Thursday, May 31, 2007


May 31,

Okay, let’s start with news, so those of you not interested in my social life can move on:
Lulzim Rexhepi isn’t at Xing anymore. He’s back working with his old boss and friend Ian Chalermkittichai at Kittichai, where he’s executive sous chef.
Shirley Lew, who was Lulzim’s #2 at Xing, is the chef there now.
Actually, she has been since Lulzim aka Lou left in, um, July.
Someone was not completely honest with me when he said the chef was still at Xing. Either that or he meant Shirley was still there. That’s possible.
That’s what I learned last night while dining with Sarah Chang, Ian’s girlfriend and, like so many people I meet these days, a graduate of Tufts University.
Sarah and I have more in common than that. We both studied Chinese and lived in Thailand. We also are both fond of Ian, but in different ways.
We ate at Ian’s restaurant, but he was upstairs, working at a party on the rooftop of the 60 Thompson hotel. No one seemed to know who was at the party, only that many of them were wearing suits.
Sarah gave me the low-down on the inner workings of the company that owns Kittichai, which I will not be sharing with you. We also talked about her and Ian's Jack Russell terrier, Kasper. Kasper recently was amusing himself by gnawing on the handles of Ian’s sushi knives. Vet bills are climbing.
Sarah spent time in Thailand on a grant to study overseas Chinese businesses, something she was able to do by befriending the Chearavanont family, which of course owns the Bangkok-based multinational conglomerate Charoen Pokhpand. If you don’t know how important that is, I can’t explain it to you.

So we spoke of many things, including overrated New York Asian-fusion chefs and the fact that Kittichai’s main eating utensil is a pair of chopsticks, despite the fact that Thais don’t eat with chopsticks (unless of course they’re eating Chinese food which, you know, we do too).
She said Ian would like to do away with the chopsticks, but customers keep asking for them.
Just so you know: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese use chopsticks for everyday eating. No one else does. In most of Southeast Asia, especially the rural parts, the right hand is the preferred eating utensil. In most of the rest of the region, especially in urban areas, a spoon and fork are used: The fork is used to push food onto the spoon, which then conveys it to the mouth.
But Sarah and I used the chopsticks, because to ask for a spoon and fork would have been obnoxious. One can only go so local without becoming a jerk.

What we ate and drank:

Kobe beef carpaccio with sukiyaki sauce
pork "tonnato" (actually very thin roasted pork topped with Thai citrus and aromatics)
tuna "phad thai" in which the tuna was cut like the noodles and it was all dressed in a peanut sauce and garnished with bean sprouts
2004 Domaine Hering Pinot Gris (Alsace)

crispy duck and pickled watermelon salad
seared scallops on gai lan (or phak khanna, if you want to do it in Thai)
2003 Domaine Réaltière Cabernet-Syrah blend (Provence)

Chicken khao soi
Line-caught mahi-mahi with a light tom som sauce

Crios de Susana Balbo Cabernet, Mendoza Valley (Argentina)

"Sankaya" pandan white chocolate sauce with seasonal fruit (basically fondue)
Jasmine flan on sweet-and-sour fruit salad with jasmine rice ice cream
2005 Patrizi Muscato d’Asti

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What do you mean, pronounce chrysanthemum?

May 30

This is how you pronounce chrysanthemum: Chris Anne thug (but don't pronounce the 'g') mumm. At least that's as close as I can get without having a schwa key.
Someone typed the words "pronounce" and "chrysanthemum" in Google and were led here to Food Writer’s Diary. I hope he or she tries again, because now the answer is here, waiting.
Bruni? Why that’s brew knee.
Prosecco is pronounced pro seck oh, basically.
Mechoui? Hmm. Now that you mention it, I'm not sure. I'd try muh chewy.
I know what web sites lead people here. Some people come on their own. Some come from or my fellow NRN bloggers Peter Romeo and Gregg Cebrzynski. Others are led here by my friends at Eater, Grub Street, Snack, The Daily Fresser, Allergic Girl and others. Andy Battaglia and Michaelangelo Matos are kind enough to have permanent links here, making me wonder if I should be writing more about music. My old college friend Shane Curcuru has been linking to me quite a little bit, too.
But mostly people come here from word searches. They seem to want to know if the people I write about have significant others or do their jobs well or if I have pictures of them wearing jeans. Some come here because of typos (unless people go to streep clubs to watch Meryl Streep movies).
I wish you would just e-mail me (at and ask. I’d be happy to try to help you out, although I’ll tell you right now I’m not going to spread rumors about Zak Pelaccio’s marital status. I will say, however, that I think Richard Grausman is doing a very good job.
Tomatoes? Yin, I'm pretty sure.
Of course some keyword searches just leave me flummoxed. “Mother” and “seduction” in the same search window? I’m speechless.
Here are some recent searches that brought people to Food Writer’s Diary:

Richard grausman not doing a good job
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a duck walked a store. he asked the manager if they had any chap stick

mother seduction
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an herb called kinome
fashion week food diaries
comedy dialogs with compliments in restaura
drink called vespa james bond
motley fool mandarin oriental
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Prosecco walnut oil vinaigrette
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pronounce Bruni

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pitcher plants in the bathroom!

May 25

One of the nice things about going to the Restaurant Show is that it’s in Chicago, which is arguably the best eating city in the United States. One of the drawbacks is that during the Show a lot of restaurateurs are in town and want to check out all the cool restaurants, making it hard to get a reservation. One of the nice things about being a food writer is that if you express an interest in eating at a restaurant, its owners will likely find a way to accommodate you. One of the drawbacks of being a food writer for Nation’s Restarant News during the Show is that you have many work-related obligations and rarely a free meal during which to explore.
However, I managed to weasel my way out of going to the annual Gold and Silver Plate banquet on Monday and instead went to Alinea.
I had actually planned to weasel out of the banquet weeks in advance and had reserved a table for one at Grant Achatz’s restaurant.
Yes, that's right, a table for one. Alinea’s a place of experimental, experiential, whimsical and arguably bizarre food and I wasn’t interested in finding someone to dine with just so I could spend the night explaining the food to them, worrying that they found it too weird or trying to keep them patient for the four hours or so it would take to work our way through the 24-course meal. Dining experiences like that aren’t for everyone, and they require the right companion. Although I have a couple of friends in New York whom I’d trust unequivocally to sit through it with me (actually, one: Andy Battaglia) finding the right person in Chicago and then trying to find a time when we were both free for dinner during the Show was a task up to which I simply wasn’t.
I made the right decision, because there were times during the meal when I had to close my eyes to focus my attention on my senses of taste and smell to properly appreciate what was going on. I couple of times I involuntarily clenched my left fist as unexpected flavor combinations rushed across my tongue, or as my mouth and sinus passages filled with molecule clusters they had never experienced. The crispy monkfish not only made me grin, but affected parts of my body that food shouldn’t.
I had my notebook with me, but I was delighted when one of the many servers who visited my table told me they’d give me a list of everything I ate and drank. I still jotted a few notes, but I was then free just to let the meal wash over me, and sometimes that’s just what you should do.
Alinea’s printed menu is terse, and doesn’t really describe the food in the way it deserves, but then again, food like this really can’t be described usefully without being able to plug into someone else’s tastebuds and olfactory receptors.
The menu for the meal I passed up, on the other hand, the one served during the Gold and Silver Plate gala, is always an extravaganza of purple prose and ornate description.
So, here’s what I didn’t eat:

Captivating Cornucopias
Tempting Asiago cheese cones form perfect pockets for smokey salmon mousse with tobiko caviar, fresher-than-fresh ahi poke and antipasti with sun-dried tomato.
These enticing cornucopias surround a mini caprese with balsamic reduction and fresh basil.

Sweets & Savories
A sweet chili-roasted lady apple cradling a bouquet of baby field greens partners with a savory blue cheese cake and balsamic vinaigrette.

Chic Chiller
Wake up your senses with the refreshingly sublime taste of blood orange sorbet elegantly showcased in a frosted martini glass and garnished with frangrant orange twists.

Divine Duo
Revel in two of nature’s most divine creations. Succulent vanilla-butter poached South African lobster tail and luscious white truffle-infused beef tenderloin blanket tender pillows of rosemary and sun-dried tomato gnocchi, accompanied by crisp haricot verts.

Sweet Surrender
Feed your inner devil. A sinfully rich crème de cacao tower topped with chocolate ganache joins a brandy tulip with citrus curd and fresh mixed berries. This tantalizing twosome is embellished with a raspberry/chocolate spear and fruit coulis.

And, what I did eat and drink (if you feel like counting, you’ll notice that I, in fact, had 26 courses as the kitchen sent out a couple of extras; welcome to my world):

CROQUETTE smoked steelhead roe, several garnishes
L.Aubry Brut Champagned with Pineau des Charentes
OCTOPUS shiso, papaya, toasted soy
CHANTERELLE carrot, curry ham
Vercezi del Castellazo Pinot Nero Bianco “Gugiarolo”, Oltrepo Pavese 2005
APPLE horseradish, celery
MONKFISH banana, onion, lime
Vincent Dancer Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Tête de Clos” 2004
KUROGE WAGYU yuzu, seaweed smoke, sea grapes
Joseph Voillot Volnay 1er Cru “Les Fremiets”, Côte de Beaune 2002
DUCK mango, yogurt, pillow of lavender air
Rudi Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd “Kollmutz”, Wachau, Austria 2000
BLACK TRUFFLE explosion, romaine, parmesan
SHORT RIB Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli
Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva “Pipparello”, Umbria 2001
CHEESE in crackerr
HONEYDEW Bliss sherry vinegar, mint
RHUBARB goat milk, beet, long pepper
Müller-Catoir Harrdter Mandelring Scheurebe Spätlese, Pfalz 2005
STRAWBERRY frozen and chewy, with wasabi
STURGEON candied and dried
SKATE caper, lemon, and brown butter powders
Ogier “Viognier de Rosine”, VdP des Colllines Rhodaniennes 2004
WHITE ASPARAGUS chorizo, egg, red pepper
Philippe Portier Quincy, Loire 2005
PINEAPPLE bacon powder, black pepper
LAMB peas, consommé, morels
Hereus Ribas “Ribas de Cabrera” Vi de Taula de Balears, Spain 2000
HOT POTATO cold potato, black truffle, butter
BISON encased in savory granola
Azelia Barolo “Bricco Fiasco”, Castiglione Falletto 1998
GUAVA avocado, brie, key lime juice
Hans Tschida Traminer TBA, Burgenland, Austria 1998
COCONUT saffron, kiwi, corrnmeal
LICORICE CAKE muscovado sugar, orange, anise
CHOCOLATE passionfruit, lemongrass, soy
Abbazia di Novacella Moscato Rosa “Praepositus”, Alto Adige 2004
CARAMEL meyer lemon, cinnamon perfume

Ethiopian coffee

Thursday, May 24, 2007

“Are you having a good show?”

May 24

My apologies, dear reader, for my recent silence. I just got back from Chicago, where I attended the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, also known as the NRA Show, the Restaurant Show and the Show.
I’ve been known to call it simply “that,” as in: “Oh, please don’t tell me I have to go to that again.”
It’s not bad for a trade show, but everyone who attends from Nation’s Restaurant News has a lot of ground to cover, hands to shake, people to make nice with, all while still meeting deadlines from outside the office. Backlog ensues.
The schmoozing can be a bit much even for me, and I’m a good schmoozer.
“Are you having a good show?” people ask me. I have no idea what that means. I go, I do the work I need to do and see the people I need to see. I try to enjoy myself and get enough sleep so that I don’t hurt myself. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.
It doesn’t help that I go with a bad attitude. I get so many obnoxious, nagging messages in the weeks leading up to the show that I’m sick of it by the time I get there.
“Be sure to visit booth 3041 to learn the latest trends in latex technology!”
“Stop by 5311 to try our new cheese straws, now with 0 grams trans fat!”
Shoot me now.
And then when I’m on the trade show floor, if I so much as raise an eyebrow as I walk by a booth I run the risk of being accosted by someone who insists that I taste something like their black salt.
And then they require positive feedback.
“Isn’t it great?” they ask.
“Delicious,” I say. I want to say “It tastes like salt,” but then I’ll be attacked with a sales pitch about how the subtle flavors of iron and ash really bring out the flavor of food. Tacked onto that will likely be a completely specious assertion of the health benefits of those trace minerals.
One particularly pushy publicist dragged me across the trade show floor to sample his Belgian waffle mix, something I would never, ever write about because NRN doesn’t write about mixes that likely would be sold by our advertisers, for obvious reasons.
So I ate a slice of waffle topped with smoked salmon and crème fraîche and stood there until the publicist looked satisfied that he’d done his job, and then I wandered off.

Oh whine, whine, whine. Poor me, being plied with food and drink and treated like my opinion were worth something. Boo hoo.
There are of course booths that I like to visit. It’s good to check in on the latest soft drinks from Atlanta and spicy foods from Avery Island. And I got to be on a panel this year talking about Asian food.
Besides me, the panel was quite august: Dan Coudreaut, director of culinary innovation for McDonald’s, thank you very much; Ross Kamens, executive chef of Noodles and Company; and Doug Martinides, vice president of culinary development for on-site giant Aramark.
So that was fun. And I managed to make it to a couple of good parties. The best one — and I’m not just saying that because we throw it — is the MenuMasters party.
MenuMasters mostly honors chain restaurants for innovations that are significant in both culinary and economic ways, although an independent restaurant is honored each year, too — this year it was the Inn at Little Washington.
Some celebrity fine dining chefs come to the party — Patrick O’Connell was there to pick up the Inn at Little Washington’s award, and Paul Prudhomme was holding court from his scooter — but this world is very different from the foie gras- and Champagne-laden world where I spend most of my time, and it’s every bit as interesting and, by most measures, more important.
Dan Coudreaut from McDonald’s was there, getting teased by Kathleen Kennedy of Starbucks for being named in the Chicago Sun-Times, along with Oprah, as one of seven pivotal Chicagoans. Dan was his usual aw-shucks about it, which is his nature. I guess if you introduce edamame to mainstream America you can afford to be low-key about it.
Chris Martone from Subway was there, too. So was Peter Gibbons, currently of Denny’s, which is major enough, but he’s the guy who rolled out the chicken Whopper when he was at Burger King.
Mark Miller (not the one from Coyote Café, another one) was there. He had to be because he was getting an award for Captain D’s menu revamp, but he likes to come to the MenuMasters party.
Of course it wouldn’t be a party without Oona Settembre (isn’t that the best name you’ve ever heard?). She was for years the woman behind the food at Dave & Buster’s, and now she’s at On the Border. She was marveling at how young, slim and cute newly single Luke Belsito looked. He developed the chili dishes at Red Robin, but now he’s on his way to Texas Roadhouse.
The gang from Mimi’s Café was chatting with a couple of guys from California Pizza Kitchen, one of whom, it turns out, developed their carne asada pizza, so I told him the pieces of meat were too big. He nodded, perhaps in agreement, perhaps to be polite. Hard to say, really.
I closed out the meeting hanging out with NRN’s event planning staff, who were doing a relaxed sort of post-mortem of the event.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Conversing with Clark, getting mad at marketers

May 14

My friend Clark Mitchell of Travel + Leisure (we’ve actually been friends for longer than he’s had that job) has a big soft spot in his heart for what he calls trashy food, particularly Tex-Mex queso dip, but other things, too, so I invited him to come to the opening of California Pizza Kitchen’s newest Manhattan location (it already has one Manhattan unit, on E. 60th St.)
Not that CPK’s food is trashy, far from it. But Clark judges food based on its quality, not its class.
We met at Nowhere in the East Village for a drink. I had a bourbon on the rocks and, in an unusual if slight move toward moderation, Clark had a gin & tonic instead of his usual Martini. From there we walked to the CPK on E. 30th and Park Avenue South, passing on the way a restaurant with a giant banner declaring that it had done away with trans fats because it cared about its customers’ health. That’s sweet, except New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has banned artificial trans fat in all restaurants (natural trans fats don’t seem to be bad for you, according to current science). If the management of this particular restaurant cared so deeply about its guests’ health, why hadn’t they gotten rid of trans fats before they were forced to do so?
That got me into a snit about deceptive marketing, and I’ve been getting some amazing lies sent to me lately — companies saying they have allergy-free peanuts, which is impossible; every damn fruit or vegetable representative claiming magical qualities from their stuff; disgusting organizations claiming to be doctors although everyone knows they’re animal rights activists, publishing quarter-truths about the health effects of eating dead animals. They’re just a bunch of vegetable murderers, is what they are.
Clark and I agreed that, no matter what we ate, we would, in fact, die at some point.
“A familiar face!” exclaimed Alice Elliot, who was leaving CPK as we were entering. She introduced herself. Of course I knew her (if you’re very good, someday I’ll tell you the story of the time I carried a giant cardboard check across Midtown Manhattan on a blustery winter night so I could take a picture of IHOP chief Julia Stewart handing it to Alice Elliot for the Elliot Leadership Institute). But it’s polite to introduce yourself even if the person you’re talking to is supposed to know you. It’s sort of the opposite of saying “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Didn’t you win an award?” She asked, which in fact I did, last year. So she congratulated me and headed out into the night.
She was the only person I knew in the restaurant, except for the increasingly ubiquitous Ben Leventhal, who was sitting in the booth next to ours with three other guys, a delighted grin on his face the whole night. I’m glad he’s happy.
Clark ordered the spinach-artichoke dip, which we ate with tortilla chips while drinking Margaritas and marveling at the packed open kitchen, swarmed with cooks who cranked out the food as fast as they could. We had the chicken cobb salad and the carne asada pizza, and finished up with Key lime pie.
We walked down to Union Square to digest and took the Q train to Brooklyn. During the subway ride, we discussed the definition of trashy food. I insisted it was a class thing, not a good-for-you thing, as no one would call foie gras trashy.
True, said Clark, but he pointed out that foie gras is a natural food, not processed or manipulated.
That reminded me of my dislike for foie-gras haters. If you don’t want to eat foie gras, that’s fine, don’t eat it, but don’t act like you know what the ducks are going through. From what I understand, the force-feeding doesn’t bother them, and they do fatten up their own livers naturally before migrating.

How not to start a press release

“It’s widely believed that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ and Americans are taking heed to the old adage. A 2006 report on breakfast conducted by Mintel Research revealed that 72 percent of all respondents typically eat breakfast on both weekends and weekdays.”

From reading those two first sentences in a press release, do you have any idea what company it’s from or why it was sent to me (hint, it’s not Mintel Research, which wouldn’t send me results of a study conducted last year)?

Neither do I. So, even without the weird use of prepositions, this is a bad press release.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blue light is the new, well, whatever the latest new design feature is

May 12

I checked my neck for bite marks as I left the Venetian hotel and headed across the Strip to Caesars Palace. The sun was blinding me and I felt like my skin was melting, or maybe on fire. I thought I might have become a vampire. But no, it was just the Las Vegas sun — and not at noon, but at 5:30 pm.
It was my fault for wearing a sportcoat, really, but sportcoats have such a slimming effect. It’s so much easier than losing weight.
I was in Vegas for HDExpo 2007, a big conference and trade show for designers of hospitality venues, such as hotels and restaurants. I was there to talk on a panel with avant-garde celebrity pastry chef Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert in New York and hip young Joseph Elevado, executive chef of Social House in Las Vegas.
Hospitality Design magazine’s Tara Mastrelli was moderating the panel. Tara and I go way back from when she worked at Restaurant Business, and we have been known to sing karaoke together. She has known Will Goldfarb for even longer, as he and her older brother were fraternity brothers at Duke.
The panel went well. I talked about foodservice trends, Will showed pictures and videos of his virtual restaurant in Second Life, and Joseph showed pictures of Social House and talked about how the décor and food went together. The audience stayed until the end, asking questions until time ran out, when Tara cut them off and some of them came up to ask more questions anyway.
After that I snacked on noodles at the Venetian’s Asian noodle restaurant (many Las Vegas casinos have them — Atlantic City ones, too — as the market for Chinese gamblers is vast), and then I wandered the trade show floor for a bit, looking at light fixtures and floor coverings and fountains and mirrors and furniture. Then after a nap (my flight left at 7:30 am), I went to the Expo’s "party by the pool" at Caesars Palace, which was where this blog entry began.
I sipped Riesling and then Chardonnay before settling on the Jekel Pinot Noir for the evening, wandering around, noticing that designers as a rule dress much more stylishly than restaurant operators or chefs and trying to find a conversation to fall into.
Finally someone from Hospitality Design whom I must have met before (she knew me), introduced me to some young designers. Among them was Michael Gentile, a young chap now based in Los Angeles but originally from The Hill, an Italian neightborhood in St. Louis known for its food. So we talked restaurants for awhile until I swerved the subject to design, because I already know about restaurants. I took issue with the clock-radio in my hotel room, which had a blue LED display and was hard to read. Michael said we were going to see a lot of blue light in the coming years — under beds, in elevators, wherever one might expect to see colored lighting.
I meandered through a few other conversation groups and ended up talking to Will Goldfarb, Larry Bogdanow — who was the only designer I knew there as we had judged a gingerbread house contest together — and Mindy Lehman Cameron, another designer and an interesting woman depite her being a vegetarian. We sat and chatted until the staff started stacking chairs. Will wandered off somewhere, but the rest of us stopped for a bite at Bradley Ogden. I ordered an appetizer involving a poached egg and greens and, for a main course, fish and chips. I was not planning to be spotted by the chef de cuisine, David Varley. Maybe it was the poached egg that tipped him off. Anyway, he came out and said “long time no see!”
“Actually it was just a few days ago,” I said, as we had just met at a Beard Award’s afterparty. I immediately regretted saying that, as it sounded snotty, but David didn’t seem to mind. Instead he sent out a sautéed shrimp appetizer and some foie gras terrine, followed by a cheese course that I had to tackle on my own as Larry and Mindy had 10pm tickets to Cirque de Soleil.

A Voce

May 11

“This is off the record!” Jennifer Leuzzi said, pointing an angry finger at me (or rather, an insistent one, see comment #4 below) as I ate lunch with her, Mitchell Davis and MJ Loza at A Voce. We were having a little reunion of our 2001 trip to New Zealand. Back then Jennifer was a publicist for Cervena venison and MJ worked for them in New Zealand (now he works for a winery in Marlborough).
I mean, am I that scary?
Chef Andrew Carmellini sent out bread and Sardinian sheep's milk ricotta. I had the vegetable antipasti (buffalo mozzarella, eggplant agrodolce and sweet peppers with capers), and then grilled tonno bianco with rapini pesto, roasted pepper and blood orange.
Then Andrew sent out a bunch of dessert, including his bomboloni and citrus tiramisu.
And that’s all I have to say about that, because no one wants an angry Jennifer Leuzzi.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beard ’07

May 8

“When is it going to be over?”
“Another 45 minutes.”
“But you said that like 20 minutes ago.”
“I know, I’m sorry. You know what? It’s going to be a long time before it’s over. I honestly can’t say how long.”
Oh wait, that was a conversation I had with my seven-year-old nephew, Harrison Thorn, last weekend at the Bat Mitzvah of cousin Yael Kornfeld (it was long, but really quite excellent; her speech made me cry).
But I could have had it at this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards.
Both the Bat Mitzvah and the awards were just a bit longer than three hours — an hour shorter than last year’s Beard Awards, which is a good start.
This was my ninth year covering the awards and I think I’ve had about enough.
The venue was moved this year from the Marriott Marquis to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
Members of the press were given actual seats instead of herded into a roped off section in the back as used to be the case. But they were all up in tier two. I went up to my seat. It was seat #13 in box #13, but I decided not to take that personally.
The ceremony started at 6:50, 20 minutes late, and I was all alone in my box, although I was soon joined by Ben Leventhal.
“May I crash your box?” he asked, which sounds dirty but it’s not. He sneaked a couple of photos and made notes with some sort of electronic device while the ceremony got underway with a speech from Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro and a video celebrating the Beard Foundation, which is 20 years old.
Much of the video was shot during a recent dinner by Denver-based chef Troy Guard, which I attended (Beard Award attendees who paid attention might have noticed my profile in the background for about a second).
I stayed in my obstructed-view seat while David Chang was named Rising Star chef, and then when the year’s first America’s Classics award was being presented Laren Spirer from Gothamist — who was in the next box over — and I slipped down to the press room, where I spent the rest of the ceremony.
There, for the first time in my life, I felt the need to use the word “scrum.”
Honestly, it wasn’t that bad, as long as you didn’t want to hear the acceptance speeches (most of which were appropriately short and innocuous anyway) or see any of the videos, which they seemed uninterested in showing to the only people even remotely likely to write about them.
It was a very polite and congenial scrum, and the sausages and cheese provided by a high-end restaurant supplier were terrific, although I wonder if it’s really a good idea at the fine-dining world’s biggest shmoozefest to serve the biggest chatterboxes — the media — things that are going to have such a deleterious affect on their breath.
Sometimes you have to cover events just to cover them, and that’s what I do at the Beard Awards. It’s unlikely that anything will happen that you can’t read about in a press release, but you never know. And you have to gauge the mood of the crowd, listen to the chatter afterwards, reconnect with people. It might be tedious, but it’s also important.
This year the bloggers were in attendance in fuller force, so that was interesting, and I got to catch up with my friend Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appétit, whom I never see because he doesn’t go out anymore (he said as much: “I don’t go out anymore,” he said).
I also got to hang with James Oliver Cury, formerly of Time Out New York and now of Epicurious, which is always a treat (he loves loves loves his new job, by the way).
And the award ceremony does come to an end eventually. It has to.
It is followed by a reception.
I whipped out my camera for the picture page that we would likely run in Nation’s Restaurant News and mostly left the food to the paying guests, although I did gratefully accept the foie gras handed to me by former Aureole chef Dante Bocuzzi, who’s in the process of setting up his own restaurant in Cleveland. And when Thomas Keller hands you one of his salmon cornets you can’t leave him hanging. It would be rude. Besides, I wanted to take a picture of him with his chef at French Laundry, Corey Lee.
I chatted with the folks at Gilt, including sommelier Jason Ferris who gushed about how great it was working with chef Christopher Lee — how chefs and sommeliers so often say that they click and get along famously, but that it’s rarely true.
He didn’t say he was glad to see former chef Paul Liebrandt gone, perhaps because I wasn’t indelicate enough to ask.
David Carmichael, Gilt’s new pastry chef, similarly raved about the Palace Hotel’s facilities, so of course I ate his berry sorbet, and so it would have been improper not to eat Chris Lee’s Kobe beef.
I reminded Robert and Mimi Del Grande about the night we dined together some years ago at the Bon Appétit Food & Entertaining awards (it was surreal: there in Daniel’s private dining room were the Del Grande’s, Julia Child, Alice Waters, Jacques and Claudine Pépin, Charlie Trotter, David Bouley, Drew Nieporent — who actually spoke to Bouley for the first time in 16 years — Wolfgang Puck, Anna Wintour to introduce Jeffrey Steingarten, Dean Fearing, other really important food luminaries … and me).
Then it was time for the afterparties, so I stopped by the Parker Meridien, where the only person I knew was a freelance photographer for the Beard Foundation. So I rehydrated with some sparkling water, sipped a glass of wine and then wandered off to Hawaiian Tropic Zone, where I met Sam Hazen of Tao and became reacquainted with his co-executive chef, John Villa, whom you might remember from Pico, Patroon, or a photo spread in Playgirl in which he was called something like the world’s sexiest chef.
David Burke was hosting the party, and I congratulated him on the $88 fried rice at davidburke & donatella, which apparently is selling like hotcakes, or maybe like $4 fried rice.
He immediately leapt to the dish’s defense, although I hadn’t attacked it. Hey, if people want to buy an $88 fried rice, sell it to them.
Then I settled into a conversation with Lee Jones and David Varley. Lee is the marketing guy at Chef’s Garden, which supplies many of the fine dining restaurants in the eastern half of the United States (and apparently Las Vegas) with super-expensive micro greens and baby vegetables. He was in his trademark outfit (literally, he trademarked it) of white dress shirt, red bow tie and denim overalls.
David’s the chef de cuisine of restaurant Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas.

Here’s Lee with Celina Tio, who won the award for best chef in the Midwest.
Lee, David and I headed down to Olives, where the last time I went to a Beard Award afterparty it was awful — third-tier publicists and other hangers on — but it had its groove back this year, and it was a lot of fun. I introduced myself to Jean-Georges pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, because I’d never met him and I thought it was high time I did.
I hate doing that — introducing yourself to someone at a party as if they’re going to remember you the next day.
But he was nice about it and I kept it brief and let him continue the conversation he was having with the pretty woman. I think she might have been Todd English’s girlfriend, but that’s none of my business.

But who won besides David Chang and Celina Tio, you ask?

By the way, this is David Chang, whom I introduced to Ivy Stark, the executive chef of Amalia in New York, so I could take a picture of them together.

One more thing: You might remember that I made some predictions about who would win the Beard Awards. I got seven right, 12 wrong, which, okay, is a failing grade, but it's nearly twice as good as a monkey throwing darts at random would do.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pizza with beautiful people

May 3

“I hope none of us is dangerous,” I said as three of us entered Peter Yanowitz’s apartment building after someone buzzed us in.
You’re not supposed to let strangers walk into a building with you in New York City, but, well, this isn’t the 1970s. New York’s a kinder, gentler place than it once was.
“That would be awesome if we were,” said a guy who looked like an urban, downtown Jared Leto — his head wrapped in a scarf that also swaddled his neck, shark teeth dangling from hoops in his ears — as we entered the elevator.
The young blonde woman who had entered with us kept quiet.
So I told the story (abbreviated as elevator rides don’t take long) of the time I almost mugged someone.
I was leaving a movie theater in swanky Brooklyn Heights and was asked by a guy from Portland, Oregon, if I could tell him the way back to Manhattan. I told him I was heading to the subway myself and could walk him and his girlfriend there.
He asked: “You’re not going to rob us, are you?”
I think he was 99 percent joking, but, I mean, the guy was a solid head taller than I was and I was dressed in the standard-issue wool-cashmere-blend dress overcoat worn by most men who work in Midtown.
I said: “Do I look like I’m going to rob you?”
He agreed that I didn’t, but it occurred to me later that it might have been fun to say: “As I matter of fact I am! Give me your wallet, bitch!” and then kind of shove him.
I mean, I would have mailed it back to him, probably with an extre 20 bucks thrown in for his trouble, but it would have given us both an experience to remember.
Mr. Jared Leto Lookalike (My So-Called Life Jared Leto, not strange, modern-day goth Jared Leto or Fight Club, maimed-with-a-broken-eye-socket Jared Leto) agreed that that would have been a good idea as we exited the elevator on the top floor. To our surprise, we walked to the same door. It turned out we were both visiting Peter Yanowitz and his girlfriend, Lisa Davies.
You might remember that I reconnected with Peter, who went on the same trip to Israel as I with our high school youth goup in 1984, just a few weeks ago. If you remember that, you probably remember that Peter is now the bassist for Morningwood and that Lisa’s a model and nursing student.
The guy I met in the elevator is Kenyon Phillips, the man behind an electronica band called Unisex Salon, who said he met Peter by jumping on stage and behaving lewdly at Morningwood concerts. [July 5, 2007 update: I have since become more familiar with Kenyon's music; it’s really not electronica but more ’80s-style new-wave pop with synthesizers, in a good way].
Peter ordered pizza from Joe’s, on Carmine and Bleecker, and poured 2005 Corbières "premier pas" Domaine des Deux Anes 2005, which Lisa says they buy for $9 a bottle. We sat on Peter’s balcony while Kenyon and the happy couple caught up and I peppered them with questions, as I do. Then we were joined by Lisa’s friend, designer Patrik Rzepski, who marvled that he and Lisa had known each other for four years now.
I motioned to Peter, who was inside with Kenyon playing new Morningwood tracks, and said we’d met in 1983 (we went to a Jewish camp in the Poconos together that year).
I told Peter that my favorite Morningwood song was a very dirty and inappropriate tune called Babysitter, in which a young woman in charge of looking after a kid suggests activities that, well, she shouldn’t.
Peter said the song was autobiographical and recounted tales of growing up as a young Jewish boy in Salt Lake City, left in the overenthusiastic and roaming hands of teenage Mormon girls.
I later jumped up and went inside when Kenyon started playing some music from his web site. For speakers, Peter was using an old boom box that he’d bought on the street, and I thought it sounded great, which made Kenyon smile.
Here are my dining companions (from left): Kenyon, Lisa, Patrik and Peter, in front of a newly installed door to Peter’s balcony.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dan Barber and I were dorm mates

May 2

T-U-F-T-S, T-U-F-T-S
Hurrah! Hurrah! for the dear old brown and blue!

You will probably never hear a graduate from Tufts University sing the old college fight song. It’s impossible to sing with a straight face and Tufts just isn’t one of those schools where spirit is taken seriously.
Here at Nation’s Restaurant News we have Gators and Bulldogs and an apparently endless supply of Buckeyes. I mean no disrespect to them, because senior desk editor Christi Ravneberg makes delicious chocolate-and-peanut-butter buckeyes (by contrast, on-site editor Elissa Elan has never brought in any Georgia bulldog for us to eat, although she will with very little encouragement holler “woof woof”; editor-in-chief Ellen Koteff has never given me a Florida Gatorade).
Yesterday I did sing part of Tufts’ fight song for a few of my colleagues (the lines above are preceded by — I kid you not:

Steady and true, rush along brown and blue,
Raise a mighty score today!
Fearless tear down the field and never yield
Brown and blue, brown and blue, for aye!

Very few of my fellow Jumbos (yes, we’re Jumbos; P. T. Barnum was a major benefactor of Tufts, giving the school, among other things, the carcass of the famous elephant after which we are all named) can sing that song, and fewer would. I bet you Dan Barber can’t.
Yes, it turns out that the executive chef of Blue Hill also went to Tufts. He graduated with a B.A. in English and Political Science in 1991, a year after I graduated with a degree in history. During his freshman year he lived on the second floor of Bush Hall. At the same time, I was a sophomore on the third floor.
[June 11, 2008 update: It turns out that Dan actually was the class of 1992, meaning he lived on the second floor of Bush when I was studying in China — sorry about that]
It’s a small world, they say, although it’s not really; we just tend to move in fairly tight circles.
I was interviewing Dan Barber because NRN is inducting Blue Hill into our Fine Dining Hall of Fame, which means someone has to write an article about the place.
Andy Battaglia, my good friend, former NRN colleague, editor at The Onion and occasional freelancer for NRN, wanted to write the Fine Dining Hall of Fame article about Blue Hill, as a recent meal he had at the restaurant was one of the best he’d ever eaten. But I beat him to it — something I am able to do easily since, as food editor, I get second dibs, after execuive food editor Pam Parseghian.
“you bitch!” Andy said to me in an e-mail.
But hey, Andy heads up the city section of The Onion for New York, which includes (serious) food writing. He can interview Dan for that.
Andy’s a Georgia Bulldog, by the way. I doubt you will get a “woof woof” from him, though.
When the interview with Dan was done, he said “stay for dinner.” It would have been rude for me to refuse.
What I ate and drank:

Roger Pouillon et Fils Brut Rose
garlic tuile
lightly grilled bread with dehydtrated carrots and salt
parsnip soup
apple-celery juice

spring vegetables, all from Stone Barns, some raw, some roasted, some marinated, with mushroom gelée and pistachios
Joh. Jos. Prüm 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese

Poached egg with spring vegetable broth, and New Jersey asparagus
Raffault Chinon Rosé 2006

Asparagus and leeks with asparagus-caviar sauce and dehydrated root vegetables

pork shoulder, belly and cheek with fennel, plumped raisins, pine nuts and stinging nettle purée
Viñas Del Cenit 2003

Poached rhubarb with tapioca and rhubarb sorbet
Chocolate and peanut brownie topped with Maldon salt, served with banana ice cream

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Xing’s not closing yet

May 1

Boy, you turn down one person’s rehearsal dinner and everyone says you’re going out of business.
I just got off the phone with Michael Lagunas, the owner of Xing in Hell’s Kitchen, and he denies rumors that the restaurant has closed or that his chef, Lulzim Rexhepi, has left. But he admits that things aren’t going well and he’s trying to figure out what to do with the place. “I love my staff. I love my chef. I’m kind of in a confusted state of mind,” he says.
So he has put egg rolls and other less expensive items on the menu to try to bring in that critical mass of neighborhood regulars that any restaruant needs to survive.
If you happen to be near 9th Avenue and the low 50s, you might want to check it out. Otherwise, it might become a lounge.

For more about Xing, how it’s pronounced and other useless but possibly interesting esoterica, click here.