Friday, December 28, 2007

Soba Totto

December 28

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

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

December 27

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

A thinking man’s chef

December 21

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The non-open opening

December 19

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Oh happy day

December 18

It looks like Grant Achatz is better.

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

But here’s a note he just sent out:

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

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

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


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

Playing with The Sun

December 18

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Playing with Rickshaw

December 13

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Playing with Curbed

December 11

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

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

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

Friday, December 07, 2007


December 7

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

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

December 6,

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


December 5

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