Friday, December 28, 2007

Soba Totto

December 28

Hungry for a little something after work last night, I popped my head into a new place that the very enterprising people at Urban Daddy alerted me to, Soba Totto (211 East 43rd Street, between Second and Third avenues, 212-557-8200. For more descriptions of the place, please take a look at this entry and this one. Thank you).
Not surprisingly, the restaurant’s specialty is Japanese buckwheat noodles, called soba. Also not surprisingly, sitting with the owner and some guy from Chicago, was Grub Street’s Josh Ozersky.
Josh seemed, oh, I don’t know, maybe just a tiny bit troubled that I, too, had heard of Soba Totto, which had just opened a couple of days earlier. Maybe he doesn’t subscribe to Urban Daddy, or maybe it’s his week off and he hasn’t been reading his e-newsletters. People do need a week off from time to time, you know.
Josh is probably best known for his job as editor of New York magazine’s food blog, but what he really is is a meat expert — hence his nickname, Mr. Cutlets — and he was gracious enough to send me a galley of his soon-to-be-published book, The Hamburger: A History, for an article I’m working on. It’s a terrific read, clever and witty, informative and sometimes strident in that way that Josh can be with regard to subjects pertaining to meat (I think we amused casual listeners with our conversation about deckle at the reopening-party of Picholine).
To wit (from his book):
"To admit ground beef on toast as a hamburger is to make the idea of a ‘hamburger’ so loose, so abstract, so semiotically promiscuous as to have no meaning."
Because hamburgers come on a bun, you see.
He's right, of course.
Anyway, I ate at Soba Totto’s bar, which is sleek and decked out in earth and wood tones. Behind it are young, hip-looking Japanese chefs, heads covered with urbane-Japanese-looking versions of do-rags, grilling things with a sort of casual earnestness.
Soba Totto is owned by the same people as Yakitori Totto, and so grilled meats are another restaurant specialty.
I had two draft beers (Kirin, I believe) assorted Japanese pickles, a skewer of chicken oysters (the “oyster” is the bit of meat on the chicken’s lower back, just above the thigh, that is highly prized by certain meat aficionados, maybe including Josh, although I can’t say for sure) and a bowl of hot soba with "poached egg” although really it was more of a swirled egg in the style of egg drop soup.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A 16-ounce Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee is 16 ounces

December 27

If I’m doing the math right, only about 11 percent of you come here unbidden, just clicking on your bookmark and landing here. A fair amount, but fewer than half on most days, are referred here by one of the nice web sites that link to this blog. The rest come because of keyword searches — because some combination of words I used match the ones that you typed into a search window.
Sometimes I think that my blog delivers what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in finding out more about the bull named Prime in Kentucky, I’ve written about that. If the keyword search prime the bull ky had another meaning that I choose not to speculate about, well, then I’m sorry. If you have been wondering about James Bond’s taste in Martinis I’ve written about that, too. Curious to find others who prefer their tomatoes cooked? You’ve found one here.
But I don’t know when popcorn was invented or what Jimi Hendrix liked to eat. I don’t know about the sexual orientation of Mario Batali (not that it’s any of your business), but I do know that he has thanked his wife (“without whom I would be nothing,” he said) at award ceremonies.
Incidentally, "Mario Batali" and "gay" apparently are referred to in close proximity fairly often. One person who used those key words made it to this blog, even though it was the 40th entry in a Google search.
As for Pedro Yanowitz, I heard that he recently married (a woman).
A disconcertingly common keyword search that brings people here is dog fuke woman. I don’t know exactly what you’re looking for with that search, but I hope you spelled it right.
Let me take a brief moment to answer some other questions implied by the searches.
I think I’d like a creamy gorgonzola with Poire William.
Jeans can count as smart casual, depending on how you wear them.
Anything will help you lose weight if you just eat less of it, but I'm not sure how to loose weight.
I’m not sure how you comb a fauxhawk (pronounced fo-hock), but I believe it requires a lot of gel.
Tony Esnault is a man.
As for the other keyword searches listed below, well, I just don’t know what to say (I apologize for the first one, but it did lead some troubled soul to this blog entry):

after dinner seduction mother
are laura cunningham and thomas keller back together
bad booths at the national restaurant show
bathroom plants
candied sturgeon
cheese to pair with poire william
cork braised octopus
do jeans count as smart casual
does chrysanthemums,walnut, rose, green raisin help loosing weight
dog fuke woman
estrogen food
forehead sweating standing in line
fuke woman
give me a speech on tomato ceviche apptezier
hate raw tomato
how does james bond order his martini, shaken, not stirred
how to arrange bongos for wow
how to comb faux hawk
how to eat eggplant?
how to seem smarter than you are
i grew a goatee
interesting words about chrysanthemums
is pedro yanowitz gay?
james bond martini vespa
jean-georges chef what is his wifes name and is she black
jimi hendrix favorite foods
mario batali gay
metallic body paint
molecular gastronomy dragonfruit
people who have met bobby flay
prime the bull ky
recipe for human testicles
rocco dispirito implosion
rocco dispirito list of girlfriends 2007
sex seared testicles
tony esnault sex
truffled popcorn
uses for ranch dressing
what happened to rocco dispirito
what size is a 16 ounce dunkin donuts iced coffee
what was jimi hendrix's' favorite food
when was popcorn invented

Friday, December 21, 2007

A thinking man’s chef

December 21

Sometimes when I interview a chef, I diligently write down everything he (or she, but usually he) says, and then look at my notes and throw them away because everything he said was a load of gibbering nonsense. Those chefs wax philosophical about their food or life or some pseudo-intellectual topic, get lost in their own train of thought and never come back to Earth.
It happens more often than you might think.
Others just aren’t very articulate. They know how to cook, but are neither capable nor interested in describing what they do. That's great for their guests, but bad for food writers. I remember interviewing a really talented chef in Texas who made a delicious galangal panna cotta. I tried to get him to wax philosophical about galangal, which is a rhizome related to ginger but with a distinct taste that’s spicier and I think a bit less aromatic, used in various Southeast Asian cuisines.
All he could say was that it was like ginger, but a little different. That’s true, but it makes for really dull copy.
Then there’s Michael Psilakis, who thinks a lot about his food, reflects on it, can talk your head off about it, but at the end of the day it makes sense.
Michael got started in the restaurant business as a manager of TGI Friday’s on Long Island, but he made a splash on the New York City food scene a few years back with Onera, a Greek-inspired restaurant on the Upper West Side. Then he opened the more Mediterranean-inspired Dona in Midtown East to wild acclaim, only to close it because of construction on and around the restaurant property. But soon after that he opened Anthos, in Central Midtown, which was Greek-inspired but fancier than Onera. To further distinguish Onera from Anthos, he rechristened the Upper West Side place as Kefi and made it traditional Greek food.
Now, as Grub Street reported, Michael is going to open a new version of Dona, with a slightly different name, a more casual environment, and, he told me, a menu that’s more distinctly Italian-influenced, rather than Italian-Greek, Mediterranean or whatever. He says it’s on track to open sometime in the second half of January.
There will be some Greek and Spanish stuff in there, but he wants the new restaurant to be more approachable than the old Dona. That’s very much in line with current food trends. So is a fine-dining chef opening a more casual restaurant, but Michael has already done that with Kefi, anyway.
His reasoning behind the Italian orientation of Dona, however, is that New Yorkers are well acquainted with Italian food, which means if he does a riff on a tried-and-true Italian dish, his guests will get the joke. Something Greek or Spanish might go over their heads.
So although some of the new Dona’s food will not be traditional Italian dishes — he might bring influences from different Italian regions into a single dish, for example — he expects that his guests will have the eating background “to understand what the food is on a cerebral level.”
Michael talks that way, but it makes sense.
He also likes to talk like this: “I’m hoping it’s just a fun place that you can come and eat.”

This picture of Michael, provided by his publicists, was taken by Battman.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The non-open opening

December 19

You must keep your eyes peeled as you walk down West 77th Street, west of Columbus Avenue, on the north side of the street, to spot Dovetail, the new restaurant of chef John Fraser (age: 31; favorite color: green). The entrance is easy to miss.
That might change once the restaurant is actually open. That was slated to happen last weekend, but you know how that goes. They’re still working on some gas issues — John says that at the moment they don’t have enough gas to both run the kitchen and heat the dining room, but they’re getting there.
The sherry cave isn’t set up yet, either.
But the opening party happened as scheduled, so there I was last night, sampling hors d'oeuvres of fish roe and cubed vodka gelée on spoons, of skewered duck, of little cucumber sandwiches to be served during afternoon tea service, of tiny puff pastry filled with truffled scrambled eggs.
There was plenty of heat, so I guess the kitchen wasn’t operating at full power.
John is a big fan of both sherry and tea, and so they have prominent roles in the restaurant.
I brought my friend Yishane Lee with me to the party. It was her first night out without a baby strapped to her body in five-and-a-half weeks, since her daughter Tashi Ming Lee-Garcia was born. Click here to learn a lot about Tashi and her family and their friends, and to see many pictures.
Yishane found it extremely amusing and interesting that Dovetail’s tea supplier is owned by a former boyfriend of hers. It’s not that interesting — he supplies many fine dining restaurants — but I suppose it is kind of interesting. And it’s very good tea.
It was a good party, too. Yishane and I were among the first to arrive, and John gave us a tour of the basement, where the kitchen and sherry cave are. Then I caught up with Chris and Catherine Matthews, a handsome, charming couple — he writes about wine and spirits, she about food. Thrillist’s David Blend was there, chatting with Jesse Gerstein, a publicist who worked with John when he was the chef at Snack Taverna some years ago. He also worked with John’s current publicist, Aurora Kessler, when she was at Baltz & Co., where Jesse still works to this day.
Penny and Peter Glazier, owners of Monkey Bar, Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse, the country's various Strip House restaurants and other things, also were there. Penny says she doesn’t often go to restaurant openings, because she wants to give the restaurateurs space to spend time with the press. That’s nice of her.
The Glaziers gave me good information for some stories I’m working on. Pity that I didn’t have a pen, but I’ll give them a call.
Erica Duecy, formerly of Nation’s Restaurant News and now of Fodor’s, was there, too, and, because I asked, she updated us on her husband and his brothers, the Pandolfi boys. Husband Jono is working for a design company. Banjo playing brother Chris is doing well, too. His band, The Infamous Stringdusters, won all sorts of awards this year.
Littlest brother Nick has had his internship at Food & Wine extended, which is great news. That magazine’s Nick Fauchald was at the party, too, although I didn’t catch up with him until we were leaving. He expressed fondness for young Nick Pandolfi, which is always nice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Oh happy day

December 18

It looks like Grant Achatz is better.

Grant, the chef-owner of Alinea in Chicago, was diagnosed with advanced squamous cell carcinoma in his mouth earlier this year. That’s bad news for anyone, but for a chef — and the chef of one of the most avant-garde restaurants in the country — the implications of anything going wrong with your mouth are horrible.

But here’s a note he just sent out:

It is with a tremendous sense of gratitude and relief that I have successfully completed my course of therapy at the University of Chicago. It was incredibly important to me to remain as engaged as possible at Alinea while receiving treatment, and during that time I only missed 14 services. I continue to stand committed to innovating fine dining long into the future.

At this time I want to thank everyone at Alinea -- the staff, investors, and patrons of the restaurant have offered their unwavering commitment and support in ways large and small. The community of restaurants, chefs, and industry professionals who reached out to us was exceptionally gratifying.

Most of all, I must make special mention of doctors Vokes, Blair, and Haraf at the University of Chicago Medical Center, as well as the countless number of medical professionals and support staff there who cared for me. Where other doctors at prominent institutions saw little hope of a normal life, let alone a cure, these doctors saw an opportunity to think differently, preserve my tongue and taste, and maintain a long term high quality of life. Through the use of a new and rigorous Chemotherapy and Radiation protocol, they were able achieve a full remission while ensuring that the use of invasive surgery on my tongue was not needed.


Grant’s a former protégé of Thomas Keller and he seemed to learn more during his stay at El Bulli — the crucible of much of the most experimental cuisine in the world — than most chefs who have spent time there. I’m sure I’m one of many, many people who are delighted by his good health and looking forward to what he’s planning next.

Playing with The Sun

December 18

Last Thursday I had dinner at Sanctuary T with its publicist and then walked the brief mile to QDT, a narrow corridor of a bar where the arts section of The New York Sun was having a holiday gathering.
I was there because my very kind bosses at Nation’s Restaurant News let me have a steady freelance gig at the Sun, where I write the weekly Kitchen Dish column about restaurants in New York that are opening or closing or changing their chefs or offering special deals or festive menus or otherwise behaving in ways that might be of interest to Sun readers.
QDT is a long corridor of a bar and more than one impromptu holiday party was being held there. It was packed, and I was being jostled, elbowed and knocked around by purses more than I’m accustomed to.
I brought this up with some of the Sun revelers and I fear I might possibly have been rude to the paper's new book review editor, David Wallace-Wells. He observed that this was typical New Yorker behavior, and I remarked rather obtusely that that seemed like an outsider’s view of New Yorkers, who I have found are better at managing crowds than most other Americans.
“But David’s a native New Yorker,” someone observed.
David didn’t seem to mind, but I wouldn't stop being annoying for some reason and asked him for book recommendations (he suggested Tree of Smoke). Asking a book review editor for book recommendations is very much like asking a food writer for restaurant recommendations. It’s a tedious question. But at least I didn’t ask him what his favorite book was. The only question more tiresome to a food writer than “what restaurants do you recommend?” is “What’s your favorite restaurant?” How could I have a single favorite restaurant? Why would I want one?
But he was curious to get recommendations for restaurants near The Sun's offices, so I gave him some.
He seemed like a nice chap, tolerant of loud-mouth smart asses like me. Quite coincidentally, he went to high school with Eater’s Ben Leventhal.
Small world.

What I ate at Sactuary T:
amuse-bouche fo grilled gulf shrimp with fired shallots, truffle honey and cantaloupe
bread with lapsang-souchong-smoked oil for dipping
bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes
lamb with blue foot mushrooms, hazelnuts and banana-vanilla bean paste
slow-cooked black cod with lychee tea, asparagus, feta and saffron sauce
gnocchi ccoked in brown butter with Hudson Valley black tea, grilled pumpkin and cranberries
fingerling potatoes cooked in Belgian beer with apple-smoked bacon and shallots
salmon poached in Red Moon tea with caramelized Brussels sprouts, cucumber and kaffir lime sauce
free range chicken ballotine with chanterelles, prosciutto, smoked paprika and goat cheese paste

meringue cloud with tiramisu rooibos in condensed milk
doughnuts (doughnut holes, really) with chocolate and strawberry dipping sauces
cheesecake infused with jasmine tea and topped with Moroccan mint whipped cream

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Playing with Rickshaw

December 13

“Kenny, how long has it been since I’ve seen you? Have you gotten taller? Have you grown a beard? How are you?”
It’s possible that I haven’t seen Kenny Lao in eight months, which is a crime. He’s smart, entertaining, and worth spending time with. However he’s also the managing partner of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar and has spent a good chunk of the past eight months getting his second unit open. The original restaurant is on 23rd Street in Chelsea. The new one, near NYU, is on 8th.
I received invitations yesterday to check out several restaurants. One seemed particularly uninteresting but I thought it might amuse Kenny, and so I sent the e-mail that started with the words in quotes above, followed by an invitation to dinner.
Kenny ignored the dinner invitation, but wrote:
”Haven't seen you in so long!
“You should come to rickshaw holiday party tonight at 8th street store. Double the employees double the fun.”
So I went.
I think it was my third Rickshaw holiday party. Kenny had not gotten taller nor grown a beard. He claims he'd lost weight with the restaurant opening, which would be bad since he doesn’t have any body fat to speak of. He paused between serving his staff to gobble down a plate of chicken and rice from Chipotle, which catered the party. Or maybe he had grilled steak and rice. Those were the choices. He said he’d had La Esquina cater the party, but he was joking.
One of Chipotle’s 20 or so New York units is next to the 8th Street Rickshaw, and Kenny met Chipotle’s president, Steve Ells, one day when Steve was cleaning the front of his not-yet-open restaurant. They apparently hit it off.
Anyway, the party was fun. I met a member of the family that owns the Chinese restaurant Pig Heaven who insisted I check it out, so I will someday, and I enjoyed the staff puppet show, which depicted a typical dumpling-ordering experience at the new restaurant.
Apparently, NYU students who patronize Rickshaw are significantly more self-obsessed and ignorant than the Chelsea customers at the Rickshaw there. They also don’t all eat lunch at the same time, so there’s less of a lunch rush, but steadier business and also more evening business. No surprises there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Playing with Curbed

December 11

Josh Stein is quite good at riding mechanical bulls.
At least from the perspective of a bunch of New Yorkers affiliated with Curbed (which also owns had its holiday party last night at a Lower East Side place called Mason Dixon, which serves fried chicken and pulled pork and grits and mac & cheese, and plays country & western music and has a mechanical bull.
Josh Stein, who for a little while longer yet covers restaurants and nightlife at Gawker (he is leaving soon to follow his destiny to London), must have good balance and strong thighs, because he stayed on that bull for much longer than most of the other white collar New Yorkers who gave it a try.
Ever since I was a young kid in Denver and witnessed from a distance the cowboy-boot craze that swept New York in, I believe, the 1970s, I have been fascinated by the desire of the denizens of Gotham to partake — without, it seems to me, understanding the social implications — in working-class cultures from other parts of the country. I talked about this a little bit with Amy Smith, who works at the Oxygen network and is originally from a remote part of northeastern Oklahoma. She was wearing a skirt, but otherwise, she said, she’d be riding the mechanical bull. Fair enough; she says she’s related to Merle Haggard and has no reason to lie to me.
As a Denver Jew, I grew up too far from red-neck culture to be part of it, but close enough to know that I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t want to ride a mechanical bull.
Eater’s Ben Leventhal did, though — twice. He’s no Josh Stein, but he’s not bad at all.

Ben’s the guy in the picture. It didn’t occur to me to take out my camera until Josh was done (he was good, but you can only stay on a mechanical bull for so long).
It was a good party. I met Peter Meehan from The New York Times, which I hadn’t done before, so that was cool. We talked about insane mutual acquaintances, which is always fun. I munched on Buffalo wings with Kate Krader from Food & Wine, Jennifer Leuzzi and Robin Insley.
I had a good chat with Eater's Lockhart Steele. We talked about Chicago dining and observed that we both had the names of porn stars or romance novel characters.

Here’s a picture of what happened when partygoers got frisky with the menu board. Perhaps they were thinking of different meanings of the word “pork.”

Friday, December 07, 2007


December 7

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about New York’s Upper West Side being the city’s next neighborhood for great restaurants. It’s possible. It seems to me that the neighborhood is loaded with foodies and aspiring foodies with disposable income.
There was talk of an Upper West Side renaissance back when Ouest opened, and again when Telepan opened. I think the Post’s Steve Cuozzo started the buzz this time around.
At any rate, the next chef-focused, culinarily adventurous restaurant — with an “excellence-minded staff,” as the chef and owner puts it — to open there will very likely be Dovetail, chef John Fraser’s first restaurant. (That’s him, above).
He hopes to start serving food there next weekend.
“I don’t want to open with a staff that’s not totally comfortable with the space,” he says. So, they’ll open when they’re ready.
Fraser says the restaurant’s name comes from his desire to have great wine dovetail with great food and great service, for an overall great restaurant experience.
You might have had his food at Snack Taverna or Compass, but Fraser points out that at that first restaurant, he had limited space and budget, at the latter, the restaurant was too big to spend the time he wanted to on each dish.
Dovetail will have 90 seats, including the 20-seat sherry cave.
The menu will change all the time, and even the opening one isn’t set yet, but here are some things he has in mind:
Gnocchi with duck confit, apples and foie gras butter
Creamy clam chowder with smoked potatoes, chorizo and sourdough gougères (that’s a cheese puff);
Rabbit and foie gras terrine with candied kumquats
Bagna cauda-poached cod with broccoli en papillote
His house-made "tater tots" will be made by slowly cooking potatoes in olive oil, crushing them, shaping them into nuggets and then deep-frying them.

I’ll be writing a bit more about the restaurant in other outlets, so stay tuned...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

From the Beard House to the Waldorf, with stops on the way

December 6,

Where did the time go? It’s been a busy week of much adventure, luxury, friends and dare I say better conversation than usual, and except for a brief comment on the changing menu at Focolare, I’ve left you out of the loop, for which I apologize.
After throwing away the unwanted Magnolia Bakery cupcake, I hopped down to the James Beard House where I was meeting my profound and excellent friend Andy Battaglia, of The Onion, to sample the food of husband-and-wife team Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo from Talula restaurant in Miami Beach. I was earlier than Andy, so among other things I chatted with chef Don Pintabona, currently of Dani, but previously of Tribeca Grill, where Andrea and Frank worked for him. In fact, they met there.
They did their Beard Dinner prep work at Dani, and Don was helping out in the kitchen, as chefs do.
Andy and I spoke of visual art, among other things. He chastised me, and sort of accused me of revisionism, for expressing delight and surprise at the early 20th century artists who seemed so capable of breaking boundaries and ignoring convention.
He took most exception to the fact that I said modern art today was not as creative.
How did I know? An artistic school can easily just be a few artists in a room who haven’t received any attention. Many of the profound work of earlier generations was done on a very small scale and wasn’t recognized until long after the artists’ time. Such things are likely going on now, too, he said.
He had a point. Andy usually has a point, even when he’s coming down with a cold, which he was that evening, so after dinner he did not accompany me to the Brooklyn home of Greg Lindsay and Sophie Donelson, who were throwing their annual holiday party.
I feel cool just by dint of being invited to the newly married couple’s annual holiday fête, at which only interesting people seem to be welcome. I sipped wine while discussing vegetarianism with a reluctant carnivore who had a masters degree in philosophy but was nonetheless a nice guy, and then Greg introduced me to a new hire at Time Out New York who had just started in the world of food writing, and she asked me for advice, which I gave her.
Then I ended up hanging out with a novelist who was writing about the time she spent in northern Thailand — writing it from the perspective of a Western guy she despised who had married into a hill tribe family.
I ended up closing down the party as Sophie and Greg shared their perspective on being mocked in Gawker, which Gawker does to them from time to time, especially Greg.
I have been in Gawker with very little fanfare or attention, twice, both thanks to Josh Stein.
Once he simply mentioned me as one of the people in the press room at the Beard Awards, part of the — what did he call us? — “sum total of New York’s food scene”. That’s kind of nice, actually, even though he said the place resembled a feed lot, which it kind of did.
Then he placed me at a Paris Commune party with some very fancy people. Apparently we were all, let’s see, “grasping hefty noon Bloody Marys,” which I suppose we were. Unfortunately he spelled my name wrong in that one, tossing extra t's and e's around as though they were free.
So that was Friday. Saturday I lay low, emerging from my apartment just to pick up produce from the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket, a scant half-block from my apartment.
I spent Sunday at the Upper East Side home of my editor-in-chief, Ellen Koteff, who has a beautiful apartment that, unlike my apartment, does not need to be cleaned, fumigated and redecorated before it’s worthy of guests.
I should probably get my place blessed by Buddhist monks while I’m at it. It couldn’t hurt.
I was making dinner for executive food editor Pam Parseghian and her husband, George Arpajian, because they have hosted me and Ellen on many occasions. We thought it only fair to host them back.
On Monday I had dinner at Fiamma with publicist Amanda Hathaway. Fiamma has a new, high-profile chef: Fabio Trabocchi, originally from Italy’s Le Marche region, and recently of Maestro of the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner in McLean, Va.
I’ve known Fabio or years, but had never had his food.
Amanda and I spoke of many things, one of which was Italian food and the fact that many people had very narrow opinions of what Italian food is. Fabio is, after all, an Italian, trained in Italy on Italian food, a dynamic cuisine that continues to evolve. That Fabio’s food doesn’t resemble Italian food that most New Yorkers have seen is really beside the point.
Although of course other people enjoy codifying food more. Some years ago I got into quite a little argument with my friend, historian Jonathan Ray, about the Molecular Gastronomy of Catalonia, which I insisted could be called Catalonian cuisine and he insisted could not be. We’re still friends, though.
Then on Tuesday I went to a party in Soho at Corio, thrown by Thrillist and paid for by a large Irish whiskey company. The highlight was a hoola-hoop performance by Miss Saturn (rings, get it?), who I'm pretty sure was a transvestite. She had great triceps.
I hadn’t seen a hoola-hoop performance in, like, 20 years, and she was very good at it.
I met some youngsters, learned that Nivea was launching a men's lotion, which is apparently a big deal, and then I headed to New Bo Ky restaurant in Chinatown, because there was a lot of whiskey at the party, but no food. I had a bowl of noodles with what Thais call look chin, a spongy, rubbery type of meatball with very little appeal the first time you eat it, but now it’s a comfort food for me and hit the spot after all that distilled spirit.
I was curious about the name, Bo Ky, whose Chinese characters, if I read them right, mean "broken story."
I’d first been to Bo Ky some years ago with Howard Helmer the egg man and Jim Schiltz, head and sole member of the National Goose Council, to sample their lo soy goose.
(Lo soy is Cantonese for the Mandarin lao shui, or "old water" and refers to a stock, often heady with cinnamon and the like, that has been simmering constantly, in some cases for many years).
Anyway, I asked one of the owners about the restaurant’s name as I was paying, and uttered a couple of words in Chinese (Mandarin) that made her assume I speak the language fluently, which of course I do not. So she launched into a long tale about their journey from Vietnam. Their family is Taechiew, also known as Chaozhou — pronounced chow-joe — originally from the area around Shantou in China's Guangdong province, but they had apparently been in Vietnam for some time until they fled in 1978, spending a year in the southern Thai city of Songkhla before moving on to the United States. I didn't get all of the details, but there were leaky boats and drowning and hardship.
"Hen Xinku," we agreed, which sort of means wracked with hardship.
But Bo is just the family's surname, and Ky apparently in this case also means "family" or something like that.
So that was that.
And then last night my friend Birdman and I had dinner at the Chef's Table of the Waldorf=Astoria, where the food pretty much spoke for itself.
Here’s what we had:

Hors d'oeuvres with Laurent Perrier Champagne, including foie gras terrine with pear, and smoked salmon around a quail egg topped with American white sturgeon caviar
lobster consommé with garlic flan and fennel salad (about which Birdman impressed executive chef John Doherty by asking if there weren't some sort of meat stock also in the consommé, and indeed ground beef had been used in the raft)
Sautéed turbot with potato and wild mushroom hash and parsley coulis
2006 “Le MD” Henri Bourgeois Sancerre (Loire)
Gnocchi with white truffle, Parmesan cream and watercress
2003 Frank Wood Ranch Gargiulo Vinyeards Chardonnay (Rutherford, Napa Valley)
Red wine poached pheasant with black truffle-liver crostini and apple parsnip purée
2003 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville, Napa)
Warm pumpkin bread pudding with prune-Armagnac ice cream and cider sauce
NV Brut Demoiselle Rosé Champagne

What I ate at Fiamma:
Casserole of snails with Taylor Bay scallop, pig trotters and flat parsley butter
2005 Inama ‘Foscarino’, Soave Classico
Tortellini with cotechino sausage, wood ear mushroom and brodo
Cappelini with goat ragù, chestnut cream and ricottasalata
2005 Château des Rontets ‘Pierrefolle’ Pouilly Fuissé
Duck with endives, pomegranate and spice pesto
2003 Pelissero ‘Nubiola’, Barbaresco `
Chocolate with pistachios and basil ice cream
2004 Tuilles Sauternes `

What I served my bosses:
Baked haloumi cheese topped with Sicilian almonds
Green mango with sugar-salt dip
Challah topped with sesame seeds
Roasted prime rib with natural jus
Mashed potatoes with a lot of butter, cream, salt and pepper
Mashed turnips with olive oil
Some sort of grilled eggplant, pepper and onion dish that I served warm, tossed with some balsamic vinegar
Steamed purple cauliflower
Chocolate mousse, with Sicilian almonds and chilled pomegranate seeds and pomelo sections on the side.

And what Andy and I had at the Beard House:
Wagyu beef carpaccio with Asian pears and baby watercress
Foie gras torchon with aged balsamic-fig ham
Deconstructed spicy ahi tuna rolls
White root vegetable and mascarpone bisque with crispy pancetta and truffle
Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut NV
Kona kampachi ceviche with Florida key lime-soy marinade, avocado, Asian greens, crispy malanga and wasabi tobiko
Salomon Undhof Gruner Veltliner (Hochterrassen, Austria)
Cork-braised octopus (really, they add cork to the braising liquid because it’s suppose to make the octopus tender) with Costa Rican hearts of palm, artichokes, organic arugula, and lemon-cracked black pepper vinaigrette
LeMessi Pinot Grigio (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia)
Slow roasted Berkshire pork belly with calabaza-chèvre fregola sarda “risotto,” fall mushroom ragoût and Florida orange gremolata
La Matassine Sangiovese (Montescudaio)
Charred marinated prime aged rib “spinalis” with pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, three-cheese-baked cavatelli with apple wood smoked bacon
Felciatello Bibo (Super Tuscan, from Tuscany, obviously)
Lavender-vanilla bean panna cotta with balsamic macerated fall pears, Tupelo honey and toasted chocolate nib tuile
Dolce, by Far Niente (Napa)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


December 5

On Monday a noble idea will die as Little Italy restaurant Focolare refocuses its menu to cater to what people want to eat in Little Italy. Gone will be the duck with chocolate, the beet-stuffed ravioli in Champagne sauce, the octopus. I’m told that Chef Frank Lania, who wanted to bring creative Italian food to a neighborhood that didn’t have any, is adding pizza to the menu, and more pasta, (but apparently not chicken Parmigiana).
I guess that means the re-Italianization of New York’s Little Italy will have to wait.
Whether that’s a bad thing or not is really in the eye of the beholder, though. Lots of people like Italian-American cuisine, and it can be perfectly tasty, although not particularly related to modern Italian food.
And this shift at Focolare is a reminder that you can’t cook food that’s too far over the heads of your guests. If they want spaghetti and meatballs, tagliatele alla Bolognese isn’t going to cut it.
I think that’s why good Mexican food and good barbecue are so hard (but not impossible) to find in New York. Most New Yorkers are unaccustomed to those foods and so they can’t tell the difference. Ditto for many Asian cuisines here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How my colleagues are different from Sex and the City fans

November 30

Magnolia Bakery sent me a cupcake along with a press release telling me they’d be open during the winter holidays (regular hours, except for Christmas Day, when they will be closed).
I didn't really want a cupcake today, as I am already fat, so I’ve been trying to hand it off to a colleague.
There have been no takers.

It’s not an anti-dessert or anti-food thing. My colleagues have been eating freely of the red M&Ms sent to me by a tomato supplier (don’t ask; I can’t explain why they sent them either). I've had no trouble giving away the boxes of soup stock that are sitting on my desk. Someone stole a block of my haloumi cheese from the communal fridge. They’ve been all over my Sicilian almonds (quite different from the California variety — very mild taste at first, but with a powerful amaretto-like finish).
I guess they just don’t like Magnolia Bakery cupcakes.

from peanuts to smoked pineapple to vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caviar

November 30

Long night last night.
It started around 5 p.m. in the private upstairs room at Felidia, where I went to a party thrown by the Peanut Advisory Board. It seems that drought in the Southeast is affecting the peanut crop again, with regard to quantity, not quality, so I'm told. There should still be enough peanuts for the major manufacturers, but the smaller guys may face some difficulties.
I was apprised of the situation by a nine-fingered farmer on the PAB’s board, and he should know.
I got lost in conversation with others and ended up closing down the party at 7:30, and from there I went to a sherry party announcing the winners of a cocktail competition. I caught up with food bon vivant Arlyn Blake and Marian Betancourt, writer of cookbooks and other things. I introduced them to Kevin Patricio, who's, well, actually I’m not sure what he is. When I met him in, like 2000, he was a marketer or event planner or something for Food & Wine. I’ve seen him listed as a chef. He was working at the sherry party last night, though I’m not sure in what capacity. I do know that I’m always glad to see him, and he said that he and bartender/cocktail maven Jim Meehan (mostly of PDT these days) are working on opening a restaurant together. It’s all in very preliminary stages. Jim kind of rolled his eyes when I mentioned it and changed the subject.
Then beverage consultant and sherry guru Steve Olson gave a speech and announced the cocktail winner (Giuseppe Gonzalez of Flatiron Lounge in New York City, for his Madroño Cobbler
3 oz. Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Medium Amontillado
2 Strawberries
2 cinnamon sticks
0.5 oz Torani Amer
2 barspoons of Rich Demerara Syrup
Lightly muddle one strawberry in Torani Amer. Break one cinnamon in half into shaker. Add sherry. Shake lightly with a little crushed ice. Serve in wine goblet. Top with more ice. Garnish with fanned strawberry, whole cinnamon stick & straw).
After that I went upstairs to sample cocktails, including one made with smoked pineapple — smoking’s all the rage, and you can read about that in the December 10 issue of NRN — and chatted a bit with beverage consultant Jerri Banks and Julie Reiner, who owns Flatiron Lounge. I guess I should have congratulated her.
Next I headed down to Will Goldfarb’s new place, Dessert Lounge, which is located at the back of Chocolat Michel Cluizel (and also accessible from the back of Le Pain Quotidien). I ate Will's chocolate bubbles with milk foam, and his vanilla ice cream with chocolate bits, topped with caviar, and mostly hung out with Oceana executive chef Ben Pollinger, about whom I discussed plans to make dinner for my boss, executive food editor Pam Parseghian, and her husband George Arpajian, at the home of her boss, editor-in-chief Ellen Koteff, who unlike me does not need to undertake major cleaning efforts to make her home presentable to guests.
Ben suggested that some butternut squash gnocchi would be nice "If you want to do some work." Uh-huh. It would be nice.
It’s funny, I'll bake bread, no problem. Give me some flour and yeast and I’m ready to go. But I’m not making gnocchi.
Cute idea, though.
I chatted briefly with Oceana executive pastry chef Jansen Chan, whom I don't think I’d met before, and had a nice long talk with Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute. He’s the cat in charge of teaching about transglutaminase and immersion circulators and various types of evaporation and distillation equipment — all the stuff that used to be called molecular gastronomy until early practitioners of it decided they didn’t like that term (Will Goldfarb, who sells various ingredients used in molecular gastronomy, refers to his own cuisine as "experiential").
Freelance writer Francine Cohen introduced me to a friend of hers named Stewart, who writes music for TV and stuff. That kind of art is beyond me. I could make up a dish, or a story, but a song? Where do you begin?
Stewart said it wasn’t really different from writing words. We agreed that the TV show Battlestar Galactica has a great soundtrack. I like how the theme song starts with a single note repeated over and over again. It's really scary. Stewart likes the dominance of percussion throughout the series. I like that too.
A propos of nothing else, let me say right here that I’m also a huge fan of the NYPD Blue theme. I think the melancholy tune underpinned by the thrumming drum beat that is the pulse of New York City sums up the show well.

Thanksgiving, and Eating New York

November 26

I spent Thanksgiving with the family of my boss, Pam Parseghian. It was very much like Thanksgiving with her clan last year, with the addition of a delicious poultry pâté that Pam made.
The trip to central New Jersey was easier than in years past. It was just an 11 minute ride to Secaucus, and then I was picked up, a day bag full of Beaujolais in hand, by Pam's brother Steve and his sons Grant and Daniel. The kids get nicer every year.
On the day after Thanksgiving I have a longstanding tradition with my friends Birdman aka Dr. David Krauss and Rusty Cappadona. We meet around noon at Joe's Shanghai for soup dumplings and then wander through the streets, restaurants and bars of Gotham, eating and drinking until we fall down, can't eat anymore or simply have had enough fun and want to go to sleep.
This year Rusty brought along his eight-year-old son, Ryan, who's quite the young gourmand, it turns out.
We taught him different techniques for eating soup dumplings, and then took him to one of Birdman's favorite dive bars, where he had his first Shirley Temple (and second, and third really because the bartender decided Ryan should do a taste comparison between Shirley Temples made with ginger ale and lemon-lime soda — he preferred the lemon-lime).
The men drank Bass Ale.
Then we took a stroll to Ground Zero, because Rusty wanted to show it to Ryan. From there we met up with Birdman's girlfriend, Emily, and headed to Great New York Noodle Town for won ton duck noodle soup.
From there we walked down Canal Street and I continued my search for mangosteens.
Success! I found a bag of them for $7. They were from Thailand, so it's a good thing they were frozen solid as mangosteen season in Thailand ends in May.
We strolled up to Little Italy for fresh mozzarella and then hopped on the 6 train to have wine and cheese at Artisanal.
Ryan was a real trooper here. He didn't care for the vacharin, but he ate quite a few other funky cheeses (and a gruyère and a cheddar) with gusto, while drinking a Shirley Temple. The rest of us split a bottle of 1996 Haut-Médoc, and I ripped open a thawing mangosteen, to the slight embarrassment of Birdman, because of course pulling out your own fruit at a fancy restaurant is inappropriate. He and the others were happy to try the mangosteen, however, which it turns out, despite having been frozen, was quite a delicious specimen, with good sugar and acid levels and its typical velvety texture.
I tried to eat the rest of the mangosteens the following day, however, and they were terrible — either inedibly bitter or rotten. So I guess you have to eat them as they thaw. That's not really surprising as even in Southeast Asia you pretty much have to eat mangosteens within a day or two of buying them.
Next we walked up to Grand Central Terminal, where Rusty and Ryan headed back to Connecticut and Birdman, Emily and I soldiered on, slurping down mostly East Coast oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, while drinking beer (I sampled a couple of New England beers whose names I have forgotten).
We'd planned on a Japanese snack on St. Marks Place — some starch to top off the oysters — but we deemed the lines at the izakaya places to be unreasonably long, and so instead we went to Grand Szechuan for cured pork, Szechuan dumplings, fried rice and drank more beer (Sapporo, I think).
Then we walked to Union Square, where I topped off the evening with a Starbucks Triple Grande Cappuccino and we parted ways in the subway station. I think it was around 11pm.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

multimedia food writer

My latest podcast is up and running listen to it here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slash the chicken to show the monkey*

November 27

Tales of my Thanksgiving weekend adventures and the Turkish food that followed will have to wait until I finish writing the feature I’m working on for our December 10 issue, but I did want to comment on Chris Cheung’s new job. The bright kids at Eater reported that he’s the new chef at Monkey Bar, and Chris just confirmed that to me (in fact, he's been there for six or seven weeks).
I wrote a profile of Chris, a protégé of Ed Brown and then of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, way back in 2000, when he was working on opening his first restaurant, Tiger Blossom, in the East Village. It failed to thrive and closed shortly after 9/11. So it goes. He resurfaced some time later at Little Bistro in Brooklyn, and then turned some heads as chef of Almond Flower Bistro, on the edge of Chinatown.
Now here’s the interesting thing: Patricia Yeo, the chef Chris is replacing at Monkey Bar, left, if I recall correctly, following bad reviews and a sense that the food she wanted to cook was a bit more radical than the Glaziers, who own Monkey Bar, wanted it to be, and perhaps more radical than their guests wanted to eat. That happens; sometimes a great chef is not a great fit with a particular restaurant. Chris knows that: He left Almond Flower over a disagreement with the owners there over his menu, which they deemed to be more radical than they wanted.
Obviously I wish all parties involved much good fortune and success.
Here’s another funny thing. When I interviewed Chris for that profile back in 2000, I did it over lunch at AZ, the restaurant where Patricia first was put on the map in New York (AZ has since closed; it was where BLT Fish is now).

*This is a term used in both Chinese and Thai cultures. It refers to when you punish one creature to frighten another one — to make an example of someone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Irving Mill

November 21

You might remember that my first visit to Irving Mill, on its opening night, didn’t give me much insight into the food, as not much of it was served.
But last night I had an actual sit-down dinner there with the restaurant’s publicist, Steven Hall.
The restaurant was mostly full, and pretty star-studded. Management was a-twitter because Rachel Ray was eating there. They also seemed pleased that Chelsea Clinton was dining as well.
“Really?" I asked.
“She's sitting next to you,” Steven said, which was just a minor exaggeration. He and I were in a booth, Chelsea and co. were at an adjacent table.
Does that mean I had a better table than she did? I’m never sure how that works, or what it means.
Steven was one of the first publicists I met in New York, but we’d never dined together, and we had a good time talking about the blog phenomenon, his strategies for getting press in different key publications and my strategies for deciding what to write about.
Irving Mill will probably be getting more press soon: Florence Fabricant ate there recently, and Frank Bruni has been in at least once, according to management.

What we ate:

Grilled quail with green tomato relish, cheddar cheese grits and smoked paprika
Cauliflower ravioli with hazelnuts, capers, red onion and Parmesan
Atlantic cod with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, apple butter and cider
Roasted poussin with roasted shallots, green olive, garlic sausage, rosemary and potato purée
Greek yogurt panna cotta with stewed apricots, quince and pistachio
Zucchini cake with orange sorbet, orange marmalade and toffee walnuts.

Carlito’s way?

November 20

Last night I had dinner at Solace, a relatively new place on Manhattan’s lower upper far east side (64th between 1st and York).
Publicist Susan Rike was having one of her little media dinners to introduce us to chef David Regueiro — not to be mistaken for David Ruggerio, a nice guy who probably is best remembered in the New York food world for alleged involvement in credit card fraud at his eponymous restaurant (located, in case you’re interested in such trivia, where BLT Steak is now).
Joining Susan and me were New York-based Chilean journalist Manuel Santilices and Michael Gencarelli, a Bensonhurst native who writes for Shecky's. We spoke of global politics and the relative images of different nationalities — "How German of you" sounds kind of insulting, while "how French of you" might well mean that you have good taste in food and wine and know how to enjoy life. But it doesn't sound as good as "how Italian of you."
David (Regueiro) was born and raised in Brooklyn, near on the Park Slope-Sunset Park border, but his parents and older siblings all were born in Cuba. His first cooking job was at the New York Stock Exchange. Then he worked under David Bouley for a couple of years and was on Charlie Palmer’s team for many years after that.
But Susan wants to play up his Cuban roots and wants him to cook "Cuban-inspired" food. She thinks that will sell on 64th and York. I’m pretty sure her conviction stems from the fact that a former client of hers, Wayne Nish, chef-owner of the now-shuttered restaurant March, in nearby upper Midtown East (58th and 1st) gained traction in 1995 when he played up his partial Japanese roots (he's part Maltese, too, and other things) and served sort-of-Japanese-inspired food.
Susan also thinks David looks like Andy Garcia, but in fact he looks more like a young Al Pacino.

Standards and Pours

Please welcome the latest blog in the Nation’s Restaurant News family, Standards and Pours. Follow my colleague Sonya Moore as she shares her observations of all things drink-related. Should be a hoot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

steak and dessert

November 17

I spent most of the workday yesterday in the New York offices of the PR company of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, helping to judge their Beef Backers competition, which not surprisingly goes to restaurants that market beef well.
I was planning to spend the early evening in the gym in anticipation of a gigantic dessert party called Sweet. But the NCBA people asked if I wouldn't have dinner with them at BLT Prime, and I thought it would be rude to refuse.
It's fun to eat steak with beef people. Their representative, Jane Gibson, assessed the breeding of pictures of cattle in the restaurant, and not many people can do that.
We noticed that the menu said that all of the beef was either USDA Prime or Certified Black Angus. We asked the waiter how to tell which was which, and he said all the beef (except for the Kobe, which was labeled as such) was Certified Black Angus Prime. We wondered aloud to him why the "or" was on the menu then but we let it go and wondered amongst ourselves how they could sell A5 Kobe for just $26 per ounce. Actually, the NCBA people wondered. I was unaware of the classification of Japanese Kobe, but I learned that A5 is the highest grade.
I had the 20-ounce rib eye and some sauteed maitake mushrooms and we all split a piece of pecan pie, and so I was full when I got to Sweet, which probably was just as well because how many desserts should I really be eating (except for Jehangir Mehta's dessert of tomato and olive oil with a balsamic vinegar sorbet, which reminded me that I had not been eating enough vegetables lately)?
But I really wasn't there to eat anyway. Sweet was a charity event and paying guests had forked over $200 to be there, so I figured I'd leave most of the desserts to them (although I sampled a few dessert wines and tried the cocktail that Allen Katz developed) and take the time to catch up, which I did, mostly with freelancer Francine Cohen and Rachel Wharton of the Daily News.
But pretty much the whole New York food scene was there, and that's always fun. So was Michael Symon, who's based in Cleveland. I congratulated him on being the next Iron Chef.
I caught up with my friend and former colleague Erica Duecy, who's now at Fodor's, and with Jennifer Leuzzi. Will Goldfarb handed me a business card for his new Dessert Studio, which he said would open on the following day, as I ate one of his chocolate chip cookies.
Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin seemed happy and busy. Alex Stupak of WD-50 was his usual focused, serious self, so I just took his dessert without bothering him.
As that party wound down, I went to the afterparty upstairs, catered by Shake Shack, so I had half a burger. Then a number of us ended up at The Spotted Pig, where I drank a Six Points Rye and then followed the gang up to the restaurant's top floor, which looked like someone's apartment. We hung out in what looked like a living room with a kitchen and I compared notes with writer Jay Cheshes, who graciously defended restaurants that I think are overhyped, and he and Rachel Wharton (mostly Rachel) lamented that the Daily News' food section gets no respect.
Oh, Johnny Iuzzini, Jean Georges' pastry chef, whom The Daily News had just named New York's sexiest chef, was at Sweet, too. He looked like he respected the Daily News' food section.
I also chatted with publicist Ana Jovancicevic and Ilan Hall of Top Chef, whom I hadn't met before.
Actually, I still haven't technically met him, but we had a nice chat, about Chinese food and other things.
I got home sometime after 5 a.m., and so I decided I would probably be better off skipping the opening of Will Goldfarb's place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beer on the final frontier

Noveber 14

I’m in the St. Louis airport now, having spent the past day-and-a-half with the good people of Anheuser-Busch, along with a bunch of other trade magazine journalists, learning, oh, a whole bunch of things about the company’s marketing plans, and no small amount about pairing beer with food.
But it’s the little tidbits that I always enjoy.
Here are a couple:

1) Hoegaarden (one of many beers purchased by A-B in recent years) is growing in popularity in certain cities, including New York City, Boston, Denver, Seattle, San Diego and Portland (the one in Oregon), but particularly in Philadelphia, where a drink called the Dirty Hoe is gaining a following. It’s Hoegaarden — which the people at A-B pronounce who-garden, but they don’t seem to mind adjustment of the pronunciation for the sake of marketing — and framboise, a raspberry-flavored beer.

2) Some footage for the upcoming Star Trek film, being produced by "Lost" creator JJ Abrams and scheduled for release next year, will be filmed at Budweiser’s Los Angeles brewery. The brewery will play the role of Enterprise's interior. In return for letting them film, during some bar scenes Budweiser will have product placement, with the beer in just slightly futuristic-looking glasses.
I hope those scenes don’t get cut.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The great mystery of olives in Margaritas

November 12

The Margaritas that Sylvia and I ordered at the Matamoros restaurant (see the blog entry below) were served with a garnish of a green olive stuffed with a pimento.
Sylvia quickly plucked it from her drink’s rim and dropped it onto her cocktail napkin, took a sip of her Margarita and grimaced. But the problem wasn't the olive, the problem, she surmised, was that it was just too sweet. She doctored it with a bunch of lime wedges that were on the table, but she still couldn’t finish it. I thought there was something else strange in there, but the problem wasn’t the olive. Maybe it was just really bad tequila.
At any rate, we took the olive as a sign that the restaurant really didn’t understand Margaritas. We shrugged, got into her car and got in line to cross the border, emptying the contents of the bag we got at Las Palmas into our stomachs. Either the sugar or the fact that she was eating copious amounts of pastry and getting crumbs in her brother’s car after having eaten two lunches made Sylvia giddy. We were having fun.
But back to the Margarita mystery. For dinner we drove to South Padre Island to an old-school Tex-Mex place called The Palmetto Inn. I ordered enchiladas verdes and a Margarita, which came frozen. The garnish: a lime wedge and an olive on a skewer.

The Margarita was fine, but what was the olive doing there?
We finished off with a nightcap at Garcia’s, which was nearby. I ordered another Margarita, on the rocks.
It was garnished with three olives on a skewer.
“What’s up with the olives?” I asked the bartender, who told me it was a common garnish in Mexico, which of course it’s not.
Or is it?
My experience in Mexico is limited, but the Margaritas I had in the Los Mochis airport and throughout Sinaloa were free of olives.
The next day we drove to Houston and went to Sylvia’s restaurant (Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen) and she asked her cooks, who come from all over Mexico, about olives and Margaritas. None of them had ever seen olives in them.
Meanwhile I had a chelada and learned that American limes don’t seem to work as well in them as the milder Mexican ones — either that or the limes had been squeezed forcibly enough to extract some of the oil, adding extra lime flavor and bitterness. Also, the salt used to rim most Margarita glasses is too course for a chelada.
I ate eleven of Sylvia’s 18 varieties of enchiladas along with some tres leches cake, some chocolate tres leches cake (Sylvia’s invention) and some flan.
Today, after returning from Houston, well fed on migas and Sylvia’s signature pancakes, I e-mailed the listserv of the Association for the Study of Food and Society, the smartest people I know when it comes to foodways. Some responded accurately but unhelpfully that olives in Margaritas sounded gross. But they also speculated that the practice of adding olives might be isolated to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
But Janet Chrzan cleverly found an entry in Wikipedia for a Mexican Martini:
This popular Texas cocktail consists of a large margarita (tequila-based) on the rocks, usually shaken and presented in the shaker, providing several servings poured by the drinker into a salt-rimmed cocktail glass with an olive garnish.
But it’s Wikipedia, and there’s nothing definitive about that.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why Mexican beers are so bland

November 10

For years I have disdained the basically flavorless Mexican beers that infest sports bars and low-rent Mexican restaurants in the United States. I often comment that if you put lime in them, they taste like lime.
But I have just learned that that’s the whole point. In the Brownsville, Texas, area, on either side of the border with Mexico, beer is just where you begin. You can make it into a michelada — essentially a Bloody Mary made with beer instead of vodka, which you might recall can even be found in New York if you look hard enough. Or you can make it into a chelada, which is beer with a squeeze or more of lime in a salt-rimmed glass. Those beverages are often drunk over ice.
If that’s what you want — something light and refreshing with some vitamin C and salt — why, a light innocent lager like the varieties so popular in the United States and Mexico does just the trick.
That’s one of many things I learned when Sylvia Casares Copeland of Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen in Houston took me and her publicist Dick Dace on our cross-border journey into the world of Tex-Mex cuisine.
After dining at Vermilion last night (see the blog entry below), this morning we went to El Torito at the Brownsville Days Inn. The sign outside the restaurant just says “Mexican Food Restaurant,” but Sylvia insisted that its name was El Torito. Inside it was basically unadorned — a giant, ill-lit dining hall with some family pictures and string figures of guitars on the walls, but the breakfast tacos were like nothing I’d ever had.
Throughout the Tex-Mex world, flour tortillas, not corn ones, are the general rule, but in Brownsville the tortillas are massive, the size of dinner plates, and light and flaky like the rotis that Indians on the Malaysian island of Penang use to make murtabaks. Sylvia explained that on a hot griddle the dough, loaded with shortening, puffs up, allowing parts of the thin layers to toast to a yummy deep brown. The tortilla was folded in half over chorizo and eggs for me, chorizo with eggs and potatoes for Dick, and, for Sylvia, frijoles guisado, a tasty bean mush that was coarser and lighter than refried beans.
After two cups of good coffee we went to Las Palmas, a bakery at which the luxury items cost 75 cents. Sylvia loaded up a tray of stuff and, after an abortive visit to a tortilla factory that unbeknownst to our guide had just changed hands, we climbed into her car and drove across the bridge into the Mexican town of Matamoros.
We visited some of Sylvia’s favorite shops and then sat down to our first meal there, at Los Norteños, where the specialty was cabrito, or goat.
Sylvia suggested the plain, charcoal roasted cabrito al pastor, but I also was interested in the menu item that in English was called “goat in gravy” but in Spanish was cabrito en sangre. Goat in blood? The Bart Simpson in me couldn’t pass up anything with that name, especially if sangre were not merely a euphemism for gravy.
Sylvia asked and indeed the “gravy” was blood-based. Don’t get all creeped out, blood is a common thickening agent and adds a hearty richness to food (although, to be fair, the first, and probably only, time I saw it on the ingredient list when I was in cooking school — in a traditional civet de lapin, or rabbit stew — I was both delighted and a little scared).
It was served with frijoles charros, a simple bean soup that in this case was favored with fat back, cilantro and tomatoes.
After the cabrito en sangre, we also had a hunk of cabrito al pastor. Later in the day, as I was thinking about that straightforward, hearty smoked and grilled meat, I remembered a simple, narrow-minded woman at the James Beard House who, one night during a dinner there, saw fit to visit other tables and collect recommendations for restaurants in Barcelona. I recommended several places (Espai Sucre by reputation, Talaia Mar from past experience to sample some food by an Adria disciple), with my heartiest endorsement behind Rincón de Aragon for its roasted goat leg. She shuttered at my final suggestion and indicated that I was ridiculous. Hey, it was her loss. See if I ever share my civet de lapin with her.
Our excursion through Matamoros continued with a little more shopping, but not much, before we went to Los Portales, where I started with a chelada.
I started with a chelada at Los Norteños, too, but there it was simply beer with a squeeze of lime in a tall, salt-rimmed glass. At Los Portales it was a solid two fingers of lime juice in an ice-filled mug, served with a bottle of beer that was to be poured in the glass.
Then we had a picadillo — spiced ground beef and potatoes on a tortilla chip — more frijoles charros, and then their specialties, pollo and carne asada, which were straightforward grilled meats. Sylvia struck up a conversation with the table next to us and had foods she hadn’t tried before, like a sort of low-fat crispy (corn) tortilla made by simply toasting it on a comal.
Our neighbors started handing all of their food to Sylvia to try, and soon they were joined by César Rendón, a local politician whom I recognized from his campaign posters, which were all over town. I suppose I should have had my picture taken with him so you’d believe me.
Our last stop was a restaurant I won’t name because Sylvia and I both had the worst Margarita we had ever had in our lives there.
But it also introduced us to a puzzle that I shall explore in the next entry.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Border run

November 8

The fact that the IFEC conference was in Texas seemed like a good opportunity to take Sylvia Casares Copeland up on her offer to show me the area around her hometown of Brownsville.
Sylvia and I hit it off when we met back in July.
Her publicist, Dick Dace, was at the IFEC conference, and so this morning we climbed into his Ford Explorer and headed south.
We stopped briefly in San Antonio, so he could show me the Alamo and the Riverwalk, where we had beer and blue corn nachos at Zuni Grill. Then we stopped again in Oakville to eat at Van's Bar-B-Q, where I had pork ribs, chopped beef, sausage, potato salad, peppery pinto beans, peach cobbler and pecan pie (and a Diet Coke).
I was under the apparently false impression that Texans don’t barbecue pork much, and that their barbecued ribs are usually beef. I’m going to have to get out more.
We pulled into the La Quinta on the outskirts of Brownsville just before 7. We checked in, and Sylvia picked us up an hour later to take us to her favorite restaurant, Vermilion, where we ate nachos, shrimp tacos, beef and cheese enchiladas, fish ceviche and steak fajitas. I listened to a bit of gossip about Houston food writers, and we talked about societal ills. We also talked about Tex-Mex food, and the fact that American food snobs disparage it in favor of the food of "interior Mexico."
Why, Sylvia and I both wondered, do people fail to accord Tex-Mex cuisine the respect they will give to food from just a bit farther south.
Indeed, the United States is the birth place to three Mexican cuisines: Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex and Southwestern or New Mexican cuisine (that’s not to say cocina nueva Mexicana, but the cuisine of New Mexico). All three were developed largely by ethnic Mexicans living in the U.S. All three are distinct from one another and from cuisines that evolved in Mexico, and they all have rich and interesting heritages and are delicious (I admit that I like any cuisine if its food is prepared well). Sylvia argues that Tex-Mex is more accessible and has more universal appeal than the food of the Mexican interior. As a Coloradan, I grew up with the red chile/green chile food of New Mexico, and I wasn’t aware of the distinction between it and Tex-Mex until I left town.
I’ll no-doubt be learning more about it tomorrow.


November 8

The International Foodservice Editorial Council is a fairly small organization, and that is a testament to the fact that most publicists are not very good at their jobs.
Really, IFEC shouldn’t work, but here’s how it does: The organization centers around an annual conference, at the heart of which is a series of speed dates between foodservice trade publication editors and publicists who want our attention. We editors — from competing publications, mind you — sit at tables in a single room, one editor per table. Every ten minutes a different PR team comes to our table and talks to us about their clients and how they might fit in our publications. Notes are jotted, a bell rings, and they move to their next scheduled speed date. This goes on for a total of seven-and-a-half hours over two or three days. Then everybody goes out and eats and drinks and tours the city and shops or does whatever else they want to do, having, in the course of a couple of days, done what probably couldn't have been accomplished in a year of phone calls and e-mails.
As in every organization, IFEC has a few jerks in it, but the extraordinary thing is that they don’t behave like jerks at the conference. It is the least political organization I’ve ever seen. It’s all run by our executive director and her assistant, with various other tasks being carried out by member-volunteers. We have a silent auction at the conference at which tens of thousands of dollars are raised for scholarships which we give to students who want to be in foodservice communications.
Why every food and restaurant publicist on earth does not join IFEC is beyond me. I’ve asked quite a few publicists to join. Some do. Some send in their membership check to please me (as if I care; I don’t) but don't go to the conference. A few go to the conference and thank me afterwards. Most ignore me, maybe because they think I'm telling them a fairytale about a magical Brigadoon-like paradise that materializes once a year for a few days where everyone gets along and dances amid butterflies as ponies prance by.
And to be fair, the conference isn’t paradise. This year it was in Austin, Texas, at the Omni Hotel, where one of the elevators was broken and the staff seemed unclear on how to set up a buffet properly. And the tours through the hill country outside of Austin were a tad long. But we still got a lot done, and in the evenings we went out and danced and drank and enjoyed Austin’s nightlife. And I met with a whole bunch of publicists for ten minutes each and got a lot of work done.
I'm not going to tell you everything I did in Austin, or even everything I ate, partly because I don’t have time and partly because I don’t want anyone to get sued or sent to jail.
I will report that one highlight of my stay was the Ms. Gay Austin competition, during which one entertainer sat on the floor of the stage and ate a hero sandwich.
I will also report that Todd Downs, chef extraordinaire for commodity boards, is going to open his own restaurant, Bourbon Street Hideaway, in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Todd bought me a Jäger Bomb; it was my first and last.)
And I will mention one dinner, for the kids.
I and a number of other editors, and some publicists, ate at Ventana, the Texas Culinary Academy’s restaurant, at which we ate food prepared and served by students Greg Anderson, John Crowley, Brian Dillon, Michael Fuller, Paul Heffley, Jason Hunter, Jacqueline Jones, David Medina, Adam Reson, Thomas Riland, Charles Stampley, Joyce Stanek and Anne Taylor, under the direction of chef Robert Brady.
As we sipped Paul Cheneau Cava, we ate:
An amuse-bouche of creamy butternut squash mousse with a Texas pecan crumble and sweet potato gaufrette
With a Napa Valley Hall Sauvignon Blanc we had:
Baby arugula dalad with poached Bartlet pears, toasted walnuts, olive oil and American grana cheese
A pan-seared dayboat scallop over mascarpone polenta with green asparagus, white truffle foam and fried spinach.
Then we started drinking a gravity Hills Killer Climb Syrah from Paso Robles, and ate:
Roasted centercut beef tenderloin with portobello mushroom ragoût, port veal stock reduction, creamy gorgonzola and a walnut persillade
Assorted BelGioioso cheeses
Cream ppuffls filled with vanilla bean ice cream, hot chocolate sauce and chopped, roasted walnuts (right, profiteroles)

Sunday, November 04, 2007


November 4

Chandler Burr was just in Santa Fe, doing one of a series of scent dinners that he’s doing across the country, working with chefs who prepare meals to go with various perfumes and other aromas that he presents to guests. They seem to be going well. Next he’s off to Dallas and Mexico for some reason, but he was in town long enough for us to stop by Bún last Friday.
Bún is pronounced “boon” and is also the name for thin rice noodles. So it’s a little like naming a restaurant Phở (pronounced like the French word feu, or like fur if you don’t pronounce the ‘r’), which as you may know is a Vietnamese noodle soup and quite a common name for Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. It’s the latest restaurant of Michael Bao Huynh, who also owns Bao 111 and is a partner with Drew Nieporent in Mai House.
I sampled a red wine I hadn’t tried, but mostly I drank crémant d'Alsace rosé while Chandler and I caught up and sniffed each other (I was wearing Boucheron Pour Homme, which I really like — it smells to me like grapefruit mixed with lavender — and he had a variety of scents sprayed on different parts of his forearm). We got surprisingly few stares.
Chandler’s fun to eat Southeast Asian food with because he doesn’t get creeped out by exotic things.
To wit:

What we ate:
King crab spring rolls with pork, water chestnut and nuoc cham (a sauce made with fish sauce — nuoc mam in Vietnamese — vinegar, sugar etc.)
Seven-spice duck hearts and tongue with basil, chile, lime and salt
wild boar blood sausages with pickled green papaya and spicy ginger sauce
braised guinea hen with ginger, home-style sticky rice and duck sausage
A roll of beef, bún, arugula, pineapple, herbs and cham sauce
Bún with shrimp, Berkshire pork belly, cucumber and herb salad
Phở with thin sliced steak, sweet breads and anise beef broth

Friday, November 02, 2007

Crispy duck necks

October 31

Trestle on Tenth has an appetizer of crispy duck necks. They’re served with garlic and anchovy aïoli. My friend Birdman (aka professor David Krauss) said they were the best duck necks he’d ever had. I’d never had duck necks before.
I am always about 15 minutes late when meeting Birdman for dinner, and sometimes I worry that it’s some sort of sub-conscious passive aggressive thing I do with him. So this evening I was early, and I sampled two cocktails, the Cloister Fizz (Albert Mann Crémant d'Alsace, house-made bitters and Armagnac), and the Kirby (Plymouth Gin, Cucumber, Cynar, Martini Bianco and orange bitters), while waiting for Birdman, who I’m happy to say was about 15 minutes late.
Birdman had a beer, and then with our dinner, at the suggestion of chef Ralf Kuettel, we had a bottle of 2005 Franco Noussan Torrette from Italy’s Valle d'Aosta.
What else we ate:
Crépinette of pork shoulder with sautéed spinach
Lamb saddle with mustard greens and cipollini
Chattham cod wrapped in bacon on Savoy cabbage with porcini
Gratnéed Pizotel (a type of Swiss dumpling) with caramelized onions and Gruère
Roasted heirloom beets

St. Maure de Touraine
Mil Ovejas

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Peter Hoffman’s favorite color is green

October 31

Oh how I like new friends. Obviously old friends are great — you fit one another, understand each other’s patterns, operate in well-worn grooves of each other’s consciousnesses. But new friends have to stand out more or we wouldn’t bother to make them, or at least I wouldn’t. They have to break new ground, operate in different areas of interest, and so naturally they stimulate different parts of my brain. That’s fun.
My latest new friend is the fascinating and beautiful musician Kenyon Phillips, whom you might remember I met in the lobby of minor (but very nice) rock star Peter Yanowitz’s apartment, bonding over notional danger.
I’d hang out with Kenyon more, but most of my socializing goes on at restaurants, and Kenyon’s a vegetarian. I want anyone eating with me to appreciate a restaurant for all it’s worth, so for Kenyon, it must be strong in things without meat.
Peter Hoffman’s new restaurant, Back Forty, is all about using top-notch local stuff. Peter, who’s also the chef-owner of Savoy, is a former president of the Chefs Collaborative, which has the mission of supporting sustainable food, so he’d better be using top-notch local stuff, including good produce.
Kenyon and I spoke of many things over dinner, including the fact that he recently heard from Peter the minor (but very nice) rock star, who told him that he and his girlfriend Lisa Davies just got married. So, congratulations to them.
We also talked about family, and I mentioned that my eight-year-old nephew Harrison Thorn is intrigued by the fact that I know some of the Food Network stars. He tried to assess how well I knew them by approaching it from an eight-year-old’s perspective. He asked if I knew Bobby Flay’s favorite color, which to me was a brilliant question asked by the sort of shrewd journalist who knows that sometimes to get to the heart of a story you have to nibble at the edges.
“How well do you know Bobby Flay?” is easy to wiggle around. “Do you know his favorite color?” That’s a yes-or-no question. There’s no escape, and for an eight-year-old it tells you a lot, because of course eight-year-olds know their good friends’ favorite colors. If you don’t know their favorite color, then really, how good a friend could you be?
I told Harrison that grown-ups don’t actually talk much about favorite colors, but that if we did, I still wouldn’t know Bobby Flay’s.
So Kenyon and I wondered what Peter Hoffman’s favorite color was. Kenyon’s had always been blue on some level, but he wondered what that meant, since he pretty much only wears black, white and grey.
Mine is cobalt blue, although I rarely wear it (it’s a bit much) and have little of it in my life.
Peter Hoffman was wearing autumn colors — soothing greens and browns, maybe a bit of grey, including a thick cardigan sweater. Kenyon thought maybe his favorite color would be heather.
He came over to chat with us and to express pleasure at our dessert choices of seasonal pie and donuts. He said he almost named Savoy “Pie” because he loves it so much and insists that it will be on Back Forty’s menu every night. And he bought a doughnut machine for the restaurant because it seemed like the right thing to do.
I was going to ask him his favorite color but Kenyon beat me to it.
“The first thing that came to mind was green,” he said, reflecting on his reaction to the question just one second after Kenyon had asked it.
So there you have it.

What Kenyon and I ate:
Tempura battered delicata squash with smoked paprika mayo
Shaved fennel and pumpkin salad with lemon turmeric vinaigrette
Beluga lentils with tarragon mustard dressing
Green wheat with mint and yogurt sauce
Cauliflower gratin with aged Gruyère, leeks and toasted breadcrumbs
Apple pie with vanilla ice cream

What I ate but Kenyon didn’t:
Fingerling potatoes with lardo (lardo is rendered, usually seasoned, pork fat)
Whole grilled Catskill trout with cilantro salsa verde

I also drank a Concord Fizz (rum, grapes, lemon and soda) and The Back Forty (George Dickel Tennessee whisky, maple and lemon).

Mangosteens in New York?

October 31

My search for mangosteens in Chinatown proved fruitless (sorry), but I got there at around 7pm and most of the fruit stalls had shut down. I also realized that living in New York, where even in the farmers markets apples are available year-round (I hate that!), had stunted my awareness of seasonality. Mangosteens are hot-season fruit. Mangosteens in the United States are likely from Thailand, since we signed an agreement with them last year to get the ball rolling in importing them (and mangoes, pineapples, lychees, longans and rambutans). But first protocols had to be set up to make sure they were being imported pesticide free.
The hot season in most of Thailand (not in the south, where the monsoon winds are different) is March to May, so how could we have mangosteens in late October.
But the next day my colleague Sonya Moore said she found mangosteens in Chinatown and speculated that they had been frozen, although they tasted all right. I'm skeptical about mangosteens handling being frozen, but there are some really excellent flash-freezing techniques out there, so maybe it could work.
Anyway, I walked from Chinatown to Barfry, Josh DeChellis's new tempura joint, for a party that Starchefs was throwing to promote its new book.
I ended up chatting for awhile with Zarela Martinez, who is likely the most mature chef to be represented in the new book.
“Most of the chefs here are 25 years old,” she observed, pointing out that just because her restaurant just turned 20 doesn’t mean it’s not innovative.
“I’m always doing something new,” she said, and told me that her current obsession is her new web site, which is enjoying robust traffic.
She introdoced me to Larry Sloman, who was leaving the next day for Los Angeles to talk to Mike Tyson about writing his biography (he thinks Tyson was totally railroaded in the rape case).
After two rum punches and a toro taco, I left Barfry and headed to Midtown, where I met my paleontologist friend Birdman at Shelly’s Tradizionale, formerly Shelly’s Prime Steak.
That’s unusual these days, isn’t it? Changing a steakhouse to anything else.
But Shelly’s Tradizionale is an Italian fish restaurant and was having a special red-wine-with-fish dinner, although being classy, they started us off with a glass of Prosecco.

Here’s what else we ate and drank:
Poached flounder, roasted apple, hazlenut & walnut sauce, fig balsamic
fried littleneck clams with lemon aïoli
Manila clams, potato carpaccio, zucchini and radicchio
"Tagliatina di tonno” — Thinly sliced, seared Pacific yellowfin tuna with farro-orange-arugula salad.
2005 St. Michael Eppan Pinot Nero (Alto Adige)

Shelly’s risotto di mare
Non-vintage Lini Lambrusco (Emilia-Romagna)

Filleted whole Mediterranean sea bass roasted with potatoes, sea salt and olive oil
1996 Borgogna Barolo (Piemonte)

Kona kampachi with Sicilian globe eggplant, roasted peppers and olive salmoriglio
2004 Sandro Fay Valtellina Rosso (Lombardia)

Honeycrisp apple crostata
2006 Tintero Moscato d’Asti (Piemonte — and white, of course, but honeycrisp apples are not fish

Sorbetto al Cioccolato Alberti
2001 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mangosteens in New York!

October 29

I had a very interesting lunch at Café Nougatine — the more casual café in the anteroom of Jean-Georges — hosted by International Enterprise Singapore, whose job is to promote growth of Singaporean companies overseas.
They invited some very smart people to pick their brains about how to promote Singaporean food in the United States: Wendy Chan from Definity Marketing, who seemed to know a lot about retail — particularly supermarkets; Matthew Conway of Roland, an import company, who seemed quite plugged in to how to develop products for both retail and foodservice channels; Jeremiah Schnee of consulting firm Biscotti, Toback, RFR & Company, who knew all sorts of back-channel things about working with different distributors and retailers; and Lynn Teo of Apex-Pal, a Singaporean restaurant company looking to open a Singaporean-based kaiten sushi chain called Sakae Sushi in the US. Fun group. I learned a lot — among them that Singapore mai fun, a popular noodle dish in New York, doesn’t exist in Singapore.
“It’s like chop suey,” said Ted Tan, the deputy chief CEO of IES, who was in town with a couple of other colleagues, who also have the surname Tan. I’m investigating whether that’s a coincidence or not.
But what was of most interest to me was the fact that mangosteens are now available in Chinatown. If you live in New York and that doesn’t sound important to you, then it’s because you have never had a good mangosteen, which until recently weren’t being imported into the United States.
Fruit flavors are notoriously hard to describe. Generally one ends up comparing them to other fruits, and in this case I’d probably say it tastes like sweet cherry mixed with strawberry and Thompson seedless grapes. But that’s completely wrong. You’re just going to have to go and try one yourself, even though they’re like $9 a pound (I haven’t been to Chinatown to confirm any of this, so I can’t say for sure). The best way to open them is probably to remove the flower scars at the bottom of the fruit, stick your thumbs in the resulting hole and pull apart. Inside you'll see a burgundy-colored rind that is inedibly bitter. Avoid it; it tastes bad and stains like, well, just like you’d expect deep-burgundy colored fruit to stain. At the center will be segments of milky white fruit. One segment will probably be larger than the others and will have a seed in the middle that you don’t want to bite into. But definitely eat the fruit around it It should be quite sweet but also have a bright acidity, too.
I think I’ll try to go to Chinatown now.

What I ate:

Red oak lettuce, Brussels sprouts, bacon, lemon garlic dressing
Butter poached chicken breast, chipotle potatoes, Granny Smith apple, Niçoise olives
Gingerbread cake with walnut ice cream and roasted pears

Bar Boulud

October 29

Even at a construction site, Daniel Boulud knows how to throw a party. Or maybe it’s his publicist, Georgette Farkas (of the Alexander's Farkases) who knows. Hard to say.
At any rate, Gilles Verot, an award winning French charcutier whose honors include being declared France’s headcheese champion in 1997, has been hired as a consultant for Bar Boulud, Daniel’s latest venture which he hopes to open either in early December or early January. So for now pretty much the only distinguishing feature is an arched ceiling. The rest of it is pretty much open to the imagination (they had brought in a coat rack for party guests, though, a most welcome addition).
Monsieur Verot was in town to see how his protégé, Sylvain Casdon, who will be responsible for Bar Boulud's many pâtés and other charcuterie, was making out. Of course for him to do that, M. Casdon had to make a bunch of charcuterie, and someone had to eat it, so Georgette invited the food and wine media to check out the place.
She got a good turnout. Nilou Motamed of Travel + Leisure, who never comes to anything anymore (“I’m either editing or on TV,” she said, in a nice way), was there. So were New York magazine’s Gael Greene and GQ’s Adam Rapaport, and people from Food Arts and Wine Spectator and the Zagat Survey, and, well, me, of course, but I’ll go to anything. Good crowd. I caught up with my friend Robert Pincus and met his new daughter Lila and ate a bunch of different kinds of pâté and cheese while drinking obscure wines.
Bar Boulud is going to be a charcuterie, bistro and wine bar with a healthy cheese selection, too. The focus of the wines will be Burgundy and Rhone, since Daniel is from Lyon, plus wines using grapes from those regions (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, Viognier etc.). Other relatively obscure wines will be available, too.
The property has a massive basement, which will have three party rooms, a wine cellar and a gigantic kitchen (mammoth by New York restaurant standards).
Upstairs will have a 30-foot long bar and charcuterie case, banquettes and, in the back, a communal-dining table at which wine tastings also will be held.

Friday, October 26, 2007

high-end sashimi, and ramen

October 24

I popped my head into Megu in Midtown to sample a new tuna they’re serving. Kindai bluefin is named after Kinki University in Osaka, or Kinki Daigaku in Japanese. Kindai is a common nickname for the place. They have spent something like 37 years developing farming methods for bluefin, which unlike many other farm-raised fish must constantly keep moving, which means the areas in which they're raised have to be quite large.
Kindai start out in a facility on the island of Kyushu, but after a few months are moved to the warmer waters off of Okinawa. They are fed food that is closely monitored by the university, which says the fish are sustainable and even organic.
So I sampled akami, chu-toro and o-toro cuts of tuna both from Kindai and from wild Boston bluefin while making small talk with Megu midtown general manager Koichi Yokoyama.
Inevitably we spoke about Japanese food, and where to get it in New York. We shared observations of the ramen at a couple of wildly popular ramen places in the East Village. I'd only been to one of them. Koichi first spoke of the newer of the two and damned it with faint praise. "For me it’s okay,” he said, which from a Japanese person translates as “it’s barely edible.” I had only been at the older one, and we agreed that the broth of the ramen there was bland, and that the expensive pork used with it was not helpful.
He suggested I check out Minca in the East Village and Rokumeisha in the West Village for ramen. For soba: Soba Koh.
I decided that this evening was as good as any to have East Village ramen, so after sampling my sashimi, I high-tailed it to Minca, where I had their Minca ramen.

Here now is a picture of the Kindai at Megu. The akami, the cheapest cut, is in the front, garnished with a sprig of kinome, which is the plant of the sancho pepper. Then above that is some wakame seaweed. The chu-toro is on the right, garnished with hojiso, which are flowers of the shiso plant. To the left of that is o-toro, with a shiso leaf in the background and resting on shredded daikon. That's daikon on the far left, too

Molyvos turns 10

October 23

Did you know that the almonds of Sicily have such tough shells that you can't even crack them with a nutcracker?
I learned that at Molyvos’s 10th anniversary party this evening, which was celebrated with a cocktail party featuring samplings of wine and food from different regions of Greece — the Peloponnesus, Crete, Lesbos and Macedonia.
Arlyn Blake, who lives to introduce people to one another, introduced me to a Sicilian almond grower whose business card I seem to have lost, but he said they’re working on promoting the distinctiveness of Sicilian almonds, which he said are more intensely flavored than the California ones I recently became acquainted with. That would make sense, as the yield of the Sicilian olives is much lower.
I spent much of the evening catching up with freelance writer Francine Cohen. I explained to her my belief that Jewish weddings benefit very much from having Greeks and WASPs at them. The Greeks are necessary because their dances are very similar to Jewish ones, but with the great advancement that Greeks see no need to dance in a closed circle. Jews, especially at weddings when doing traditional East European Jewish dances, stay cramped together in a circle. Greeks know to break the circle and lead dancers into loops and spirals not unlike conga lines. It's much better.
WASPs are necessary for the traditional lifting of the bride and groom while they’re seated in chairs, because wouldn’t you rather be lifted by some nice corn-fed WASPs than by asthmatic accountants?
The music at the party made me want to do a bottle dance, but I did not get drunk enough to attempt it.