Wednesday, March 29, 2006

stupid press releases

March 29

“So when will the CUISINE of Mexico get its due?” a press release asked me today. It’s a strange question in the United States, where Mexican is one of the three most popular “ethnic” cuisines, dwarfing everything but Chinese and Italian.
Dumb press releases come my way often. Very, very often. But usually they’re just badly written or not germane to what I write about. Some really stand out, though. I remember the fax I got some years ago from an animal rights group that said “chickens are people too.” Now, you might believe that chickens deserve the same rights as people, but by definition, chickens are not people.
I got a press release once declaring Providence the most dynamic city in the Northeast. I like Providence a lot, but, I mean, come on. I imagine some people in Newport would question whether Providence is the most dynamic city in Rhode Island.
Some kids put together a press release telling me that the new chef of a restaurant they represented had cooked at five-star Michelin restaurants. Fascinating, since Michelin gives a maximum of three stars.
I was told in a press release that Americans don’t appreciate tomatoes. Since Americans love tomatoes and eat them in most sandwiches and salads, I had to ask the publicist what on earth he was talking about.
I got an e-mail pitching as a “Dish of the Week” osso-buco, which I was told was a very rare Italian dish that was hard to find in restaurants in the U.S. I explained to the poor youngster who sent me that piece of information that, in fact, osso-buco was an extremely common item on Italian menus, but I invited her to pitch something else. She never did.
Today’s stupid press release asked its silly question about Mexican cuisine in the third paragraph. Its first sentence was an often-repeated falsehood, that salsa outsells ketchup in the United States. That was true for a year or so — and if you think about how much more expensive salsa is than ketchup, and how it’s actually used differently, as a dip rather than as a condiment, you realize that you’re comparing not apples and oranges, but mustard and onion dip.
At any rate, after salsa’s year of outselling ketchup, Heinz simply added a few marketing dollars to its budget and ketchup moved to the top again. It was a statistical blip that people just won’t let go.
The press release, about a “contemporary, nouvelle Mexican” restaurant in the Midwest, goes on to talk about Mexican cuisine’s “relative obscurity.” Compared to what?
My favorite press releases tell me exactly what the release’s point is in the first sentence. Then it lists the five Ws and the H. If it’s a release about a restaurant, it includes the whole menu. It provides contact information in case I want something else.
And that’s it.
Hey, I just got another release telling me about an Asian-themed restaurant in San Francisco that serves “Zen-like specialty sake.” What in the world could that mean?

Restaurant people on the down-low

March 28

Bubble Lounge, in Tribeca, turned 10, so they threw a party and served a lot of Champagne.
I was happy to help them celebrate.
They had a guest book, which I signed and noticed that several names above me the signatory’s affiliation was simply listed as “model.”
Oh, I thought, one of those parties.
But it wasn’t, really. The guy behind the velvet rope was mellow, and it was a good party, with enough people pouring Champagne that it wasn’t hard to get refills. And an interesting enough mix of people was there that it was easy both to run into people you knew and to meet some new ones. I did mostly the former, but I did meet a young literary agent who left the legal profession out of boredom. And I got better acquainted with another former lawyer, David Blend, who works for Thrillist.
It was fun, but you don’t expect to be fed much at such events, and I wasn’t. So I ended up at Centrico, Drew Nieporent’s Mexican restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Layla, whose kitchen is headed up by celebrity chef Aarón Sanchez, son of another celebrity chef, Zarela Martinez.
I just meant to munch on some tacos and leave, but I ended up quizzing the bartender about Drew’s Myriad Restaurant Group, and my cover was blown (not that I was trying to hide it) when I started asking about Proof on Main, Myriad’s new restaurant in Louisville, Ky.
“You know a lot about the restaurant industry, is that your job or just a hobby?” asked another diner at the bar, who turned out to be Gregg Nelson, a manager at Dylan Prime. So I introduced myself and chatted with him and the bartender as I ate three tacos and a sweetbread appetizer, while sipping on a margarita and then a cocktail that involved pineapple, jalapeño and tequila.
It turns out that the guy behind the bar was only disguised as a mild-mannered bartender. In fact, he was project director Robert Larcom.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Megu preview

March 27

The Loire Valley Wine Bureau hosted the first party ever at Megu’s second location, in Trump World Tower across from the UN.
I’d comment on the space, but I'm a food writer and don’t know from design. It seemed nice.
The Loire Valley people, as always, got a robust turnout of major wine writers, including NRN’s own wine columnist Ed McCarthy, with whom I chatted about the travails of drinking wine and driving (usually he hires a car service home to Long Island; I, of course, take the subway). But people from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, and a freelancer from the Times were there. And of course Kathryn and Chris Matthews, whom I think I’ve seen at every Loire event. He writes about wine, she writes about food and other things. Such a cute couple.
I sat between two wine importers at a long table, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to Jennifer Coles from Travel + Leisure, who was at the other end of my table, seated next to some French guy I didn’t get a chance to meet. Next to one of my importers was a guy I hadn’t met from either the Spectator or the Enthusiast, or maybe Wine & Spirits, I don’t know. Because of the layout of the table I didn’t get a chance to meet him, either, until we were all leaving.
The restaurant wasn’t quite ready for us. They’re not opening even for family and friends until April 3, and they’re not scheduled to open for real until April 20.
Their gas wasn’t turned on yet, so they brought in a gas burner with a propane tank and prepared the food for us that way. It was a long, long dinner. Just three courses, but we sat down at around 7:30 and left after 11. Delicious food, though, and nice company, although one of the French attendees, who didn’t speak English, at my table became a little petulant when they stopped serving the demi-sec wines that were supposed to go with the sushi while he was still eating. Petulant, yes, but after sitting for three hours with not so much food and sampling, at that point, 12 different wines, we were all drunk, and of course he had a point. The Megu staff knew it and they brought him some more wine. Naturally, he calmed down immediately.
The Loire people were specifically promoting Vouvray this evening, white wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape that tend to be sweeter and less austere than some other Loire wines. So it made sense to pair it with the creative Japanese food served at Megu.

Are you ready for this? What I ate and drank:

Passed hors d’oeuvres with three different sparkling Vouvrays: Domaine Philippe Gendron, Bulles Brut Extra Réserve 1997; Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray, Tête de Cuvée, and Domaine de La Rouletière, Vouvray Brut Méthode Traditionnelle

Sake edamame, hamachi carpaccio, yuzu ceviche and panko-crusted okaki asparagus, served with four different bottlings of Vouvray Sec: Domaine des Lauriers, Laurent Kraft, Vouvray Sec 2004; Domaine de la Haute Borne, Vincent Carême Sec 2004, Domaine du Margalleau, Vouvray Sec 2003, and Vignobles Brisebarre, Philippe Brisebarre, Cuvée Amédée Sec 2002

Kobe beef “caillettes” (a type of croquette that, in Avignon, at least, is served with capon; at Megu it was foie gras wrapped in beef and grain, kibbeh-style, sort of), crusted shrimp kanzuri, bincho-tan griled Kobe beef filet skewers with soy and wasabi, and assorted sushi, served with five different bottlings of Vouvray Demi Sec: Benoît Gautier, Vouvray de Gautier Demi Sec 2004; Domaine Le Capitaine, Alain Le Capitaine, Les Aumones, Demi Sec 2004; Champalou, Fondreaux Demi Sec 2004; Domaine Sylvain Gaudron, Gilles Gaudron, Vouvray Demi Sec 2003, and Domaine d'Orfeuilles, Arnaud Hérivault, les Coudraies Demi Sec 1990.

Grapefruit Sorbet

“Assorted fruit plate and small ‘umami’ chocolates,” which actually was three seedless grapes topped with gold leaf, a single strawberry sliced in shingles, two blueberries, a raspberry and a cube of very good chocolate decorated like a die, served with sweeter-than-usual whipped cream.
It was served with six (6!) Vouvrays: Bougrier, Vouvray Bougrier Nicolas Selection Demi Sec; Vincent Raimbault, Vouvray Doux 2002; Domaine de la Fontainerie, Catherine Dhoye, Vouvray Moelleux 2003; Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Château Gaillard Vouvray Moelleux 1997; Domaine du Viking, Lionel Gaultier, Vouvray Moelleux 1986, and, as an extra surprise, Domaine François Pinon, Vouvray 1959.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dig me

March 23

I apologize for the horn-tooting, but my monthly column in Nation’s Restaurant News just won the Jesse H. Neal Award for the best staff-written editorial or column in business-to-business media.

Here are links to the columns we submitted for the award:

It’s all good: Demonizing foods gives diners the wrong message

‘Waiter, there’s a hydrocolloid in my soup’: Chefs learn new tricks from scientists

Caveat Eater: Bizarre nutritional claims mar conference and confuse consumers

Remember, it’s only grape juice: Snobbery is unnecessary no matter what you drink

Unfortunately, if you want to read the columns in their entirety, I think you have to buy them, unless you're already a subscriber to NRN. You can, of course, become one now.

If you have trouble with the links, please let me know by e-mailing me at

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Coffee makes strange bedfellows

March 22

When Oldways and Dunkin’ Donuts invite you to the same lunch, how can you refuse?
And if the topic is coffee, well, I’m totally there.
Oldways as an organization isn’t as elitist as, say, Slow Food, but I still didn’t expect them to team up with a fast-food restaurant. I don’t mind fast food, but I thought Oldways did.
“We’re talking about coffee, not donuts,” one of the hosts from Oldways said to me defensively when I brought it up.
It was an educational luncheon about coffee and health, and it was held at Craft, a restaurant that’s all about finding great products and not doing much to them.
Craft’s chef-owner, Tom Colicchio, wasn’t cooking. Instead, Stan Frankenthaler was. He used to be chef of high-end Boston restaurants like Salamander and Beehive, but now he’s executive chef of Dunkin’ Brands and develops their breakfast sandwiches and so-on.
Coffee amazes me, because for some reason people have been trying for the past 500 years or so to find something about it that’s bad for you, and they haven’t succeeded. Sure, if you’re sensitive to caffeine you should be careful, but the same is true of wheat or asparagus or rhubarb. Don’t eat things that don’t agree with you.
Indeed, during the luncheon we were presented with recent findings about how coffee — which has many components other than caffeine that affect your health — appears to fight all sorts of things, from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to cancer to Type II diabetes.
Oldways likes to present the latest information on health, and you can see why Dunkin’ Donuts would be psyched about such a program.
On top of that, subtle nods were given to Dunkin’s lighter approach to roasting. Food wonk Corby Kummer spoke about different types of coffee and coffee culture, and said that cultures that sought out the best coffee beans, such as Germany and Scandinavia, tended to enjoy lighter roasts, whereas the French and Italians developed darker roasts to cover up defects in inferior coffee.
And some of the health guys mentioned that excessive roasting tended to make coffee marginally less good for you.
But it wasn’t a hard-sell, and I wouldn’t insult Corby Kummer or the scientists by accusing them of altering their presentations to suit a lighter roast. How cheap would that be?
It’s nice when everyone’s messages coalesce, though.

What I had for lunch:
arugula salad with raw beets, toasted walnuts, dried cherries (soaked in coffee, red wine and balsamic vinegar) with warm coffee balsamic vinaigrette
Breast of chicken (marinated in ground coffee and other stuff) with a tumble of hominy, kale and roasted red, yellow and poblano peppers, garnished with a single ear of baby corn, with one leaf from the husk still attached
Cappuccino ice: an espresso granita with chocolate and vanilla flavor shots, topped with foamed skim milk.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Better living through chemistry

March 20

A recent study found that people who stuck to the Portfolio Eating Plan could lower their LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol by about as much as if they took cholesterol-lowering medication.
To follow the Portfolio Eating Plan, you have to stick to a 2000-calorie-per-day diet that includes a handful of almonds, 20 grams of viscous fiber, 50 grams of soy protein and 2 grams of plant sterols, and get your recommended 5-9 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Ideally, the designers of the plan said, you should probably stick to a vegan diet, too, although you can eat egg whites if you must.
A handful of almonds seems reasonable, and I like almonds.
Twenty grams of viscous fiber means five cups of cooked oats, or three and a third cups of cooked kidney beans, or six and two-thirds apples, or 5.8 cups of strawberries. There are other options available, but they’re less appealing.
To get 50 grams of soy protein you need one and two-thirds cups of firm tofu, or five Boca burgers, or eight cups of soy milk.
Plant sterols? Forget it. You’d need to eat 15 avocados (at six ounces each), which would blow your 2,000 calorie diet. Or you could drink just under a cup of corn oil, or 3.3 cups of olive oil, or eat 22.22 cups of soy beans (cooked, I would assume). Or, apart from that handful of almonds you already agreed to eat, you could have 59 more handfuls.
There also are some supplements you can take. Just over a tablespoon of those will give you the 2 grams of plant sterols you need.
Or, of course, you could just take your cholesterol-lowering medicine.

Better living through pork

March 20,

Every year the National Pork Board invites me, my boss, and sometimes some other NRN editors to The Culinary Loft to meet their “Celebrated Chefs,” whom they select each year to tour around and cook pork. Theoretically we're supposed to cook with them, but mostly we just watch. But we meet new chefs and the food’s always good.
This year, they were all featuring Berkshire pork, a special breed that the Japanese call Kurobuta. It’s really not normal for commodity boards to highlight a boutique item in this way, but the pork people can be remarkably open minded about that sort of thing. I’m sure they get grief about it back in the home office in Des Moines, though, from the big producers of commodity pork. Really, they’re different markets. Berkshire’s quite a bit more expensive than mainstream pork and targets a different market. Ditto for wild Alaska salmon, which is far more expensive than the farm-raised stuff, and also tastes different. In fact, there’s no way that Alaska and other wild fisheries could come close to meeting the global demand for salmon.
But I digress. Today we met Michael Giletto, chef at the Federal Bank of Philadelphia; Johnny Hernandez, from True Flavors Culinary Planners in San Antonio; Shad Kirton from Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, and Tim McCarty from the Mayo Foundation House — part of the May Clinic, in Rochester Minn. Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, Maine, who also now has a place in Florida, also was listed as a Celebrated Chef, but she wasn’t at The Culinary Loft. I don't know why, and we didn’t ask because we didn’t look at the press kits until we were back in the office.
Many of these chefs hooked up with the pork board through the Taste of Elegance, a nationwide cooking competition.
People always laugh when I tell them that Taste of Elegance is a pork event, which of course is why the pork board decided to call it that. They want to give pork a more upscale image.

We ate:
From Michael Giletto: Adobo-scented pork tenderloin with banana-vanilla bean caviar vindaloo, hazelnut mascarpone pork tortellini, coconut cream, chestnut foam and a chorizo tuile.
From Johnny Hernandez: Roasted pork loin gorditas with guajillo chile and papaya cilantro slaw
From Shad Kirton: “BLT salad” made with braised pork belly, heirloom tomatoes, assorted greens and crostini, served with roasted garlic aïoli
From Tim McCarty: Pork & wild mushroom bisque with truffle oil, garnished with shredded pork and sautéed wild mushroom on puff pastry

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Taxi driver confessions

March 13

The rest of my stay in Houston was punctuated with tension as I tried to find time to finish the 1,800-word article on West African food that I was writing for NRN’s special section in the March 27 issue, for which we’re highlighting four lesser-known cuisines. Keep an eye out for it, I think you’ll like it.
But a person has to eat, so I gladly accepted an invitation from a representative of New Zealand lamb to dine at Hugo’s. I had some of Hugo’s shrimp last weekend, when I was in Houston for the rodeo etc. We went out to a ranch to sample Texas wine and were treated to lunch by Houstonian chefs. But I hadn’t actually been to Hugo’s, the restaurant, and was grateful for the opportunity to do so with Mr. New Zealand Lamb.
The next day, between sessions at the Research Chefs Association conference, I had a bowl of chili in my room for lunch as I worked on my story, but dinner found me in the Houston neighborhood of Rice Village, which is just known as The Village, where I had dinner at benjy’s in the Village, which is just known as benjy’s, with people from the Peanut Advisory Board and the Mushroom Council, and a local Houstonian who’s friends with the Peanut Advisory Board representative. I had interviewed benjy’s chef, Dylan Murray, awhile back when I was writing a feature about cherries. At the time he was making his own brandied cherries and using them in a souped-up Manhattan. I was planning to order that, but it wasn’t on the menu anymore, so I had a gingery cocktail instead, and we sampled, oh, pretty much all of the restaurant’s appetizers and a number of entrees that we passed around with reckless abandon (except for the woman from the Peanut Advisory Board, who doesn't do that). The whole menu’s at
The next day, after checking out of my room at The Inn at the Ballpark and then furiously typing away in the lobby, reference books strewn about me, until my stupid article was finished, I took the hotel’s free shuttle to Mama Ninfa’s for a self-congratulatory meal of down-home Mexican food.
Where do you suppose my driver was from but West Africa? Nigeria, to be precise. I wanted to talk to him about food, but he seemed more interested in politics. In fact, to him, saying he was from Nigeria was imprecise. He said he was from the western part of Nigeria, which, he said, shouldn’t be part of Nigeria at all.
Ah, Biafra, I thought. I asked him the name of the region he was from, and it turns out I was right. So we discussed light politics, light for Biafrans, and Mexican food during the five-minute drive to Mama Ninfa’s.
I loved the food there, but loved the crowd even more. At one table was apparently an extended, middle-class southern white family — one of the kids was wearing a Denver Broncos jersey, of all things. Next to them was a four-top of young gay men. Next to them was an elderly couple, black man and white woman, both with plenty of obvious battle scars from life’s tribulations. In fact, elderly’s not the right word; they were old.
A multigenerational six-top of Hispanics and Anglos was between them and my corner table, from which I watched the proceedings.
I called my new Biafran friend to pick me up and then, back in the hotel lobby, I crunched some numbers for the tables in the March 27 special food section until it was time to go to the airport.
My taxi driver to the airport was from Ethiopia. That’s not West Africa, but I still like the country’s food. So I sang the praises of injera, the spongy flat bread that its detractors say tastes like sour foam rubber, but that I really have developed a taste for.
But the conversation moved to politics again. My driver fled Ethiopia during the last years of the reign of Mengistu Haile Mariam, a nasty guy who had a tendency to kill intellectuals. “If I hadn’t left, I would be dead,” my driver said. And he described how he sneaked across the border into Sudan and then up to Egypt, where Christians at the U.S. Embassy managed to secure him, also a Christian, as many Ethiopians are, sponsorship to the United States. He has been here ever since, enjoying the spicy Mexican food that’s available in such abundance in Texas.
I asked him if he’d ever returned home. He said that although he would like to see his family there, his memories of Ethiopia are quite painful, and although Mengistu is long-gone, he doesn’t have particular confidence in the current administration either. I didn’t argue with him.
Several hours later I landed in Newark and got a taxi. My agitated driver was from Ghana, in West Africa. He had just gotten off the phone with his brother there and was nearly in a tizzy. He said he’s been married 27 years and now has a girlfriend.
“You must be wondering why, if I’m married 27 years, do I need a girlfriend,’ he said.
“Not at all,“ I said.
“But it’s very important!” he insisted, and went on to tell his tale of woe.
His wife gives him no compassion, he said. She doesn’t appreciate the long hours he works. She doesn’t even smile at him. His girlfriend — who, incidentally, is in Ghana, so they don’t get much of a chance to hang out together — is good company and gives him companionship.
I agreed that it was very good to have companionship and that it was unfortunate his wife didn’t give it to him. I asked if she at least cooks for him, and he said that, indeed, that was one thing she did for him.
I asked if she made Nkatenkwan, the peanut stew that some people say is Ghana’s national dish. And thus I tried to stear the conversation to food because, although I was sorry to hear that his oldest son, 22, didn’t have the good sense to wait until he finished college to join the National Guard and so now is in Afghanistan, that his oldest and second oldest son, 17, physically attacked him once and so the second son will be cut off once he turns 18, all I can really say about it is that it’s a shame, and that he can take comfort in the fact that his tactic of sending his 15-year-old son to live in Ghana seems to be straightening him out.
So I asked him more about Ghana. It turns out he’s a member of the Ga ethnic group, who live in Accra, the capital.
“Ah, so you eat shitor,” I said. That’s a chile sauce made from dried shrimp or fish that comes from Accra.
Indeed he does.
“Ghanaian food is the best of all African food,” he said. I’d like to think I cheered him up briefly, but I don’t think I did.

What I had at Hugo’s:
Ceviche of oysters, octopus, crab, shrimp and red snapper, as well as assorted gorditas. My main course was cabrito -- roasted, pulled goat served in a banana leaf with a side of nopales salad, guacamole, and habanero salsa. Very Yucatecan, from what I understand.
I drank a couple of margaritas and finished off the meal with premium tequila.

What I had at Mama Ninfa’s:
Two margaritas, a shrimp-stuffed, battered and fried jalapeno pepper with ranch dressing and then the Cuernevaca Combo, which is a chicken enchilada, a beef taco and a pork tamale. I finished it off with a whip-cream-topped Mexican coffee.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Balsamic beads and tikin xik

March 9

Houston has its own molecular gastronomer by the name of Randy Rucker. The 26-year-old is the chef of Laidback Manor, which opened late last year.
I just returned from Houston on Sunday, but I'm back again, this time for the Research Chefs Association conference. This time around I have yet to see a cowboy hat, except for the one made of pastillage on top of the chocolate cowboy in the lobby of the Hilton Americas, where the conference is being held.
Laidback Manor’s publicist, Dick Dace, offered to pick me up at the airport, and I couldn’t think of any reason to refuse him. He took me to the restaurant and ordered me a Martini while young Mr. Rucker (Isn't that a great name, Randy Rucker? Sounds to me like a professional wrestler) whipped up a light lunch (not!) that began with a fried green tomato with purple mustard and shaved Brussels sprout flavored with navel orange.
Then we had green apple and celery root soup with Cape Bay (Massachusetts) scallops and confit of sunburst squash.
Atlantic salmon with popcorn agnolotti in chive emulsion was followed by crispy sweetbreads with fregula di sardina, lime zest and curry bubbles.
Randy served us Berkshire pork cooked sous-vide with Dr. Pepper and topped with smoked potato salad and espresso glaze. Then he seared some flatiron beef with a smear of mushroom-bacon puree and a Chinese soup spoonful of white truffle foam (and unlike many foams in restaurants, which resemble more the emulsion and bubbles that Randy served us in previous courses, this was really foam — like shaving cream, only, you know, edible).
For dessert we had a shake of milk chocolate and foie gras and, to finish it all off, little beads of strawberry and balsamic vinegar that Randy made by dripping the vinegar drop by drop into liquid nitrogen.
So after I checked into my hotel I took a nap, showered and went to the RCA conference’s opening reception. Dick Dace was there, and he introduced me to an enterprising young junior at Johnson & Wales University named Andrew Schmitt, whose résumé I now have. Andrew is so smart that it has not taken him 20 years in the workforce to realize that he doesn't want to be a chef in restaurants. Those chefs are a particular breed who love the back-of-the-house so much that they’ll endure the long hours and the working during holidays and the physical toll the job takes. Andrew, instead, wants to go straight into product development, so he flew down to Houston and is at the conference busily looking for work. Good man.
Dick took us to dinner at another of his clients, Pico’s Mex Mex, where we sampled different tequilas and moles, and munched on a Yucatecan red snapper dish called tikin xic, the house specialty of softshell crabs, marinated steak and a variety of other goodies.

The personal touch

March 7

“Chefs and restaurateurs are the worst,” a publicist who works with many chefs and restaurateurs told me this evening. She didn’t mean it generally; she meant they’re the worst to get to RSVP to events.
NRN’s event planners found that to be the case recently when they invited a bunch of restaurant people to a dinner we were throwing in New York for the Soyfoods Council. They asked just about everyone in New York they could think of, and got exactly one RSVP. So I e-mailed a bunch of New York restaurant publicists, asked for help, and got one more RSVP.
So I picked up the phone and did some personal cajoling while the event people wracked their brains in search of someone they might have forgotten to invite.
The personal touch worked and we ended up with a very high-quality group, including some semi-celebrities. Young rising star Josh DeChellis, chef of Sumile and Jovia and a fan of all products Japanese, came. So did Johan Svensson of Riingo, and his wife Jessica, who handles special events for BLT Prime. Riingo’s the little sister of Aquavit, but whereas Aquavit’s food is a little bit Swedish, Riingo draws influence from Japan (ringo is “apple” in Japanese. The extra ‘i’ was added so people wouldn’t confuse it with The Beatles drummer)
Steve and Elena Kapelonis, who own The Pump Energy Food, came, too. They market their food as being good for you, so of course, soy’s right up their alley.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar owner Kenny Lao came. He fries many of his dumplings (although, to his surprise, his steamed dumplings are more popular), and the whole point of the dinner was to introduce new soy frying oil that maintains a long shelf life without being hydrogenated.
Simon Glenn, the chef of Brooklyn restaurant and jazz club Night and Day, came, too. So did Hoc Van Tran, chef of Le Colonial. He was the only guest I hadn’t met before, and the first one to RSVP.
During a reception at which we sampled cucumber infused edamame martinis and a variety of beers brewed by soybean farmers that contained soybean, we also had tofu firecrackers, which were chunks of fried tofu soaked in chile sauce, crudités and pickled shrimp from the Commander’s Palace cookbook.
Then we had edamame soup with lobster ravioli and truffled tofu foam.
Next we had two (soy) bean salad with roasted shallots and miso vinaigrette.
After that came braised veal cheeks and tempeh, and roasted veal tenderloin with porcini sauce.
For dessert we had lemon soy pudding, banana beignets and chocolate pecan cookies.
That was Sunday.
I was planning a late night in the office on Monday, but an e-mail sent to me while I was in Houston last week suggested that I might have dinner at I Coppi instead, where I met two TV producers. I don’t meet TV people too often; they must get invited to different parties. So I went. We talked about, among other things, the power of Oprah Winfrey and whether it was good or bad, while I Coppi’s chef sent out a couple of pizzas — one with four cheeses, and a white one with arugula and pine nuts — four types of pasta — pappardelle with wild boar, orange-scented gnocchi, cheese-filled agnolotti, and “farroto,” which is like risotto, but made with farro, with broccoli raab and other greenery — cinghiale (more wile boar), and several desserts.
On Tuesday I was shocked and delighted to see Niloufar Motamed again. Nilou’s an editor at Travel + Leisure and one of the best people to spend a long dinner with. But she doesn’t go out much anymore and I hadn’t seen her in probably two years. As she was leaving on Tuesday I insisted that she come out more, but she ignored me. One of her rivals for the award of best dining companion, Julie Besonen from Paper, was there, too. I didn’t get to chat with her much during dinner at Public, sponsored by the New Zealand venison people, but was happy instead to get to know Public’s chef Brad Farmerie, and Nate Millado of Men’s Fitness.
Both of them seemed like great guys, and you never know when I might want to invite them to an event.

What I ate and drank at Public
Marinated white anchovies on quinoa croquettes with spicy saffron aïoli
Venison Scotch eggs on cucumber, hijiki and pomegranate salad
Mushroom ceviche with miso aubergines and ginger ponzu sauce
Mini venison burgers on miso buns with three toppings
Daniel Le Brun No1 Cuvée, NV, Marlborough, New Zealand

Spicy Thai venison salad with lime and chile dressing
Framingham “Dry Riesling” 2002, Marlborough, New Zealand

Grilled scallops with sweet chile sauce crème fraîche and green plantain crisps
Kumeu River Pinot Gris, 2004, Auckland, New Zealand

Roasted New Zealand venison loin, Cabrales dumplings, oyster mushrooms and salsa verde
Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir, 2003, Central Otago, New Zealand

Sticky toffee pudding with Armagnac ice cream and hot caramel sauce
Martinborough Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, 1996, Martinborough, New Zealand

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wine and cowboys, and goats

March 5

When rich Houstonians go to special events, many of them wear cowboy hats and boots. Lots of the boots are made of ostrich because, as I said, these are rich Houstonians. Many of the women wear other Texana, as it's called — frilly country-girl dresses and big medallions, leather jackets with yards of fringe.
This is what I learned at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which the Texas Board of Agriculture invited me to, mostly to check out the state’s wine.
The show was most excellent. It’s held each year at the Reliant Center and pretty much looks like any trade show, except that instead of restaurant equipment or new packaged food products or different types of printed circuit board assemblies, this show has animals.
The first thing I did there was learn that I had been signed up to participate in the celebrity goat-milking competition. I had no idea I was a celebrity. I also had no idea how to milk a goat, but I learned. Somewhat. Well, not really.
I was rushed over to one of the performance areas in the Reliant Center, handed my beer to one of my hosts, and knelt on the grass in a penned-in field before a remarkedly placid goat who was standing on a platform with her handler. Behind the goat were bleachers where spectators sat with apparent interest. People who know about such things showed me how a goat is milked. "It's like emptying a water balloon," one of them said, which was more helpful than it sounds.
We practiced for a couple of minutes and then had a couple of more to squeeze as much milk out of the goats as we could.
I’m glad my ego isn’t tied to my goat-milking ability. I think I came in last.
I was told that the Houston stock show’s celebrity goat-milking competition had only been revived a few years earlier after it had been done away with because of the unwholesomeness of the celebrities that were being selected — cheerleaders and such.
I had no idea I was wholesome.
We visited some exhibits, my favorite of which was a heated glass case with eggs in it, out of which chickens would periodically hatch. They’d climb exhausted out of their shells and collapse on the straw-like bedding on which the eggs rested. They looked unwell, but after a brief rest, and after their little feathers had dried, they’d stand right up, all alert and ready to face the world.
Most American chickens only spend about six weeks in the world, but I decided not to mention that to the wide-eyed kids surrounding the case.
I liked the goats, too. If you are a goat fan, or would like to be, you might want to get to know my friends Karl and Margaret.
The next day we went out to a historic ranch for lunch and a sampling of Texas wines. I learned that Texas now has 126 wineries and is the 5th largest wine-producing state. It’s also the fastest-growing wine producing state.
We sampled a wide array, including a $17.95 Bordeaux blend named Boar Doe (get it?) and Sweet Mama Rosa Rosé, which the label says goes well with bingo. It retails for around $7.
The Ostrich boots and other regalia were in full display that evening at the wine auction, at which a lot consisting of one nine-liter bottle and four magnums of a 1991 Napa wine went for $200,000, for no reason except that people wanted to donate money for scholarships.
Technically, the money from the wine auction doesn’t go for scholarships. It goes to the bottom line of the rodeo, which then gives the money to scholarships, because apparently selling alcohol to provide scholarship money is unseemly. I guess if you sell alcohol you’re supposed to give the proceeds to evildoing. If you can explain that to me, please do so.