, their big blocks of cheese for sale for about 100 pesos.
Next we had shrimp in mango sauce and a big skin-on fillet of broiled red snapper.
A type of bass called mero was served in culichi sauce — culichi is also slang for someone from Culiacan — which is a green colored sauce made from the local cheese and poblano chiles. That was the table's favorite, so we also had shrimp in culichi sauce.
Dessert was tres leches cake and guava pie.

Other things I learned in Spanish:
comida callejera = street food
bimbo = a small toy, which seems appropriate enough, and the name of a major packaged-food company.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The many uses of ranch dressing

January 10

I'm on my way to Mexico with the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, an organization of Mexican produce growers who want to export more of their stuff to the United States and Canada. So they're going to show me and some other journalists -- all women, except for me, it seems -- how nice everything is in Mexico, and how contaminant-free their stuff is and how nicely the workers are treated.
But at the moment I'm in Tempe, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, where we all arrived last night. Our hostess, Allison Moore, wanted to take us to dinner at a nice chain restaurant nearby.
Now, I have nothing against chain restaurants, but I think the expression on my face when I said, "I know it; it's a chain," betrayed my desire to try something local.
So we all went to Monti's La Casa Vieja. The building it's in was built in 1871 and is the oldest in Tempe. It was built by Charles Trumbull Hayden, whom the locals called "Don Carlos," as part of a ferry service across the Salt River. Until 1879, Tempe's name was Hayden's Ferry.
These are the sorts of things you learn from souvenir placemats.
We all had the evening's special, a 7-ounce filet mignon with "Roman bread" (sort of like ciabatta), soup or salad and choice of potato for $9.95. For the table we also ordered a variety of side dishes, including house specialties such as onion rings and some spicy sauteed vegetables loaded with jalapenos.
We started talking about regional dining habits in the United States -- I started it by marveling at the ranch dressing in which we were dipping everything, a habit that's common in my hometown of Denver, too.
Allison said that in Charlottesville, Va., where she went to college, pizza was served with ranch dressing and honey. They dip the pizza in the ranch. Honey is for the crust. I knew about honey on pizza crust, that's the common dessert at Beau Jo's, a pizza chain out of Idaho Springs, Colo.
The dipping of pizza in ranch dressing has since spread to Allison's hometown of Tazewell, Va.
We started talking about candy on the way back to the hotel. The result of that conversation was a stop at the Circle-K where my fellow travelers bought far more candybars than I had anticipated.
This bodes well for the trip.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Black Pearl

January 5,

I had dinner in my own neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, for a change, but it was still work-related. I ate with the Rob Chobor, one of the owners of Black Pearl, which is located where an award-winning pizza place named Lento's used to be.
The big pizza oven's still intact, but Rob seemed more interested in having me try the appetizers, so I had Caribbean ribs with spicy mango duck sauce, mini Maine crab cakes with tartar sauce and baby octopus in port over microgreens.
The restaurant's been open for two and a half months, and Rob says business has been good, but now that it's slowing down he's trying to drum up press. With salad, pizza, sandwiches, signature risotto and the like, mostly in the $12-$15 range, it's certainly a neighborhood restaurant, not a destination one, especially since it's off of dowdy 7th Avenue — an Upper West Side colony — rather than hipper 5th.
And I wonder if press can really drum up business for a neighborhood restaurant.

Apropos of nothing, here are the two best quotes from the past day or so:

1) "Philadelphia's the capital of Camden."
– a Philadelphia restaurant consultant on why the city has a worse inferiority complex than Boston, capital of New England, with regard to New York.

2) "Your optimism about current developments always surprises me. I think you can sustain it only because of a teleological fallacy that Immanuel Wallerstein calls the 'developmentalist illusion.'"
– from an otherwise really polite discussion about globalization and food on the ListServ of the Association for the Study of Food and Society.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Drinking what you write

January 4

I met some liquor publicists at Soho Cantina West. I had just finished writing a feature on winter cocktails, and was glad to sample some more of them. Winter-themed cocktails, I wrote, tend to be hot, or rich (or both) or use ingredients that invoke the season, either by actually being in season during the winter, like pomegranate and citrus, or by seeming wintry, like vanilla or pine (yes, pine; there's a pine-infused vodka at Aquavit, in case you're curious and in New York).
So Soho Cantina's Café Galante with Mexican coffee, cinnamon, orange and coffee liqueurs and cream fit the bill. The Golden Orchid had that same orange liqueur, vanilla cognac, mint, orange juice and simple syrup, served with crushed ice. So it supported my thesis, too.
I chatted with the publicists and, briefly, with Marina Cashdan, Lifestyle Editor of Z!nk, who popped in but soon had to leave to see a friend's play. It happens.
We snacked on braised pork with sautéed spaghetti squash. The braising liquid contained that same orange liqueur, and I have to admit that it was really only at that point that I realized which alcohol the publicists were representing that day. I'd last talked to them about Beaujolais Nouveau.
I respect a mellow pitch. In fact, after sampling those items I was encouraged to have a jalapeño margarita, simply because it tasted good. If it had that orange liqueur in it, no one told me.
As we left one of the publicists slipped me a mini-bottle of gin, another client.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Waterfowl week

Peking Duck at Mainland on Wednesday was followed by risotto with braised duck, among other things, at Barbounia on Thursday. I had Friday off but a friend called me in need of Peking duck. Never let it be said that I would let a friend down, especially one jonesing for duck, which we had at Peking Duck House in Chinatown.
We also stopped by Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for dessert. There the menu board posts "regular" flavors of ginger, lychee and durian. "Exotic" flavors are chocolate, vanilla etc. Cute.
On Saturday to celebrate New Year's Eve I finally managed to find something to do with the goose that had been in my freezer for a year or more. I lugged it to a friend's house and roasted it after brushing it in a glaze of kecap manis, grated ginger, red pepper flakes, salt and cider vinegar.
The first word of kecap manis is pronounced "ketchup." It's a Malay word for sauce, and I'm pretty sure it's where we got our own word, ketchup. Manis means "sweet," and kecap manis is a thick, molasses-like soy sauce that when mixed with ginger, chile and vinegar makes what I think is the perfect glaze for goose or duck. You won't hear me comment on the quality of food in restaurants, but I'm happy to comment on my own, and I must say that I make the second-best waterfowl glaze I've ever tasted. The best can be had at virtually any street corner in Bangkok. Order khao nah pet ("rice with duck on it"), and you'll see what I mean.

What I ate at Barbounia:

Marinated anchovies with smoked bacon vinaigrette on sautéed spinach
An assortment of spreads: baba ghanoush, taramosalata, hummus and apricot-truffle yogurt.
Charred octopus confit with kalamata tapenade, fava beans, celery leaves and crystallized lemon
Crispy barbounia (red mullet) with red wine-shallot reduction, chervil and lemon segments
Saganaki - baked cheese, truffled fig marmalade, fresh fruit and cherry and walnut breads
Lamb chops
Risotto with braised duck, cinnamon, butternut squash, red Swiss chard, pecorino and truffle oil
Horta (greens)
Mascarpone polenta