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)

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