Tuesday, January 30, 2007


January 30

I’ve interviewed Varietal’s pastry chef, Jordan Kahn, twice now, but I hadn’t actually eaten in the restaurant until last night. I ate with luminary publicist Irene Holiastos.
(Okay, maybe she’s not a luminary, but neither am I, and that didn’t keep some nice bloggers from referring to me as one.)
At the end of the meal, management chatted with her about the restaurant’s first full-fledged review, which will be coming out in this week’s Time Out New York. Their fingers are crossed.
Other reviews are destined to follow; apparently three big critics were all in the restaurant on the same night recently, no-doubt trying to be anonymous. That’s so cute of them.
During dinner, Irene came up with suggestions of things for me to do when my nieces and nephew visit this April. I doubt I’ll be doing much with Alia, since she was just born in July, but I’m working on a day of fun with the other two young’uns, aged 7 and 11.
Irene said we for sure had to go to the Empire State Building and agreed with me that Dylan’s Candy Bar and/or Serendipity were in order. She also suggested a trip to FAO Schwartz, and a tram ride to Roosevelt Island.
I'm open to other suggestions (Tahirah and Harrison, if you’re reading this, that means you).

What I ate and drank:
A little spoon of pork loin with walnut, apple and dried sage
Fennel pollen-seared Nantucket Bay scallops with frozen white grapefruit tuile, microfennel, American lumpfish caviar and crème fraîche
Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition
Dizy, Vallée de la Marne, N.V.

Prosciutto-wrapped quial stuffed with grits, baby arugula and black truffle salad
2004 Côtes de Reigny Sancerre

Pork belly braised in apple cider, tobaco, cedar and pork stock, and pan-roasted pork loin over braised collard greens and celery root purée
2004 Tenuto Roca Dolcetto d’Alba

Chocolate gel with encapsulated pear purée, green pear sorbet, Poire William rock candy, mastic foam, dehydrated chocolate mousse, maitake mushroom toffee and crystalized shiitakes

The wines all were selected by server Adam Schuman, who also recommended a wine that would “change your life”:
2003 Nicolas Joly Coulé de Serrant, Savennières

He didn’t pour me any, presumably because Varietal sells it for $160. I have no gripes about that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bill Yosses' new job

Back in November I repeated a rumor I'd heard that pastry chef Bill Yosses was doing something at the White House and wrote that I should probably investigate that further, which I didn't do.
But my colleague Paul Frumkin just learned that he is the White House's new pastry chef.
“Chef Yosses has impressed us from the start with his original and delicious creations. He has a light touch with desserts, and the enthusiasm with which he approaches his profession makes him a real asset for all of us in the White House," First Lady Laura Bush was quoted by a press release from her office as saying.
Bill Yosses was the pastry chef at Bouley Bakery before cooking at Citarella, the restaurant, first as executive pastry chef and then as executive chef after Brian Bistrong left and became chef at The Harrison. Most recently he was working on the menu at the Westport Playhouse. He also owns Boi, a Vietnamese restaurant in Manhattan on E. 44th.
He’s big on incorporating Asian flavors into his desserts.
Desserts he’s made in the past include a Pear Dauphinois, made by layering paperthin layers of pear (soaked in pear juice and pear brandy) with Fourme d’Ambert cheese and baking it until it collapses and melds together. At boi he served coconut tapioca garnished with diced mango, toasted coconut, basil seeds and pomegranate molasses.
At Bouley bakery he used to make walnut-saffron bread

He looks so happy in this picture, and yet so blue. I'm going to have to work on that coloring.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Patroon’s new chef

January 26

Patroon in New York City has a new chef, Bill Peet. He has been cooking in restaurants for 35 years, since 1972, and spent 15 of those under the legendary André Soltner at Lutèce. More recently he was a chef and partner at Pair of 8s.
And that's usually all I have space to say about a new chef, except here on my blog, where space obviously is not so precious.
So let's talk about Bill a little bit more.
He actually arrived at Patroon in November and has been working on the menu since then. "It's about 75 percent right now," he said.
New appetizers include a $16 dish of three prawns, with their heads on, cold-smoked over applewood, grilled and served with mâche salad and roasted tomato vinaigrette.
He also has a $14 dish of Manila clams and Prince Edward Island mussels braised with shallots, white wine and linguiça, served with grilled country bread.
His version of a crab cake is a 50/50 mix of jumbo lump crab and diced sea scallops, bound with aïoli and just a bit of bread crumbs. He also coats it with bread crumbs, sautés it and serves it with a green apple and celery rémoulade with hazelnut oil.
That's 16
A new main course is dark beer-braised beef short ribs. He removes the ribs from their bones and then rolls the meat into the form of a filet. He serves that with carrots that he roasts on a bed of rock salt, which intensifies the flavor by draining out some of the liquid, as well as whipped potatoes. At service he sautés the carrots with butter, salt and pepper and tops the dish with baby celery leaves. That's $29.
He also serves a pan-seared New Zealand venison loin which he has marinated, generally overnight, with thyme, cracked black pepper and olive oil. It's served with braised red cabbage and a sweet potato puree that he's been making for years: He roasts the potatoes and scoops out the flesh, and then adds a roasted banana to that and puts that mixture through a food mill. He flavors that with an infused maple syrup that he makes by roasting bananas, an orange and a vanilla bean and storing them in the syrup. That's $32.
Bill says he likes working at Patroon, because "it’s built to be a restaurant.” It has a back stairway, a banquet room, a roof that’s open in the nice weather, “and it’s just laid out correctly. It’s great.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ad Hoc

January 23

Last Saturday, my one free night during the Worlds of Healthy Flavor conference, I had dinner at Thomas Keller’s new place, Ad Hoc. He named it that because he got the space and temporarily turned it into a restaurant before he really knew what he was going to do with it. But what he turned it into is doing so well that he has decided to leave it as it is: a single prix-fixe menu with a modest wine list.
I ate alone and didn’t bring any reading materials (it would have been too dark to read anyway). Often in situations like that it’s a lot of fun to eavesdrop on the conversations at other tables, but they were not interesting, so instead I kept the menu and analyzed the list of wines by the glass.
I used my juice to get my reservation, so they knew who I was and that I was coming, and I left it up to them to pair wines with my main course and cheese (I would have had them pair wine with each course, but I was driving).
So, after a salad of frisée and roasted beets with shaved fennel, radishes, herbs and raspberry vinaigrette, I was to have Liberty Farms Duck Breast over dried Turkish apricots, figs, cranberries, sultanas and mixed nuts, with a side of farro and arugula.
That was to be followed by Emmi’s Swiss-aged Gruyère with Marshall Farm’s orange blossom honey and Granny Smith apples.
I decided that how they chose the wine to go with my duck would say less about their ability to pair wines with food than it would about their opinion of me. Really good service, after all, is assessing the desires of the guests and fulfilling them before they even know they want them (I learned that at Azar’s Big Boy in Denver).
And the wine one chooses can speak volumes.
The choices:
Fogdog Pinot Noir from Sonoma — To be ordered by someone who was captivated by Sideways; one of the most expensive choices, but probably a bad one for duck, so let’s move on.
The Shiraz from Western Australia would be big, loud and ordered by someone trying to be trendy but three years behind.
The Argentine Malbec would be selected for someone who wants to go off the beaten path, but doesn’t really know how to.
The Spanish Rioja — trendy but tasteful
The Napa Cabernet Franc — the choice of the effete intellectual (and what I would have ordered)
The Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon — bigger, louder and stupider than the Shiraz.

For me, they chose the Oberon Cab (Ooh snap!).

Of course, that shows what I know, because it went perfectly with the duck. All of the others would have been too light, even the Shiraz which, my server explained, being from Western Australia would have been a bit too soft for my fruity duck.

So he picked the biggest red for my duck. Where then, do you go for the cheese?
Would you believe a 2005 Alpha Domus Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (no, not Marlborough; Hawke’s Bay)? The choice was between that or a Tawny Port, my server said. The cheese brought out the wine’s sweetness, and the wine in turn cleaned off the palate between bites.

Dessert was a warm chocolate brownie with caramel sauce and whipped cream, and my server talked me into letting him give me a bit of late harvest Zinfandel from Sonoma with it. I nonetheless made it from Yountville back to St. Helena safe and sound.

Quotes of the weekend, and a recipe

January 23
I spent today opening mail, responding to e-mails and so on because I spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Worlds of Healthy Flavors conference and its coda, a meeting called Produce First! [sic]
Yesterday I spent driving from St. Helena to Oakland and then flying to New York.
I mentioned those confereneces two blog entries ago, and I'll probably put most of the salient points into my next column in Nation's Restaurant News, but for you, dear blog reader, are the best lines from the meeting.

Karen MacNeil, on the aroma in Pinot Noir wines described as animale: “The slightly sweaty, sexy smell of men who have run one mile, but not five.”

Rick Bayless on Tex-Mex: “That comforting food with melted cheese.”

Suvir Saran, explaining that “curry” means a whole range of stews, not the curry powder, which was invented by the British: “If you hate curry, blame the British, if you love curry, thank us and call it something else.”

Suvir Saran, on how little Americans know about India, but really talking generally: “The ignorance of people actually educates.”

Suvir Saran, again: “Asafoetida is nature’s Beano.”

And now, a recipe for terrific batter for making frito misto, or really batter-frying anything (you might not think that this is the best recipe to take away from a conference on healthful food, but one point at the conference was that everything is fine in moderation, except for trans fats):

3 cups cake flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
Club soda

Mix the dry ingredients and then stir in the club soda until the mixture is the texture of heavy cream.

And that’s it!

publicist wanted

January 23

Got a call yesterday from the owner of Lewis & Neale, a nice PR company that represents things like highbush blueberries, Prosciutto di Parma and the National Dairy Board. They’re looking for someone who knows about food and has experience at a PR agency. If that sounds like you, and you know how to contact people like me without irritating us, give them a call. Perhaps you’ll be able to lead me on a trip to look at the Mexican avocado harvest someday.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


January 21

You might remember Adam Sherrett, the Shecky's nightlife editor, from my last blog entry.
Well I ran into him the following night, too. That was the last night I was in New York before coming to Napa Valley for the Worlds of Healthy Flavors conference at the CIA.
In my kind, gentle world, the CIA stands for The Culinary Institute of America (and the NRA is the National Restaurant Association). The CIA has two campuses, one in the Hudson Valley, and one here. Worlds of Healthy Flavors is an extension of its Worlds of Flavors franchise, which is why it's not a very good name (how can you say that a flavor is or isn't healthy?).
The conference is an attempt to instruct the foodservice world about how to make its food better for customers, and to do it in a way that will induce customers to eat it.
You see, it is a well-established fact that most restaurant-goers will shy away from anything that's supposed to be good for them. Really. I'm not being flip. As much as Americans say in surveys that they would like to eat more healthfully, put a little heart-healthy symbol next to a menu item, or suggest in the wording of the item that it might be good for you, and the sales actually will drop, almost invariably.
So The CIA has started to use the term "stealth health." Through stealth health, you just make the food better for people without telling them. So you might switch from a white bun to a whole-wheat bun, but instead of marketing it as a whole-wheat bun, you call it a honey-ale whole-wheat bun (assuming you have flavored it with honey and ale, of course).
But why bring in "worlds" when it comes to stealth health? Because anything that's good for you on a menu has to go toe-to-toe with the burger and fries that invariably also are going to be on the menu. It has to be more appealing than that familiar burger. Are you going to do that with a boneless skinless chicken breast and cottage cheese? Of course not.
Ah, but what about a spicy Thai salad, or a vibrant ceviche? What about starting with something, anything, that doesn't have the stigma in mainstream Americans' eyes of being good for you?
A bunch of chefs came to talk about the food from countries in which they were expert. Nancy Harmon Jenkins came to talk about southern Italy. Diane Kochilas flew in to talk about the food of Greece. Suvir Saran was there to extol the glory of the Indian Subcontinent. Mai Pham spoke about Vietnamese and Thai food, and Rick Bayless spoke and did a demonstration and spoke again about Mexican food.
They all talked, in one way or another, about how the produce in those regions was adored by the people and eaten in great quantities and with great joy.
But what, you ask, does that have to do with your last night in New York and running into Adam Sherrett?
Adam and I both were at the opening of Nurse Bettie, a new Bettie-Page-themed bar on the Lower East Side. It was hot and steamy inside, almost to the point of torture. That was perhaps appropriate for a bar named for a pin-up girl who often posed as a dominatrix, but I would have turned around and left had I not run into a couple of people I liked and decided, on Adam's recommendation, to try the signature cocktail made with gin and pomegranate juice.
The bartenders were a little overwhelmed and I was not inclined to work too hard to get their attention, but I was aided by two women camped at the bar. One was an Australian who worked for her country's labor unions or some such thing, and the other, the Australian's husband's cousin, was a writer, mostly about fashion.
The writer wrangled a drink from the bartenders while I quizzed the Australian about her impression of the United States.
She observed, as I often do, that our produce isn't very good.
I agreed and explained that for decades we bred produce to ship well rather than to taste good and that, despite the best efforts of a growing number of small niche farmers, our fruits and vegetables continued, for the most part, to look pretty and taste like nothing.
We agreed that this was unfortunate.
That conversation was fresh in my mind when I heard Rick Bayless talk about the produce of Mexico and how we should emulate the dishes made from them.
Well, sure we should, except we don't have their produce.
I groused quietly about this for most of the conference, which happened to be a very good conference with lots of interesting science about trans-fats and carbohydrates (including a defense, or at least non-vilification, of high-fructose corn syrup) and other nutritional things, interspersed with cool cooking demonstrations and tastings.
Most of the foodservice chefs attending were from schools -- colleges where the students actually are in to eating more healthfully, and elementary schools where the food can be more easily foisted on the kids (although it's far, far more complex than that).
There were some notable exceptions, such as chefs from Red Lobster and Denny's and Au Bon Pain, and the biggest exception of all, Dan Coudreaut from McDonald's.
Dan's an extremely nice guy, but he nonetheless was not forthcoming when I quizzed him about McDonald's next produce offering. Darn it!
The conference ended yesterday, and today it was followed by another one-day program about produce. I was delighted by our last discussion of the day, which was a panel of foodservice operators talking about their experiences in selling more produce-oriented food. I was delighted because a minor rebellion occurred during the question-and-answer period. The chefs said using more produce would be great, if only it tasted like something, if it weren't picked so early that it would never ripen, if their staff had the training to handle what ripe produce they did get, and so on and so on.
The produce at the conference itself was terrific, of course, but we are in Napa Valley, at the CIA.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Basso 56

January 17

I go to press dinners thrown by publicist Susan Rike because, well, it's free dinner, and because sometimes I meet interesting people at them. Her approach to introducing media to her restaurants is to host dinners of, say, between three and ten journalists at one table. She'll generally hold three such dinners over the course of two or three weeks.
I knew most of the people at last night's dinner at Basso 56 — a new contemporary Italian place near Patsy's, the old-school Italian-American landmark that was Frank Sinatra's favorite restaurant and a good place to go for a veal chop. But I hadn't met Adam Sherrett. He's a nightlife editor of Shecky's, a Michigan native who arrived in New York last August by way of San Diego.
Susan began to tell the story of Basso 56's owners, husband-and-wife team Paolo and Ellen Catini. They recently closed Basso Est on the Lower East Side and opened the new, larger restaurant which Susan said was in a less out-of-the-way location.
"Wait, wasn't Basso Est on Houston and Orchard?" Adam asked.
Houston and Orchard is right on the border between the Lower East Side and the East Village, so if you're a young New York hipster it's about as good a place as any to mark as the center of the universe. But apparently the Catinis were looking for a different crowd. And Midtown West, between the theater district and Lincoln Center certainly is a fine place to attract diners. Management said they were drawing more neighborhood foodies than pre-theater folks, just as they intended.
Paolo Catini hails from the Italian region of Abruzzo.
What we ate:

Bruschetti with burrata and speck
non-vintage Prosecco Crede, Bisol, (Veneto)

Gamberi e Canellini (shrimp and Tuscan white beans) with rosemary and olive oil
Fagottino alla polpa di aragosta (crêpes filled with confit of lobster, with tomato and chive velouté)
2005 Kerner, Abbazzia di Novacella, (Alto Adige)

Saffron risotto with asparagus and quail
Primitivo, Ca’ntele, 2004 (Puglia)

Filetto di dentice in Brodetto (striped bass) in white wine and lemon broth with fennel and Manila clams
Grillo, Firriato, 2005 (Sicily)

Petto d'Anatra in Crescione (roasted duck breast) with balsamic reduction, sautéed watercress and dried figs
Nebbiolo delle Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2004 (Piedmont)

Assorted desserts, including a crepe in chocolate syrup and a sort of hazelnut napoleon.
Brachetto d’Acqui, Marenco (Piedmont)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dining with Chandler

January 16

Chandler Burr likes Thai food, speaks Japanese and, unlike many of my other friends, quite often is free for dinner at the last minute. So I’ve been seeing a fair amount of him lately.
You might know Chandler from his previous appearances in this blog* *, or, more likely as a rather famous writer and journalist in his own right.
Chandler's fun because he has the usually charming tendency of speaking his mind. When I grew a goatee recently I knew that if he didn’t like it he would declare it a travesty and strongly encourage me to remove it (it turns out he approved of it). He’s also really smart and makes entertaining statements about things.
As the New York Times’ scent critic, he pays attention to the way things smell. So as I downed hunks of onion at Pam Real Thai a couple of weeks ago he expressed wonder that Thais ever manage to reproduce given their breath (he rejects as preposterous the notion that if everyone has similar breath, they don’t notice that it’s bad).
The topic of politics came up earlier this week when we were eating with my friend Yishane Lee at Tigerland — a place in the East Village that serves Thai and Vietnamese food using many organic things and Berkshire pork, and featuring house-made Asian sodas and an all-New York wine list. Chandler said the Democrats were now the conservatives and the Republicans were Marxists (he was referring to the social engineering being attempted in Iraq).
Last night, for no reason in particular, I was in a lousy mood as I shared a taxi with Iron Chef judge Akiko Katayama. We were going from from an olive oil launch party at Ureña to Sushi of Gari, where I was meeting Chandler for dinner.
Sushi of Gari's publicists like to invite a bunch of journalists to dinner over the course of a couple of nights. The result is fairly festive, since New York food writers tend to know one another and to get along reasonably well. So on the way to hooking up with Chandler, who had seated himself in the back next to freelance writer Jean Tang and a friend of hers visiting from Hawaii, I said hello to Andrea Strong and her nice boyfriend whose name escapes me at the moment, and James Cury, Time Out New York’s Eat Out editor, who was dining at the bar with his mother.
I recommend getting to know James. He’s a really nice guy, and good at his job, too.
I had been repressing my foul mood until I sat down with Chandler, and then complained freely between Chandler's converations in Japanese with the chef. Chandler said my bad mood was kind of a refreshing change from my usual pollyannalike demeanor. That might have been true.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

good turn-out

January 9

Chef Zak Pelaccio, of 5 Ninth and Fatty Crab, was playing with some handheld device as I saw him outside New York’s International Culinary Center. That’s the new name for the building that houses the French Culinary Institute. The people in charge there just expanded their territory from 30,000 to 70,000 square feet and added the Italian Culinary Academy. Today they were celebrating the new space with a demonstration by apparently famous chef Massimiliano Alajmo of Michelin-three-star restaurant Le Calandre in Padua.
Zak wasn't the only important chef at the event. I walked into the auditorium and immediately saw Christopher Lee of Gilt, and then Brad Farmerie of Public and Dante Bocuzzi of Aureole.
Marc Vetri from Vetri came up from Philadelphia. He said he had eaten at Le Calandre and wanted to meet the chef.
Fabio Trabocchi from Maestro came up from DC (McLean, Va., actually). Cesare Casella from Maremma was there, but he's dean of the new Italian school, so that's no shock. And Alain Sailhac and André Soltner are affiliated with the school, so their presence was expected. Nils Noren's, too. But it was still nice to see them.
Wylie Dufresne slipped in around the time when the presentation started, or at least that’s when I noticed him.
Writers were there, too, like Rozanne Gold, Malachy Duffy, Mitchell Davis and the inimitable Christine Muhlke.
Regina Schrambling was there, too.
“Late night?” she asked me. I don't know what might have been wrong with how I looked — I had even done extra grooming of my new goatee that morning — and I didn't bother to ask. Instead I just sat between her and food historian Meryle Evans and quietly cracked jokes with Regina as Alajmo gave his spiel.
Tom Colicchio walked in at some point, and when we went upstairs for a food sampling, restaurateur Tony May was talking to the chef. Jacques Pépin wandered in later on.

All for the opening of a cooking school. Impressive.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Death n Co.

January 4

On a quiet night of a decidedly bad week at Nation's Restaurant News, I decided to follow the lead of eater.com and check out Death & Co., a new bar in the East Village.
The name refers to Prohibition-era posters that were disguised as temperance propaganda. According to my bartender, Marshall, they depicted the road to Hell, paved with different types of alcohol, but were in fact maps to speakeasies. It's amazing, the creativity that springs from repression.
The bar's sipping-spirits list is interesting, with more American ryes than Scottish single malts and more tequilas than ryes. I sampled three cocktails, made respectively with rye, tequila and a rum from Martinique (I'd go into more detail, but I'm writing this after having drunk three stiff cocktails).
Marshall shook the drinks that contained fruit and stirred the ones that didn't, following tradition and logic while flouting James Bond. I posited my theory that perhaps 007 wanted his Martinis shaken and not stirred because, as a spy, he wanted to remain relatively sober, and shaken drinks would result in more melted ice and thus contain more water. It's a plausible theory, but it does ascribe a whimpy quality to Mr. Bond that belies his character.
I sampled some food, too. I was leaning toward mac & cheese, but the waitress convinced me to try the evening's special, bouillabaisse.
I was alone and the bouillabaisse was clearly meant to be shared. It arrived on a marble tray in six ceramic mini-goblets, each in front of its own baguette crouton topped with crab, Dijon mustard and rouille. I said it looked Gothic, and one of the bartenders commented that many customers were describing various elements in the bar as Gothic. He suggested that perhaps they should have a guy in the bar dressed all in black with long, black bangs and on the sound system, instead of the jazz that we were listening to, they should play The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees.
I said Gothic was different from Goth.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Look Ma, no keyboard!

NRN's fledgling podcast site has been updated and I have a couple of new columns there that you might enjoy.