Friday, September 28, 2007

why my commas go where they do

September 28

I’m in Los Angeles for Culinary R&D, a conference that Nation’s Restaurant News holds for corporate chefs at chain restaurants. I arrived a day early, yesterday, to run through the presentation I have to give and settle in before the conference starts this afternoon.
Coming early also gave me a chance to catch up with my old friend Matt Shapo.
Matt and I were co-features editors at The Tufts Daily long, long ago in the mid-1980s. We entertained the rest of the staff by engaging in witty banter while editing things. We had different editing and writing styles. Matt would take commas out and I would put them back in and probably add some more, or vice-versa, depending on who saw the article first. Matt taught me a looser style of writing, so that when I was editing stories in Bangkok, I would take commas out that Dave Peters — a brilliant Anglo-Icelandic Canadian with a certain penchant for order, who also was my immediate superior — would then put back in.
Dave is now a consultant of some sort in Toronto, and Matt is in charge of the web site for All Access, a trade magazine for the music industry. You might also recall that his wife, Jenn Saltzman, is the niece of former New York Daily News food writer Liz Forgang, making Liz and me friends-in-law.
Matt and Jenn have a two-year-old named Evan whom I hope to meet on Sunday, but yesterday the babysitter canceled so Matt and I ended up going out alone. We ate at Grace, partly because chef-partner Neal Fraser is giving a presentation at Culinary R&D tomorrow.
Matt had pumpkin gnocchi followed by diver scallops in matsutake mushroom broth and I had a warm autumn fruit salad (figs, persimmons, pomegranate etc.) with lentils, mizuna and curry dressing, followed by braised pork shank with garlic rapini, smoked shallot & chorizo home fries in a cider sage sauce. I drank a glass of 2005 Château Soucherie, a Cabernet Franc from France’s Loire Valley.
We had huckleberry donuts for dessert, and ordered a chocolate hazelnut torte to take home for Jenn, because it’s very important to be kind to your friends’ spouses.
Grace is on the cutting edge of water service. They use a reverse-osmosis process to make their own still and sparkling water, for which they charge $2.50 a person. Matt and I sampled that, too.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

McCormick & Schmick’s

September 26

Remember Zoë from the blog entry below? Turns out she’s an Australian and had no idea who Gilbert Gottfried was.
I learned that this evening, when I once again ran into Michael Park, whom I had not met until Monday.
And who was with him but good old Sara Bonisteel, who last appeared in this blog long ago, when she became editor-in-chief of the New York Resident.
It turns out she hasn’t had that job for a year-and-a-half and now works for Fox News’ web site.
We were all at McCormick and Schmick’s for an event celebrating National Seafood Month, which is in October.
The seafood chain’s publicists had attracted a good array of journalists, very few of whom I’d met before, except of course for Michael and Sara. Arlyn Blake was there, too, no-doubt introducing people whom she thought should know each other.
Oh, and Marian Betancourt was there, too. She had just written a book with San Antonio chef Scott Cohen.
Actually, Scott Cohen is from the Northeast, but he’s been in San Antonio for the past several years. I’ve been using him as a source for years, but we’d never met until recently, when he was in town to cook at the Beard House and stopped by our offices.
That was arranged by his publicists, who e-mailed me that I’d like Scott as he’s “a real down-home boy.”
I’m not sure why someone would think that I, a New York-based food writer, would be interested in meeting someone because he’s “down home.” But of more interest to me is the fact that I knew perfectly well that Scott was a northeasterner and just slightly more down-home than Leona Helmsley. Why would a publicist pretend otherwise? I mean if you’re going to lie, lie about something that matters.
But of course I met with him anyway. We had a nice chat.
I also re-met Kara Brisson, whom I last knew as the event coordinator of Hurapan Kitchen, where I had my 40th birthday party last April (I haven’t written a blog entry about it yet; I’m not sure why, but it was a good party). Now she’s the local McCormick & Schmick’s beverage director.
Part of the party was a presentation by one of McCormick & Schmick’s chefs about cooking seafood at home. It was a terrific presentation briefly interrupted by ignorant people repeating the scare-mongering of those who for reasons I will likely never understand (that means you, Pew Charitable Trust) like to make people nervous about mercury and PCBs and so on in fish without pointing out that the medical community generally concurs that the dangers of those contaminants for most people (with the possible, possible exception of nursing mothers, pregnant women and small children) is outweighed by the health benefits of eating fish.
One pompous, ignorant woman brought up that something was wrong with the feed in farm-raised salmon.
I think she was trying to remember the half-truth that the feed is dyed red. In fact, the added coloring is a pigment called astaxanthin, a healthful antioxidant — let me repeat that, a healthful antioxidant — that occurs naturally in the krill that wild salmon eat, giving their flesh that pink color.
I would not condemn this woman as an idiot if I hadn’t actually met her later on as I was reciting for someone a tasty and easy mussel recipe: moules marinières (sauté shallots in butter, add cleaned mussels, chopped parsley, black pepper and white wine, cover and steam until the mussels open).
She insisted fleur de sel must be added.
Okay, it’s seafood and so probably doesn’t need salt, but even if it did, fleur de sel would be a waste as it’s its texture that makes it different from regular cheap salt, and that would be lost in the steaming.
I didn’t argue with her, but she disagreed with the guy I was talking to that mussels and French fries were a common combination in Paris, where she says she lived for three years.
So that’s incorrect thing, number 2.
I asked her to repeat her name and she spelled it for me in French, which, I mean, you can’t be more pompous.
She also declared unbidden that she was as good a cook as anyone in the room.
I didn’t challenge her on any of these facts, because why bother? But I have found that when people say that they’re the best at something, it usually means that they’re worse than average.
She wandered off soon enough, which was nice, and I ended up talking to editors I didn’t know from magazines like Parenting who were collecting quick tips on cooking for consumers. Nice people.
I closed out the evening talking to McCormick and Schmick’s publicists. They’d thrown a good party.

Zarela turns 20

September 24

This evening I went to the 20th anniversary celebration of Zarela, a regional Mexican restaurant in Midtown East.
It was a bad night for parties in Midtown East, because today was also the opening day for the United Nations General Assembly, which also is in Midtown East. So nearby streets were closed as dignitaries’ motorcades zoomed by, sirens blazing, snarling traffic and annoying everybody.
It sounds cool to have the U.N. headquarters in your city, making it kind of the capital of the world, but in fact it’s mostly irritating. When major sessions are going on there the static can be felt in the air nearby (or maybe it’s just the traffic). People are on edge. It feels sort of like when you have an itch between the lower part of your shoulder blades that you can’t reach.
But it was a good party, packed with high-quality people.
I arrived early, but Gilbert Gottfried already was installed on a banquette along the southern wall, talking to an entourage.
I chatted with our hostess, Zarela Martinez, and managed to stick my foot in my mouth as I wondered aloud about the possibility of reproducing authentic food outside of where it originated.
She said it was most certainly possible and the only thing that can’t yet be imported from Mexico is the corn.
“Haven’t you read my books?” she asked.
I haven’t. She disapproved, but nicely.
I congratulated both of her sons separately on the anniversary.
“It’s my mother’s restaurant,” each one of them said.
“Just say thank you,” I said to her son Aaron Sanchez, who I think categorizes me as one of those people he’s pretty sure he’s supposed to know but can’t quite place. That’s fair, he’s a somewhat famous, fairly hot celebrity chef, and that means he has a lot of people to keep track of.
Still, I asked him how things were going at Centrico, the Tribeca restaurant where he’s chef.
Things are good, he said, owner Drew Nieporent’s a great boss. Now if they could just convince more people who live north of Canal Street that monsters don’t live south of Canal, they’d be all set.
Tiny Dr. Ruth Westheimer — you remember, the sex specialist from the 1980s — arrived shortly before the buffet opened. And I met Saveur founder and former editor-in-chief Coleman Andrews.
Zarela introduced me to him and I was reminded once again that meeting famous people is useless if you don’t have both the inclination and the opportunity to have meaningful conversation.
Still, it made it into my blog, didn’t it?
Mostly I hung out with people from Epicurious — Megan Steintrager, her colleague Sarah Kagan, Michael Park, a freelancer who works for them sometimes.
We camped near the buffet and I mostly chatted with Sarah about New England and how great it is (she grew up in Redding, which apparently is the most rural part of Fairfield County, Conn., and has family in that crazy state of Rhode Island).
Shortly after we sat down, we were joined by Michael’s friend Zoë.

What I ate:

Mariquitas con Salsa Macha
Green plantain chips with peanuts, chiltipín chiles, garlic and olive oil

Picada con Salsa Cruda
Corn tart with purée of avocado, tomatillo and chile serrano topped with Mexican
cream and queso fresco

Taquitos de Cabeza
Corn tortilla with shredded veal cheeks garnished with pickled onion and jalapeño.

Ensalada de Camarones
Shrimp salad of fresh shrimp, avocado, cilantro, jalapeño and onion.
Served with lime and oil vinaigrette.

Longaniza Verde
Green Mexican sausage with chile limón sauce

Platos Fuertes
Makúm de Repollo
Pork shoulder with white cabbage, tomato, habenero chile and sour orange

Pollo Con Chile Seco
Chicken drumettes with dried chile, fresh orange juice and flavored with vanilla

Casserola de Huitlacoche
Layered crepes with huitlacoche, Mexican cream and cheese.
Served with ranchero sauce.

Ensalada de Chayote
Mexican squash with cilantro, olive oil and chile Serrano

Arroz con Crema
Rice baked with sour cream, white cheddar cheese, poblanos and corn.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Listen to me again

September 25

Hong Kong satellite radio guy Neil Chase has posted his second interview of me. Here it is. It’s interview #25. Click on the “more” button to just listen to the interview. If you want to listen to it in context, click on “Listen to the whole programme.”
Oh, British spelling. So many double consonants and e’s.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Primehouse, Singaporeans and the second bottled-water event in a week

September 21

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Greg Lindsay is one smart bastard.
We were both at last night’s opening party of Primehouse New York. That made sense since since we met during a press trip to meet the progenitor of Primehouse’s meat.
Greg’s one of those people who can follow a conversation on any topic, participate intelligently in that conversation and probably add something new to it without seeming like a smartass. It’s a quality we all should cultivate.
Now Greg’s working on a book about airports and how they are like the railroads of the 19th century. Spurring development wherever they crop up.
Somehow, as I sampled a couple of Eben Klemm’s cocktails — a drink that was like a Manhattan, but gin-based, and another made from vodka, blackberry and sage — the topic of the Bangkok airport, an ongoing project, came up and Greg talked about the corruption surrounding it. I pointed to the airport of my hometown of Denver, and how it was built on a tornado-prone flood plain in the middle of nowhere on land owned by old monied Denver families — something that everyone in the city seems to know and that no one seems to mind, even though it’s a display of corruption every bit as profound as what can be found in Bangkok.
The notion that widespread corruption only exists in developing countries astounds and annoys me, and yet people assert it a lot.
But Greg didn't. Instead he went into fascinating detail about developments around DIA (Denver International Airport) and also about the sociology of people who had settled in the new housing developments where the old Denver airport, Stapleton, once stood.
When Greg was there he knocked on the doors of new homes that resembled Brooklyn brownstones and asked the people why they’d moved there.
Anyway, it should be a good book, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
And that was just stop #1 of the evening.
Remember how the other day I went to a cocktail party at Daniel sponsored by Evian and then heard from some visiting chefs from Singapore while I was having lunch with them at Nobu that Fiji water also was hosting a dinner party at Daniel?
I said that I hoped it was true, and I e-mailed a Fiji representative to see if it was true. I just meant to check the facts, but they asked me if I would like to attend that dinner.
“No thank you,” I said. “I don’t want to dine at Daniel, because i’m retarded.”
Oh wait, I’m not retarded, so of course I went from Primehouse to Daniel to take them up on their offer for dinner.
There I was with all the Singapore chefs with whom I’d had lunch at Nobu. They were still guests of the poultry and egg board, but Fiji wanted to have them for dinner at Daniel.
At lunch I’d sat between Milind Sovani, a chef from Bombay who lives in Singapore and owns a high-end restaurant called The Song of India, and Christophe Megel, the head of The Singapore Culinary Academy and Spice Garden, which has some sort of affiliation with Johnson & Wales. One of his school’s graduates will be externing at Daniel soon.
At dinner, I sat between chef agent, Tufts alumnus, self-proclamed decent poker player and all-around nice guy Jeff Allen, and a Singaporean chef by the name of Mr. Puk, who specializes in Chinese seafood. He was born in Singapore, but his ancestors were from Hainan Island, so we talked about that island’s most famous dish, Hainan Chicken, which I think has been perfected in Thailand, where it is called khao man gai.
The dish is poached chicken served with rice that is cooked in the poaching broth. A bowl of the broth is also served on the side. The Thais' addition is a chile-ginger sauce.

Daniel did not serve khao man gai. After sipping some 1999 Dom Pérignon, we had:

Pressed poulard and foie gras terrine ith black truffles, young turnip salad and port reduction
2003 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley

Warm salad of sea scallop with matsutake mushroom, Meyer lemon confit and chive oil
2006 Au Bon Climat "Daniel" Chardonnay, Santa Barbara

Duo of striped bass, slow baked with Champagne sauce, and tuna-wrapped tartare with fried oyster
2004 Au bon Climat “Old World Rules” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

Red king salmon baked in clay with roasted black mission figs and fennel confit
2005 Au Bon Climat “Le Bon Climat” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

Wild Scottish grouse with foie gras “cromequis,” rutabaga-parsnip purée, Seckel pear and black currant jus
1998 Au Bon Climat “Knox Alexander” pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

Tahitian vanilla bavarois with mango-cilantro gelée and passion fruit-banana sorbet
2005 Au Bon Climat “One Hand Clapping” late harvest Pinot Blanc, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley

Chocolate sablé with Colombian coffee cream, coffee ganache and hazelnut-macadamia ice cream

Chocolates, Madeleines (of course) and petits fours.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

we have a lot to learn about Japanese food

September 20

“Thank you for come, I’m so appreciate!” my friend Shigeko Fuke said as I arrived at Ono last night, forgoing the big restaurant opening of the evening (it might have been BLT Market, I don’t remember because the New York restaurant scene in September is a blur, even as it’s happening) to attend The 2nd Fundraising Event for the Japanese Culinary and Cultural Association of America.
I think I met Shigeko and her husband Miguel Cardona five or six years ago at the relaunching of one of the dusty midsize Midtown hotels that get refurbished every once in awhile and throw a press party about it.
Somehow we’ve been friendly ever since. Because of Shigeko I have judged sushi competitions alongside chefs Daniel Boulud and Gabriel Kreuther, spoken to groups of visiting Japanese restaurateurs about food trends in New York, and appeared in the Japanese version of Playboy.
Playboy spelled my last name Thom instead of Thorn, but they really do look similar. As you would expect, I was not the centerfold, but an interviewee. I was recommending restaurants for visiting Japanese tourists.
So how could I turn down Shigeko’s invitation for dinner, especially as I’ll be moderating a talk on all things Japanese and foodish in LA next weekend.
Having sampled a sparkling sake and then switched to Asahi Select, I found myself in a conversation circle with Peacock Alley chef Cedric Tovar, who was sharing stories about his time in basic training in the French army. After that he cooked for the prime minister, so his year's service wasn’t so bad.
Then Lee Jones from Chefs Garden arrived and railed against those who insisted on using local produce whether it was any good or not. Naturally he would rail against that as his super-high-end produce is shipped nationwide. Lee was in town to talk to the Experimental Cuisine Collective about soil today. I tried to make it, but my job and a misbehaving computer foiled my attempts.
I did have time to speak to chef Andre Christopher of Pops For Champagne in Chicago, but he came to my office, which makes it easier. He showed me some photos of his food, one dish of which was garnished with Chefs Garden's super-expensive Mimo chives. Seeing the chives was like seeing an old friend.
Anyway, Lee and I sat at the same table, but I was between the charming food and travel writer Karen Tina and journalist and Iron Chef judge Akiko Katayama, whom you might recall arranged for me to visit Japan’s Niigata prefecture earlier this year.

What I ate and drank:

First course by Nobuo Fukuda of Sea Saw restaurant
Assorted sashimi plate:
Aji/grapefruit, avocado, ginger, yuzukosho, ponzu oil, white truffle oil
Sockeye salmon gravlax/soy roasted almonds, Pecorino-Romano cheese, basil oil, soy and balsamic reduction
Maguro akami/roasted beet purée and Pinot Noir reduction
Tako-ashi/small heirloom tomatoes, yuzu, shallots, wasabi aïoli, pink peppercorn, mozzarella cheese
Madai/ceviche-style miyoga, taro and shiso
Hirame/kobujima and yuzu
Otokoyama sake (tokubetsu junmaishu)

Second course by Kazuhiko Hashimoto of Ono:
Cold egg custard with sea urchin, nagaimo, white truffle-scented edamame soup, sea grapes and shiso bulb

Third course by Akio Saito of the Conrad Tokyo:
Overnight dried barracuda with pickled Daitokuji natto miso paste with grated radish, black vinegar and black rice
Steamed lobster with akatuchi shimeji mushroom, grilled chestnut, fried ginko and leaf-shaped sweet potato chip
Pine needle shaped fried thin wheat noodles with leaf-shaped ginger
Nanotuki organic junmai ginjo sake

Fourth course by takashi Yagihashi of Takashi Restaurant (which isn’t open yet but will be in Chicago):
Seared Washugyu New York strip and braised short ribs with confit Japanese eggplant and caramelized gobo
Taiheizan Kimoto sake (Junmai Kimoto)

Dessert by Kiyomi Toda-Burke and Sandra Palmer of Three Tarts:
Chocolate Bar/bruléed ganache with sansho caramel
Lychée Gelée with goji berries and tarragon
Black + Blonde/black sesame ice cream sandwich and miso blondie
Hanahato Kijoshu aged sake

Petit-fours by Chika Tillman of ChikaLicious

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It’s after Labor Day, so I must be insane

September 19

I meant to sto`p by the International Chefs Congress at some point over the past couple of days, but it proved to be impossible. I worked all day Monday but wanted to at least stop by the evening reception, but first it made sense to make an appearance at a reception in the Sutton Place home of Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, who own the Clos Pegase Winery in Napa and, it turns out, the best view of Midtown Manhattan and the East River I’ve ever seen.
I ran into Crain's New York writer Louise Kramer on the way to the party and we caught up during the ride to the 32nd floor (don’t pass up time to chat in elevators; time is money).
Publicist Michael Gitter opened the door for us and I looked to the left to see a painting of a woman in profile, but with two eyes.
And I said to myself, “No, that’s not a Picasso. Are you crazy? It’s probably just a Braque or something."
But Braque did cubist stuff, not two-eyed profiles. Of course it was a picasso. I felt like a bumpkin.
Then I glanced past the painting to the windows and saw the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Sutton Place and the rest of New York south of 58th Street stretching gloriously before me, the stately East River flowing by its side.
The East River is, too, stately. Don’t be such a snob. And in my view were at least two of the engineering triumphs that span its width to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn.
I’d meant just to pop my head in, sip a glass of wine, say "hi, hi," and go on either to the Chefs Congress reception or The Tasting Room, whose owners were celebrating the restaurant’s first anniversary in its new space. But as Jan Shrem began to hold court and the hors d'oeuvre from Le Périgord were passed, I realized that I was where I needed to be for the evening.
So the press party at The Tasting Room was over by the time I got there, but the family-and-friends party was going on and I ended up staying for that.
Wine was being served, but the food was gone, so I went from there to a Chinese hole-in-the-wall for noodles and got home at around 1 a.m.
I checked my e-mail and learned that the culinary pages in Nation’s Restaurant News would be closing on Tuesday instead of the usual Wednesday.
So the Chefs Congress for Tuesday was out and I was actually at my desk at 8:45 Tuesday morning.
If you don’t work with me, you don’t know how rare a thing it is to see me sitting at my desk at 8:45 a.m. (8:45 p.m. is less rare), but it had to be done.
It had to be done partly because I’d RSVPed for a lunch at the ‘21’ Club (I don’t know why the 21 is in single quotation marks, but it always is) featuring Bob Waggoner from Charleston, whom I hadn’t seen in awhile.
My table was awesome, with Regina Schrambling and Arlyn Blake and Laurie Woolever all seated there.
Laurie was at the Shrem’s party, too. All the more reason to stay.
I still had pages to read at 6:30 that night, but there was a lull in activity in the office, so I popped up to Daniel, which happily is just half a mile away from NRN’s offices, for a party that Evian was throwing.
They’d sent me an invitation in one of those fancy wooden boxes in which good alcohol is often sold, which was a mistake: If you’re going to send someone a fancy wooden box of the sort in which good alcohol is often sold, there’d better be good alcohol in it or the recipient will be disappointed.
Still, I went to the party (free hors d'oeuvre at Daniel? Of course I’ll go), just as I would have if they'd just e-mailed me an invitation.
The invitation in the box said the hors d’oeuvre would be infused with Evian, and I asked Daniel about that as I didn't know what that meant, and he said that they had planned to cook some of the appetizers in Evian, but ultimately he decided to use regular water, as Evian, as he said it, is for drinking, "not for playing."
I was still in the office at around 9 p.m., and decided that enough was enough and I should go home rather than to any International Chefs Congress parties, especially since I had lunch today at Nobu with a bunch of visiting chefs from Singapore who were being hosted by the American Egg Board. I’m not exactly sure what I was doing there, but I enjoyed myself, and was told from one of the chefs that Daniel was hosting a Fiji Water party later this week.
I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope it is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Farmer Daniel (no, not that farmer Daniel)

September 18

New Yorkers might remember Daniel Orr either as the executive chef of La Grenouille or, later, as the executive chef of Guastavino, Terence Conran’s failed experiment under the Queensboro Bridge.
Guastavino was open for quite a few years, but it never really found its way, and Daniel eventually moved to the tropics, where he worked in Antigua for a time.
He has now returned to his native Indiana to open a local-produce-oriented restaurant in Bloomington, called Farm.
He grew up in nearby Columbus, Ind.
I reported this fact in Nation’s Restaurant News a little over a month ago, but I just got a press release reminding me of it, so I thought I’d pass the news on.
But you might consider subscribing to NRN. It’s a good read.

Monday, September 17, 2007


September 16

“Welcome to Aspen East!” one of the publicists for the Foxwoods second annual Food & Wine Festival said as she greeted people on Friday.
You gotta love plucky marketing.
The event, like Aspen, was something of a reunion, and I had yet to put down my bags when I ran into Steve Shipley from Johnson & Wales and minor celebrity chef Michel Nischan (minor but as warm and good-natured as any chef I know).

Here he is (on the right), with chef Jean-Pierre Vuillermet.
But Aspen’s Food & Wine Magazine Classic is the mother of American food and wine festivals, and the town itself is a luxurious resort in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.
Foxwoods is a gigantic casino for the masses. It’s in the pretty countryside of the Mashantucket-Pequot nation’s section of Connecticut, and it was the largest casino in the world until recently, when a bigger one opened in Macao, but it ain’t Aspen.
Still, the turnout wasn’t bad. Exhibitors in the banquet hall where the “grand tasting” was held said attenance was way up from last year. And the event did draw some big-name celebrities in the food world.
I heard two things over and over again: “Mutton Man!” from Grub Street’s Josh Ozersky, who calls me that for reasons lost to history; and “This is off the record!” from chef agent Scott Feldman.
Scott is my networking role model. He’s a genius and, it turns out, old high school friends with my freshman year college roommate, Michael Yudell, who now is a professor of public health at Drexel. Roslyn, N.Y., raised some good people. Better than you’d expect, really.
Not off the record and from Scott: Rocco Laterzo no longer works for American Express.
I had my first dinner of the festival at Al Dente, an old school American-style Italianish restaurant, with journalists, mostly travel writers, whom I hadn’t met before, except for Andrew Linick of The Practical Gourmet, whom I’m pretty sure I met many years ago at the opening of Lundy’s in Times Square (which closed shortly thereafter).
I had arugula salad with endive, lemon and olive oil topped with Parmesan cheese, followed by halibut sautéed with lemon, capers and shaved fennel, while sharing life stories with Los Angeles-based freelance writer Earl Heath and his wife (I think wife; I don't really know) Rita. He’s from nearby Waterford, Conn., and she’s from Wyoming, so we had amusing high-altitude stories to share.
Then at the afterparty that night I reconnected with some more New England chefs, like Andy Husbands, the chef of Tremont 647 in Boston, whom I’d met some years ago when he was one of the “celebrated chefs” of the National Pork Producers Council, a year-long gig that by all accounts is a lot of fun.

Here’s Andy (on the right) with restaurant consultant Ed Doyle
Michael Schlow, one of the featured celebrity chefs of the event, was there and confirmed a rumor that he was opening a restaurant in Foxwoods. It will be an incarnation of Alta Strada, his Italian restaurant in Wellesley, Mass., and will be at Foxwoods’ MGM Grand, which is slated to open in May.
I was wondering why Michael Schlow was listed as a celebrity chef and Michael Symon, whom I think enjoys about similar celebrity, was just listed as a chef, but the Foxwoods connection kind of explains it I think. And Mr. Schlow probably is more of a celebrity in New England, since Michael Symon is based in Cleveland and his New York venture, Parea, didn’t last too long.
New York Restaurateur Jimmy Bradley was there, too, and I learned that he and Danny Abrams were no longer partners — something I apparently should have known a long time ago.
In fact, it was reported in The New York Times in May of 2006. But hey, you can’t remember everything.
One of the very nice things about the Foxwoods festival is that nothing much was scheduled before noon. So I slept in until it was time to go to the Grand Tasting, which mostly featured wine and spirits, and beer, including a gluten-free sorghum beer which Ming Tsai’s chefs found interesting.
Ming Tsai’s big on catering to customers with allergies, because his son has many of them. I learned this later in the afternoon when I wandered into the press room while he was being interviewed. What else I learned: Iron Chef provides contestants with three possible mystery items, so they have some warning of what they might have to work with. When Ming Tsai had to cook duck on the show, he knew it would be duck, chicken or squab.
Squab. I used to see squab on a lot of menus, I really did, just a few years ago. These days, not so much. I wonder why.
Speaking of Iron Chef, I sat in on Morimoto’s demonstration, because he’ll be cooking at the Nation’s Restaurant News Culinary R&D conference in a couple of weeks. (The conference is September 28 and 29 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and is free to restaurant operators. Register now).
Dinner that night was a gala masquerade, and then there was an afterparty on the 24th floor, at Foxwoods’ fine dining restaurant, Paragon.
David Burke was at both of those (he’s opening three restaurants at Foxwoods when the MGM Grand opens). He also participated in the celebrity chef poker game on Sunday, which New York chef Franklin Becker of Brasserie won — and so $15,000 will go to a charity to treat autism. Ming Tsai came in second.

Here’s Franklin (on the left), with his agent, Scott Feldman.
At Saturday’s afterparty I met Junior’s owner Alan Rosen (Junior’s is opening a restaurant off of the MGM lobby and a coffee bar on the casino floor), and Top Chef’s Sam Talbot.
I’m going to have to start watching that show. I hate reality TV, and I don’t like to watch food TV because I like to turn off my brain when I watch TV, and if food’s involved I feel like I have to pay attention. But the show’s stars are becoming part of my world, and they seem to be good people. I could take being-nice lessons from Sam Talbot.
Harold Dieterle, formerly of Top Chef and now of Perilla restaurant in New York, was at Foxwoods, too. I saw him posing for a picture with fans at the Grand Tasting and I asked him if that happens a lot.
“Yeah, man, where’s my security?” he said (he was joking).
Following the afterparty, which ended promptly at 1 a.m. as that’s last call in Connecticut (I was told that last call was 2 a.m. on weekends, but it isn’t at Foxwoods), we went downstairs and...
“This is off the record!”
Sorry Scott.
Never mind.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chocolate busts and grasshoppers

September 14

Time to play catch-up before the weekend. So...

Yesterday I had lunch at Payard, which was promoting the opening in November of its restaurant in Las Vegas, at Caesars Palace. It will be serving breakfast and lunch like any regular restaurant, but with added grab-and-go options, but dinner will be all dessert, served as a three-course tasting.
I don’t understand this dessert-only restaurant fad we’re seeing and would appreciate someone explaining it to me. Is it part of the restaurant specialization trend that we’re seeing with the opening of burrito chains and fancy sandwich shops and yogurt stands and noodle bars and so on? Maybe.
A fellow guest (who is blushing as he reads this, he really is) told me a rumor that the restaurant will have some sort of holographic imaging device that will allow the production of chocolate busts of the restaurant's guests. I speculated that it would cost guests $150. Just a guess, we’ll see.
I sat next to Thomas the wine representative, from France’s Loire region. He told me that Loire wines were the most popular wines in France because of their reasonable prices and food-friendliness. I could see that. He provided us with a Marquis de la Tour (sparkling) Rosé (non-vintage), a 2006 Remy Pannier Vouvray and a 2006 Chinon, also from Pannier.

On Monday I finally saw good old Clark Mitchell for the first time since May. We had dinner with Chad Belisario, who does PR for the Mandarin Oriental hotel group but whom I’ve known for years and years, since he was a budding young journalist for one of those big glossy monthlies. Then he was hired by Jennifer Leuzzi back around the turn of the century, when she was herself a publicist, and he ended up going down that route. Nice guy. Tall.
Anyway, we had dinner at Toloache, Julian Medina’s new Mexican restaurant. We left the menu up to Julian, except that Clark and I insisted that we must have the tacos de chapulines, which are made with dried grasshoppers imported from Mexico (along with sautéed onion, jalapeño and lime).
Chad was hesitant, but he was a good sport about it and seemed to enjoy them.
Basically, they're salty and crunchy. They reminded me very much of the dried shrimp that are a snack in Thailand.

Some of the other things we ate at Toloache:
Guacamole tasting:
"tradicional" with avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro and Serrano chiles
"frutas" with avocado, Vidalia onion, mango, apple, peach, habanero peppers and Thai basil "rojo" with avocado, tomato, red onion, chipotle and queso fresco
Malpeque oyster shooters with Huichol salsa, red onion, agave and Meyer lemon
Vuelva a la Vida ceviche with shrimp, octopus, hamachi, oyster, spicy tomato salsa and avocado
Spicy yellowfin tuna ceviche with key lime, Vidalia onion, radish and watermelon
Huitlacoche and truffle quesadilla with manchego cheese and corn
A variety of tacos, including the grasshopper one
Suckling pig with habanero-sour orange salsa, cactus, avocado and chicharrones

What I ate at Payard:

Chilled heirloom tomato soup with guacamole and basil
Baby arugula salad with pine nuts, Parmesan shavings and black Mission fig
Seared salmon with white pineapple, cucumber Rémoulade and wasabi-buttermilk dressing
Mini beef burger on pretzel bread with tomato confit

Pomegranate poached pear with Cabrales cheese and Szechuan pepper ice cream
"Four Hour" apple cardamom crumble with crème fraîche ice cream
Payard hazelnut candy bar with salted caramel sauce
Palet d'Or with crispy meringue, hazelnut wafer, butter chocolate mousse and gold leaf.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

San Francisco, and a brief lesson in recent Thai political history

September 12

Let me return now to my recent trip to California. My visit with the almond folks ended on Saturday in San Francisco, and I had the option, after an almond dinner at Luella, of flying out on that evening’s red-eye, but instead I spent the evening in the St. Francis Westin and on Sunday I caught up with old friends from my Bangkok days.
Craig Stuart and Michael Carpenter were classmates at Princeton, but if I remember the story right they didn’t really get to know each other until they lived in Thailand, working through a program called Princeton in Asia.
Craig then, in 1993, I think, found his way into the offices of Manager, a business monthly owned by Thai media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, where I worked.
If you have a good memory for Thai names and are a serious Asia-politics newshound, you might remember that Sondhi (I’m not being excessively familiar; it’s customary to refer to Thais by their first names) was instrumental in fomenting hostility against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, which was ousted last year in a coup d'état.
Now that’s interesting because Manager had actually become the plaything of Pansak Vinyaratn, the once-and-future senior advisor to the Thai prime minister. He had fled the country after the 1991 ouster of Chatichai Choonhavan, whose think-tank he headed, and he also was to be the senior advisor of Thaksin’s government.
But in the early- and mid-1990s, Pansak and Sondhi were good friends, or allies, or something, and Manager had been handed to Pansak (unofficially, but completely) to do with as he liked.
What he liked was to create a quirky publication with unconventional ideas, beautiful photography and bright and curious young white people to do the words. It was an agreeable place to spend one’s 20s, and a big part of the enjoyment was that Craig was there — smart and curious, but always up for a drink.
As for Michael, he returned to the United States after his Princeton-in-Asia tour (and was the stateside director of the program for awhile) before he was lured back in 1995 with the launch of Asia Times.
Asia Times was an insanely ambitious newspaper — another project of Sondhi’s — that wanted to take on The Asian Wall Street Journal in particular and in general break the perceived stranglehold that Western media had on coverage of Asia.
Unfortunately, they forgot to market it and it all crashed and burned and was gone by July 1997. But in the meantime, it was a fun place to be a copy editor, which is what Michael and I (and eventually Craig) were.
Michael is inquisitive and enthusiastic and contagiously lovable, and returned to the United States in 1997 to get his MBA from Kellogg.
Craig would pursue journalism for another year or two before getting his MBA at Yale.
And they both ended up marrying Korean-Americans and settling in San Francisco, where Craig’s a banking vice president and Michael’s some sort of senior marketing guy. Another friend from our group, Jeff Cranmer, married the little sister of Michael's wife, Winnie, and he also lives in San Francisco, but he was in Vermont this weekend and couldn’t meet for brunch.
But I did meet with Craig, his wife Susan, their daughter Marlowe, and Michael and his daughter Anabelle at Yank Sing at Rincon Center for dim sum. The restaurant was Michael’s suggestion, and he’s one of the few people I trust when it comes to food, and not just because he’s from Louisiana. He loves food and pays attention to it.
His wife, Winnie, in case you were wondering, was overseas on business, as she often is.
I don’t recall what we had exactly, because we were busy catching up and watching the girls play, but Craig was kind of flummoxed that the servers seemed disinclined to serve us steamed items.
He marveled at their strategy of bringing plates to the table as though we’d already ordered them. Craig notices things like that — quirks in human nature that make them who they are, or that are just interesting tactics.
I spent the afternoon at Craig and Susan’s NoPa apartment and then in Golden Gate Park with Craig and Marlowe at what Craig says was the country’s first playground. It was recently redone, but somehow in kid-friendly, politically correct San Francisco, they managed to leave intact two gigantic concrete slides that require sand and big, flat found pieces of cardboard to slide down. I think that slide was Marlowe’s favorite feature of the playground, though she liked the swing, too.
Susan then looked after Marlowe while Craig and I went to dinner at LarkCreekSteak, Bradley Ogden’s newest restaurant, where we met chef Jeremy Bearman, drank Mourvedre and ate the following:

Summer bean and heirloom tomato soup with wilted arugula, Spanish style chorizo and olive soaked croutons
Jonathan apple, endive and fried Bellweather Farms Crecenza, Bronx grapes, La Quercia prosciutto and cider vinaigrette
Monterey bay, pan-sautéed calamari with garlic butter, lemon and Romano beans
Baked stuffed little neck clams with parsley, garlic, butter, anchovy and lemon zest
Certified Angus New York strip (me)
USDA Prime New York strip (Craig)
Malted “milkshake” panna cotta with salted caramel and Madagascar vanilla bean and various other chocolate desserts (in September the Lark Creek restaurant group celebrates its own chocolate festival)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For New York restaurant news junkies

September 11

The opening of Primehouse New York, Stephen Hanson’s latest restaurant, which was supposed to happen on September 20, has been pushed back to October 1. The opening party’s still scheduled for the 20th.
Primehouse’s shtick is that the beef served there is descended from the same bull. You can read all about it here if you’re curious.
The original Primehouse, in Chicago, involved chef David Burke, who, having been the corporate chef of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group for a number of years, is a steak expert. He’s not involved in the New York restaurant, though. Heading up the kitchens there will be Jason Miller, who also was the chef at Primehouse in Chicago.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Middle America, Calif.

September 10

Last Friday, after learning about almonds' nutritional (they're filling, have protein and lots of good fats as well as nice micronutrients) and beauty-enhancing attributes (basically, they have lots of Vitamin E, but you can also smash them and use them to exfoliate if you want to), we went to Vino Piazza, charmingly fractured Italian for "Wine Plaza."
There four of the six wineries that rent space there stayed open for us to try their wines. So I met giggling Craig Watts, the owner of Watts Winery, Matthew the perpetual student, who was pouring wine for Olde Lockeford Winery, whose owner is an amateur paleontologist, and so many of the wine labels feature prehistoric creatures (a trilobite on one, a saber-toothed tiger skull on another, a triceratops skull on a third); and the father-son team that runs La Vida Dulce winery.
I didn’t make it to the fourth winery.
California’s central valley is America’s produce basket, but its grapes are mostly used for blending into inexpensive vintages. Over the past decade or so, however, some of the growers have taken to bottling their own stuff – with mixed results, for sure, but some of it is tasty. But what was really fun about Vino Piazza was the people pouring the wine, who had the pride of winemakers of more prestigious wine-growing regions without the pomp.
They had the straightforwardness mixed in with quirky idiosyncrasies that make exploring the United States a continuous thrill and adventure.
That vision of the central valley was reinforced at dinner, which was at Harmony Wynelands in Lodi. It’s a vineyard whose spokesman, surfer and would-be Hawaiian Shaun MacKay, is the stepson of owner Bob Hartzell. With very little prompting, Bob will sidle up to the reception hall's organ, for which the hall was built in 1921. In fact, the organ’s pipes fill two rooms adjacent to the hall.
Why does a Lodi winery have a gigantic organ? Why not? They also feature silent films accompanied by the organ four times a year.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The bees are fine

September 7
(please see an August 11 2008 update below)

I'm in Lodi, Calif., at the moment, a guest of the Almond Board of California, which has flown out 20 some odd journalists from the U.S. and Canada to learn all about almonds.
California is currently in the midst of its biggest almond harvest in history. It's a bumper crop due to a confluence of excellent weather conditions and the fact that more trees were planted four years ago in response to increased demand, and it takes four years for an almond tree to bear commercially useful levels of nuts.
But here's the thing. The California almond industry is the beekeeper industry's largest client. That's because almonds are completely dependent on bees for the cross-polination that they need, and so almond growers bring in between eight and 12 bee boxes per acre of trees when they're in bloom in early spring.
So naturally I asked how they were coping with the global bee die-off, and the almond industry folks said it wasn't an issue -- that though the lack of bees has been widely reported, and some beekeepers have had trouble keeping their charges alive, in fact there is no shortage of bees.
And this also isn't the first time lots of honeybees have died. Old-timers report that something similar happened a few decades ago, and records show that it also happened in the 19th century.
Some 500,000 acres of Callifornia is planted with almond trees, and they all had enough bees.
But the almond board does pay close attention to the bees. In fact, it claims to do the most bee research in the country.
One representative from the almond board told me last night at dinner that that was due in part to the fact that the Honey Board is dysfunctional, but I have no way of knowing whether that's true or not. I had been wondering why no one from that board had bothered to comment on the bee die-off. You'd think they would have said something.
Here's something else: Almond hulls, which are used for cattle feed, were being sold at record-prices last year. I asked if that was because of the earmarking of some corn (also used in cattle feed, obviously) for ethanol, but they didn't have an answer for me.
Seems logical, though.

Last night we had dinner at a Sicilian restaurant in Elk Grove called Palermo.

Here's what we ate:

Tomato bruschetta
Slad with goat cheese and almond slivers
Thinly sliced salmon with arugula, lemon juice, capers and almonds
Duck tortelloni with mushrooms and almonds, cooked in tomato sauce
Farfalle gratinate with cream, porcini mushrooms, ham and chicken in almond crust
salmon with dried porcini mushrooms and ground almonds, served with risotto (with almonds in it) and cranberry-almond sauce.
Spumoni with almonds

I skipped breakfast, but I did eat a couple handfuls of almonds
Lunch was a salad with shrimp, avocado and almonds, followed by creme brulee topped with fruit but not almonds.
Then we had a tasting of almond products, and now I'm off to drink wine, to be followed by dinner that likely also will include some almonds, but I'll let you know.

August 11, 2008 update

There might not be a shortage of bees for big customers like the almond board, but the National Honey Board did point me to some data about domestic honey production over the past 50 years, and the picture’s actually pretty grim — so grim that I made a chart.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Because I want you to win $500, I really do

September 4

(This entry is dedicated to Regina Schrambling and others who prefer blind blog postings)

I just got off the phone with someone who used to work with Paul Liebrandt and recently opened a restaurant of his own in Soho. I really wanted to talk to him about his own restaurant, and I did, but I also had to ask if he knew anything about a future restaurant of Mr. Liebrandt that has been the topic of much speculation and apparently is causing quite a bit of consternation for my friends over at Eater, so much so that they’re willing to open their checkbooks over it.
The chef said that Paul enjoyed the pork-belly with miso-butterscotch sauce that’s on his new restaurant’s menu, but that he had no idea what arrangements Paul and “Drew” were working on and that they were being very hush-hush about it.
O.K., not Aha!, but I’m trying to share what I have, because I don’t think I could accept the $500 even if I won it.