Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Help Jeff & Susie

May 30

One of the bonuses of getting married during a holiday weekend (all the rage this year, apparently) is that you always will have a long weekend to celebrate your anniversary. So my friends Jeff and Susie, now living in San Francisco, were in New York this weekend, celebrating their anniversary and attending the nuptials of one of Jeff's college friends at the quite posh Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Before they had to get on the train to head to the wedding, however, we met for lunch at Sobaya, a Japanese restaurant in the East Village specializing in the buckwheat noodles, soba.
I have long been under the impression that, when it comes to Asian foods, the West Coast, for reasons of geography and demographics, have the Northeast beat, hands down. So I wondered why visitors from San Francisco would need to find Japanese food in New York.
My friends said that, although San Francisco did indeed have much better Southeast Asian food than New York did, and LA has fantastic sushi, they had yet to find Japanese food they liked in San Francisco.
So I'm looking for recommendations for Japanese food, specifically sushi, in San Francisco.
Please post comments below.
Thank you.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Different types of angels

May 26

Perhaps my favorite way to start the day is to go to the annual C-CAP awards breakfast.
The Careers through Culinary Arts Program is an amazingly cool organization that supports generally underprivileged students interested in cooking for a living, or being involved in related fields. Today they gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships, but they don't just throw money at the kids. C-CAP's founder and president, Richard Grausman, insists that the beneficiaries stay in touch so that he and his associates can nurture and foster them and help them out should they get in over their heads or otherwise come on hard times.
The result is a group of articulate, intelligent, capable and productive members of society.
I'm usually misty throughout the whole breakfast, because while I drink my coffee and eat my berries and potatoes and bacon in a ballroom at the Pierre hotel, I actually get to watch kids' dreams come true.
I think I went to my first C-CAP awards breakfast about four years ago, and sat at a table with other press people as well as a student and her mother. We chatted with the student and asked her what her goals were (we would have talked to her mother, too, but she didn't speak much English). She said she'd really love to go to The Culinary Institute of America, a very expensive school in idyllic Hyde Park, N.Y. But of course, unless you come from big money or have parents that have both the wherewithal and the desire to take on pretty heavy debt for you, going to The CIA is not a reasonable aspiration.
It's nice to dream, though.
We members of the press already had folders with press releases announcing the scholarship winners, so we knew that our breakfast companion had won one to attend the CIA. I thought it was hard not to give away the secret, but boy, was it fun to watch her when her name was announced.
There are a few tears every year as the C-CAP members announce winners whose struggles have been particularly difficult, or as they hand out scholarships named after C-CAP alumni and others whose lives were cut short. The whole experience is really elevating.
But today I'm sleepy, because the breakfast starts at 8:45 (I was late), and last night I was at the European Wine Council's 10th annual black tie gala, which this year was held at the new, not yet open, Le Cirque.
We were upstairs in the private dining room, which has as one of its design features a wine tower. One of the Maccioni boys — Marco, I think — told our table the story of the tower:
Years ago as they were discussing the design of Circo — a more casual restaurant than the Maccioni flagship — with designer Adam Tihany, they conceived of the idea of a wall of wine, on which the most expensive wines would be at the top. Sirio Maccioni joked that the wines should be fetched by waitresses in short skirts, providing a bonus for those who ordered particularly expensive bottles.
The price for such an endeavor was not in synch with the budget for Circo, however.
Then Tihany was contracted to design Aureole in Las Vegas, which has the standout design feature of a wine tower, with wine stacked by price and fetched by lovely "wine angels."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It’s who you eat with

May 23

I think for most people, the most important part of a meal is who they're eating with. Obviously, it's my job to be more food-focused than that, but either way a meal is better when shared with my friend Andy Battaglia (who, though a music writer, reported on the clear meat we were served at one meal in his own blog; keep an eye out for him as his responsibilities at The Onion expand to cover restaurants and other excellent things to see and do in New York).
Andy's a genuine sensualist, for whom every bite of food and whiff of wine is a discovery. So it's especially fun to take him to places where the chef enjoys playing with unusual textures and flavor combinations. Pair it all with wine and he's in heaven. Add to that a bird's eye view of Central Park and, well, that's what we did on Friday night, when we had dinner at Asiate, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, on the 35th floor of the Time Warner Center, where chef Noriyuki Sugie's experimental fusion food was paired with sakes and Slovenian dessert wines, Spätlese-style Viogners (I'm not making that up) and all sorts of weird stuff.
On Monday we had drinks and bar food at PS450, where we half-watched the Yankees get clobbered by the Red Sox and I commented on the music that was being played, which was pretty much what I listened to in high school and college in the 1980s.
I wondered aloud if perhaps the person who picked the music, was, like me, a Denver Jew born in 1967. Andy suggested that perhaps my taste and upbringing were not unique, and that in fact we were listening to the relatively cheesy music — Joan Jett, Steve Miller, John Cougar (with or without the Mellencamp), Lynyrd Skynyrd (not from the ’80s, but still popular at the time) that not only I, but also he, eight years my junior and raised in the suburbs north of Atlanta, and millions of other people heard during our formative years.
Of course he had a point.
I then learned from Andy about the origins of Disco and the fight currently going on in the world of music criticism regarding the legitimacy of criticising music because of its provenance (e.g., complaints that the artist has gone "commercial,") rather than because of the quality of the music itself, among other things.

What I ate and drank at Asiate:

Warm Slow Poached Egg, Bonito, Ginko Nut
Perrier Jouet "Fleur" Rosé 1997

A variety of seafood morsels the exact nature of which I don't recall at the moment, but check back for updates.
Harushika “Shiboribana”, Junmai Ginjo Nama Sake
Eric Texier Viognier ‘Ô Pâle’ 2005, Rhône Valley, France

Caesar Salad Soup
Surf and Turf
Zilliken Riesling Kabinett ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ 2001,
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Marble Beef
Yakiniku Short Rib,Smoked Potato Purée, Potato Chips, Beef Consommé
Water Chestnuts, Barley fried Rice
Ojai Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard” 2002, Santa Barbara County

Berry-Greek Yogurt, Olive Oil Marinated Grape Salad, Grape Granité
Vietnamese Café
Coffee Mousse, Caramelized Sweetened Condensed Milk Ice Cream,
Almond and Amaretto Dust
Tilia Rumeni Musˇkat ‘Galileus’ 2004, Slovenia

And at PS450:

Mac ’n' Cheese pops
Buffalo pops with spicy hollandaise
Steak quesadilla with smoked bacon, spinach and blue cheese
Steak and creamed spinach canapés on baguette toast
Slider sampler of burgers, cheese burgers, barbecue burgers and pulled pork

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Circus

May 18

To see the hype surrounding the opening of the third incarnation of Le Cirque, you'd think New York City had never had a restaurant before. There were items about it on national news programs. At least one daily newspaper started a feature about the restaurant on Page 1.
Le Cirque's heyday was before my time, but even when I arrived in New York in 1999, in time to see the restaurant's second version, Le Cirque 2000, the staff had enough gall to look me up and down when I showed up, wearing a suit, to an event I had been invited to, and then glance at me with the implicit inquiry: "What are you doing here?" It reminded me of when I stood too near the cool kids in junior high.
I guess I should have worn a better suit. And better shoes. I'm told shoes are a dead giveaway.
At tonight's opening party, I found myself talking about plastic surgery a lot. So much of it was in evidence, so many people with stretched out skin and unblinking eyes. I guess in a way there's a certain implicit grandeur to being so mangled. If your looks are that important, certainly you must play some pivotal role in some social circle, somewhere, or did at one time.
I don't recognize many famous people. I'm oblivious to New York socialites, and you have to be a pretty famous movie star for me to recognize you out of context, unless you're involved in the restaurant world in some way.
I did recognize Bill Cosby, however, and I was told that Billy Joel was there, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, well, "everybody" was a word often repeated in describing the crowd. Le Cirque's patriarch, Sirio Maccioni, reportedly spent the early portion of the party at a hidden private table with Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. I saw him later sitting at a banquette with many young women.
There weren't many chefs, but the party started at 6:30 and was winding down when I left shortly after 9, and chefs are busy during dinnertime.
I did greet Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his business partner, Phil Suarez, but mostly I talked to publicists, who complained about the publicist who threw the party, saying that she only knew how to throw big, crowded parties at which you spend most of the time battling your way from one crowded space to another.
I had a some nice chats with a few journalists, including the always entertaining Regina Schrambling, who made a passing comment on the staircase about prostitutes upstairs, WNYC's Leonard Lopate and food writer extraordinaire Jeffrey Steingarten, but I probably had the most fun talking to Mr. Steingarten's wife, Caron Smith, who is chief curator of the Rubin Museum of Art, which specializes in Himalayan works.
She was a China scholar, and I lived in China for a year, so we bonded.
I was in China in 1988-89, and was in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. Ms. Smith told me something I didn't know about the events leading up to the protests that ended in bloodshed.
What I did know was that in the months preceding it the national art museum in Beijing featured its first exhibit of modern Chinese art. What I didn't know was that artists had seized the museum and forced the exhibit into existence. Ms. Smith said it was the first signs of the intellectual rebellion that burst into the open following the April death of former president Hu Yaobang — who was widely regarded as a sympathizer of reformers — and then gained steam with the arrival of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev that May.
That was more interesting than the talk of plastic surgery.
I eventually ended up in Le Cirque's kitchen, where mild mayhem ensued as the husband of one of Martha Stewart's TV executives tried to find dates for the executive's son.
They had been drinking, and the food to party-attendee ratio was quite low. So after the party I ate:

A quarter pounder with cheese,
a large order of fries and
a Diet Coke

All Waldorf, all the time

May 18

I have been eating at the Waldorf-Astoria a lot lately. Two Sundays ago I had brunch at Peacock Alley there with Kenny Lao. It's a gigantic buffet, so we had to strategize. We started with seafood — oysters on the half shell, lobster, king crab legs — and then moved on to breakfast, into which I argued the Italian cold cuts should be included, because they're like ham, sort of. We only had savory stuff for breakfast; it seems neither of us is much of a waffle eater. Next came lunch, which for me was mostly salad (including Waldorf salad) and fruit, because I had eggs Benedict with breakfast, but Kenny went straight for Prime rib, and we mostly sat dessert out.
Then two nights ago I found myself back in Peacock Alley, having dinner with one of the hotel's publicists, sampling the food of chef Cedric Tovar, whose food I realized I'd never had before. The Waldorf's executive chef, John Doherty, stopped by and had a glass of Woodford Reserve with us while we finished our dinner. He'd just been at the hotel's service awards party (you know, the event at which staff members are given gifts for having stayed in their jobs for so long), so he was in a suit. I'd never seen him in a suit before.
Another PR company, this one representing the Waldorf's cookbook, had asked me to the chef's table the following night. I mentioned that to John, and he suggested I also ask my boss, Pam Parseghian, to come along. John gives Pam credit for discovering him. He was already executive chef of the Waldorf, so it wasn't necessarily a profound discovery, but apparently she was the first person ever to write about him, 14 or so years ago.
So there I was at the Waldorf again, last night, with Pam, at the chef's table, which is in one of the hotel's kitchens. The chef's table has been used for special events for a long time, but for the past two years John has been serving dinner there regularly twice a month, and it has evolved into the hotel's test kitchen. It also gives his banquet chefs (banquets and catering make up about 75 percent of the hotel's food sales) a chance to be a bit more creative.
John invites family, friends and media to the chef's table, but anyone can go; they just have to call up, make a reservation, and pay $150 (plus tax and tip).

what I ate at Peacock Alley (don't worry, everything was small):
amuse bouche trio: Alaskan king crab salad, pea soup, ricotta cheese with asparagus and strawberry vinaigrette
tuna and green apple tartare, tangerine vinaigrette and American sturgeon caviar Maine lobster salad with spring vegetables and lemon vinaigrette
pistachio-crusted foie gras with lychee caramel and lychee jalapeño
jumbo white asparagus from Carpentras with blood orange reduction
black cardamom-dusted John Dory, matsutake mushrooms and curry sauce
ramp-wrapped monkfish loin, sautéed Savoy cabbage, yellow tomato and olive vinaigrette
wild pepper roasted Niman ranch pork loin, bock choy and braised onions
ginger-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb, pickled Japanese eggplant, heirloom tomatoes
roasted fresh apricot, vanilla and peanut sauce, almond sherbet
strawberry rhubarb craquelin, strawberry sorbet, chocolate feuillantine, lemon soufflé

What I ate and drank at the chef's table:
Champagne with various hors d'oeuvres

Strawberry conserve, duck confit and foie gras terrine with poached rhubarb and cracklings
Champagne Napoleon Rosé, Brut, France

Crispy soft shell crab with fresh hearts of palm salad, kumquats, grapes and rose petals.
Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley 2003, California

Mediterranean daurade with Portuguese chickpea and chorizo stew and Romesco sauce
Cristom Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2004, Oregon

Aged rib eye of Angus beef with asparagus, gnocchi and morels, radish and pea shoot salad
Audesirk Signature, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002, Napa Valley

Peanut Butter Sundae
Vanilla tapioca, salty caramel sauce and peanut butter ice cream
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Paul Jaboulet Aine, 2003, France

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Yin and Yang

May 17

The Jivamukti yoga school near Union Square has a vegan cafe that opened last week, called JivamukTea (get it?). They got who I believe is America's only vegan celebrity chef, Matthew Kenney, to run it, but I still couldn't convince my friend Clark Mitchell to leave his cozy Brooklyn confines on a Saturday night for a meal that wouldn't have animal protein ("Don't go getting all vegetarian and downward dog on me!" he later text-messaged me). I had a bunch of scholarship applications to read, so I brought them with me for company as I took the Q train to 14th St.
JivamukTea reminded me of my granola past, when in the early 1970s my lefty mother introduced us to wheat germ and carob. I kind of like wheat germ. It's crunchy. But whoever thought carob was a suitable substitute for chocolate — I suppose because it's brown — should have his or here tastebuds revoked.
Jivamukti had an open house or something for its students that night, and the place was packed. In one room people were all sitting in what I think were lotus and half-lotus positions on the floor, swaying in a sort of chant-a-long, I suppose in Sanskrit. The line to eat Matthew Kenney's food was long and moving remarkably slowly, but that meant I did have time to talk to James Cury from Time Out NY and his wife Dorothy, who I think is still at US Weekly, who were on their way out. James is smart and good-natured, and one of my favorite people to see on the restaurant circuit. I asked if JivamukTea also reminded him of his lefty upbringing, but he didn't really answer.
The woman in front of me in line expressed grave distress ("then we have a problem," I think is how she phrased it), that the dressing in the salad had lemon juice. "I can't eat that," she said. I'm not sure what she thought would be in a salad dressing, since as her conversation with various staff members unfolded it emerged that she was unwilling to eat anything high in acid — vinegar, or even tomatoes.
I wondered what she meant by "can't." Did she not know how to eat it?
If it were peanuts or shellfish or some other item that causes some people to swell up and die, I'd understand, but I don't think acid does that.
I think "won't" is the word she was looking for.
I'm now going to break my self-proclaimed prime directive of this blog and comment on what I thought of the food, because the raw lasagna with sun dried tomato puree, mint-basil pesto and macadamia "ricotta," was absolutely out of this world. Tasty, invigorating, filling. I was embarrassed by my surprise at that.
I also drank a Lotus Pond ("All Greens with Lemon and Ginger puts you at peace") and for dessert I had a raw strawberry cheesecake.
To give a little bit of yang to Saturday's yin, I took up Clark, who is an editor at Travel + Leisure, on his invitation to join him on Monday at Frankie & Johnnie's Steakhouse to celebrate their 80th anniversary. So we had steak and a veal chop and creamed spinach and two kinds of potatoes, bringing equilibrium back to my inner omnivore.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Reputations at Stake

May 10

I got two (2) e-mails today sent by people who said they would put their reputations on the line. One was from a publicist who wants me (and the countless others he no-doubt e-mailed) to check out the bar food at some restaurant. Two days ago a colleague of his said in an e-mail that this restaurant had "by far the best bar food in the city." He went a step further and said "I’ll stake my rep on the fact that you have not had better bar/lounge food in New York City!!!"
Or did he really go a step further? I was unaware that this guy — a nice enough fellow, I'll admit — had a rep. So what exactly is he staking?
Then later today I got a gem that, after an unusual salutation, began: "Your friend and occasional bedmate [an obvious pseudonym] has been asked by a good friend to help him promote his latest venture."
Occasional bedmate, really? Hmm. That really narrows the scope of who it could be. I suspect it’s not true.
He wouldn't provide details, but it's clearly part of a viral (and virulent) marketing campaign that's wending its way, quite effectively, I must say, through the New York restaurant world, with the eager help of a couple of popular blogs.
"Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to discuss exactly what this venture is at this time," he wrote, "but suffice it to say that i would not attach my reputation to something I didn't think was in the interest of my friends and fellow New Yorkers. "
I’m intrigued, since the guy was using the fake name of Richard Nouveau (I hope it’s fake, since a google search turned up nada, which would be truly pathetic.)
And if I don’t recall having him as a bedmate, what kind of reputation is he really putting at risk?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Beard Awards

May 9

I should be over the James Beard Foundation Awards. This was my eighth consecutive year attending them, and they don't change much from year to year. Even the nominees don't change much: Last year's winner is replaced by a newcomer, but often the other nominees are the same (this year that was literally true for two categories, and just about every category had at least two chefs who also were nominated last year — out of five). And that's for the chef awards, the only ones I write about. The same cookbook authors, journalists and broadcasters win awards in their category year after year. Chicago TV personality Steve Dolinsky won his 12th award this year, and the awards are only 16 years old. Steve's a good guy, but come on: This is the most dynamic era of food — scholarship, cooking, reporting — in living memory in the United States. Surely there are more players out there.
Most years I hunker down in the pressroom, where we can watch the ceremony on a TV monitor and photograph and interview chefs after they win.
That was a mistake this year. The theme of the 16th annual awards was a tribute to the culinary legacy of New Orleans (New Orleans native Cokie Robers was the MC), and there were several video presentations along those lines that I heard were just terrific. But in the pressroom, the monitors stayed focused on the podium from which the presenters introduced the videos. Mysteriously, this was a problem that no one seemed able to solve during the four-hour ceremony.
So as I said, I shouldn't be interested in going any more, and there are certainly plenty of other very capable journalists at NRN who could cover it. In fact, two of us went this year — me and my boss, executive food editor Pamela Parseghian, who took pictures while I took notes. I could have stayed home.
But there's something about the awards that I think are just great. I think part of it is simply that it's the only truly grand, black-tie occasion I get to attend. There's a certain grandeur that I like about the way the United States' fine dining world chooses to honor itself.
Part of it is also that the chefs and other restaurant folks who attend (and cookbook authors and journalists) are psyched to be there. My job is to write objectively about what restaurant chefs are cooking, so it's unprofessional of me to admit this: but I really like these people. I admire what they do, I benefit from it, and most of them have a warmth that I think comes from the same place as their cooking: A genuine desire to make people happy.
This year the awards were more moving than usual, of course: New Orleans holds a very special place in the hearts of food-focused Americans.
Cokie Roberts said that New Orleans' culture was distinctive. "Without it, America is not the same country," she said, and in no area is that more true than food (except, some people would argue, music, which is fair enough).
People were griping this year about the interminable length of the awards, which were about an hour longer than usual for some reason. In part it was due to the extra presentations regarding New Orleans. In part it was due to the fact that eight restaurants instead of four were named American Classics, and those presentations involve videos and acceptance speeches.
But part of it was that people accepting their awards wouldn't shut up.
Remember, next time you get an award and are expected to make an acceptance speech: Brevity is the soul of wit. In fact, I'll write your speech for you right now. Here it is: "Thank you very much."
Take your loved ones and friends out to dinner, give bonuses to your staff members, or e-mail your thanks to them, but if you don't have anything really profound to say, just accept your award graciously and sit down.
My favorite part of the whole Beard weekend is the afterparties. There are several each year, but the best one I know of this year was at The Lounge at The Hotel on Rivington, hosted by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, of Wallsé and Blaue Gans.
Chefs work hard, and they know how to party. To get a bunch of them together in one room with dancing and Champagne — especially after sitting for four hours but then getting prestigious awards — is a sight to behold.
I ended up chatting with Thai chefs for awhile, again, including Tyson Wong Ophaso of the soon-to-open Chinatown Brasserie and David Banks (his mother's Thai and he was raised in Thailand) of Land, on New York's Upper West Side. I also talked to some visiting Chicagoans and New Orleanians, including Melvin Rodrigue, who manages Galatoire's. We met at the Beard Awards last year, when his restaurant won the award for Outstanding Restaurant. They've opened a restaurant in Baton Rouge, and I met their chef there, young Brian Landry.
A highlight of the evening came when I was chatting with an editor from Boston Magazine who, like me, is a Tufts alumn. Daniel Boulud — having just been named Outstanding Restaurateur ("I thought I was only a chef," he said in his acceptance speech), climbed onto the bar, danced a bit, and then, no lie, grabbed a Champagne bottle, shook it up and sprayed everyone in the room with it. Andrew Carmellini, who was executive chef at Cafe Boulud before he left to open A Voce, made a half-hearted attempt to spray him back, but Daniel, after giving the crowd another spray, scampered off the bar just as a bouncer was getting ready to take him out.
Good times.

The restaurant award winners:

Outstanding restaurant: The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
Outstanding chef: Alfred Portale
Outstanding restaurateur: Daniel Boulud, New York (and Vegas and Palm Beach, Fla.)
Best new restaurant: The Modern, New York City
Outstanding pastry chef: Johnny Iuzzini, Jean Georges, New York City
Rising Star Chef: Corey Lee, The French Laundry
Outstanding Service: Gary Danko, San Francisco
Outstanding wine service: Aureole, Las Vegas
Outstanding wine and spirits professional: Daniel Johnnes, wine director of the Dinex Group (Daniel Boulud's restaurants)
Outstanding restaurant design: Bentel & Bentel Architects/Planners, for The Modern
Outstanding restaurant graphics: Mucca Design Corporation for Sant Ambroeus in New York City.
Best chef in California: Suzanne Goin of Lucques in West Hollywood, Calif.
Best chef in the Mid-Atlantic: Fabio Trabocchi of Maestro at The Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, Va.
Best chef in the Midwest: Shawn McClain of Spring and Green Zebra in Chicago
Best chef in New York City: Dan Barber of Blue Hill
Best chef in the Northeast: Jean-Louis Gerin of Jean-Louis in Greenwich, Conn.
Best chef in the Northwest and Hawaii: Scott Carsberg of Lampreia in Seattle
Best chef in the Southeast: John Besh of Restaurant August in New Orleans
Best chef in the Southwest: Bradford Thompson of Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the Southwest.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Chefs' Night Out

May 9

Mild controversy accompanied Chefs' Night Out this year, because not very many people were invited.
The annual pre-Beard Awards event, thrown by Bon Appétit magazine, is traditionally the big blowout to welcome chefs from out of town. Generally it's at a large, new restaurant, giving chefs and food media a chance to check out the place. Last year it was at Ono, in the Meatpacking District. Last night it was at Chinatown Brasserie, which hasn't even opened yet, and won't for another four to five weeks, according to Ed Schoenfeld, a consultant for the restaurant, who created the culinary program there, finding the chefs and so on.
Someone from Bon Appétit called me last Monday to ask if I'd received my invitation. I had not.
Her response, paraphrased: Yeah, we cut way back this year because we want it to be more intimate. But we meant to invite you; I'll messenger a ticket over right away. You'll be writing something about it, right?
Wow, such a hard-sell for a party, I thought.
"I'll bring a camera," I said, among other things.
She had asked me to come early so I could take pictures of lots of chefs, which I did: What else was I going to be doing on Sunday at 9:30 p.m., when the party started?
I had forgotten that chefs were unlikely to show up in significant numbers until after 11, but my early arrival gave me time to sample all of the hors d'oeuvres that were being passed and catch up with some other non-chefs. I had a brief chat with Gael Greene, and another one with Ed Schoenfeld. And I got to know some consultants and whatnot.
"How did you get in?" I asked a few people who would know I was joking, as well as a wine writer who had expressed surprise a couple of weeks earlier that she hadn't been invited. She said she got a phone call on Monday, too.
An insider gave me the scuttlebutt: Bon Appétit had planned on having the party at one of Stephen Starr's new restaurants, Morimoto or Buddakan, but he wanted something like $100,000 to do it. So they went with Plan B: a smaller space, a smaller guest list.
The result was a good party, but not the sort of see-everyone-and-catch-up/aren't-we-cool-for-being-here? type of event it usually is. Then again, it wasn't really like that last year, either: It was too crowded, too dark, and with too many people I didn't really feel like meeting. So maybe a shake-up of sorts was in order.
This year's party had fewer chefs, seemingly as many publicists, and about the same ratio of people I didn't feel like meeting. But I had good bonding time with Ian Chalermkittichai from Kittichai, and with John Mooney, who, with Michel Nischan, is involved with organic-oriented restaurants with the Taj group in India. They have an organic farm outside of Bangalore.
Cesare Casella of Maremma updated me on his plans, and so did Lonesome Dove chef Tim Love, from Fort Worth.
I met Chinatown Brasserie's chef, Tyson Wong Ophaso. He's from Thailand, so we talked in Thai about his plans. It was good practice for me. I don't get to speak Thai very often, except when I'm ordering food in Thai restaurants, and that's not very hard.
Other big chefs were there, too, including Gary Danko, who's eponymous restaurant in San Francisco is being inducted into the Nation's Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame in a couple of weeks. From New York were Anita Lo from Annisa; Spice Market pastry chef Pichet Ong; the very tall Paul Liebrandt of Gilt (and his sommelier Jason Ferris, who said that they do, in fact, sell quite a few Château d'Yquem flights); Dan Barber from Blue Hill; Aaron Sanchez from Paladar; Wylie Dufresne from WD-50; Daniel Boulud of Daniel, Café Boulud and db Bistro Moderne, Patricia Yeo from Sapa (a knit cap pulled almost to eye-level; she gave no response when I asked why she was trying to be incognito), and Michael Laiskonis, pastry chef at Le Bernardin. Don Yamauchi from Tribute in Farmington Hills, Mich., was there, too. So was Lee Hefter of Spago Beverly Hills (who, with his wife Sharon was hanging out with Koi New York maitre d' Stephanie Chang and Nick Fielding, the future general manager of Table 8 in South Beach who insisted on dancing with me). Spago Pastry chef Sherry Yard was there, too.
Chicago chef Shawn McClain from Spring and Green Zebra seemed to be enjoying himself. Thierry Rautureau of Rover's in Seattle — who has dubbed himself the "Chef in the Hat" — was palling around with beret bedecked Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez of The Harvest Vine, also in Seattle. John Besh from August, in New Orleans, was looking well. He said the restaurant had closed for a month after Katrina, but was up and running again.
A number of attendees had the impressive skill of being voice-slurringly drunk and maintaining that level of drunkenness for several hours without falling down.
That's not easy to do.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stealth health, Beard Foundation issues, San Francisco and goose intestines

May 6

The James Beard Awards are upon us, so I'd better clear the mental decks here so I can muse on whatever might come about. The Beard Awards often are referred to as the Oscars of the restaurant world. They are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the industry, so I guess that's fair.
The James Beard Foundation was clouded by scandal a couple of years ago when its president was arrested for fraud. It seems he was embezzling funds intended, among other things, for scholarships for culinary school students. Tacky.
Since then the entire board has been replaced, the by-laws refurbished, and the foundation has declared its determination to re-evaluate its priorities and work on helping the kids again. We'll see. A new president was recently hired, and last Thursday at the Beard House, before introducing the visiting chef, George Mavrothalassitis of Chef Mavro restaurant in Honolulu, the foundation member who introduced him first talked about the "thousands" of students who had benefited from the foundation over the years -- a number I doubt -- and asked the guests, who mostly are foundation members, to sponsor scholarships.
This was the first time I'd been at the Beard House since the new president, Susan Ungaro, former editor-in-chief of Family Circle, had taken up her post, and I wondered if she was responsible for the new push.

Anyway, it has been a hectic week-and-a-half or so for me. I spent Thursday and Friday in Napa with a bunch of corporate chefs and marketing people from chain restaurants. Nation's Restaurant News held a symposium at the Culinary Institute of America there at which we explored ways that the bold flavors of the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia might be used to add tasty but healthful items to the menu.
Attempts by chain restaurants to sell food that's good for its guests has been a challenge, because guests don't order it. In fact, restaurateurs have generally found that if they indicate -- with one of those heart-healthy symbols, for example -- that a dish might be good for them, sales actually go down, presumably because guests expect the dish not to taste good.
Greg Drescher, the director of education for the CIA's Greystone campus in the Napa Valley, argued that food, whether good for you or not, can't just be okay, but has to be downright craveable, or people aren't going to order it when a burger and fries is sitting there tantalizingly on the menu. Fortunately, he said, the foods of the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia, happen to be trendy at the moment and provide the opportunity for restaurants to use whole grains and monounsaturated fats and chiles and garlic and ginger and so on to make delicious food that guests will order in spite of themselves. "Stealth health" was a term that was bandied about.
So that was fun.
Since I was in the Bay Area I took the time to visit friends and restaurants, including Silks and Straits Cafe.
I'd had the food of Silks chef Joel Huff just a few weeks before when he was visiting New York, but it seemed worth sampling again. And I'd interviewed Straits Cafe chef-owner Chris Yeo years ago and had been meaning to check out the food.

Back in New York I went to the book launch of Gael Greene's new book, had Japanese-Latin food at Kion, went to a reception sponsored by Mexican shrimp, a cocktail party at the Boat House in Central Park, had Greek-ish food at Parea -- Michael Symon's new place -- had a lunch of goose intestines among other things in Brooklyn, and went to a Kentucky Derby party celebrated by a bourbon company, plus dinner at the Beard House.

I also wrote articles about Salmon, restaurant Thomas Henkelmann in Greenwich, Conn., and other stuff while researching ways that restaurants might cut energy costs.

So, I'm sorry for not being very communicative here in cyberspace.

More to come...