Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Peter Hoffman’s favorite color is green

October 31

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

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

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

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

Mangosteens in New York?

October 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorbetto al Cioccolato Alberti
2001 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mangosteens in New York!

October 29

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

What I ate:

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

Bar Boulud

October 29

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

high-end sashimi, and ramen

October 24

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

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

Molyvos turns 10

October 23

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

Sometimes it just comes down to bacon

October 22

My brief stay in San Francisco was followed by a trip to Napa Valley for Nation’s Restaurant News’ R&D Summit, a fun little weekend event for corporate chefs of chain restaurants that involves visits to wineries, a pig roast and Wiffle ball, but that centers around a trip back to San Francisco to purchase local, seasonal foodstuffs at the Ferry Building market, which are then taken back to Napa and cooked by the participants at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus, in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.
It’s an interesting thing to watch the chefs who develop the food that America eats get together and chop vegetables and braise things and devise new salsas. It turns out that persimmon does not make a particularly good salsa, but hey, it was worth a try.
Chefs from places like Applebee’s and Baja Fresh and Cheesecake Factory were there. And also from Culver’s, IHOP, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Shari’s, Taco Bell, Subway and TGI Friday’s.
They were split up into teams, and here’s some of what they cooked with the seasonal stuff they found in the market (if any participants want to correct me, please go right ahead):

From Team V

Striped bass dusted with cornstarch and fried, with a five spice-black bean sauce
Fried chicken mushroom tacos with tomatillo-gooseberry salsa and chopped cilantro
Arepas with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, also with tomatillo-gooseberry salsa and cilantro
Squash blossom quesadillas with shallots, limejuice and that same salsa and cilantro
Layered “pizza” (sort of like lasagne, really, but firmer) with Humboldt Fog cheese, tomato, basil, fresh peaches, burrata and pesto vinaigrette
Autumn cioppino with butternut squash, served in a bread bowl

From Team IV

Grilled flat bread with caponata
Wild mushroom (shiitake, cremini and button) soup garnished with fried mushrooms
Turkey thigh ballotine stuffed with oyster, raisin, walnut bread, port-infused dried cranberries, chorizo and ancho honey vinaigrette, served with smashed Peruvian potatoes and roasted butternut squash
Pear crisp with fennel ice cream

From Team III, which I affectionately call Team Bacon

Challah French toast with applewood smoked bacon and blueberry-ancho dressing
Shrimp poached with sherry and slab bacon
Beets with pancetta and goat cheese
Brussels sprouts with garlic
Duck bacon BLT
Bacon-wrapped linguiça with porter barbecue sauce
Potato skins with Gruyère and “bacon sausage”
Arugula salad with blue cheese and chard, served with goat cheese-pumpkin gnocchi wrapped in bacon
Assorted roasted and raw oysters, mostly topped with pancetta, among other things
Skate with lime, olive oil, bacon fat, garlic, limejuice and bacon croutons
Chocolate truffles with cured bacon and tarragon

From Team II

Late season heirloom tomato carpaccio with baby tropea onion
Grilled black Mission figs stuffed with blue cheese and bacon
Oyster duet: chilled and topped with honeydew vinaigrette sorbet, and grilled with Warner pear-fennel compound butter
Quinoa in garlic vinaigrette with peppers, dried blueberries and pomegranate
Arugula-pear salad with roasted pepper vinaigrette
Crab salad with fennel, pear, tarragon, wilted arugula and pancetta-honeydew vinaigrette
Pumpkin seed and sage sausage pizza
Piquillo peppers stuffed with chèvre and merguez sausage, topped with pumpkin seeds
Beef cheeks with trumpet and cinnamon cap mushrooms
Pomegranate sausage sourdough buschetta with roasted tomatoes and fennel

And from Team I

Grilled bruschetta with chèvre, king trumpets, chanterelles, arugula, sweet onion vinaigrette and roasted pepper oil
Pepper-tomato soup
Oven roasted and raw figs with orange sauce, balsamic-veal stock sauce with sea salt and crème fraîche
Beer-braised sausage, shaved Brussels sprouts and shallots sautéed in bacon, haricots verts and roasted garlic-potato ragù, served with stone-ground mustard, blueberry-ancho dressing and deep-fried bacon
Apple-white chocolate bread pudding with pomegranate

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Foreign Cinema

October 18

I've run into a fair amount of unexpected formality here in San Francisco. This evening I think it was meant ironically.

I was having dinner with Jeff Cranmer, whom you might recall from two blog entries ago, and his wife Susie, at Foreign Cinema. We had reservations for 8:30, but Jeff suggested that we meet at the bar attached to the restaurant at around 8 for a drink. He had forgotten the name of the bar, but it starts with an L.
"You can't miss it," he said.
But, arriving at 7:45, I did miss it, so I spoke with a well-dressed gentleman in a suit who looked like a doorman of sorts outside of Foreign Cinema and told him that although I was not supposed to be able to miss said bar, I somehow had.
He smiled, pleased, it seemed, by my honesty, or maybe by my phrasing.
"Sir, you did not miss it, but merely overstepped it by a few feet," he said, gesturing to the dark building next to Foreign Cinema, with the sign "Laszlo."
It was really dark. A woman outside smoking a cigarette said "I'll be right with you," as I walked in and sat, alone, at the bar, with not even a bartender to keep me company as she was having a cigarette.
When the cigarette had been smoked, I ordered a weissbier called Franziskaner, which it seemed to me could refer to someone from San Francisco. The bartender shrugged at my analysis of the name. I squeezed my lemon, sipped my beer and browsed the cocktail menu. The drink names had Communist themes, which struck me as an amusing shtick.
Jeff and Suzie arrived soon enough, and as if they were the arbiters of what is trendy in San Francisco, they were soon followed by several large groups who filled up the bar. They insisted that I was the evening's trailblazer in Laszlo, but I pointed out that my arrival had been meaningless. Only when they arrived did the world sit up and take notice.
So anyway, Foreign Cinema. Chef-owner Gayle Pirie came out, introduced herself and gave us a tour of the place and then the three of us ate food, drank wine and talked mostly about food, although we did share stories of loud neighbors from days past. I guess it's kind of interesting that we didn't really play catch-up about our lives. I mean, Jeff and I had done that a bit the night before, but it's interesting how with some friends, even if you don't see them for long stretches at a time, you can fall right into conversation without having to reestablish connections. We talked a little bit about Jeff's friend Greg Dicum, who we hoped might join us, but he couldn't. One of Greg's current missions, according to Jeff, is to rehabilitate the Boulevardier, which apparently is a Negroni made with rye instead of gin.
Our friend Michael Carpenter, who also is Jeff's brother-in-law as he is married to Susie's older sister Winnie, was supposed to meet up with us last night, and in fact we had gotten kind of concerned that he didn't show up or call. Some people do that, but not Michael.
It turns out that he had spent two-and-a-half hours stuck in an elevator. Really.
Tonight he had a work dinner from which he could not escape, but he called Jeff periodically, apprising him of his status, and finally arrived at around 11, telling tales of woe about his experience in the elevator, and amusing ones about his visiting mother-in-law and her indulgence of his daughter.
Michael was unusually enthusiastic and engaging this evening, and that seemed to inspire the staff of Foreign Cinema to bring out six-year-old Calvados, which Michael sipped at while recounting the emotional roller-coaster ride that imprisonment in an elevator apparently is. He seems okay, though.
Jeff and Susie took their leave sometime around midnight, I think. But Michael and I weren't done, so we went to The High Tide, a dive bar in the Tenderloin, near my hotel, with a gruff middle-aged Asian bartender who looked mildly insane as she poured me a bourbon on the rocks.
I rememberd that Michael and my other San Francisco friend Craig had drunk there before, back in November of 2000.
I remembered it was November of 2000 because it was the day before Election Day, and Michael expressed great enthusiasm about voting -- he's very sweet that way -- and the joy of knowing at the end of the next day who our president would be.
Of course, it turns out that we didn't know for weeks and weeks who the next president would be, so I remembered the conversation.
Have you been wondering where Craig has been all this time? He was on a business trip in Los Angeles during my San Francisco visit. But even if he had been in town I probably wouldn't have gotten to see him. His wife, Susan, just had their second child, a boy named Cormac.
Welcome to the world, Cormac.

What we ate at Foreign Cinema:

Warm Dungeness crab brandade with pickled onions and caperberries
Martin's arugula with chick peas, currants, sherry vinaigrette and garlic croutons
House cured sardines with cucmber-mint salad, barrel-aged Greek feta and tomato chutney (note the cucumber-mint, a Middle Eastern touch; remember how I mentioned a few entries ago about the Middle Eastern influence in San Francisco dining?)
Petrale sole with wild chanterelles, sungold cherry tomatoes and brown butter-caper sauce
Fried Persion spiced (Middle Eastern, I told you) chicken with escarole, frisee, persimmon, pomegranate, kishmish and sumac (the last four are all Middle Eastern, kishmish is an onion compote with raisins and my new favorite word)
Lavender pork chop with toasted Brussels sprouts, apples, Parsi style potato hash with turmeric
(roasted Moroccan quail with rose petal sauce and Tunisian duck breast with grilled grapes and warm figs also were on the menu and of Middle Eastern influence, but we didn't eat them)
Lemon custard tart with strawberry and fig compote with lemon verbena sorbet
Persimmon, walnut and currant tartlette with caramel and white chocolate sauces (arguably Middle Eastern)
Chocolate pot de creme with a crinkle cookie

The seven coffees of Spruce

October 18

My calves hurt.
I walked from the Prescott hotel to Spruce for lunch. It's just a couple of miles, which is no trouble for a tough New Yorker like me, except in San Francisco. I think visitors to the City by the Bay should be issued topographical maps so we know where the hills are. I suppose I could use the workout, though.
I'd been meaning to go to one of restaurateur Tim Stannard's restaurants since I met him in Aspen a few years ago, but I have never had any occasion to go to Woodside, where his flagship restaurant is, so Spruce would have to do.
It's a surprisingly formal place for laid-back San Francisco, especially considering I was sitting at the bar. Bartender Evan (he was much too couth to have introduced himself, but the hostess mentioned his name) walked around the bar to pour me my 2006 Domaine la Bastide Viognier (from Pays d'Hauterive in France's Languedoc region) from the right. He did it with enough style to make that potentially quaint move charming.
His apology seemed quite sincere that they were out of boudin blanc -- a recent favorable review had resulted in a run on that particular dish. No biggie. Instead, after my salad of lettuce and herbs with banyuls vinegar and a green olive crostone, I had the crispy preserved duckling with green lentils and sherry glazed apples.
Spruce offers seven different coffees, not including decaf, and none of them are flavored. They each have different origins, are priced differently, and are arranged according to darkness of roast. They are roasted in-house and drip-brewed to order. I had the lightest roast, an Ethiopian Sidamo, which Evan once again came from behind the bar to serve from the right.

Friday, October 19, 2007


October 17

In honor of Jeff Cranmer, my friend who has taught me the magic of hyperbole, I am going to very briefly stray from my usual stance of not recommending restaurants on this blog and say that Ozone in San Francisco serves the best Thai food I have had in the United States.
I'm doing that because America needs it. Because I'm tired of mentioning Ozone to people and having them shrug and look at me like I just offered them a plate of ram testicles preserved in sour whey.
"Never heard of it," they say. I don't care if you've never heard of it. I don't care if Citysearch comments on it describe the fast delivery and friendly staff. They've missed the point. Ozone has obscure northern sausages like sai-ooa that taste like you could be eating them in Chiang Mai. They have roasted pork neck and fluffy catfish salad. They serve foods with flavors that we don't think of as being part of the Thai culinary palate -- earthy, rich dishes meant to counterbalance the hot-sour stuff that have won the hearts of American diners.
Jeff and I met in Bangkok, where the first thing he said to me was that he should give me five dollars for a particular restaurant review that I wrote (I was a critic at the time). That left me utterly confused and irrationally irritated, but I soon learned to appreciate Jeff's poetic use of language. His need to declare a good plate of khao man gai to be the best thing on the planet, to address his friends as King. It's just his way, and it's a way that glories in life's simple pleasures, that rejoices in a pleasant song or a tasty glass of scotch in the way that such things should be rejoiced in.
We met at Hemlock, a bar near Ozone, for beer before heading to Ozone, where we had more beer and I started ordering food like a crazy person.
"I think two appetizers is enough," he said.
Thai food in New York cannot compare to Thai food on the West Coast, you see, so I get carried away.
We had the sai-ooa and roasted pork neck. Jeff, who spent time in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, told the waitress in northern Thai dialect that the sai-ooa was delicious, but I guess she's from the central plains, because she didn't know what he was talking about.
Then things got blurry because of the gung chae nam pla. I don't remember what it was called on the menu, but it's shrimp marinated in fish sauce and then dressed up to be sour and spicy. Our waitress asked how spicy we wanted it, and not realizing that they would take me seriously, I said "very spicy."
So they served it very spicy by Thai standards and I might have lost consciousness. I know I babbled incoherently for awhile, trying to tell amusing anecdotes to Jeff while drinking beer and water and eating rice to kill the pain.
Still, I enjoyed the honey-roasted duck and the chicken in roasted chile sauce that followed.
"Are you all right?" Jeff asked.
I was exhilarated


October 17

So much food, so little time. I'm in San Francisco for just a couple of days, so I went straight from the airport to Absinthe, an old French bistro with a new chef. A young woman originally from New York's Upper East Side, Jamie Lauren, Scorpio, age 29, took over the kitchens in June and since then has been working to revamp the place (that’s her, on the left). She greeted me after I had lunch wearing a faded red Adidas cap, arms decked out in tattoos. She didn't like the Upper East Side, but is having a good time in the City by the Bay, which it seems to me is having a bit of a romance these days with Middle Eastern food. Or maybe it's just what I've been ordering. I had Jamie's Little Gem lettuces with pomegranate, shaved red onion, creamy dill dressing Persian cucumbers, mint and sumac. Middle Eastern -- at least the pomegranate, Persian cucumbers, mint and sumac. Well, and onion and to a certain extent dill.
Then I had the Croque Madame, which isn't Middle Eastern at all.
Jamie also sent me a soup of Jerusalem artichoke, spiced walnut oil, kaffir lime and micro cilantro. I had all of that with a couple glasses of Viognier.
Jamie's also buffing up Absinthe's cheese selection, so I had one of her sheep's milk selections paired with something light and Alsatian.
I had a cocktail for dessert, since cocktails clearly are a priority at the restaurant.
I chose the Java Islan: Espresso, Batavia Arrack, agave nectar and angostura bitters, chilled and served long over ice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

hungry, so very hungry, at Irving Mill

October 16

I like Hall Company parties. The publicists always manage to get a fun crowd and they keep everyone well liquored.
But they don’t feed them.
You’d think if you managed to draw a nice group of influential media types into a restaurant, understanding that it might be the only time they’ll set foot in the place, you would want them to sample the food.
Now, any self-respecting food writer understands that you can’t judge a restaurant by the food it serves at its opening party, but you can at least get a vague idea of what the place is all about.
But only food writers with the greedy, grasping hands of travel writers would have gotten much to eat last night, at the opening party of Irving Mill.
More than one person at the party asked me what I thought about the space, which until recently was the restaurant Candela.
I shrugged. I don’t know from space. It seemed fine. There was lots of freshly stained wood, and, you know, tables and chairs. A bar. I don’t know, and if I did I wouldn't have the words to describe the design features. Hanging from the ceiling were these round lamp things that I don't think were chandeliers. “Wagon wheels?” someone suggested. It might have been Josh Ozersky, but I can’t really remember because I was drinking Prosecco without eating.
My colleague, Sonya Moore came, too, and I introduced her around to some people, including Katy Sparks, a chef-consultant who was there with a new business partner. We took a tour of Irving Mill’s private space and chatted with executive pastry chef Colleen Grapes.
Executive chef John Schaefer was popping in and out of the dining room, going back into the kitchen clearly to cook something. He seemed really nice. I can’t tell you anything about his food except that he has been cooking at Gramercy Tavern for the past dozen years.
So there was no food, but it was a great crowd, with an unusually large number of celebrities. Benjamin Bratt was there for practically the whole night. He got there shortly after I did and was still there when I left, chatting with John Leguizamo and that actor who played the scary Irish-American prisoner in Oz. You know, the one with the brain-damaged brother. He also played a cop on Homicide: Life on the Street, but only very briefly, until his character murdered his ex-girlfriend or something like that. You know the guy.
I looked it up: Dean Winters.
Tom Colicchio was there, too, clearly to support his young protégé. People were commenting on how much thinner the Top Chef head judge looked in real life. I figured that was because cameras add 15 pounds, but I mentioned it to Tom and he said that he had, in fact, lost 15 pounds recently because he had been cooking on the line at his new Los Angeles unit of Craft.
So I guess if you’re chef, being on TV really does add 15 pounds.

What I finally had for dinner:

A barbacoa fajita burrito from Chipotle with red tomatillo salsa.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A balloon decorator and a gelato salesman walk into a bar...

October 12

I figured I wouldn’t stay long at the open house at 49 Grove, a lounge and event space in the West Village, especially after the bartender gave me a look indicating that he was something between forlorn and annoyed when I asked him to pick the mixer for my vodka.
“Orange juice? Cranberry?” he suggested. He wanted nothing to do with me, and it’s not like the bar was crowded.
But there is a time and place for putting yourself in the hands of a bartender, and an open house at which only the sponsoring vodka and rum are being served isn’t it. I really should know better.
I sipped my vodka and cranberry and ended up talking to Jeff Hershkowitz, who calls himself a balloon decorator. He doesn’t decorate belloons, however, he decorates with balloons. He does balloon drops and balloon sculptures. He set up the "balloon tree" at the open house — a symmetrical cluster of helium filled balloons that kind of resembles a tree. A cluster of 10 is about $20.
He inherited the business, which was started by his parents about 30 years ago. If you order a fair amount of balloons in New York City, chances are you’re getting them from him.
I switched to rum and for some perverse reason asked the bartender if he had ginger beer.
“You mean ginger ale?”
“Never mind.” I had my rum on the rocks.
And I struck up a conversation with a gelato salesman named John Koenig, who works for one of the popular restaurant suppliers.
Guess what his company's most popular gelato and sorbet flavors are?
I’ll give you a hint — they’re not vanilla and lemon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

all Aquavit, all the time

October 11

I’ve been to Aquavit restaurant three times this week. On Tuesday, Atlanta chef Shaun Doty was in town, because his restaurant, Shaun, was named one of the 20 best new restaurants by Esquire magazine (another Atlanta restaurant, Trois, was, too; that's a terrific showing for Atlanta). There was a celebratory dinner at Anthos the night before.
Shaun and his publicist, Liz Lapidus, wanted to meet me for lunch. They were headed to DB unless I had a different suggestion. Feeling selfish, I suggested Aquavit, which is around the corner from my office (it's on 55th between Park and Madison, NRN’s offices are on Park between 55th and 56th).
We ate in the café, not the main dining room, which has a more casual (and cheaper) menu. I had the daily husmanskost special. From what executive chef Johan Svensson explained to me years ago, that literally means "houseman's cooking," or traditional Swedish home cooking. But, I mean, this is Aquavit, so my Oxbringa – brisket, root vegetables and mustard broth — was cooked at a lower, slower pace than it would have been in a Swedish home. It came with a mini Prinsessbakelse for dessert, which is a sponge cake layered with whipped cream and raspberries and served under a marzipan shell.
We talked about the Atlanta restaurant scene (a big-name Atlanta chef is apparently looking at real estate in New York) and the gutsy meal that Anthos chef Michael Psilakis had served the night before (his restaurant was on the Esquire list, too).
Then last night I went to a launch party for yet another damn vodka. This one actually tasted a little bit different from other vodkas, which is cool if you want to drink it straight. But since most people will have it in Cosmopolitans anyway, I’m not convinced that it makes a difference.
Still, it was good sipping vodka, and I did, in fact, sip it as I ate many permutations of herring and caught up with Darrell Hartman, recently of Travel + Leisure and now a freelancer — a shift he apparently intended to make. I mentioned a promising job opening in food-related editing that I heard about recently.
“Full time?” he asked. I nodded. He shook his head. So that’s cool.
After the vodka party, I headed to my own neighborhood of Park Slope and popped into Brownstone Billiards, which used to have a fascinating karaoke night on Wednesdays, but no longer. It turns out that it drove out the pool players, costing the place a lot of money. The place has a new bartender whose name I didn’t catch. He’s an actor who just moved from Philadelphia to seek his fortune. He said Brownstone’s default vodka or Cosmos is a high-end French one, which I asserted made no sense. He agreed with me, but, I mean, the bartender”s supposed to agree with you.
Then today I stopped by during lunchtime because chef-owner Marcus Samuelsson was launching a line of cookware. So I caught up with him, and with Beverly Stephen from Food Arts and Jennifer Leuzzi, recently back from what was apparently a fabulous vacation.
I have no plans to stop by Aquavit tomorrow, but you never know.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


October 9

“I have news,” said Shelley Clark as she invited me to dinner last night.
Ooh, exciting. Was a chef fired? was a scandal brewing?
I rushed to Focolare to find out.
Focolare is a modern Italian restaurant that recently opened in the unlikely locale of Little Italy.
As a New Yorker, if you want to have a clandestine meeting and really, really don’t want anyone you know to see you, go to Little Italy.
What’s left of this once proud neighborhood is now a tourist trap whose restaurants have a reputation for bad, fake Italian-American food. I have no idea whether that reputation is deserved or not, as I haven’t eaten in Little Italy since my first or second month living in New York, back in 1999.
But chef Frank Lania, a veteran of La Grenouille, is trying his hand at contempory Italian there. So Shelley and I sampled beet ravioli, penne with eggplant, duck with a mild chocolate sauce (don't laugh), and some seared scallops, while she told me that she was quitting her job at Lou Hammond & Associates after 10 years to work on her own.
That was her news. It’s not really news I can use, but interesting nonetheless and I’m happy for her. Shelley had to rush off, so I chatted with Frank, drank some sherry and sampled some desserts — white wine mousse with raspberry coulis, molten chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream.
While I was pausing between bites, I was approached by some tourists from Houston. I had been pointed out to them as a food writer and they just wanted to give me their ringing endorsement of Focolare. They liked it much better than other places they’d eaten in New York — Tavern on the Green and The View.
I thanked them, welcomed them to New York and asked them what shows they’d seen. I think they said they’d seen Mama Mia.
Frank said that just a few days after Focolare opened they were visited by Texan tourists who loved the place and have been sending their friends there since.
But if you’re a food writer, or someone in the media who covers books about food, you don’t have to go to Focolare to sample Frank’s cooking. He’s making a goat dish for Goatstravaganza, a party on November 8 celebrating the launch of my friend Margaret Hathaway’s book The Year of the Goat.
Goat cheese will be served, Margaret will read from her book and her husband, my college friend Karl Schatz, will show pictures he took of goats (he’s a terrific photographer, if I do say so myself), cashmere, mohair, kidskin and other goat products will be on display, Goats Do Roam wine will be served (even if you have already received your invitation, I bet you didn’t know that; I’m on the inside track!), and live goats will be in attendance too.
So if you’re, you know, legit, and want to come to the party, let me know: Post a comment here or e-mail me at

Monday, October 08, 2007

Some weather we’re having

October 8

It's a cliché that people with no imagination talk about the weather. My mother has banned the utterance of the word “humidity” in her presence because, she has declared, it leads to the most boring of conversations.
But there’s something comforting in talking about the weather — or cathartic if the weather has been quite bad. Everyone can participate, neighbors can reminisce. It’s a pleasant, non-controversial folk tune, part of the friendly chirping noises that knit the fabric of society, unless a winemaker is doing the talking.
“On July 3rd the sun came out in the late morning, but then it got cloudy and we thought it would rain, but no, the sun came out again. But then on July 5th it started to get colder than usual and we got a lot of rain, but then on the 9th...”
I exaggerate a little, and in fact I’m not exactly sure what they say, because as enthusiastic and attentive as I feel when a discussion on wine begins, soon I start to feel like Homer Simpson.
“Well then, on August 9th we got this breeze from the coast,” the winemaker says with a meaningful chortle. But my brain is going “dee dee dee, dee, de dee...” unable to concentrate due to lack of interest, unable to shut the winemaker out enough to think of anything else, I sit there and succumb to my brain’s own white noise.
Winemakers can be very nice people, and I love the fruit of their labors, but I don’t want to hear every last detail about their jobs any more than you want me to explain to you the positioning of each of my commas, or to have me reminisce about stories I’ve line-edited.
“Well, this one writer, he had the most peculiar beliefs about the use of the semicolon...”
Still, there I was, having lunch at the Beard House as a guest of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. Actually, at that moment it was not yet a lunch but a grape tasting. A winegrower discussed the weather conditions that affected a particular grape variety, and then we’d taste it. We’d smash the grape with our tongues and assess the juice — there was room in our press booklet for us to write tasting notes — and then we’d chew on the skin, having been told that it was the skin, really, that gave each wine its unique charactersitcs. We moved on to Pinot Noir, then Zinfandel. Zinfandel clusters, it turns out, have grapes at different stages of ripeness on each cluster. Getting the right mix was essential, we were told, and I believed it. Why not?
That was followed by two different clusters of Cabernet Sauvignon, from different parts of the Sonoma Valley.
Really, much of it was rather interesting, and the lunch was beautifully put together and managed. But by the time we’d made it to the Cabernets I was done tasting. I was ready for lunch, which of course involved wine tasting, but I can manage to sample three glasses of wine per course. I’ll sample all three, maybe twice, and then pick a glass and stick to that.
The wine industry is masterful at bringing romance to its beverages. It’s fermented grape juice, after all, but its merchants have drawn us in, seduced us, and last Thursday convinced dozens of journalists and sommeliers and the like to sit and listen to a monologue about the weather.
Here in New York it has been unseasonably warm so far this October. But the calendar says it’s autumn, and so the autumn restaurant season has begun.
It’s as busy an autumn as anyone I’ve spoken to can remember, and autumns are always busy on the New York restaurant scene. But it seems to me there has been an unusual drought of fine dining openings, and other phenomena I can’t explain.
The night of the wine luncheon I went to the opening of the hotel Mela, not far from Times Square. There was a red carpet outside, and a velvet rope. That’s a little unusual, but not so much so. But there was a line of paparazzi outside. A few flashes went off as I walked down the carpet, much to my amusement.
(I was later told by a publicist that the paparazzi were there waiting for celebrities that might arrive. I pressed her and she said that maybe Beyonce would come, but maybe not. “You know how celebrities are,” she said. I don't but I let it go.)
I drank some Champagne, sampled some hors d’oeuvres, met a new editor of Travel + Leisure’s web site and was interviewed about bangs.
A couple of people were starting a web site about bangs — yes, the hair that droops down over your forehead. The Travel + Leisure editor, whose name I have forgotten, apparently had fabulous bangs and they wanted to interview her about them. They did a little video of her talking about her bangs, which she actually cuts herself.
I asked them if they wanted me to talk about bangs. It was a joke. I’m bald. I haven’t had bangs since I was 19. They turned the camera on me, so I told them that for me, bangs would have to be a really horrible comb-over.
If I were a woman, they asked, what kind of bangs would I have? They suggested some types that I didn’t understand, such as pixie bangs.
“What are pixie bangs?”
“Like Audrey Hepburn.”
“Anyone should do whatever they can to look more like Audrey Hepburn,” I said, trying to visualize her bangs, which I could not. But she certainly was beautiful.
Downstairs in the hotel’s restaurant, Saju, the room seemed to be filled with concierges, travel agents and travel writers. I don’t think I saw a single food writer. I was sipping Champagne and admiring the orchids (spiky and red, not the ubiquitous white ones which are elegant but, I’m sorry, boring), and struck up a conversation with some hotel guests from Atlanta, when a fake staff member took a microphone, announcing that it was his last day and that his colleagues wanted him to sing, which he did badly, until a fake manager took the mic away, yelled at him and started singing opera. Then the first guy grabbed the mic back and sang a show tune, but this time he sang it well, and then a woman joined in, and this singing troupe entertained us for a few minutes. I’d never seen anything like it at a restaurant opening. They were good singers, but what were they doing there, and couldn’t I talk to the other guests instead?
Then they stopped and salsa music began playing, until the DJ switched to ’80s music. I sipped more Champagne, ate some food on skewers and a lamb chop or two, and wandered off, wondering what had just happened.
Friday I understood. I had lunch at Matthew Kenney’s latest venture, Freefood. The name is perhaps a misnomer as salads are $11.25. It’s meant to indicate that there aren't any additives to the food. Chef de cuisine John McAllister explained to me that all of the ingredients except for the cheeses were organic. But I liked him anyway. Nice guy, smart, and good with food costs. At the Soho Grand, where he was executive chef for a number of years, he says he kept food costs down to 21.5 percent, owing largely to catering, of course, but it's still good.
That night I went to a reception at the residence of the British Consul General, where 60 some-odd Scotches were being served. I stayed long enough to catch up with bartender and beverage writer Naren Young, who has left Pegu Club and Public and is now at La Esquina, and food writers Nancy Davidson and Julie Besonen. I also ate a Scotch egg, talked with Scotch purveyors and drank enough Scotch to ensure that Ray Garcia's friends would continue to like me.
That evening was his poker night, you see, and I went to the apartment of Ray's friend Matt Parker and contributed to the winnings of others by losing at Texas Hold 'em.
Perhaps it’s disingenuous to blame the Scotch for my losses, but hey, it’s my blog.
It was 80 degrees out on Saturday, when I’d invited my friend Birdman to be my plus-one at the Beard House, where Sonoma chef (yes, back to Sonoma) Mark Stark was cooking.
With the possible exception of Kenyon Phillips, Birdman is my least formally dressed of friends (tivas are his footwear of choice all year long), except when he's not.
It being summerlike outside, he wore a seersucker suit with a knit bow-tie and the appropriate variety of white shoes whose name I have forgotten. He looked fantastic.
I looked at shoes today with my colleague Elissa Elan, who was my lunch guest at the newly revamped Cafe SFA at Saks. I had the burger, she had a salad topped with seared salmon, and I indulged her afterwards by commenting on the $700 shoes she was admiring.
I got a phone call this afternoon from publicist Stephanie Faison.
“You're not on my RSVP list for the opening of Grayz tonight,” she said, perhaps slightly confused. “You come to everything.”
Indeed, the opening had slipped my mind, but I was free.
The strange weather today — apart from the temperature, which was still in the 80s — was the nature of the venue that chef Gray Kunz was opening — not a high-end restaurant, but a lounge and event space. I’m torturing the analogy, I know, but it did seem like an indicator of the New York City restaurant climate.
Regina Schrambling, in a weather-appropriate sleeveless dress, pointed out that the food being served — sausages (weisswurst), brisket, pork belly, baked beans, goulash — was all autumn. Indeed it was.
I met Oceana’s executive chef, Ben Pollinger, whom I’d only spoken to on the phone before, and Buddakan’s relatively new executive chef, Lon Symensma, who took over when Michael Schulson left to do the TV show Pantry Raid (cute name, right?). Gotham Bar and Grill chef and New York restaurant icon Alfred Portale stopped by, and Chris Lee of Gilt with sommelier Jason Ferris. And others. We spoke of many things, which I will not reveal, because I think they will be the subject of my next column in Nation’s Restaurant News.

What I had at the Sonoma County lunch (food by chef Bruce Riezenman):

Drakes Bay oysters with sparkling wine sabayon and fennel Chiffonade
2000 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, Carneros


Whole corn and cauliflower soup with dungeness crab and coconut
2005 Baletto Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast
2003 Murphy Goode Fumé Blanc Reserve, Alexander Valley, “The Deuce”

Liberty Duck confit, heirloom tomato & lavendar coulis and Merlot juice, with Tierra Farm marrowfat bean ragù and braised red chard
2005 Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley
2005 Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley
1995 Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

What we ate from Sonoma on Saturday (Chef Mark Stark and his team):

Hors d’Oeuvre
Petite Maine lobster rolls with parsley and fennel
Crispy monterey squid with orange–chile gremolata
Oh! Tommy Boy potato spring rolls with caramelized onions and mint
Pomegranate-glazed CK lamb kofta
Dungeness crab tacos with aji amarillo
Wattle Creek Methode Champenoise NV

Bacon and Eggs — Pinot-poached Triple T Ranch egg and slow-braised pork belly with black truffle–bacon vinaigrette and crisp potato, pearl onion, and frisée salad
Wattle Creek Pinot Noir 2005

Sonoma veal cheek raviolo with popcorn sweetbreads, creamed corn, and mustard–tarragon jus
Wattle Creek Triple Play 2003

Arugula and endive with Manchego cheese, Meyer lemon, and avocado
Wattle Creek Viognier 2005

Liberty Farms duck four ways — cardamom and vanilla–roasted duck breast; duck confit and foie gras cabbage roll; and black Mission fig in a blanket with duck prosciutto
Wattle Creek Shiraz 2002

Caramelized Gravenstein apple financier with hazelnut crunch, Marin Farms Camembert ice cream, and wattle creek sparkling Shiraz and blackberry sabayon

And what I sampled at Freefood:

Raspberry, cacao, goji berries and almond milk
Banana, cacao bean, Thai coconut, espresso and cashew butter
Green tea, melon, nutmeg and candied ginger
Young coconut, spinach, agave and Super Green Food (a powdered additive made from leafy green vegetables)

Kale, cucumber, spinach, lemon and green apple
Pineapple, green apple and fennel

Five spice squash, dried orange zest and toasted sesame
Romesco soup with dharred tomatoes, roasted peppers, marcona almonds and sherry vinegar
Yukon gold potato, celeriac, roasted hazelnuts and oil spiced with cinnamon

Pressed sandwiches:
Slow-roasted free-range chicken with sun-dried tomato, tapenade, arugula and mozzarella
Maple smoked wild salmon with herbed labne, mizuna and capers
Roasted portobello, macadamia hummus, preserved lemon and crispy artichoke

Various foods at the buffet that I wrote down somewhere but can’t find at the moment

Chocolate marzipan budino with sea salt
Cranberry tart with sage cream

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ivy Stark update

October 5

Regarding my entry of a couple of days ago, Ivy Stark is indeed back at BR Guest Restaurant Group.
From a BR Guest spokeswoman: “We'll have more info next week, but you are correct in saying that she is back!”

(This picture shows what Ivy Stark looks like in formwalwear during the James Beard Foundation Awards)

Ivy Stark update update, October 10: Specifically, she’s at Dos Caminos Park, something Grub Street knew three weeks ago.
You know a lot of restaurateurs complain about blogs that spread rumors. But the thing is, more often than not, it seems, those rumors end up being pretty accurate.
Grub Street has more resources than most blogs, it being the food blog of New York magazine, but still...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

family and friends

October 4

Belcourt, a Mediterraneanish restaurant in the East Village, is scheduled to open this Saturday, so last night they were practicing, serving family and friends and handing out sheets of paper for us to evaluate our experience. It's a common practice -- a sort of dress rehearsal for the restaurant's staff — although press isn't often invited to such things (or at least I'm not).
But publicist Gail Schoenberg invited me, and I had dinner with her and her high school friend Kathy, who is a bartender at a dive bar (her words) called Nancy Whiskey in Tribeca. She makes a good living. I shared with her a statistic I'd heard, and that some have trouble believing, that Hooters waitresses on average make 45 percent tips. She simply nodded. She also told me about a popular drink in Irish bars that I will never sample — the Jäger Bomb, which is a shot of Jägermeister dropped into half a Red Bull.
Some other press people were there, too, like Epicurious' James Oliver Cury and his wife Dorothy, who had been invited by chef Matt Hamilton. I noticed that Dorothy had a tattoo on her left shoulder — a heart with the word "mother" written across it. I asked her about it, and she said it was a tattoo that sailors and other tough guys have tattooed on their arms so that people would call them momma's boys, giving them the opportunity to get into a fight.
Oh, the things you learn if you just ask.
After dinner we decided to stop by Jehangir Mehta's new restaurant, Graffiti. There he told us the story of someone who called, claiming to be from a particular newspaper and asking for a reservation.
Now, Graffiti has, like, five tables, and so it's reasonable that they don't take reservations.
Could he make an exception?
Well, he supposed he could.
And what free stuff could he give them?
Well, he doesn't really do that.
How about some house wine?
Um, no.
What if we bought a bottle of house wine? Would you give us another one for free?
Well, you see, this is just a small restaurant and he couldn't really afford to do that.
So they canceled the reservation.
General rule of thumb for restauratuers: If someone has to ask, you shouldn't give it to them.

What we ate at Belcourt:

Chestnut, celery and sunchoke soup
Oil poached octopus with cardamom pickled carrots, salsify, coriander dressing and olive crisps
House cured duck prosciutto, spiced figs, mascarpone and lamb's tongue lettuce
Roasted butternut squash and apple ravioli, wild mushrooms brown butter and sage
Lamb burger, goat cheese, spicy ketchup, zucchini, pickle and fries
Salt cod bourridde with brandade dumplings, baby fennel, Manilla clams and sauce verte
Hanger steak with fried scallions, bone marrow sauce and brown butter
Zucchini crudo with lemon and brown butter

And at Graffiti (which we paid for, in case you were wondering, although Jehangir did pour me a bit of Merlot to drink while Gail finished her tea):

Chicory chocolate steamed bun with peanut-butter ice cream
Halva with mascarpone date cream
Grape-braised figs and black pepper ice cream

Amalia turnover complete

October 3

I just got off the phone with the folks at Amalia, here in New York, who tell me that Ivy Stark has quit her job as executive chef and is being replaced by her chef de cuisine Adam Ross, who has a solid background working his way through many of Boston's finest kitchens. His promotion follows the promotion of Roberto Ikuma to pastry chef — replacing John Miele, who left to work for Ed Brown’s new restaurant, Eighty One, which will open this year — and of the appointment of a new general manager, Shahed Choudhury, to replace the astute and charming polyglot Thomas Vaucouleur de Ville d’Avray, who arguably has the best name I have ever heard. Monsieur Vaucouleur de Ville d’Avray is now working for the Dolce Group in Los Angeles.
Word in the ether is that Ivy has returned to the BR Guest fold to work at Dos Caminos again, maybe to open the Las Vegas unit. Surely someone will confirm that soon (unless of course it’s not true, but I bet it is).

Quotation of the day: “money talks (i heard it once - it said good bye)”

Whatever happened to Tyson Wong Ophaso?

October 3

People obsessed with the New York food scene, of whom there are more than is reasonable, might be glad to know that Tyson Wong Ophaso, the good-natured Thai-born former executive chef of Chinatown Brasserie, has landed on his feet in Los Angeles, where he is corporate chef for the Domaine Restaurant Group.
A press release that landed in my e-mail inbox says his first task was to rework the menu at Red Pearl Kitchen to make it more reflective of Southeast Asian street food, although the new menu items it mentions are mostly Cantonese, and the editor in me must point out that China is not part of Southeast Asia, which comprises 10 countries that I’ll list below for the curious.
Menu items include steamed and pan fried dim sum, shrimp har gao, pork shu mai (that’s the Japanese spelling of a Cantonese dish, although it is a popular snack in Bangkok, where it’s called khanom jeep), and a bunch of dishes in pancakes that come from farther north in China.
Noodles (which are Chinese but common enough everywhere else) and Thai curries are available as well, however.

And now, the countries of Southeast Asia in alphabetical order:
The Philippines

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What a person eats when Zarela turns 20

October 2

I’ve added the menu of Zarela’s 20th anniversary party to the bottom of my entry about it. Click here (and scroll down) to have a look.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Eating as much of Los Angeles as I can

October 1

“Is this the lovely Nina? It’s Greg from the Century Plaza, I have my super-VIP of the evening.”
I sink a little in my chair as Concierge Greg works his magic. I will wonder later how much of this show is genuine schmoozing of Nina and how much of it is for my benefit, but for now I just want it to be over.
“I know … I understand. Yes but if you could fit him in. He’s the food editor of Restaurant News. I told him about Lucques and he’s very interested in visiting.”
That was only partly true. I already knew of Lucques, although it wasn’t top-of-mind. I’d really wanted to check out Craft, but it’s not serving dinner on Sundays yet.
But I’d enjoyed hearing chef-restaurateur Suzanne Goin speak in Aspen. I’d be happy to check out one of her Sunday dinners. But “very interested” in visiting? Greg was taking poetic license. Then again the language of a concierge is poetic in a way, and whether Greg was actually sweet-talking Nina or merely nursing my ego while managing my expectations — setting me up for a long wait before being seated — it was effective.
“He’ll wait at the bar and have a Sidecar until you can fit him in,” Greg continued, mapping out my next steps of the evening.
I don’t like pulling strings to get restaurant reservations. It’s unjournalistic and, frankly, undignified.
But to ask the concierge of your hotel with help for reservations is perfectly reasonable. To give him your business card so he can remember your name — well, okay, if it’s a business card from the Daily Variety of restaurant trade magazines, and if that magazine happens to be hosting a conference at the concierge’s hotel, at which hundreds of attendees have booked rooms, that’s pulling strings.
Oh well.
I wasn’t even planning on going out to dinner last night. Our Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference, MUFSO, had started that evening with Taste of Los Angeles, a reception at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza’s reflecting pools at which a bunch of local restaurants were dishing up their specialties. As food editor I had to attend.
In fact, the Culinary R&D conference had ended the night before, on Saturday. I and our two executive editors, Richard Martin and Robin Lee Allen, had spent the morning meeting with a dozen-and-a-half restaurant operators from the United Kingdom who were interested in learning about foodservice trends in the United States. We were joined by Jeff Sinelli, the young CEO of Which Wich, a sandwich chain based in Dallas who had just won a Hot Concepts award from us and who was providing a restaurant operator’s perspective for our British visitors.
Jeff had also won a Hot Concepts award several years ago for his Genghis Grill, which he then flipped and started Which Wich. I’m pretty sure he’s not yet 40 years old.
He’s also 6'5", which might be irrelevant, but I, being 5'3.5", find it fascinating.
But my point is that if I weren’t going to attend Taste of LA, I could have flown out that afternoon; I wasn’t assigned to cover anything at MUFSO.
If I’m going to attend, I’m going to try as much of the food as is reasonable, and possibly more.
But publicist Ellen Hartman had no dinner plans and she wanted some, and we did have legitimate things to discuss about many of her clients. Besides, I was feeling bad that during my four days in LA I had only managed to visit Grace, Pinkberry (which we have in New York anyway), Pink Taco and In-and-Out Burger. I had not been a very intrepid trend-spotter.
But I’d had duties to perform at Culinary R&D, which is a full-on day-and-a-half of relentless activity.
Rehearsal started later than I thought it would on Friday, however, so my boss Pam Parseghian and I hopped into a taxi to go to In-and-Out Burger, because I’d never been. I had one of those secret off-the-menu items — the one with sautéed onions. But that night, after Nancy Kruse’s keynote State of the Plate speech and a cooking demonstration by Japonais executive chef Gene Kato, we had a reception at which the conference’s 15 sponsors all were serving food made from their products. I had to go, and I had to try as many items as I could manage (I managed 14).
So I was full, and besides it seemed important to stay in the hotel and bond with my colleagues based in places other than New York.
“X Bar,” said Jesse Parziale, who’s on our event planning staff and who had been working hard while following the progress back in Tampa of his daughter’s pinkeye.
I met our new ad-sales guy, Kevin McKay, recently of another restaurant trade magazine. He’s a gallant fellow, the type with the presence of mind to remove his suit jacket to drape it around the shoulders of a woman shivering in the early autumn air of Los Angeles at twilight. He did just that during the Saturday closing reception of Culinary R&D.
He showed me pictures of his kids, the (fraternal) twin boys Jack and Michael (Jack’s the jock, Michael’s more of an intellectual), age 5, 4-year-old Tess, and Ryan, who’s pushing 3.
Lunch the next day was the same format as dinner the night before. Then came the presentations on Japanese food, which included the tasting of four types of miso followed by the sampling of four miso preparations, assiduously supervised by presenter Elizabeth Andoh, who instructed the attending chefs on some basic principles of Japanese cuisine (five colors, five tastes, five methods of preparation).
Then there was a cooking demonstration with accompanying tastings by “iron chef” Masaharu Morimoto. Next was that reception in which Kevin the new ad salesman displayed his gallantry and I ate cheese and drank Tennessee whisky.
I switched to scotch for the pre-Hot-Concepts-awards cocktail party — I think because the bartender, Vichai, was Thai, and Chivas Regal, the favorite drink of Bangkok’s Sino-Thai middle class, was in plain view.
By the way, the bartender on the previous night, Boonsong, also was Thai.
Of course I dialed back to wine for dinner and then repaired to X Bar again, which Richard and I think some others managed to close down at 2.
My point is that there’s a reason I hadn’t been able to check out more Los Angeles restaurants.
Richard and I checked out Pink Taco the next day after our meeting with the British restaurateurs (I had the signature pink tacos, He had a salad and pork tacos), and then I checked e-mail and lay down for half an hour before going to visit my old college friend Matt Shapo (scroll down to the previous blog entry if you want a refresher on Matt), his wife Jenn and their two-year-old son Evan, who enjoyed giving me his version of high fives.
Matt took me back to the hotel, I put on a tie and sport coat and headed downstairs to the Taste of LA, where I finally met our new Tampa correspondent, Catherine Russo Cobb. She was a bit shy and tentative, but that’s fair enough, really. She’s also bright, dismissive of shallowness and an avid runner.
Good old Jamie Peters, who worked at NRN before moving to Memphis to work at a publication at the university there, now lives in Los Angeles, and editor-in-chief Ellen Koteff brought him to our party. He has an MBA now and is doing PR or marketing or something for Mattel. He seems the same — baby-faced, quick-witted, funny and just a bit aloof.
I made a reference to C&C Music Factory — I think I said “I got the power” or something like that — and he wondered if perhaps the band performing at Taste of LA could do a slow-jazz rendition of that song. I said I’d prefer that they try “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).”
So my evening was full, my day complete, when Ellen Hartman asked me to dinner, but I realized I had not yet eaten enough from the trough that is LA.
And so we went to the Concierge Greg.
I was just settling into my Sidecar and Ellen into her Lucques Gimlet, when our table was ready.
“I want to eat out with you more often,” Ellen said.
(Fade out to a C&C Music Factory song of your choice).

What I ate at Lucques:

last-of-the-season figs with burrata, James’ arugula and crushed pistachios
duck leg braised in red wine with kabocha squash, toasted pepitas and grilled bacon (I also sampled Ellen’s Alaskan halibut and clam stew with artichokes, potato, sherry and almond aioli)
Concord grape and walnut buckle with vanilla ice cream and crème fraîche

I drank a glass of 2004 Château Perray Jouannet from Anjou in France’s Loire Valley.