Friday, April 28, 2006

Klinefelter’s Buddha

April 24

Buddha Bar’s a massive space that can seat more than 600 people, and it’s all adorned in darkly stained wood — I could still smell the stain at its opening party this evening.
The place is dominated by a big dark Buddha that reminded me of one notion, explained to me in Thailand, of how Lord Buddha should be depicted. Since the Buddha image is supposed to represent all of humanities’ ability to achieve enlightenment, the statue should be androgynous. Buddha Bar’s statue appears to have man-breasts, which I guess is about as androgynous as you can get.
My favorite feature in the restaurant: a glass, roofless chamber for smokers. Seems like a smart way to follow New York’s smoking laws while still giving smokers a bit of dignity.


April 22

My friend Birdman (most people call him David Krauss and there’s nothing I can do to stop them), ran out of calvados-spiked mustard, so he went to France to pick up some more. Joining him seemed like a nice way to enjoy my 39th birthday (which is today, thank you), so I met him in Paris on Easter and we had dinner at Alain Senderens (which I preceded with a sandwich grec from the westernmost vendor of such things on the north side of Rue de La Huchette).
The next day we caught the bullet train to Marseilles for three days of sea air, pastis and bouillabaisse.
Back in Paris for two more days, we pretty much just ate and drank, most notably lunch at Taillevent, although dinner at a straightforward little bistro called La Tour de Montlhéry, proved quite enjoyable. Birdman had white asparagus and I had the house terrine, and then we each had hanger steak with fries that we washed down with a liter of house Brouilly. He had chocolate mousse for dessert, I had perhaps the best raspberries I’ve ever had, but was perplexed by the crème Chantilly that accompanied it, which was flavored with that strong Martinique rum. Now, I’m all for culinary creativity, but if you’re at a bistro in Paris, crème Chantilly is not supposed to have rum in it, it’s just not. Vanilla and powdered sugar, yes, but to add rum is to scoff at Escoffier.
Anyway, after drinking Calvados, Birdman saw the cheese cart roll by and insisted that we have some, which we did.
I felt the need to apologize to the man sitting next to us — who was dining with three other people that seemed to be his wife and daughter and his daughter’s boyfriend or fiancé or something; dad was in a casual workman’s shirt and everyone else in his party was dressed up — because cheese after Calvados is just tacky.
Of course, he couldn’t have cared less but seemed troubled by the fact that we were out of wine, so he grabbed his liter of Brouilly and filled our glasses.
“En France, on est généreux,” he said (we’re generous in France), which, I’m sorry, just isn’t true. I think the French are charming and generally have their priorities in the right place, but generosity just isn’t a national characteristic for which they’re known.
We spent the last night with a friend of mine from my Bangkok days, bon vivant and International Herald Tribune journalist Tom Crampton, and his fiancée Thuy-Tien. I had duck (rillettes and then seared breast in pepper sauce) while discussing molecular gastronomy with the English-speaking French couple at the next table. In short, they don’t like it.
My conclusions from the trip:
•I like France a lot
•Since I hadn’t been there in 10 years and still could function on some level in French, I have that language for keeps — at least enough to order dinner, ask directions, make reservations and do other touristy stuff.
•France is very expensive, and not only if you eat at Senderens and Taillevent.
•American coffee and food is now so good that trips to France are no longer revelatory in that regard (except to learn to what degree Escoffier is being ignored).


April 12

If restaurateur Donatella Arpaia is teaming up with chef Michael Psilakis, it's at least worth checking out. And if I get to dine with my friend Katherine Bryant, all the better.
Katherine's a publicist now, but she used to work at a foodservice trade publication, and we bonded at a variety of press events, most notably several years ago at the National Pork Producers' Council's Taste of Elegance in D.C., at which we ended up doing shots with the wine sponsors. Oh, happy days.
Katherine's also a sketch comedienne. Her troupe is worth checking out.
My favorite thing about Michael Psilakis is that he started his foodservice career at a Long Island TGI Friday's, but he's also a nice guy - very earnest - and a creative chef.
If Donatella's involved, the décor is going to be striking.
Also at dinner was Katherine's colleague, Suzanne Baldwin, and I decided that she's all right, too.
The evening started with me being a guinea pig for sommelier Heather Branch, who gave me her version of a Manhattan, with a skewer of feta-stuffed dried cherries. I suggested she swap the feta for some kind of grana - Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, whatever.

What I ate (the food is loosely inspired by the foods of the Mediterranean, primarily Italy and Greece):

Raw appetizers:
sea urchin with burrata, caviar, fava bean puree & leek oil
Kumamoto oyster with pink grapefruit, crystallized ginger and pink shallot vinaigrette
razor clam with fennel, green apple & mint
bay scallop with cured olives, preserved lemon & salt flowers
ahi tuna with preserved orange, tsakistes olives
tiger shrimp with blood orange, red onion & feta
yellowtail with sun-dried tomato, artichoke & basil
orange marlin topped with mozzarella & basil

Cooked appetizers:
cumin spiced Hawaiian tuna with cracked bulgur wheat & thassos olive salad in a creamy feta vinaigrette
grilled calamari & pignoli salad with chunky English pea puree and garlic bread crumbs
crispy bacalla and bufalà ricotta with skordalia, tomato & basil

veal cannelloni with porcini mushrooms, fontina, hard boiled egg, mâche & black truffle vinaigrette

two preparations of lamb:
grilled loin with a baby dandelion, fava bean & farro salad
poached lamb shank with artichokes & avgolemono

olive oil & blood orange panna cotta
zucchini-chocolate cake, walnut thyme gelato
torrone semifreddo, raspberry-rose sorbet
bittersweet chocolate mousse, sea salt caramel
lemon soufflé, lemon hazelnut gelato

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Humane foie gras"

April 10,

I had lunch at Aquavit again, this time with Jim Schiltz, who raises and/or processes pretty much all American goose, his publicist, Howard Helmer, and Nick Fauchald, the young food editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray.
Normally, Jim's geese are, oh, let’s say harvested, when they're about 17 weeks old. But for the early hatchers, it’s not worth the trouble and expense to turn on the processing equipment, so he let's them get a little older.
Well, he’s found that at 22 or 23 weeks, the geese’s livers start to get really fatty. They’re not as fatty as foie gras, but they do have similar delicious, unctuous qualities. So he’s hoping to sell them to restaurant operators who object, or whose customers object, to the force-feeding of ducks to make foie gras.
Personally, I have no qualms about the way foie gras is produced. Although I’ve never visited a foie gras facility myself, people I respect, and everyone I know in the waterfowl industry, even those who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to force-feed their birds to produce expensive and delicious livers, say that the treatment of foie gras ducks (all American foie gras is duck) is no worse than any other animal raised by mainstream American techniques and that, after the first few times the feeding tube is stuck down their throats, the ducks come to realize that the tube means they’re being fed, and they don’t have a problem with it.
But some people object, and foie gras produced through force-feeding will be illegal in California come 2012, so there should be a market demand that Jim’s fatty goose liver could fill.
It should be interesting to see what happens. I also wonder what he’ll call the stuff, because"fatty goose liver" isn’t going to sell.

Monday, April 10, 2006


April 7

Not too long ago, New York Magazine named Rickshaw Dumpling Bar's chocolate soup dumplings the 10th best chocolate dessert in New York City. Rickshaw was the only counter-service restaurant on the top-10 list and Kenny Lao, the restaurant's managing partner, was delighted. I'd imagine Anita Lo, who developed the dessert along with all the other food at Rickshaw, was delighted, too, but I didn't ask her.
Kenny's little sister was in town recently and they tried to sample all nine of the other winning chocolate desserts. They managed to hit six of them, but they hadn't had the award-winning chocolate cake of The Spotted Pig.
So he called me and we went there for dinner.
I think The Spotted Pig is the only restaurant with a Michelin star that doesn't take reservations.
I showed up at 7:30 and gave Kenny's name to the guy in charge of the waiting list. He said it would be 30-40 minutes. But Kenny showed up a few minutes later and said "hi" to one of the owners, Ken Friedman, who took us upstairs and seated us.
They chatted briefly about their desserts' recognition, and observed its effect on sales.
"Huge," Ken Friedman said.
Kenny immediately ordered the award-winning chocolate cake, and we also ordered a bunch of other stuff: duck egg with bottarga; sheep's ricotta gnudi with sage and brown butter; fennel-celery salad with lemon, olive oil and bottarga; beer steamed cockles; a burger with Roquefort and shoestring potatoes; beets and greens, and maybe something else.
Kenny had all but one bite of the cake. I had that one bite. And then the two of us did a respectable job on all of that food, which Kenny followed with another piece of chocolate cake (I had a couple bites of that one, too). We didn't finish everything, of course. And some college co-eds at the next table ate our unfinished shoestring potatoes and I think the non-vegetarian ones sampled the burger. They told us we were making a mistake in not ordering the lemon dessert, but they were not aware of our mission.
Kenny's rail-thin, but can eat like, well, I'd say a horse, but horses are vegetarians and Kenny will eat just about anything you put in front of him, except for Mongolian hot-pot, which makes him a joy to eat with.
Next we stopped by Sascha in the meatpacking district, because neither of us had been there. We went to the upstairs bar and I had an Ommegang weisbier while we chatted briefly with chef-owner Sascha Lyon's wife Latoya.
Kenny's going to change the name of his dessert, by the way, to "chocolate Shanghai soup dumplings." The inspiration for the dessert, which actually is sesame-coated mochi filled with hot, oozing butter and chocolate, are the gushing soup dumplings for which the New York restaurant Joe's Shanghai is famous.
Maybe the dumplings come from Shanghai, I don't know. They were available on the campus of Nanjing University when I was a student there, and Nanjing's just a few hours west by Train from Shanghai. In Chinese they're called xiao long bao, or "little dragon dumplings." The bamboo steamers in which the Chinese serve steamed dumplings are called "dragons." I don't know why. The steamers in which xiao long bao are smaller than the ones in which the more bready, fluffy dumplings are served, hence the name.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Il Grano

April 6

Salvatore Marino cooked at the Beard House last night. He’s the chef and co-owner of Il Grano, an ingredient-focused, seafood-oriented Italian restaurant in West LA. Then he visited me in our Park Avenue offices this afternoon. All of our meeting rooms were full, so we just sat in the lobby — he, his brother, his publicist and I. Sal’s an intense guy in a really likeable way, and he spent about an hour talking mostly about his quest for great products.
A native Los Angelino, he nonetheless grew up in Italy (Naples) and is very much into the Italian approach to food of using ingredients that are in season and preparing them in a way that allows them to express themselves. But of course, that’s now the approach of many American chefs to food, too — either that or molecular gastronomy.

Sal’s food speaks for itself. Here’s what we ate and drank:

White Carrot Soup with Green Oil
Branzino Tartare with Anchovy Oil
White Pizza with Fava Beans and Provolone
Villa Carafa Aspirinio d’Aversa 2004

Selection of Crudo
Aspirinio d’Aversa Villa Carafa 2004

Foie Gras–Stuffed Black Sole with Vermouth Sauce
Hoffstater Gewürztraminer 2002 (an Italian wine, believe it or not, from Alto Adige)

Squid Ink Pasta with Cuttlefish and Sea Urchin Sauce
Feudi di San Gregorio Cutizzi Vendemmia Tardiva 2003

Skate with Crema di Riso di Venere (a risotto made with a black rice whose name translates as “Venus’s rice”) and Pea Sauce
Palmina Nebbiolo 2003 (from California — Santa Barbara, in fact)

Tongue-Stuffed Lamb Chops with Parmigiano-Reggiano Flan and Ramps
Terrabianca Ceppate 2001

Lemon Bigne with Lemon Cream
Feudi di San Gregorio Privilegio 2002

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Best New Chefs

April 4

Try to get on the guest list of the Food & Wine Best New Chefs party. Not only is it a fun event, but also it’s kind of important. It’s a big deal to be named one of the 10 Best New Chefs, and the award has launched quite a few careers.
Food & Wine’s editorial staff does an admirable job scouting out little-known chefs. I always know some of the winners (this year I knew Christopher Lee of Striped Bass in Philadelphia, Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., and Pino Maffeo of L in Boston), but they always manage to make quite a few discoveries, too.
Sure, we’ve mentioned Douglas Keane at Cyrus in Healdsburg, Calif., a few times, including a full-page profile written by Alan Liddle, and Carolyn Walkup has written up Stewart Woodman of Five in Minneapolis a couple of times, but we’re a trade magazine, we’re supposed to be ahead of the curve.
The party’s also probably the New York City restaurant world’s second biggest social event of the spring, surpassed only by the James Beard Foundation Awards in May. Those awards are probably regarded as more prestigious, but the winners, except for the “Rising Stars,” aged 30 or younger, are already pretty well established.
Chris Lee was last year’s winner of that award, by the way, so Food & Wine doesn’t get credit for discovering him at all.
Food & Wine’s also good at tracking down unusual venues for their party. This year it was at the Battery Maritime Building. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of it. It’s in relative disrepair in a funky-cool way, and someone said that no event had been held there since 1939.
Several people were skeptical of that fact, and the fresh paint job on the balcony, which we doubted was commissioned by Food & Wine, indicated that someone else had been playing there recently.
It was still a great space, though, right next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
I had a good time chatting with some of the out-of-town chefs. Randy Lewis, my drinking buddy from the Aspen festival a few years ago, seems well. He was a Best New Chef some years ago. Now he’s a not-so-new chef for Artisans & Estates, cooking for special events for the dozen-and-a-half wineries and vineyards that company owns.
Fabio Trabocchi from Maestro in McLean, Va., was there, too, and as always it was good to see him.
I finally met Shea Gallante, chef of Cru in New York, who was a Best New Chef last year and was cooking at the party this year. It’s Food & Wine’s custom to have a number of previous winners cook at the party. So Scott Conant from L’impero and Alto was cooking. So was Laurent Tourondel from BLT Steak, BLT Fish and BLT Prime — I chatted briefly with BLT Prime’s executive chef, Marc Forgione, whom I profiled last year.
As you can imagine, I’m disinclined to stand in line for food, so the only food I ended up tasting was Shea’s — a little split-pea-and-speck number with foam.
Later, when the food was gone and he could have a drink, I introduced myself to Shea and reminded him that I’d interviewed him over the phone about immersion circulators, which are used in sous-vide cooking. Since that method of food preparation has recently been banned, basically, by the Big Apple’s zealous health department, Shea jokingly denied knowing what I was talking about.
The rest of the evening I spent working the crowd. So did Jennifer Leuzzi.
We greeted each other briefly, and she said “I saw you yesterday,” and moved on. It was true, we had seen each other at the Gallo Awards.
Perhaps you’re thinking Jennifer was rude, but she wasn’t, not at all. She was busy catching up with people, and she and I were already caught up. We both had other fish to fry and we knew it. It’s the sort of New York efficiency of communication that I really like.
Jennifer is married to chef Laurent Gras, who was named a Best New Chef when he was at The Fifth Floor in San Francisco. But she’s also a savvy and very plugged-in food writer in her own right.
I went out to the balcony and had a nice chat with Pete Wells, largely over the furor he created when he wrote about food blogs for Food & Wine. He pointed out in the article that many food blogs were boring, which of course they are.
Those particular food bloggers resented being told so, however, and apparently let Pete know that in no uncertain terms. Pete said the article was 85-percent positive, but people only seemed to read the other part.
Myriad Restaurant Group headman Drew Nieporent grabbed me. “I’ve been looking for you all night,” he said and handed me a card from Proof on Main. “New restaurant,” he said.
“Yes, I know.”
“Why haven’t you come in?”
“It’s in Louisville.”
Drew shrugged, as if wondering what my point was.
Myriad veteran Michael Trenk was there, too. His mother, Penny, is an investor in Myriad, but Michael has moved on and is now general manager of The Capital Grille, in the Chrysler building. He drove me and his folks home from Drew’s 50th birthday party last year. Nice guy.
Institute of Culinary Education owner Rick Smilow told me that he was recently in New Orleans with my colleague Ron Ruggless and Share Our Strength co-founder Billy Shore. Ron wrote about it as a journalist, Mr. Shore wrote about it as the head of a charity, and Rick said he found it interesting to read two reports about his own trip.
Elegant Pavia Rosati from Daily Candy swung by and kissed me on the cheek as I was engrossed in a text message I was returning from my friend Yishane, who had just left the party with one of her colleagues, Time Inc. Interactive executive editor Nancy Hawley. Fearing that Pavia would forever think of me as the sort of dork who text-messages people at parties, I caught up with her and we vowed to speak at the after-party, which we didn’t, but I’m sure we’re both okay with that.
Jennifer and I, having accomplished our missions, ran into each other on the way out and she advised me about where to eat in Paris, where I’m going on vacation in a couple of weeks.
Ben Leventhal, one of the two guys who run Eater, was getting his coat, too, and we exchanged pleasantries. Eater’s a sort of well-managed clearing house of information from avid New York restaurantgoers, and if you want tips on restaurants opening and closing, it’s a good place to go.
I got into a taxi with, among others, Rita Jammet, who for years ran La Caravelle, now closed, with her husband André. We headed to the after-party at the SoHo Grand.
Rita’s technically not in the restaurant business anymore, although few people doubt that she and André will open something again one of these days. They are much loved in the New York restaurant world, and Rita expressed delight that she still gets invited to the good parties.
I spent most of the after-party talking to representatives from Starbucks as the hotel staff showered us in mac & cheese and pizza and so on.
It was a nice way to close out the evening.

The Best New Chefs:
Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.
Jonathan Benno, Per Se, New York City
Michael Carlson, Schwa, Chicago
David Chang, Momofuku, New York City
Mary Dumont, The Dunaway Restaurant at Strawberry Banke, Portsmouth, N.H.
Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg, Calif.
Christopher Lee, Striped Bass, Philadelphia
Pino Maffeo, Restaurant L, Boston
Jason Wilson, Crush, Seattle
Stewart Woodman, Five, Minneapolis

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Artisan awards at Telepan

April 3,

The organizers of the Gallo Family Vineyards Gold Medal Awards sent a car to take me to Telepan, the restaurant where the awards luncheon was being held. Classy, but also smart, because it's a lot harder to back out of an event at the last minute if a driver's waiting for you. I'm not a last-minute-back-outer, it's rude. And in this particular case, I was eager to check out Telepan, the new restaurant of Bill Telepan, who was the chef of JUdson Grill, where Bobby Flay's Bar Americain is now. Telepan — chef, restaurant, take your pick — is all about getting good, local ingredients, so it made sense as a location announcing the best artisanal products, as determined by Gallo's judges, a very respectable group including Culinary Institute of America president emeritus Ferdinand Metz, Gourmet Magazine executive chef Sara Moulton, wine and food writer and all around nice guy Malachy Duffy, restaurant consultant and sound-byte master (I mean that as a compliment; he's quotable as hell) Clark Wolf, and Cheese expert Max McCalman, the only one of the judges I haven't met.

What I ate and drank (from which you can probably determine the winners)
Cato Corner Farm Hooligan Cheese with Yaya's Raw Rah spicy flax crackers
Beet salad with Spruce Mountain blueberry vinegar
Gallo Family Vinyards Twin Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Gallo Family Vinyards Sonoma reserve Pinot Noir

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company Pemaquid Point Lobster Pot Pie
Gallo Family Vinyards Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay

Futility Farm Steak with warm potato salad, watercress and Clare’s Country Garden Dilly Bean Rémoulade
Gallo Family Vinyards Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Olde World Cheesecake Company cannoli, Celebration Cheesecake with strawberries roasted with American Spoon Strawberry Butter.