Thursday, November 30, 2006

When is a burrito not a sandwich?

November 30

The story that Nation's Restaurant News broke about a burrito not being a sandwich in Massachusetts continues to make its rounds in the news-of-the-ridiculous wires.
Motley Fool recently chimed in.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Other people's families

November 23

Since I live in New York, my family's in Colorado and I'd no sooner travel for Thanksgiving than I’d flap my arms and fly to the moon, Thanksgiving for me is a crap shoot. This year I thought I was actually going to spend it alone, giving me the opportunity to do something with the pre-cooked frozen goose that Jim Schiltz sent me. But then I got two last-minute invitations and elected once again to spend it with the family of my boss, Pam Parseghian. It was my third or fourth Thanksgiving with the delightful Parseghian clan. Two things amaze me about them:
1) The kids are among the coolest I've ever met — well behaved and helpful without being mealy-mouthed little wimps.
2) They can eat more than any regular-sized people I've ever met.
As you might be able to tell from her surname, Pam's Armenian. So is pretty much everyone in her family. Their Thanksgiving is pretty mainstream American, except that rice pilaff is served instead of mashed potatoes — although Pam's brother Steve's half-German kids apparently insisted on mashed potatoes, too, this year, so we had that too.
But being a Middle Eastern food event, the actual meal is preceded by two to three hours of mezze, during which time stuffed grape leaves called yalanchi, savory pastries called buddag, a thinly sliced cured beef called pastermah (I'm guessing that name's related to pastrami), babaghanoush, and assorted chips, dips, pretzels, nuts and seemingly anything else on hand is laid out for everyone to snack on while they chat.
So I'm always full by the time the Thanksgiving meal starts.
After the meal people repose briefly and then eat two or three pieces of pie each. It's truly amazing.
I mean, I often terrify myself by how much I can eat, but these guys are real pros.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Talking to the kids

November 20

You might remember my friend Michael from earlier this month when I had dinner with him at Dante. His wife, Shoshi, is a journalism professor at Suffolk University, and about every year I go up to Boston to talk to the students of a review-writing class.
As I say often, despite the fact that no one will listen to me, I'm not a restaurant critic. I'm a reporter. I don't say whether the food's good or not, I just say what it is. But I have written reviews in the past, and I've written about writing reviews. So I talk to the kids about how to write a review, and then we go in a huge group to a restaurant and review it. Of course, I explain to them that calling a restaurant and telling them that you and 24 of your classmates are coming to the restaurant to review it will likely skew your experience and make it difficult for you to be a proper consumer advocate. Then again, I also explain that, although wealthy publications pay exorbitant sums so their critics can sneak into restaurants and eat there multiple times, others expect their critics to eat for free, and at any rate savvy restaurateurs know who the critics are anyway, so the whole anonymity thing is a bit of a red herring.
One student in his deep Massachusetts accent said a friend of his who worked in a restaurant knew who the critics were because they ordered a lot of food and just took a couple of bites of each item.
So after we all reviewed Stephanie's on Newbury I walked back to Boston Common and met up with Michael and his two sons, Nadav and Gilad, and then picked up Shoshi and went to Michael's parents' house in Lexington where his mother Merry was having an open house to display her paintings (my favorite was of the outside of a white house in the autumn behind a tree of brilliant orange leaves). We were joined by Michael's old friend Morgan Hott and his fiancée Ellen Wingard (I think fiancée; if not I'm sure they'll let me know). While Michael and Shoshi bathed the kids and put them to bed, Morgan explained his PhD work. He's an MD PhD and did work producing structures that could replace damaged cartilage on people.
I asked him what he used to replace the cartilage and he said "something called alginate."
Now, this is funny, because alginate also is probably the most popular hydrocolloid being used in molecular gastronomy these days. So I got to show off by saying that I knew about alginate and that it was a hydrocolloid that formed a gel when it reacted with calcium.
So we had a big laugh about that and then went to Legal Sea Foods for dinner.
Based on a recommendation by Warren, the student with the friend who worked in a restaurant, I had a cup of clam chowder. I followed that by a seafood rasam soup that I assume was the result of Legal Sea Foods' Ayurvedic promotion a few years ago.
Really, they had an Ayurvedic promotion. I couldn't make that up.

What I learned at IFEC

November 18

I just got back from the annual conference of the International Foodservice Editorial Council, which sounds like a much more serious and frightening organization than it is. IFEC brings together foodservice trade publication editors and publicists who want our attention for a series of what essentially are speed dates. The editors sit at separate tables and the publicists stop by and throw 10-minute pitches at us. It's kind of exhausting, but a lot of work gets done quickly and pretty much everyone is really nice about it. Not only do competitors get together and act friendly toward one another, but we actually have fun, go out together, eat and drink, hold seminars, raise money for our scholarship fund and generally have a good time. IFEC's board members are elected for low-key three-year terms and officers are selected annually by the board, generally by consensus, or a sort of combination of consensus and well-intended cronyism. This year's president, an absolute prince named Alexei Rudolf, from Edelman Public Relations, was "elected" last year in Savannah at an early morning board meeting despite the fact that he was late to it. He might have been late because he was out late the night before, but I can't really say because my recollection of that evening is extremely limited. I think tequila shots were involved. I know we went to a really great bar called The Jinx — gay friendly, racially integrated, with breakdancing young women and great music. If it had been in New York they wouldn't have let me in because I'm not cool enough.
I was president last year and miraculously opened my eyes at 7:26 for the 8 a.m. board meeting. Or maybe it was 8:26 for a 9 a.m. meeting, I don't know. I do know that I was alert and lucid and waited in vain for a truly appalling hangover that never materialized. Perhaps I was running on some sort of special presidential adrenaline.
Anyway, this year the conference was in Chicago, where I finally got to sample Susan Goss's food at West Town Tavern, thanks to hosts from the National Pork Board. I also ate at David Burke's Prime House, but I've had his food before, and I got to meet Moto's chef and pastry chef, Homaru Cantu and Ben Roche, who entertained IFEC attendees with a DVD version of a molecular gastronomy tasting menu.
At West Town Tavern I learned that the state secretary of agriculture is an elected office in Iowa.
I also learned that pork producers are anticipating an increase in the price of pork and a decrease in beef prices as federal mandates require more and more corn to be used in the production of ethanol. DDG, the dried, distilled grain that's left over from the ethanol-production process, is a perfectly suitable cattle feed, but pigs can't digest it. So ethanol producers will give the stuff away to cattle ranchers while hog farmers are going to have to spend more money on feed as corn prices rise (due to demand for ethanol).
Here are some other things I learned at IFEC:
Black Angus restaurants are planning to switch to all-natural beef
Big bowl is working on rolling out free-range chicken nationwide and is now serving Hutachino beers for $9 apiece.
There are eight USDA grades of beef: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Canner, Utility and Cutter (some beef is not graded at all and is called "unrolled").
Umami comes not only from free glutamate, but also from glutamites and nucleotides.
Josh DeChellis isn't going to open Kobe Club for Jeffrey Chodorow after all.
Cook's Magazine (now Cook's Illustrated) founder Chris Kimball is in the same Grateful Dead cover band as former Research Chefs Association president Steve Schimoler.
Bill Yosses is doing some work at the White House. I'll have to look into that further.
The 0-grams trans fat oil that Taco Bell has started using is canola-based.
I also collected a couple of restaurant recommendations:
Colorado chain with the best green chile: Santiago's
Best Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago: Johnny's on North Avenue between Harlem and Thatcher streets.
Best place to have chile relleno tacos (yes, there is such a thing) after going to a Tahiti 80 concert at some club on Milwaukee: Flash Tacos (that recommendation's from me).

And here's something I learned post-IFEC when publicist Bill Schreiber of Jones Dairy Farm, a provider of pork products, followed up on a joke question I had about pig milk, quoting Pork Quality Assurance intern Bradley Wolter (edited by me for clarity and to remove typos):

“Pork is delicious and very healthy as many physicians recognize it as a very important source of protein. But the opportunity they present to the dairy industry is very limited.
... [P]igs will on average produce 13 lbs of milk in a day as compared to cows that produce 65 lbs of milk on average per day. Pigs unlike cows cannot become pregnant while lactating and therefore pose a severe economic problem to producers. while pigs consume less feed per day, economics does not allow pigs to be a viable source of dairy products.
The biggest challenge facing the porcine dairy industry is collecting the product. Pigs on average have fourteen teats as opposed to cows that have four teats. Pigs also differ from cows in their milk ejection time, a cow's milk ejection is stimulated by the hormone oxytocin and can last ten minutes, whereas a pig's milk ejection time only lasts fifteen seconds as the suckling pigs stimulate the release of oxytocin. The technology of a 14 cupped mechanized milking machine that can milk a pig in 15 seconds is not available to pork producers."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Eating Miami

November 13

So Miami was fun. I don't know that I needed to be there for three days to see the IFE Americas show, which I walked in about an hour, but I had a good chat with a top tropical fruit grower who gets $12 a pound for his dragon fruit (and the Mandarin-Oriental slices them in half, serves them chilled and charges $36 for them). I also sampled three of the six (6) aloe beverages at the show, all flavored with grape juice. So apparently aloe's something to watch from a food fad perspective.
And I sampled the food of chefs whose food I hadn't eaten before. I started by taking a taxi from the airport to Michy's, chef Michelle Bernstein's latest venture with her husband David. Michelle was out of town, but I did meet David, and one of the servers told me that in a hospitality class at Florida International University Nation's Restaurant News is required reading. Since the server's from Columbus, Ohio, he liked our coverage of Cameron Mitchell restaurants, and he also liked John Barone's discussion of orange prices. So I guess he has made a good transition to Florida.
Dinner that night was at Talula, in South Beach, which is owned by husband and wife chef couple Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo (Michelle Bernstein catered their wedding, incidentally). Their publicist had told me to check in with Frank, who it turns out was at home looking after the kids, but Andrea was there and graciously came out to chat once or twice, she also sent out a five-course tasting menu. I was glad for the five courses, because the restaurant's normal tasting menu is seven courses, and I didn't really need seven courses. Five -- each one paired with wine, of course -- was just right.
I was supposed to eat at Wish instead of Talula, but someone bought the entire restaurant for the evening, so I had lunch at Wish instead. I was staying at The Hotel, formerly the Tiffany Hotel, until Tiffany's sued them. A vertical marquee with the word "Tiffany" on it still rises from the hotel's roof, but now it's just a random sign, with no relation to the hotel's name. Wish is located in The Hotel, so that was easy.
Wish's chefs historically have built serious names for themselves. Its first chef, Gary Robbins, now is at the recently reopened Russian Tea Room in New York. It's second chef, E. Michael Reidt, was a Food & Wine Best New Chef and now runs Sevilla restaurant in Santa Barbara. He's one of the nicest chefs I know, and his food's yummy.
Andrea Curto, who, as we know, would later marry Frank Randazzo, was Wish's next chef. She, too, was a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Her food also is yummy.
The current chef is Michael Bloise, who started at Wish under E. Michael and then went on to do other things before being hired back as the restauran't head honcho. The Hotel's owner, I learned during lunch with its publicists wil Michael sent out multiple courses, has warmed to the idea of letting the restaurant participate in some CBS reality show in which various members of the restaurant's staff sing on camera and the best ones perform in some final competition.
I think it was CBS. I'm fuzzy on the details.
I walked to the Miami Beach Convention Center in an attempt to exercise some of the past three meals out of my system, learned more about tropical fruit and aloe, and then walked back to The Hotel before hopping into a taxi to Azul at the Mandarin-Oriental (the one with the $36 chilled dragon fruit). Incidentally, Michelle Bernstein used to be the chef there, too, but now Clay Conley's running the show.
I'm working on a theory that the Mandarin-Oriental only hires good-looking chefs.
In Miami, the lovely, vivacious Ms. Bernstein was followed by Clay, who has perhaps the bluest eyes in foodservice. Silks, the restaurant at the Mandarin-Oriental in San Francisco once had as its chef Ken Oringer, now one of Boston's top chefs and still in possession of one of the best smiles in foodservice. He was followed at Silks by blues-guitar-playing, soul-patch sporting Dante Bocuzzi (now at Aureole in New York). Now the chef at Silks is the dashing surfer boy Joel Huff. At Asiate at the Mandarin-Oriental in New York, Nori Sugi looks like a hot young Japanese surfer, and at CityZen, at DC's Mandarin-Oriental, Eric Ziebold has the sort of serious, Type-A good looks you'd expect from a veteran of Thomas Keller's kitchens.

But what did I eat at these Miami restaurants you ask?

Here goes:

at Michy's:

Ceviche of the day, made with shrimp, calamari, grouper and lime juice
Arctic char with ragu of fava beans and chanterelles, cauliflower puree and turbot demiglace
A glass of Naia Verdejo, 2004 from Rueda Spain
Michy's bread pudding with raisins, cognac, chcolate and orange zest

At Talula:

Kampachi ceviche with lime-soy and ginger marinade, sliced chiles, avocado, Asian greens on crispy malanga
Conundrum white table wine
Grilled Sonoma foie gras with caramelized fig, blue corn cakes, chile syrup and candied walnuts
DeLoache Gewurztraminer
Preserved lemon and thyme baked local grouper with roasted garlic-black peppercorn gnocchi, baby spinach, and pancetta-tomato jus
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Hanger steak with deep-fried shallots (like onion rings), aged cheddar-chroizo smashed potatoes, and red wine demiglace
Heller Estate organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmel Valley, 2002
Pistachio parfait with concord grape sorbet and a caramel tuile
with a glass of Champagne

At Wish (each course featured three dishes, which I shared with two publicists, so it's not as much food as it sounds like:
pan-seared foie gras with black pepper marshmallow, cascabel roasted banana and arugula on honey wheat
Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Austria
Crab Salad with pickled jicama, wasabi-cilandro creme fraiche, sesame flat bread and mache
Chateau D'Orshwuhr Gewurztraminer, Alsace
Sesame battered shrimp with watermelon-tomato "kimchee" and cilantro
Lucien Crochet Sancerre
black-trumpet dusted scallops with "pumpkin pie" risotto, lemon and thyme
Again with the Lucien Crochet Sancerre
Cinnamon-brased oxtail with sugar snap peas, baby carrots, gaichoi and idaho potatoes
Frogs Leap Zinfandel
Crispy-skinned snapper with grilled shrimp, Chinese sausage, jasmine rice and Vietnamese tea foam
to be eaten with either the Zinfandel or the Sancerre
PB & Jay (Jay's the name of the pastry chef): a peanut butter chocolate tart with raspberry marshmallow, peanut butter ice cream and raspberry jam
Strawberry soup with mascarpone in a sugar tuile, and 25-year balsamic ice cream
Warm apple tarte tatin with olive oil ice cream and carrot sauce
Chocolate cake with a molten white chocolate-pistachio center, and pistachio ice cream.

And at Azul:
Kumamoto oyster on cucumber carpaccio and horseradish cream, topped with osetra caviar (the single oyster was served in a soup bowl atop finely crushed ice sprinkled with chopped chives)
Trio of crab: cake, claw and ceviche
Arietta on the White Keys Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend, Napa
Red miso-marinated kobe beef on a butternut sqush puree with butternut-vegetable kimchee with toasted garlic on butter lettuce
Hollerin Prager Reisling Smarade, 2004, Austria
White truffle risotto with shaved parmigiano, white truffle and brown butter
Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tartine, Provence
Miso-marinated hamachi with sake butter
Stir-fried rice with shellfish stock and edamame dashi with shrimp dumplings
Domaine Raumier 2002 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras, Burgundy
Lamp chop with eggplant puree, harissa and mint, and loin with b'steeya topped with raita and red pepper
2000 Chateau Bouscasse Tanat
And Gaia Merlot-Cabernet blend 2003, Tuscany
Great Hill Blue Cheese (Massachusetts) with caramelized peanuts
Cypress Grove Midnight Move goat cheese (California)
Pont L'Eveque (France)
All with apple puree and
Dow's 1985 vintage Port
Choclate orange caramel tower, praline ice cream, hazelnut brittle
Apple mouuse on hazelnut sable with apple pearls and caramel sauce
2004 Inniskillin Eiswein (using Vidal grapes),Canada

Now this is interesting: Azul offers a choice of five different types of espresso -- Blue Mountain, Pico Colombia, Ethiopian Yrgacheffe, Blue Tawar (from Java) and Lago Azul (from Guatamela), as well as two French press options, a dark Italian and a milder Monsoon Malaber from India.
I got the Yrgacheffe

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is plagiarism the sincerest form of flattery?

November 12

The whole world now apparently knows that a burrito is not a sandwich, at least not in Massachusetts.

But for the record, we reported it first.

It’s nice to know that mainstream media read It wouldn’t kill them to quote their sources.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mai House, and a footnote on Iberian ham

November 7

Having just come back from Boston, and with work to do before going to Miami Beach for a food trade show called IFE Americas, you wouldn't think I would have felt restless on Tuesday. Still, after going to an early evening tasting of Iberian ham* at stk, and then going back to the office to finish up what I needed to finish up before hitting the road, I found myself grabbing a drink at Buddakan (the drink was called Solid and was a bourbon-based drink involving lime) I went to Mai House, Drew Nieporent's new place between Tribeca Grill and Nobu. Who do you think was tending bar (or "shaking" as he called it), but Robert Larcom, a relatively senior executive in Drew's Myriad Restaurant Group? I met Robert last year on a similarly spontaneous visit to Centrico, where he was similarly shaking.
He observed how tending bar exercises both creative and social muscles -- a sort of combination of skills required for the front- and back-of-the-house. I pointed out that it also required managerial skills since the bartender often plays a role of managing the restaurant floor. He agreed.
It was Mai House's fourth night of operation, and I'd gotten a press release just that day announcing that it was open, which was one reason why I decided to stop by.
It's unfair and unwise to judge a four-day-old restaurant, but I wasn't there to judge, just to look. And, you know, eat and drink.
I had my first taste in quite awhile of mangosteen, in the form of puree with vodka added to it.
The mangosteen is a terrific fruit from Southeast Asia (or it might possibly have originated in South Asia; I don't know). It has hard purplish or brick red skin and a thick, deep burgundy rind. In the middle of the fruit is a milky white orb of sectioned fruit, usually with one big section that contains the seed (a bit of trivia: count the flower scars on the bottom of the fruit and you'll know how many sections will be inside).
It's hard to describe how fruits taste, because they all taste like themselves, but mangosteens have a pleasantly sour sweetness and a silky-smooth texture that makes me miss Southeast Asia. You can find them in the Chinatowns of Canadian cities, but they're not yet commercially available (except, evidently, as puree) in the United States.
That is likely to change in the next couple of years. The U.S. and Thailand are moving forward with plans to allow the importation of Thai mangosteens, but the process is likely to take another year or two, at least.
Meanwhile, mangosteens are being grown in Florida, but it takes something like 15 years for a mangosteen tree to bear a significant amount of fruit. How annoying!
As you've probably surmised, I love mangosteens, but I don't think they're best represented in puree form with vodka added, so I next had a Mai-jito, Mai House's version of a Mojito, which instead of mint has lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and curry leaf.
And I sampled chef Michael Bao Huynh's Vietnamese sausages with green papaya salad and his seafood lacxa garnished with a whole head-on shrimp.

*Iberian, as opposed to Iberico; I'm not sure what the distinction is, but apparently it's not mere semantics. I'd love for someone to tell me the difference.
Most hogs in North America and Europe are slaughtered after six months, but those that are to be made into Iberian ham live for nine months so they can put on the extra fat needed for their long curing process.
I have no idea if that applies to Iberico.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sons of Candida

November 6

I spent the weekend in Boston attending a conference by public health activists and lawyers who want to pass laws or sue somebody because Americans are fat. It was the fourth annual such conference and I've attended all of them.
It is no barrel of laughs, but it does give me an opportunity to go to Boston, where I have college friends, and to sample the food.
This year I followed the dining advice of publicist Chris Langley and spent my two free nights at L and Dante. It meant I would once again fail to eat at Clio, something I've been meaning to do since even before I met its chef and owner, Ken Oringer, but it did seem wise to check out the culinary stylings of some young up-and-comers.
So on Friday I went to L and was told that the chef, Pino Maffeo, Boston’s molecular gastronomer, would like to offer me a tasting menu. I told them that would be fine, because I’m not stupid.
About two and a half hours later, with my meal finished, Pino, whom I've interviewed several times but whose food I hadn't eaten since Pazo in Manhattan, where he was chef, closed several years ago, came out and sat down for a chat.
He talked about how he had changed the wording of his menu when he realized, six months after opening, that his customers didn't want to hear about what he did to the food — what was braised, what was cooked in sous-vide, every stupid detail about every ingredient. If a menu item said "beef" and people wanted beef, they’d order that. So even though he's using soy lecithin and gums to make his tomato sponge — as is appropriate for a molecular gastronomer – he’s not telling them that — as is appropriate for all but those chefs whose task is to feed the biggest food intellectuals.
I told him where I was eating the following night and Pino told me that the family of Dante de Magistris, the chef at Dante, came from the little Italian town of Candida, in Campania's Avellino province.
Around that time a diner came up. She had noticed that I’d been taking notes and asked if I was a reviewer from someplace. I told her I wasn’t, that I worked for a trade magazine, and she nonetheless told me that the service sucked but that the food was pretty good. “I can’t say it was great, because I’m from New York,” she added. Implying that New York has the best food on earth in all genres, which of course it does not. It was only then that I realized she didn’t know that I was talking to the chef, who was not wearing chef whites, but jeans and a light hoodie.
Note to New Yorkers: Shut up. No one’s interested in the fact that you think New York is the best place on Earth. Texans: Ditto.
After Stupid New Yorker pranced off, Pino observed that it was good to hear criticism. He also observed that, although New York has terrific food, it also has plenty of ridiculous, overpriced food that doesn’t taste good.
I think he’s right on both counts.
The following night, I went to Cambridge to try the food at Dante, whose chef had captivated me several weeks earlier when I interviewed him about chicken oysters.
I had been unable to find anyone who was free to eat with my on Friday, but on Saturday I managed to draw my college friend Michael Gerber away from his wife and two sons in Gloucester.
Michael is a charming and gentle teacher of science to middle school students. He was a freelance magician, and when we were in college, and afterwards, he would periodically just grab a bunch of balloons, go to a public space and make animals for people.
We got caught up while Dante sent out oysters (the raw mollusks, not the chicken kind) and Scottish langoustine and other things.
At the end of the meal Dante talked about how he, too, was working on changing his menu, to make it more apparent to people that his food was Italian-inspired.
I noticed that he and Pino look a lot alike.

Dinner at L:

dehydrated pineapple with coconut milk buffalo mozzarella (no, there’s not supposed to be a comma there) and extra virgin olive oil, topped with chopped chives.

nori sandwich of tuna tartare with Japanese and Mexican flavors
drunk with a Pinot Grigio

corn and king crab chowder with popcorn-milk froth
drunk with poochi poochi sparkling sake

watermelon-wrapped fried oysters on pickled cucumber, topped with aïoli and chives, served in oyster shells on a bed of rock salt

Roasted halibut with tomato sponge and assorted things such as ginger-pickled cucumber and bits of buffalo mozzarella in the sponge.
drunk with an Italian Arneis white wine

Tiny gnocchi, baby bok choy and Massachusetts lobster with coconut curry broth
drunk with a Merlot-Cabernet blend from Washington State

Kabuto pork with trumpet mushrooms and quince sponge

chocolate "petit four:" a spoon of milk froth with cocoa oil, bergamot oil and raspberry purée.

Red Bull and Moscato gelée, kalamansi sorbet, Asian pair and plums stewed in cranberry juice, apple juice, cinnamon and cloves, and some lecithin.

Dinner at Dante:

Heidsieck Monopole Champagne

Kampachi with yuzu-marinated vegetables, grilled kampachi cheek and poached amberjack with chickpeas

Raw trio: local Beach Point oyster with pomegranate gelée, crispy rice, shallots and Chardonnay vinegar; seared tuna with avocado purée, egg white frittata and sesame seaweed, kingfish carpaccio with spicy ginger, yuzu, topiko and organic flowers
Drunk with Napa Merryvale Chardonnay

spaghetti alla chitarra with langostino and ovoli mushrooms

lemon sole with maple sausage and Hubbard squash bisque
Drunk with a Merlot from San Benito

basil roasted guinea hen with vegetable ragù and wild mushrooms
Drunk with Allegrini Valpolicella

Wolfneck farms grilled beef tenderloin with red wine poached sekel pear, gorgonzola dolce, wild mushrooms, green beans and warm olive oil potato salad

mini ginger soda with almond wafer and salted caramel mousse
Drunk with 30-year-old sherry

Vermont cheddar cheese popover with warm apple compote, maple glaze, old fashioned vanilla ice cream, apple butter and pecans

French butter pear and blackberry cobbler with juniper ice cream.

It’s so nice to eat lightly at a conference on obesity.

Don't mess with Jeff Ackerman

November 2

You might remember my old AZA fraternal brother Jeff Ackerman from two days ago. Perhaps you were wondering why he e-mailed me after 20 years. I hope not; I hope you have a life of your own, but at any rate he called because he was in the middle of a dispute in central Massachusetts with a Panera Bread franchisee.
Jeff's a Qdoba franchisee and he had signed a lease to open a restaurant in the same shopping center where a Panera was located, and the Panera franchisee there had stipulated in the lease that no other limited-service restaurant with more than 10 percent of sales in sandwiches could open there.
The Panera franchisee was arguing that burritos were, in fact, sandwiches, so Jeff was looking for people to sign affidavits saying no they were not, either.
Thinking out loud and practicing verbal algebra, I observed that a burrito could be construed as a wrap and a wrap as a sandwich, although of course it also could be argued that when a consumer is going out for lunch, he or she does not generally equate a burrito with a sandwich.
After giving it still more thought I deemed it unwise as someone who reports on foodservice to be anything but neutral in this regard and begged off.
But if Jeff Ackerman wants to open a Qdoba, he's going to open it. The Panera folks probably didn't know this, but he was elected as AZA's Grand Aleph Godol. That's international president of the entire order and no trifling matter.
His election came as no shock to me; he could talk the sweet out of honey.
But I had forgotten that skill of his, so I was surprised to see that he got one of New England's top fine-dining chefs, Chris Schlesinger, to write an affadavit in support of the argument that a burrito is no sandwich. He got a food writer to do it, too, and a consultant who managed to scare up USDA documentation specifying exactly what a sandwich was, and further to state that, although the USDA did not consider sandwiches to be under its jurisdiction, it did claim oversight of burritos.
So now, not only does Jeff get to open his Qdoba, but the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has declared that a burrito is not a sandwich.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Today's Ducasse rumor

November 2

You may recall that at the end of the Chefs Congress I spoke to Tony Esnault, chef of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, about published reports (in Eater and the New York Post) about the restaurant closing.
He shrugged it off as ridiculous, and then his bosses pretty much immediately announced that the Essex House location would close shop and move a few blocks away to the St. Regis.
Not exactly closing, but, well, I'll stick to relying on that particular chef for food-related information from now on and instead simply spin the rumor mill a bit on my own with gossip in the chef world, from a well-connected head-hunter on the DL*, that Alain Ducasse is merely to be a consultant in the St. Regis venture.

*My friend Birdman also was around when this bit of information was let out.
"DL?" he asked.
"Down-low," I said.
Birdman, a paleontologist, explained that if something had happened less than 70 million years ago he really wasn't up on it.
He did know that "down-low" meant "secret," though, so he's not totally out of touch. We are pushing 40, after all.