Tuesday, February 28, 2006


When you have Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appétit on your left and Laurie Woolever from Art Culinaire on your right, it's going to be a fun meal. Precede it with two-and-a-half caipirinhas with flashing cubes in them, and what could you complain about? And when the food’s coming from E. Michael Reidt, well.
Actually, I’d never had E. Michael's food before, much to the shock of his publicist, because he and I go way back. We bonded at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen several years ago, when he, Northern-California-based chef Randy Lewis, and I, drank the night away, ending up at the only late-night Gyros stand I know of in Aspen, where we nearly got into a fight with a belligerent drunk.
That would have been a great story wouldn’t it, getting into a brawl at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, maybe getting arrested?
Didn’t happen, but E. Michael and I have been friendly ever since. He now has a restaurant in Santa Barbara named Sevilla, and I was psyched to finally try his food.
I was invited to the Beard House to celebrate Mardi Gras, but once I got there I realized that we were more precisely celebrating Carnaval, which made sense. E. Michael had a Brazilian wife and now has a Brazilian girlfriend, and his food has for years been classified as French-Brazilian, which it’s not really. It’s more simply the food of E. Michael Reidt.
Pino Maffeo from Restaurant L in Boston, the city where E. Michael got his start, was in town to help him, along with a number of other Boston chefs, and I made the horrible gaffe of not recognizing the guy. I’ve interviewed him a lot, but I hadn’t seen him in several years, since he was cooking in New York with Patricia Yeo at Pazo and AZ. She’s the chef at Sapa now, and was also at the Beard House tonight, watching E. Michael’s back.
Anyway, I talked to Pino, finally realized who he was, and introduced him to a Beard Foundation member who’s into molecular gastronomy, which Pino practices with great enthusiasm.
Dinner was fun and delicious, and as I went downstairs to chat with the chefs I was greeted by the CEO of a food web site, who looked at me and said, “Hello, Josh.”
My name’s not Josh, but people slip from time to time, so I didn’t mind until I realized that, although she had tapped me on the shoulder and greeted me, she was now talking into a mouthpiece that was hanging from her ear and plugged into some sort of complex mobile phone/computer gizmo. I wondered aloud if she didn‘t know that she was in a public place with other living people, actually in front of her, making eye contact and speaking with one another.
Oh well, some people have no couth.

What I ate and drank:
crispy bacalhau with West Coast sea urchin
grilled shrimp with squid ink and linguiça
Kobe beef ceviche with banana and rice crisps
sweet potato soup with foie gras and saba vinegar
truffled goat cheese pao de quiju and coconut
multiple “electric” Aguá Luca caipirinhas

smoked scallop tartare with caramelized cauliflower, pineapple, truffle salt and osetra caviar
Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne, NV

salt cod crusted black bass with black-eyed pea mousseline, baby beets, Maine shrimp escabeche and acaraje cracker
Emrich-Schonleber Monzinger Halbtroken, Riesling Nahe, 2004

a spontaneous extra course of truffled gnocchi

Maine lobster with poached lobster moqueca, grilled lobster sausage, kabocha squash and hen of the woods mushrooms
Kistler "Les Noisetiers" Chardonnay, Russian River, 2003

Veal Threesome
Confit cheek churrasca, Serrano wrapped loin, braised osso-bucco and celery root
Ambullneo “Bulldog Reserve” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2003

Carnaval: Doce de leite cake, caramel mousse tower, lil' doughnut and passion fruit marshmallow
Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate” Riesling Eiswein, 2003

Memories of Jimi Hendrix at the Beard House

February 27

Tracy Nieporent from Myriad restaurant group walked into the James Beard House right after me this evening. Wayne Nish, the chef and co-owner of March, was already there. Shortly thereafter in walked one of my favorite dining companions, restaurant investor Penny Trenk, who has never met a restaurant she didn't like and is therefore always good company at a meal. Arlyn Blake, who recently left the Beard Foundation's publications department and whose single goal in life seems to be to introduce people whom she thinks should know each other, was not far behind. So I knew I was going to have a good time. Paul Virant, the chef of Vie in Chicago, was cooking. One of his line cooks for the evening was none other than Paul Kahan, chef of Blackbird and Avec in Chicago, and a winner of a prestigious James Beard Award himself a couple of years back, when he was named best chef in the Midwest.
Paul Virant had worked at Blackbird before opening Vie, and he also had worked at March, which was why Wayne Nish was there.
I wandered into the kitchen while Wayne, Paul and Paul were discussing Jimi Hendrix. Wayne said he saw the guitarist three times. The first time his father handed him concert tickets and told him he was taking his little sister to see The Monkees. Not cool.
He got to the concert hall and saw that not only was he going to have to sit through lame Davy Jones, but the warm up band was some guy named Jimmy [sic] Hendrix.
In those days, Wayne recounted, Rock bands had their own names — The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones and yes, even The Monkees. If the actual performer was named, that meant it was a folk act. So Wayne was sure he was in for a night of actual torture.
He described the audience as what we would now call soccer moms, with their 12-year-old daughters, screaming the way girls screamed when they were going to see Davy Jones, or Paul McCartney or various other heartthrobs of the time.
Jimi Hendrix came out in skin-tight white leather pants and started off with Foxy Lady, and the mothers shielded their daughters’ eyes as he engaged in acts with the monitors, mic stand, what have you, that the mothers deemed to be inappropriate public behavior.
The girls didn't stop screaming, according to Wayne's story, and Jimi Hendrix ended his 45-minute set by slamming his guitar on the stage and saying “fuck this shit!” but the guy operating the sound equipment cut off the mic before anyone could hear it. The sound guy clearly impressed Wayne a lot. So did Jimi Hendrix.

What I ate and drank:
Chestnut and lavender soup
Beignet of brandade with Kinnikinnick farm dilled preserved tomatoes
Crostini of rabbit sausage with picholine olives and Meyer lemon
Duck confit, herbs, and Vella dry jack gougères
Pannier NV Brut Rosé Champagne

Poached Lake Superior whitefish, choucroute, house made Nichols Farm pickles, Mahogany clam vinaigrette
Joseph Schmid, 2002 Kremser Alte Reben "Priorissa," Gruner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria

Ricotta gnocchi, chestnuts, Wisconsin winter roots and rosemary
Cordero di Montezemolo, 1998, "Vigna Bricco Gattera" Barolo, Piedmont, Italy

Roasted Millbrook Farm venison loin, spätzle, Werp Farm vanilla scented turnips, pickled Michigan sour cherries, venison jus
Finca Sophenia, 2003 Malbec, Tupungato-Mendoza, Argentina

Lazy Lady Rapture raw cows' milk cheese, Spring Valley Farm shirred fresh egg, Perigord black truffles.
Quinta das Tecedeiras, 2001 Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal

Hazelnut and chocolate napoleon: chocolate mousse, hazelnut dacquoise with caramel sorbet, Paternoster Farm orange supremes and roasted hazelnuts.
Helmut Lang, TBA Chardonnay 1997, Neusiedlersee, Austria

Monday, February 27, 2006

Little Senegal

February 27

Washington, D.C., may be the capital of West African food in the U.S., but New York has a bit of the Thiebu Djeun and Ngamakou, too. I'd heard of a sub-neighborhood in Harlem called Little Senegal and on Friday convinced my friend Yishane Lee to check it out with me. Yishane works for Time Interactive and lives in Inwood, so it was on her way home anyway. We met on the Upper West Side and hailed a taxi. I wasn't exactly sure where Little Senegal was — somewhere on 116th, around the same longitude as Central Park, more or less. But our taxi driver was from Ghana and knew exactly what I was talking about. He took us to Africa Kine restaurant and Yishane and I gorged ourselves on Nem, which looks exactly like a Vietnamese spring roll, but it's stuffed with beef. We had a samosalike appetizer, too, also stuffed with meat. We had a lamb stew called Thiebu Yap, and fried fish with fried plantains. We drank the ginger beverage that I'm really coming to love, and bissap. Both Africa Kine and Chez Auntry Libe in D.C. say that bissap is made from sorrel, but it tastes like a Mexican drink made from hibiscus flowers called jamaica. I was reading a Jessica Harris cookbook on the subway today, and she says that bissap is, indeed, made from hibiscus flowers. What's sorrel got to do with it?

The next day I managed to drag my friend Clark Mitchell, from Travel + Leisure, to Africa Kine for more Nem and ginger juice, along with mechoui — a mustardy grilled leg of lamb — and touffe, which is chicken stewed with onions.

I'd had my and Clark's names put on a "VIP" list at a club in the Flatiron district where some airline was throwing a party. A publicist had invited me, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do on a Saturday after dining on West African food.
I was impressed by how sour my mood could become just by waiting outside in the cold for 10 minutes, my entrance barred by thugs on the other side of a velvet rope. I remembered that places with velvet ropes were stupid, unless you were actually treated like a VIP, in which case they could be kind of decadent and hilarious. We were VIP in name only, though.

I'll give lame events a chance. Sometimes it takes a little while to discover the inner spark of a party, and if you wait around for a little while, sometimes something interesting or fun or at least unexpected happens. Clark is less generous with his time. So we left the party shortly after we were let in and required to check our coats for $3.
We did find other ways to amuse ourselves with New York nightlife, however. Clark is a good young hedonist; I got home at around 4:30 a.m.

In Nation’s Restaurant News this week:

Check out what I wrote about Deckle
See what's on the menu at Night and Day in Brooklyn

NRN’s circulation department has been nice enough to extend the special industry price for subscriptions to readers of my little blog. Click here to take them up on the deal.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

All in the family

February 23

Troy Guard, the chef of nine75 in Denver, was cooking at the Beard House last night, and his publicist and wife, Leigh Sullivan invited me to come.
I met Troy years ago, I think in 1999, when he was the young executive chef of Roy's New York at the Marriott at the World Financial Center (a restaurant you never hear about anymore, but it's still open; it closed briefly after September 11, but was open again by February 2002). I had Troy's food last year in Denver, when I took my parents to Zengo, where he was chef at the time. I was certainly happy to try it again at the Beard House. So I RSVPed in the affirmative
Is it true, Leigh Sullivan asked, that I'm a Colorado guy?
Indeed, I'm a third generation Colorado Jew, and I told her so.
A couple of e-mails later we realized that her daughter, Mackenzie, was in the same grade at Bromwell Elementary School as my second cousin once removed, Micah, and a year ahead of my niece, Tahirah.
I don’t actually believe that it's a small world, but I do think we tend to run in pretty tight circles. Still, I think Leigh is the first graduate of Wheatridge High School that I’ve ever met. Wheatridge is on the West Side, and I don’t know a thing about it. However I did just learn from Leigh that the cheerleaders there were geeky and fat.
Mackenzie cooked in the Beard House kitchen with her stepdad. Her grandfather, Jim Sullivan, is a partner with Troy in nine75. He used to have a restaurant in Denver called Mao, which I'd never heard of. He said it was Asian-fusion, very upscale — $80-$90 per-person check averages, which is crazy in Denver. He lamented that people would only come for special occasions. Well, yeah.
He said Troy’s food at nine75 wasn't nearly as fancy as what he was preparing at the Beard House.
It's pretty common for chefs to cook food at the Beard House that’s different from what they prepare at their own restaurants. I wish they wouldn't do that. I know Beard Foundation staff often works with chefs to tweak (or completely alter) their menus so they'll appeal to foundation members, but personally I want to know what chefs have to say for themselves culinarily, and I think that's best expressed by presenting the kind of food they make at home.
That said, I always have a good time at Beard dinners (except for once, and I'll save that story for later).

What I ate and drank:
Lobster tacos
“the works” potato skins
Pol Roger rosé Epernay 1998, and floot sparkling wine in a can
Diver scallop “Sandwich” with sushi rice, petite tatsoi salad and mango mojo
mini Danska grapefruit mojito
nine75 oxtail pot pie with English peas, squash blossoms and black truffles
Movia Ribolla Gialla 2003
Charred tuna melt with avocado, mozzarella and grilled artichoke on brioche
Curtis Viognier 2002
Roasted rack of Colorado lamb with foie gras potatoes, baby root vegetables and cherry-balsamic glaze
Carneros Syrah 2002
Chocolate-passion fruit crunch cake
Nine75 specialty coffee drink.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fun with peanuts and Jack Abramoff's chef

February 22

Jack Abramoff, corrupt lobbyist extraordinaire, owned Signatures restaurant in our nation's capital. Apparently that's common knowledge in the Washington food community, but I had no idea. I learned that yesterday when I went out to dinner with Signatures' former chef, Morou Ouattara. Apart from being the capital of the United States, Washington also is the American capital of West African food, so while I was in town talking to the potato people (see the post below), I took the opportunity to inform myself about that cuisine, which has had so little exposure in the States.
Food writer Joan Nathan joined us as we went first to Bokum Cafe in Adams Morgan, which specializes in Ghanaian food, and then to Chez Aunty Libe, way out on Georgia Avenue on the way to Silver Spring, which serves mostly food from Gambia and Senegal.
The night before I had been to Ghana Cafe in Adams Morgan, which seemed to be frequented predominantly by Peace Corps veterans and college students majoring in African studies. One Ghanaian was there, however, and he asked if the Orange Fanta was “from home,” which apparently it was. Owner Tony Opare explained to me that, although Fanta's a Coke product, it tastes different in Ghana, so he imports it from there.
Morou said the same thing about Coke in Ivory Coast, which he says tastes more like the Vanilla Coke that's sold here. I'll have to look into that.
My taxi driver on the way to Ghana Cafe happened to be from Ghana, and he insisted that I drink Club Beer with my meal. Which I did. Tony Opare pointed out to me that the Peace Corps-niks, who had learned to stomach it at African room temperature, delighted in the fact that he served it not only ice cold, but with a frosted mug.
Morou's a gentleman, disinclined to gossip about his former boss, although he did say that they had a special kosher section of the kitchen set aside for Abramoff's dietary needs.
Instead of talking about political intrigue — on the record, anyway — we talked about West African food. “Food,” Morou said, is what they call the starch in a meal. The other stuff — stews and sauces and soups, mostly, is added merely for flavoring. He's hoping to open a restaurant featuring his own interpretation of West African food, probably in a DC suburb that recently lost a steakhouse. When the steakhouse closed it left behind a brand new, fancy kitchen which Morou hopes to use.
He said West African food has a PR problem in the United States because here people pay for the protein. They don't want it to be hidden in sauces and added as an afterthought to a big pile of starch. So his food will likely feature the large, beautifully garnished pieces of protein we're used to seeing, dressed in West African sauces, with the starch on the side.
It’s true that West African food can look terrifying: a large pile of brown mush on a plate. But if you don't worry about it and just eat it, the lively interplay of onion, ginger, grains of paradise, tomato, melon seeds (called egusi), callaloo and an array of ingredients I know nothing about can be really extraordinary. And the things they do with peanuts!
Aunty Libe served us a soft drink made from sorrel, and another from ginger and pineapple like the ngamakou my friend Fatou served me in Bangkok years ago.
The next day I took the red line of the Metro to Silver Spring to eat at Roger Miller's Restaurant, named for a Cameroonian soccer player, and on the way to the train station made the taxi driver stop at Sumah's, where I picked up my third peanut chicken in two days, to eat on the train.
I find that eating multiple iterations of a dish is a great way to understand it. Besides, as I said, West Africans can do extraordinary things with peanuts.

The potato council

February 21

I spent the past two-and-a-half days in Washington, D.C., talking to two groups from the National Potato Council about foodservice trends. First I spoke to their "leadership group," which is a collection of mostly young, good-looking and articulate potato farmers who are being groomed to represent their industry. They're getting media training, etiquette lessons and instruction on pretty much everything else that relates to potatoes and how to promote them. Smart people, the potato council.
Then the next day I spoke to the council's 80-member board of directors. I gave the same presentation, but wore a different suit. I talked about the growing popularity of pedigreed products, such as heirloom tomatoes and their own fingerling potatoes. They told me they were working on developing a variety of new breeds as well as marketing better the fact that a wide variety of potatoes already are being grown in America. Labeling them as such would help, they observed.
They asked me about the demand for organic products, which I said was still relatively small, but growing. A couple of producers from Wisconsin lamented to me after my talk that they had been growing potatoes that weren't organic, but that had minimal pesticides and were being grown sustainably, but because they didn't fit into any specific category, they couldn't convince anyone to buy them.
So if you know of anyone who might like to buy their potatoes, let me know.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I've come to drink your wine

February 17

I have gone on the record saying that I don’t like tasting wine. I like drinking it, but tasting — the swirling, sniffing and, horror of horrors, the spitting out of a perfectly good beverage — is the worst way to enjoy wine. Sommeliers, wine writers, consultants, wine shop owners etc., have to taste wine. I think the rest of us should be spared the ordeal.
But I still get invited to wine tastings, and sometimes I go. If it’s a tasting of first-growth Bordeaux, say, or a vertical tasting of Dom Perignon rosé Champagnes, I go, and if it’s a tasting of wines about which I know nothing, I might go too.
So tonight I went to a tasting of Romanian wines. The hosts made a couple of references to vampires (Transylvania straddles Romania and Hungary) and to two of the country’s most famous athletes of the recent past, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, and tennis pro Ilie Nastasi, whose nastiness precursed by a generation John McEnroe’s temper tantrums. But for the most part they kept their comments brief, certainly more brief than at any Italian wine tasting I've ever been to.
Any speech at a walk-around wine tasting is too long, if you ask me. If someone wants to know something, he or she will ask; otherwise, the wines have to speak for themselves.
And these puppies spoke volumes. I was delighted at some of the indigenous grapes with fetching names like Feteasca Regala (royal maiden, or maybe princess), and various cousins of Muscat. I won’t go into detail about how they tasted, because that’s not my thing, but some had wonderful floral qualities at the front of the palate, and others had great acidic zing. There were also some really delicious Pinot Noirs and fine Sauvignon Blancs. And most of them wholesale for less than $4 per bottle.
Keep your eyes open for them.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


February 16

When you're an editor, it’s really not a good idea to wander off to a press lunch on the day your pages close when not all of the art is in yet. It’s irresponsible.
But I had confidence that Jay Caputo, the chef at Espuma in Rehoboth Beach, Del., would come through with his picture of deckle carpaccio.
This deckle is different from the deckle used to make pastrami, which comes from the brisket. Instead, this cut, also known as calotte de boeuf, is the part of the prime rib that’s separated from the main body by a layer of fat and gristle, and it’s usually cooked more than the rest of the meat on the rib. Jay and some other chefs have decided that it’s really delicious on its own, so they’re cutting it off of the rib eye and using it in a variety of preparations that you can read about in the February 27 issue of Nation's Restaurant News (page 25).
Jay kept e-mailing the picture to me, and it kept getting lost in some fastness of cyberspace. It was becoming a real drag.
But still, I said I’d go to the Ambassador Grill at the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel to check out their new International brunch, and if I say I’m going to something, I go (except when I forget, which I must admit I’ve done at least twice). Besides, you can’t call chefs during lunch; they’re busy making lunch.
It was a big hotel buffet, so obviously there was a giant prime rib there, calotte all brown and glistening. What a perfect illustration for my story had I had half a brain and brought a camera.
But I didn’t. So I sipped a Bellini, engaged in polite conversation with my luncheon companions, ate shrimp, crab and lobster cocktail, prime rib with horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding, Peking duck, veal and beef stroganoff with spätzle, Austrian-style baked chicken, Vermont maple syrup-roasted vegetables and assorted desserts, including a strawberry coated in black and white chocolate made to look like a tuxedo. Then I high-tailed it back to the office, called Jay and walked him through uploading the picture to our server.
Mission accomplished. All is well with the world.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Deceptively simple names

February 15

I asked someone who worked at Xing how to pronounce the chef's name and he looked at me like I was an idiot.
"Lu?" he said.
Okay, but he spells it Lulzim Rexhepi. It's not my fault he's shortened it to Lu. It would have been perfectly legitimate to ask how to pronounce the restaurant's name, too. (Basically it's "sing." If you're one of the few people who wants a lesson in Mandarin Chinese pronunciation, please scroll to the end of this posting so we don't waste everyone else's time.)
Xing used to be an upscale Chinese restaurant, but then they hired Lu, whose culinary background is more varied than that. A native of Albania, Lu grew up working in his family's Italian restaurants in New York City and Westchester County. He has French training too, but his most recent influence has been pretty hard-core Thai. He opened Kittichai downtown, working for executive chef Ian Chalermkittichai (take it one syllable at a time and that name's no trouble either.) Then he went to Bangkok to cook at a tsunami-relief dinner and ended up cooking at the Thai restaurant at The Four Seasons hotel there for several months.
I first met Ian in 1997 when he was working at that hotel. I wrote a profile of him that would have been published in Asia Times, the newspaper I was working for at the time, but it went belly-up and then the economy of the entire region collapsed, darn it!
Anyway, now Xing is the beneficiary of Lu's experience, and this is what I ate there:

Miyagi oyster with Swatow mignonette, paired with Piper Heidseck Champagne
Sliced hamachi with mandarin and sweet chile sauce, and wok fried foie gras with compote of blueberry and lemon grass, paired with a Spanish Codorniu rose Pinot Noir
Szechwan pepper crusted scallops with miso butter bath, roasted wild mushroom and pea shoots; and Chinese spare ribs paired with Terlaner Classico from Alto Adige in Italy
Seared tuna, grape tomato and kaffir lime leaf relish with "Shanghai shoots" and guava-poached short ribs with sweet potato puree and guava reduction, paired with Le Cave Barbera D'Asti, from Piedmont in Italy
Five-spice donuts with strawberry dipping sauce paired with Prosecco
Macaroons and cookies to take home

Okay, now, for the language geeks, to pronounce the x in Chinese words as they're transliterated in mainland China (they do it differently in Taiwan), move the middle of the tongue to the roof of your mouth and then make a 'ssss' sound. It should sound like something between an s and a sh. "Xing" in this case means "star." You can tell because that's the Chinese character that decorates the restaurant. Chinese is a tonal language, so whether your pitch rises, falls, or stays the same affects the meaning. Xing as in "star" is pronounced in a monotone at the top of your normal voice register. So it sounds like you're singing it. La.
At first, I thought the restaurant's name was Xing with a rising tone. So you'd pronounce it like you were asking a question: Xing? Really? That word means "fine" or "okay" or "everything's all right," which I thought was a pretty cool name for a restaurant. Star is fine too, though.

As for Ian's name, I simplified it a little bit. Really, the first "ch" in Chalermkittichai is pronounced more like a j (the second one is pronounced just like a "ch" is in English), the r's basically silent, the k is closer to a g, and the t's really somewhere between a t and a d.

Oh, and Lu’s full name, Lulzim Rexhepi, really is pronounced pretty much like it sounds:Lu-zim Rex-hepi. Only the second l is silent. [December 14 2009 update: Apparently chef Lu simplified matters for me, see comment #1 below].

Monday, February 13, 2006

Amateur Night

February 13

Amateur Night is what restaurateurs call evenings when tourists, rubes and people who generally don't know how to behave in restaurants make up the bulk of their clientele. To super-trendy New York, Miami and Los Angeles restaurants, Friday, Saturday and, increasingly, Thursday might be dubbed amateur nights. But for most restaurants, two days in particular stand out as highly profitable but emotionally taxing evenings: New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.

Since restaurateurs are working hard to serve their special-occasion guests for the next couple of days, I'm laying low, but I do have a couple of articles in the current issue of Nation's Restuarant News that pertain to Valentine's Day. Here are links to them:

Feeding the Love

Love for chocolate grows among the health-conscious, food snobs and even men

If you're reading this post more than a week after February 13, you might have to subscribe to NRN to read those articles.
Click here if you'd like to do that.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dinner with Jumbos

February 9

I had dinner at Novo with my friend David Krauss, who I call Birdman. He got the nickname in college for his interest in ornithology. Really he's more of a paleontologist, and for many years has been a university professor of biology. He's my go-to guy when I have questions about human physiology for something I'm writing. If I need to know the difference between peptide and steroid hormones, I go to him.
Lots of food people were at the press dinner at Novo, including my friend-in-law Liz Forgang. Apart from writing for the New York Daily News, Liz also is the aunt of the wife of one of my best friends from college. She was sitting next to cookbook writer etc. Rozanne Gold and her husband, Michael Whiteman, and so in the course of our pre-dinner conversation I learned that Rozanne Gold, like Birdman, Liz's niece (and nephew) and me, went to Tufts!
Back at our table, Birdman and I talked about the study that was just released indicating, basically, that women on low-fat diets were no healthier than those who weren't on low-fat diets. A listserv I participate in was complaining about flaws in the study, but Birdman - who really hates this type of study - said it was much better than most. It was performed over a longer period of time and included many more participants than most.

Novo is in that neighborhood west of Soho whose name hasn't quite solidified yet. I'd call it Soho West, but no one else is doing that, so in print I've started referring to it as Hudson Square. Novo is the only restaurant I remember going to that offers a wider variety of coffee than regular, decaf and espresso. They serve one coffee from Sumatra, one from Brazil and an organic Costa Rican as well as an estate decafe from Nicaragua.

What I ate:
hamachi ceviche with yuzu juice, serrano chiles, and roasted sweet cherry tomato
octopus ceviche with lime, mint, cucumber and olive chimichurri
lobster ceviche with lime, orange juice, horseradish and pickled jalapeños
tuna ceviche with shaved chiles, coconut water, ginger and aji amazonica
grilled white asparagus, pan-roasted creminis and tetilla cheese gratin
braised oxtail, bucatini pasta, manchego cheese, garlic and truffle oil
creamy flan

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


February 8

A night off!
Usually when I don't have any work-related events, I go to the gym and then head straight home, lock the door and enjoy some alone time. But tonight I wandered my neighborhood and then had dinner at Night and Day, a restaurant I'm writing about. I had a Dark and Stormy, because not many restaurants have the requisite Gosling's Black Seal rum and ginger beer, and the $21 prix-fixe menu: an English pea soup with saffron scallops and monkfish cooked in the style of coq au vin, with a glass of house red wine.
I'd met one of the owners briefly on Sunday, but I was wearing jeans at the time, and taking pictures. Today I was wearing my cashmere-wool overcoat and four-button suit, and she didn't recognize me, which was great because I wanted that alone time.

I was thinking about a difficult assignment I'd gotten today. It was my fault: I helped formulate the idea for the story and then volunteered for it. I have nearly a month to write it, which is virtually unheard of at our news-oriented weekly magazine, but I have to figure out how best to inform myself about the relatively obscure cuisine I'm tackling (you'll be able to read about it in our special food issue, which comes out March 27). It got me thinking about a friend I had in Bangkok.
Fatou Daffé came into a bar I was hanging out in with friends on Patpong, at the heart of Bangkok's largest red light district. Trust me, that's not as seedy as it sounds. Patpong was simply where ex-pats hung out. She was tall, African, and dressed in the elegant style in which many Parisian Africans dress.
"Hello," she said in her low, rich, Ivorian-French accent. "I am Fatou." The stress is on the first syllable.
Fatou was opening a bar and club named Black Stars and was trying to get people's attention for it, basically by going from bar to bar and introducing herself.
She already was an experienced restaurateur, having opened an African restaurant and club called Taxi Brousse in Paris. She'd come to Bangkok on vacation and fell in love with the place. Not many Africans do that. Thai's aren't too keen on people whose skin is darker than theirs. Their opinion of people with skin lighter than theirs, or of a different hue, isn't great either, actually, but Africans hold an especially low place in their opinion. But to Fatou the food, with its vibrant flavors, and the familiar chiles and ginger, reminded her of her home in Ivory Coast, and so did the relationship-oriented culture. As far as the racism went, well, she said it was natural for people not to like those who were different. She shrugged it off and worked with the cultural similarities she found she had with Thais.
She would address Thais with the familial familiarity with which she'd address other Africans. So she called women older than she khun mae, a respectful term meaning "mother."
I ended up being her very first customer at Black Stars because I wanted to write about it for Manager, the magazine I was working for at the time. She adopted me as a symbol of good luck and called me "brother." This was oddly appropriate: My own sister is tall and beautiful and looks nothing like me, although she has blond hair and blue eyes.
Black Stars' signature drink was ngamakou, a blend of ginger and rum and pineapple juice. As a girl Fatou would sell a non-alcoholic version on the beaches of Ivory Coast: She was a member of the Malenke tribe, who are Muslim merchants, so she felt that selling things came naturally to her.
Incidentally, chef Morou in Washington, D.C., the only African fine-dining chef I can think of in the United States, also is Malenke.
Fatou would cook delicious meat stews, loaded with chiles and peanuts and ginger. When I was eating in her Paris apartment she warned me away from the first Scotch bonnet peppers I'd ever seen, floating in her stew. "Even we don't eat those," she said.
Fatou served her stews over rice. She gave me a fork and spoon, which is what Thais use when they eat, but she ate them with her right hand. "I can't use utensils to eat African food," she said with a laugh.
I was not a very good good-luck symbol, and some lousy things happened to Fatou.
Not long after Black Stars opened her husband divorced her and locked her out of the club. That depressed her. But she started to sell imported art and fragrances from West Africa, or trying to. She also organized a concert and fashion show featuring a group that sang and danced Soukous, a vibrant, joyous genre of dance music from Congo, which was at the last stages of being Zaire at the time.
Fatou spent a fortune renting a concert hall and flying the band in. I spent time with them at Fatou's Bangkok house, and at the Dusit Thani Hotel where they performed one night before their big concert. I think they, and Fatou, are still the most elegant, graceful people I've ever met. They seemed to glide rather than walk, and I trudged along behind them, pudgy and sweaty — Bangkok's always hot, always — carrying my soft leather briefcase and feeling like the Little Drummer Boy, but without even a drum to play.
The concert was a disaster. Maybe a couple dozen people showed up. The performance was exuberant and sensual and just fantastic overall — a celebration of joy using the media of music and clothing. For a couple dozen people.
Needless to say, sometimes Fatou would get sad, and she'd call me.
"Brrret, come on a canal boat with me," she would say. And we would hire a long-tail boat to take us through Bangkok's back canals, which were sultry and quiet, except for the roar of our boat's motor, of course. They reminded Fatou of home.

Resort food

February 7

Big food day. I had lunch at Bon Appétit magazine's private dining room, where Hubert Des Marais and Rémy Fünfrock, executive chef and executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, were making lunch. Their publicists intended it to be an interactive affair and they handed all of us aprons as we arrived. None of us protested, but once Hubert demonstrated the salad for us they seemed to realize that we had no particular interest in expediting our own food, so they just sat us down and fed us. Gotta love publicists who think on their feet.

I was planning on going to the gym for once after work, but instead my colleague, Erica Duecy, talked me into going to the Beard House with her. But first we stopped by Fatty Crab for a drink. Erica had never been, and she's working on an article on the Meatpacking District, where it's located, so it made sense to stop by.
Coincidentally, eight or ten people from the Beard Foundation were there, having dinner. Erica and I split a ginger-infused beer and chatted briefly with the chef, Zak Pelaccio. He's hoping to have guest chefs DJ there with their own iPods on Monday nights. Stay tuned...

What I had for lunch:

Chilled lobster and alligator pear with swamp cabbage slaw (swamp cabbage is what they call hearts of palm in Florida), Swank Farms Tiny Herbs and tangerine vinaigrette
Florida Stone Crab Bisque with crab claw and Venezuelan añejo rum
Jupiter Island pompano and rock shrimp with southern okra-Scotch bonnet succotash and passion fruit
Smoked pineapple and mango tian with passion fruit mousseline and tropical rum fruit punch granité

What I had for dinner (prepared by Philippe Trosch, executive chef of the Ventana Room at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.):

Maine lobster beignets with tarragon infusion
Colorado lamb beignets with smoked eel and sake reduction
Gruyère beignets with cumin butter
Bay scallop beignets with sweet vinegar glaze
Beaulieu Vineyard Carneros Brut 2001, and a surprisingly good cocktail made from tequila and Champagne
Russian royal osetra caviar from petrovich with egg brouillade and brioche
Belvedere Vodka
Dry sausage and seafood in olive oil–infused tomato broth (basically a charcuterie plate
Beaulieu Vineyard Carneros Reserve Chardonnay 2003
Veal confit with cracklings, carpaccio of cèpes, and hazelnuts
Beaulieu Vineyard Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir 2003
Chocolate floating island
Beaulieu Vineyard Dulcet 2002

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Anybody want a chef?

February 6

As I was leaving the 2nd Avenue subway station to see a demonstration of the much ballyhooed (by their publicists) pizza at Palà, I ran into the editor of another magazine. She said she'd been meaning to e-mail me about NRN's "On The Menu" feature about Summit, the much ballyhooed (by everyone) restaurant that opened at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
“Yes, I know,” I said, or something like that. “The chef's not there anymore.”
We'd heard, from many people, after the page had gone to bed, that Rolland Wesen, who was hired by the Broadmoor to run the restaurant, left quietly and suddenly.
I was under the impression that the parting of ways was the choice of the chef, who happens to be the husband of Claudine Pépin (so, yes, he's Jacques' son-in-law).
Apparently not, according to my editor-friend, who had spoken to Claudine recently and said that Rolland had been unceremoniously fired. Management said he wasn't a good match for the hotel, Claudine told her. The Wesen-Pépin household had already bought a home in Colorado Springs and was ready to settle in.
So, if you're looking to hire a high-end chef for a prestigious restaurant, give Rolland a call.

The people at Palà are psyched about their pizza's crust, which is made from between nine and fourteen different organic flours (the exact composition varies with the weather). They're made into a loose but thoroughly kneaded dough (for long gluten chains) with minimal yeast. The dough is allowed to rise for at least two days and as long as five, and then gently formed into oblong crusts that are topped and cooked for about 20 minutes at a relatively low temperature of around 250° Celsius (just shy of 500° Fahrenheit, compared to the more typical pizza oven temperature of around 900°). The result is supposed to be a crunchy, flaky crust with the added bonus of containing up to 20 percent protein.

Selected pizzas at Palà:
Arrabbiata: fresh cherry tomatoes, hot pepper, garlic and Tuscan olive oil
Montasio: walnut spread, montasio cheese, fior di latte mozzarella
Forza Roma: roasted red and yellow bell pepper, buffalo mozzarella, garlic, parsley and Puglian olive oil
Zucca: sautéed pumpkin, pancetta and smoked scamorza
Funghi e Salsiccia: beef sausage, filed mushrooms, hot pepper and fior di latte mozzarella
Merluzzo: Smoked sable, hummus, mint and Tuscan olive oil

Monday, February 06, 2006

How to sell a goose

February 3

When you're the main producer of something — geese, say — it's easy to notice a smuggling ring, which is how Jim Schiltz, who processes most of the geese in this country, knew that California was being flooded by someone else's waterfowl. Tonight, before we went to dinner at Gilt, he told the tale of how, through his informants in the goose world (if you're the main producer of something, you also apparently have to have informants), he basically uncovered a ring of smugglers who not only were sneaking in goose, but duck and squab, too, from China, along with undocumented workers and counterfeit consumer goods and, well, pretty much anything else you'd expect Chinese smugglers to be smuggling.
At dinner (which basically was a repeat of what I had on Monday — see the blog entry titled The Never-Ending Lunch) he wanted to pick my brain about how best to market goose.
I don't know anything about marketing, but I said that it seemed to me the best strategy would be to reinforce goose's image with the middle-Americans of Scandinavian and German descent who might be inclined to eat it during Christmas and Easter, and then let them know that it can be eaten at different times of year, too, and also to tie in goose's similarity to duck — they actually don't taste all that much alike, but they can work in similar preparations, and duck's popularity is growing.

If you happen to be a marketer and think I'm full of baloney, please let me know; I'll pass your comments on to Jim.

For more of Jim's goose adventure's, see the blog entry "How geese could cure West Nile."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Event planners' night

February 2

Interesting evening at the Beard House. Dean James Max of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale was cooking. The restaurant's in Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, and the corporate Marriott folks took the opportunity to invite a couple dozen of their best customers — event planners and such — to the dinner.
I generally dress up when I go to the Beard House. I was wearing a three-piece suit, so I guess I looked corporate enough to be an event planner for pharmaceutical conventions or whatever, because one of Marriott's corporate guys came bounding up to me, grinning ear-to-ear, and introduced himself.
That's not unusual at the Beard House. Restaurants invite me there a lot, as they did this evening, and the restaurant's PR folks generally greet me warmly. I go there often enough that many of the Beard House's servers know me by name.
But when I introduced myself to the corporate Marriott guy, his smile dimmed and he almost instantly turned away to talk to someone else.
Hey, no skin off my nose. I talked to one of the event planners during the cocktail hour who also is a former restaurant operator, of a steakhouse in Sugar Bush, Vermont. A real estate developer, he also spent two years restoring the Jamesport Manor Inn on Long Island. Last October they were restaining the wood and stored the rags in a plastic bag. The rags combusted and burned the building down in an hour! Can you imagine?
He was pretty daunted, but he's working on restoring another historic building and turning it into a restaurant: the Captain Hawkins House, also in Jamesport. Good for him.
I was seated at a table of journalists and such for dinner and had a good time.
As I was leaving, I struck up a conversation with one of the servers, who lamented the decline in quality of both the chefs and the guests at the Beard House. Five or six years ago, the server said, the chefs made extraordinary food and the guests ate it with respect and reverence. Now the chefs' food is of lower quality, and many of the guests gorge themselves on Champagne and are drunk by the time dinner starts.

What I ate and drank:

Passed Canapés:
Soup shots of scallops, Asian pear and celery root
Florida stone crabs with watermelon radish and curry apple aïoli
Chilled oysters with Champagne shallot mignonette
Schramsburg Blanc de Blancs, 2001
Wahoo sashimi with Savoy cabbage salad, pecans, truffle aïoli, aged balsamic vinegar
Girard Sauvignon Blanc, 2004
Spicy Bouchot mussels with ginger and lemon grass broth
Chalk Hill EVS Pinot Gris, 2001
Arctic char with Brussels sprout potatoes, endive and red wine shallots.
Pine Ridge Crimson Creek Merlot, 2001
Organic beef filet with gruyère sweet onion, wild mushrooms, winter greens and bone marrow sauce
Groth Cabernet, 2002
Bittersweet chocolate crisp, roasted pear, walnut caramel
Iron Horse Russian Cuvée, 1998

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Everyone at Tocqueville

February 1

Tocqueville, in New York's Union Square area, is not a prominent restaurant. It's reasonably well known and held in fairly high regard. "Oh yeah, I like that place," people say, and then probably change the subject.
It's moving. Not far, just a couple of doors down, to a radically different space. The bright, open, old Tocqueville is being replaced by a grander, more austere, more buttoned-up windowless Tocqueville. It's not moving for another few weeks, but the owners threw a preview party, and everyone came (except for you, if you weren't there — and you were missed).
Several of us marveled at the fact that the entire New York food-writing scene saw fit to go to the same place, merely to see the new space of a medium-important restaurant (Apparently interior design people were there, too, but I don't know them, except for Tara Mastrelli and Stacy Shoemaker Rauen from Hospitality Design). We surmised that there must not have been any other parties going on that night.
It was a fun party, with not much food (the gas isn't on yet), but lots of wine. Food writers (and design writers too, it seems) are good at not getting sloppy-drunk, so the party didn't spiral into that strange place where parties sometimes spiral, although a couple of guys were making out on a banquette as I left.
Opinions about the new space were mixed. Some people loved it, some thought it looked shabby. I liked the Bordeaux.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Never-Ending Lunch

January 31

I was stood up for lunch at Gilt, the new restaurant where Le Cirque 2000 used to be. A work-friend had been after me to have lunch for weeks, and then didn't show. I waited for a mystified 45 minutes and then ordered lunch; it would be ridiculous to suffer a social snub and miss a good meal at the same time.
The chef, Paul Liebrandt, and I go way back to his days at Atlas, in 2001, when he simultaneously delighted and horrified diners with his unconventional combinations. That garnered him three stars from the New York Times, whose critic at the time was William Grimes, and a thorough and uncharacteristic drubbing by usually sweet Gourmet magazine, which was (and is) run by Grimes' predecessor, Ruth Reichl. Gossip at the time speculated on rivalry between the past and present critics.
At any rate, the chef and the owners of Atlas had some sort of falling out and he's been popping up at various restaurants since then, always vaguely unsatisfied and in search of a restaurant where he could really do his own thing. A former protégé of British chef Marco Pierre White, a disciple of Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire and a practitioner of the current culinary school of molecular gastronomy, Paul Liebrandt now has a gigantic kitchen in which to prepare his food and an ornate dining room in which to serve it, accompanied by a hilarious wine list, with numerous bottles selling for more than $10,000. Gilt also has far and away the most elaborate tea list I'd ever seen, even before I saw the restaurant's special reserve tea list that they bring out only for people who actually seem interested in the stuff.
"I'm ready to order," I told Christopher Day, the restaurant's assistant director, who was captain during my lunch. He asked if perhaps I wouldn't just like the chef to cook for me, and maybe they could just select some wines to go with each course if that were all right.
If I'd had a seatbelt, I would have fastened it.
Lunch was long and fascinating, as I'd expected. Near the end, Chris rolled out the cheese cart and began to talk about himself. He's a former raw foodist, allergic to pasteurized cow's milk. Unpasteurized cow's milk does not affect him negatively, he said as he sliced me some raw cow's milk cheese. He gave up his raw-food veganism because his health began to fail and he realized his need for animal protein, and lots of it. He also divorced his raw-foodist wife.
Now he eats everything, except pork: He converted to Islam a month after September 11. Always a spiritual guy, he was outraged by the hatred being spread by Muslim clerics that to him went so against the teachings of the Koran. He converted to join others in practicing Islam the way he thought it should be practiced.

What I ate:
Passion fruit and saffron marshmallow with chorizo dust
Squid ink brioche with onion marmalade
Scallop tortellini with duck consommé and pickled radish
Sweet (raw) shrimp with micro greens and avocado-pistachio puree
Chicken and cèpe terrine with coconut gribiche and sprout salad
Cured beef with puree of garlic bread and China rose sprouts with black trumpet powder
Oyster with lemon bubbles
Smoked celeriac espuma with lemon gelée and coffee salt.
Stilton and arugula financière with pear and raisin chutney
Foie gras cooked sous-vide lacquered with fig-pomegranate glaze and served with beet gelée, quince crème and nori opaline
Toad-in-the-hole: Brioche around a quail egg with diced black truffle, served with truffle butter.
Diver scallop with cauliflower crème and lobster sablé and caper relish with huckleberries
Pork belly, cooked sous-vide, with chiffonade of cabbage, potato fondant, escargots with black trumpet powder, green apple chip and black truffle-game jus.
Loup de mer a la plancha with artichokes barigoule, apple gelée, squid ink gnocchi and haddock butter.
Peking duck, cooked sous-vide, with beet leaf croquants, beat reduction and a beat leaf stuffed with duck leg confit.
A selection of cheeses
Champagne sorbet with lemon grass espuma, white chocolate croquants (like little white cocoa puffs) and gold leaf
Clementine gelée, toasted almond sabayon, lychee sorbet
Tangerine warm chocolate tartlet, ancho chile parfait with white chocolate and cinnamon biscuit.
A tasting of three different senchas (Japanese green tea), selected by Christopher Day