Friday, March 30, 2007

Michael Psilakis’s food and Katherine Bryant’s company

March 30

Last night I ate at Anthos, Michael Psilakis’s latest fine-dining restaurant, with publicist Katherine Bryant. I’d last eaten with her several weeks ago at Michael’s more casual restaurant, Kefi.
Kefi was almost ghostly silent the night that we ate there, but the restaurant apparently does five turns a night now, with neighboring restaurant Nice Matin benefiting from the spillover.
Katherine and I go way back. I met her years ago, when she was a mere pup of 22 and, like me, was working for a foodservice trade magazine (where, incidentally, she worked with our friend Andrea Strong, who had just stopped being a lawyer to become a food writer).
Anthos was mostly full last night. The table closest to us was populated by a raucous crowd comprised of Cat Cora and half a dozen others whom I didn’t know.
Katherine and I spoke of many things, including how to treat food writers and other VIPs that wander into your restaurant. It’s not uncommon to let them eat for free, especially if they’re alone or with just one friend. But how many times are you supposed to do that, and how often?
My philosophy is never to expect anything unless a representative from the restaurant contacts me and says: "Please will you eat in our restaurant as our guest?” To wander around asking for freebies is both undignified and unethical. In fact, I have colleagues who question the ethics of eating free food at all, although they are business reporters; it’s not their job to scout out food trends in restaurants. I’m happy to say that that task falls to me.
I told Katherine of another dilemma that I have. Say I stop into a restaurant for a drink or something, and they recognize me and send out food or give me free drinks. That’s nice, but I can’t very well go back the next day for a drink for fear that they will think that I will think that they’re obligated to give me more free stuff. It can be awkward.
Michael came by and chatted for awhile. He noted that as his career progresses it is becoming easier to find good help, because cooks want to work with someone of his reputation. He also talked about his delight in the fact that spring is coming and he’ll get to take his cooks down to the Union Square greenmarket to help plan the menu, which he changes every day (really, the menu has today’s date printed on it).
Shortly after he left to talk to other guests or put out a fire or something, his front-of-the-house partner, Donatella Arpaia, stopped by to gossip with Katherine. Donatella lamented Gawker’s rude item on Bullfrog & Baum, the PR company Katherine works for, and Katherine shrugged it off.
I don’t read Gawker often because, although that blog is sometimes very amusing and perceptive, usually I find it just to be mean. But I have noticed that Gawker likes to expose people for failing to be completely honest about their connections with others. So, in the interest of such full disclosure, I should point out that Josh Stein, the guy who wrote the anti-Bullfrog Gawker item, apparently applied for a job at Bullfrog & Baum and didn’t get it.
I should also point out that I’ve met Josh and like him.
Anyway, at the end of the meal Katherine’s fiancé, actor David Flaherty, showed up, and we chatted a bit over yogurt and spoon fruit, which Donatella brought out to show me the trays in which they’re served.

What else we ate and drank:

cracked mixed olives and garlic confit
keftidakia with olives, leeks and fig puree
smoked haloumi cheese
taramasalata and crispy pita
Guinea hen ballotine with smoked bacon, fig purée, puréed liver, house-cured prosciutto and pickled ramps
Ode Panos sparkling wine

Taylor bay scallop with pomegranate gelée, pistachio vinaigrette and peppermint
yellowtail with fennel pollen and ouzo-macerated cherries
tuna with mastic oil, lemon confit and rosemary
smoked sable with potato, pickled peppers and mint
cobia (a farm-raised Japanese fish) with lamb shoulder terrine
a 2005 Santorini

Sardine escabeche with cucumber, Thassos olive tar and herbs
two different kinds of retsina

Seared red mullet with lentil salad, lountza bacon and xynomavro vinaigrette
Vatistas Kidonitsa

Spicy shellfish yiovetsi stew with orzo, saffron and paximathi toast
2004 Hilopita Argilos

Baby pork chops, belly and lahanadolma with grilled fennel and avgolemono
Château Courras 2001

Goat cheesecake with coat cheese caramel, khatayif and kumquats
Ommegang Henneppin saison-style ale

Sesame-halva "extravaganza"
Espresso-chocolate torte
Samos 2001 Nectar (Muscat)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

This week in swag

March 29

I’m getting more food and drink sent to my office than usual these days. I'm not sure why. Spring marketing blitz, maybe.
The best thing I've gotten was a package of four pints of ice cream and three ice cream bars, although I'm not complaining about the bottle of Riesling.
I also got a bottle of sparkling water with accompanying cocktail shaker, t-shirt, jigsaw puzzle coasters, and hundreds of identical temporary tattoos — a package that proves that I will never understand marketing people. I don’t even write about sparkling water, and what does sparkling water have to do with a cocktail shaker, anyway? Sparkling water normally would be added to the top of a cocktail after it was mixed. Shaking it would let out all the fizz.
I got a bunch of sodas that are supposed to be good for me, along with a cutting board made of wood fibers that the press materials said was "the preferred food preparation surface by restaurant chefs worldwide," which of course it is not. However the cutting board did have an invitation to a free spa treatment pasted on it, which is nice. But I don't write about cutting boards or soda, let alone spa treatments.
And the sodas were gross: loaded with citric acid and artificial sweeteners, along with little micronutrients that are supposed to smooth out your skin or boost your immune system or make you more alert or calm you down or make you more flexible and so on and so on, depending on which one you’re drinking. I suppose they did quite a bit of consumer research before deciding that they all should taste like sweetened battery acid.
Loved the ice cream, though.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring

March 27

I have had my first iced coffee of the season and am at peace.

Deep in the heart of 12th Street

March 26

Texans were cooking and providing the wine at the Beard House last night, where I sat with freelance food writer Nancy Davidson, who gave me her opinion of the best cheese plate in New York (the way to Nancy’s heart, apparently, is cheese).
Across the table from us were the closest thing to nobility in the food writing world, Michael and Ariane Batterberry, who founded Food & Wine and Food Arts magazines.
Michael Batterberry wears seersucker better than anyone I know, although he wasn’t wearing it last night as it is only March. He told amusing anecdotes and defended Savannah's honor when it was compared unfavorably to Charleston.

In charge of this evening’s "Texas Modern Dinner” were Mark Schmidt and Bryce Gilmore of Café 909 in Marble Falls, Jason Gould of Gravitas in Houston and Monica Rios-Carter, the pastry chef of Abacus in Dallas.

Here's what they made and poured:

Oysters on the half shell with prickly pear-Serrano mignonette, by Mark Schmidt
Texas goat cheese and braised onions on beet tuile with wild honey, by Jason Gould
Gruet non-vintage Blanc de Noirs (Albuquerque, which of course is not in Texas, but it’s nearby)

White Gulf shrimp with candied and spiced citrus salad by Jason Gould
Inwood Estates Vineyards 2005 Palomino-Chardonnay (Hunt County, Texas

Seared dayboat scallops with Real Ale-braised rabbit and green apple-spring onion soubise by Mark Schmidt
Dickson 2005 La Rosa (Texas Hill Country)

Diamond H Ranch quail with spinach, black olives and white bean hash by Jason Gould
Inwood Estates Vineyards 2003 Tempranillo-Cabernet

Ruby’s BBQ smoked shoulder of wild boar crépinette with sweet potato grits, baby turnips, carrots and spiced pecans by Mark Schmidt
Dickson La Cruz de Comal 2004 Cohete Rojo

Cheese and dessert by Monica Rios-Carter:

Texas goat cheese and duck prosciutto terrine, Shaft’s Blue Cheese-bacon tart and Cooper's Cave Ale-cheese soup
Jumilla Altico 2003 Syrah (Spain)

Texas pecan pie on chocolate cake with Jim Beam ice cream and white peach and caramel sauces
Flat Creek Estate 2006 Muscato Blanco
and Flat Creek Estate Port (Texas Hill Country

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Back to Tokyo

March 20

Lunch was at a winery called Cave d’Occi in the warmest part of Niigata prefecture. The grapes were mostly traditional Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals, although the winemaker had been planting some Italian and Spanish grapes in recent years. That went with a lunch that was basically regional Italian, if you treated Niigata as a region of Italy.
Both Japanese and Italian cuisines put a heavy stress on the use of local, seasonal stuff, so it’s really no stretch to take the ingredients that are available in Japan — octopus and baby mackerel, say — and assemble them with an Italian sensibility. And that's just what they did.
Dessert was a cassis, strawberry and vanilla parfait accompanied by strawberry sorbet and, for Japanese content, cherry-blossom jelly.
We also stopped by Echigo, home of Japan’s first microbrewery. There we sampled a pale ale, an amber and a weissbier as well as the only beer Echigo exports to the United States. That was a light lager sold in Japanese an Korean restaurants for $12. Cool, big bottle, all in Japanese.
After a couple more stops, to look at lacquerware and possibly buy other things — Naren picked up some bar implements, I just looked around — we hopped back on the shinkansen to head back to Tokyo.
During the train ride back, Suimi Fujiwara, a representative from JR and a companion of ours for the entire trip, handed out beer, sake and preserved Murakami salmon, sliced in strips, and, using Akiko as an interpreter, quizzed us about the trip, asking us to evaluate it. We gave them high praise, although I suggested that perhaps we didn’t need to dine on the floor quite so much — it’s a nice tradition, but it hurts. I also said it would be nice to see where the Murakami cattle was being raised and to visit other production facilities.
Back at the Shinagawa Prince hotel, we took an hour to decompress and then headed to the Roppongi neighborhood.
Akiko wanted us first to stop at Roppongi Hills, a large commercial and residential complex with many restaurants and shops. We popped our heads into L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. We wandered around the bakeshop and no one said a word. That was in sharp contrast to what I thought was the universal practice in Japan of greeting everyone who walked into your establishment with a warm, hearty welcome. I asked Akiko if it were true that even at McDonald’s in Japan you were met with such a greeting.
She said it was. And I know that anyone who walks into a shop in France is greeted with a warm “bonjour,” and you’re supposed to say “au revoir” when you leave. So it’s not like the Atelier staff was just following French custom. They seemed just to be rude.
We ended up eating at an izakaya called Gonpachi. Naren wanted to eat there, because friends of his had said it was good and because it had been in Kill Bill, so it would possibly be touristy, but also possibly cool.
The décor was that of an oversized, two-story Japanese tavern, just over-the-top enough to be appropriate for Kill Bill, yet with a hint of bar & grill mixed in. The servers reminded me of southern Californians.
I was in the mood for vegetables and Naren was in the mood for meat, so between with us we basically ordered the entire menu. Akiko and Fujiwara-san seemed fine with that.
We lingered until after the subways had stopped and resolved to stay out until Tsukiji, the wholesale fish market, opened. Naren wanted to see the tuna auctions and that was fine with me.
From Gonpachi we went to a bar named Mangin. It was a cool spot run by kids who looked too young to drink, but it seemed to be doing well. When we told them, through Akiko, that we were from New York, they asked if we knew chef (Masaharu) Morimoto and said that he frequented the bar when he was in town.
I sampled Asahi beers that I hadn’t seen in the states, although the bar mostly offered shochu.
Takeshi had told me that young Japanese people made the shift to shochu sometime between 2001 and 2003, when he was studying in Boston. Akiko concurred. Fujiwara-san didn’t say anything. He just ordered an umeboshi sour, which is shochu with a salted plum.
Naren stepped outside and ended up finding our next spot. A late night basement bar that played recorded jazz onto the street, I assume to attract patrons, which it did. We spent the rest of the night there, sipping beer and eating udon noodles until a little after 4, when we hopped into a taxi to Tsukiji.
It was still an hour until the tuna auction, so we wandered around, watching the merchants lay out their live seafood. One guy was sticking wires down the spines of wriggling fish, which Akiko said deadened their nerves and kept them from wriggling.
The auction was in the back of the market, where whole headless tuna, all frozen, lay on the ground and were being inspected by men with hooks that looked rather like crowbars, hacking into the flesh near the tail to examine its quality.
The auction was fast, fascinating and completely incomprehensible. Several auctioneers would hold up their hands and sort of chant rhythmically while potential buyers made gestures with their hands that I didn’t understand. It was great.
As the sun rose we stood in line for early morning sushi, shivering a bit in the cold.
I was back at my hotel a little after 7. Fujiwara-san picked me up at 8:20 and took me to the train, rode me to the airport, led me to check-in, pulling my luggage all the way. I thanked him and we bowed several times as I went off to check in.
I thought that was the last I would see of him, but after I had checked in he was waiting on the other side, making sure everything went all right. We could use more people like him.
I slept well on the flight home.
This is a picture of Fujiwara-san dishing up a rice dish at Gonpachi. Isn’t he great?

Murakami to Shibata

Okay, back to my Japan trip:

March 20

On Sunday we took a train to the town of Murakami, in the northern part of Niigata prefecture, which has both a type of cattle and a preparation of salmon named after it. We sampled both at lunch, prepared by a chef who both hand-selected the salmon that was hanging outside to dry and prepared Murakami beef in a stew, in raw squares to be grilled at our tables, and cooked sous-vide with a ponzu mousse.
Even during salmon season, the local variety isn’t eaten fresh. Although it’s highly prized, it’s only prized after it has been salted and dried for between one and ten months. I'm still trying to ascertain which species of salmon it is. It’s not king or sockeye, and the locals seemed inclined to believe that it was chum, but I’m not convinced the language barrier was breeched, so I’m doing further research. I bet it’s either pink or chum, which generally are eaten canned in the States.
We also had wasabi shoots cooked in dashi; tofu mixed with macha, white sesame, kudzu and sugar; and more great things I don’t have time to mention.
The grilled Murakami beef was served with wasabi and salt on the side.
I cannot recommend enough eating beef with wasabi.
After lunch we strolled around Murakami, which was conveniently holding a sort of doll festival, and finished up our tour at a facility where salmon was being hung to dry.
Then it was off to an onsen in Shibata. An onsen is a hot spring, but it’s also the resort built around it. Public bathing is a longstanding custom in Japan with many trappings that either are not as complicated as people like to imply or were completely lost on me.
During the bus ride up we stopped by a different onsen to look at it. Our hosts seemed to want us to know that we were to bathe before going into the hot springs and that we were to enter the springs naked, but they didn’t want to actually say those things. I’m not exactly sure why, but I sensed that pointing out such obvious things were embarrassing and awkward, which I guess I understand.
Then when we checked into our own onsen, Tsukiyoka Seifuen, I was visited by two men from our Japanese entourage and a maid from the staff to instruct me in the art of wearing a yukata, the traditional clothing to be worn to and from the baths and generally throughout the facilities. I began to fear that learning to wear such garb would be more difficult than learning to speak Chinese or even tying a bowtie.
But it turns out that a yukata is a bathrobe. It's tied with a sash rather than a belt, and it doesn't have any loops to guide the sash, but it's a bathrobe, with an optional jacket. I thought maybe the knot with which one tied the sash might be complex, but no, it's a regular bow, normally worn on the right side if you're a man, although some people wore it in the back. No big deal.
Here are Naren, Akiko and me in our yukatas. I’m on the right.
The onsen is quite obviously the father of the Western-style spa, with relaxation and non-formality a requirement. So we all wore our yukatas to dinner — seated on the floor, which I suppose has the potential for embarrassment when wearing a bathrobe, but we managed. Dinner was sashimi served in hollowed-out ice globes, cooked seafood garnished with cherry blossoms and other nods to springtime, tofu flavored with a vegetable called yomogi and topped with kaiwari greens, chawan mushi, braised Echigo pork — another Niigata delicacy — tempura, fish stew and on and on. One difference between onsens and spas is that overeating seems to be encouraged at onsens.
In our private dining room, apart from tables and tatami mats, an uncharacteristic bar with sake and a motley selection of mixers. Naren eventually took this as a cue and began to prepare sake cocktails, which went over well.
Our hosts had noticed that Naren enjoyed staying out late drinking, and that I didn’t mind either. He had said that a quiet, early night at the Onsen would be nice, but they seemed to think he was just being polite and they trundled us into a van — still dressed in our yukatas — and took us to the local izakaya, where we ate Japanese cucumbers with miso and raw squid with raw quail egg and drank sake and beer. I also had shochu with hot water and salted plum, something I'd learned to enjoy from Yasuo Kusano, the Northeast Asia bureau chief of Asia Times, where I worked in Bangkok.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Beard Handicapping

March 21
And now a break on my reporting from Japan to attend to local matters:

The Beard Awards are going to be especially long this year. Two new geographical categories have been named: The former Midwest region has been divided into the Midwest and the Great Lakes, and the former Southeast has been split into the Southeast and the South.
Those awards are all very nice, but the only real career maker is Rising Star Chef, which is given to someone 30 years old or younger. The award for best new restaurant is always one to watch for news value.
Awards for outstanding chef, pastry chef and restaurant are given to big names that don't really need the extra attention.
The regional awards tend to involve the same nominees year after year who already enjoy fame in their respective areas. The winner is a toss-up. That will be a little different this year, since some of the regions have been reconfigured.
I talked to Michael Bauer about that. He’s the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and also the chair of the Beard Foundation’s restaurant committee. He said they actually consulted with a cultural demographer who looked at the regions as cultural entities. The committee then regrouped "the ones that most likely went together culturally.” That’s why Hawaii was moved from the Pacific Northwest to California, so-to-speak. It will make it harder for Hawaiian restaurants to get nominated, but culturally it makes more sense.
But the biggest changes were in the Midwest and Southeast.
“The real reason for that, which I think kind of showed up in the nominations, is that those areas have grown, foodwise, and so they can sustain their own awards,” Bauer said.
Besides, he added, "what the awards do in an ideal world is not only recognise but also build and foster an environment for better cooking." Recognizing Midwesterners outside of Chicago and Southerners outside of Atlanta and Charleston should help.
In an attempt to keep the ceremony from getting too much longer, they have cut down the America’s Classics awards from eight to six.
Although the Beard Awards tend not to be full of surprises, nominations and awards are nice to get, nonetheless, so congratulations all around to the nominees.
Just for fun, I shall predict the winners. These are not my choices, mind you — they are who I expect to win.
I’m listing all of the nominees below (if you are new to the awards, don’t be surprised by the New York bias; it’s a regular thing for the Beard Foundation). My predictions have an X by them.

Outstanding restaurateur
X Thomas Keller
Keith McNally
Richard Melman
Drew Nieporent
Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Outstanding Chef
X Tom Colicchio
Lee Hefter
Jean Joho
Paul Kahan
Michel Richard

Outstanding Restaurant
X Boulevard, San Francisco
Frontera Grill, Chicago
Magnolia Grill, Durham, N.C.
Picholine, NYC
Spiaggia, Chicago

Best new restaurant
A Voce, NYC
Cochon, New Orleans
Cut, Beverly Hills
Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
X L 'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, NYC
Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC

Rising Star chef
Nate Appleman, A16, San Francisco
Graham Elliot Bowles, Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel, Chicago
David Chang, Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC
Patrick Connelly, Radius, Boston
X Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Outstanding pastry chef
Will Goldfarb, Room 4 Dessert, NYC
Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin, NYC
Leslie Mackie, Macrina Bakery & Café, Seattle
Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, Tartine Bakery, San Francisco
X Mindy Segal, HotChocolate, Chicago

Outstanding Wine Service
Bin 36, Chicago
i Trulli, NYC
Mary Elanie’s at The Phoenician, Scottsdale
Michel Richard Citronelle, DC
X Picasso, Las Vegas

outstanding wine and spirits professional award
Dale DeGroff
Paul Draper
Dan Duckhorn
Terry Theise
X Helen Turley

Outstanding service
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
Canlis, Seattle
La Grenouille, NYC
Terra, St. Helena, Calif.
X Tru, Chicago

The regional awards:
Pacific (California/Hawaii)
Traci Des Jardins, Jardiniére, SF
Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg, Calif.
Rolan Passot, La Folie, SF
Craig Stoll, Delfina, SF
X Michael Tusk, Quince, SF

Mid-atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
X Cathal Armstrong
Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria, Va.
RJ Cooper, Vidalia, D.C.
Jose Garces, Amada, Philadelphia
Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken
Frank Ruta, Palena, DC

Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Colby Garrelts, Bluestem, Kansas City
X Tim McKee, La Belle Vie, Minneapolis
Alex Roberts, Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis
Adam Siegel, Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, Milwaukee
Celina Tio, The American Restaurant, Kansas City

Great lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
X Grant Achatz, Alinea, Chicago
Carrie Nahabedian, Naha, Chicago
Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Chicago
Michael Symon, Lola, Cleveland
Alex Young, Zingerman 's Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, Mich.

New York City
Terrance Brennan, Picholine
Floyd Cardoz, Tabla
Wylie Dufresne, WD-50
Gabriel Kreuther, The Modern
X David Waltuck, Chanterelle

Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT)
Rob Evans, Hugo 's, Portland
Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, Arrows, Ogunquit, Maine
Michael Leviton, Lumière, West Newton, Mass.
X Frank McClelland, L’Espalier, Boston
Marc Orfaly, Pigalle, Boston

Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Scott Dolich, Park Kitchen, Portland
Maria Hines, Tilth, Seattle
X Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez, The Harvest Vine, Seattle
Holly Smith, Café Juanita, Kirkland, Wash.
John Sundstrom, Lark, Seattle

Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Hugh Acheson, Five & Ten, Athens, Ga.
X Arnaud Berthelier, The Dining Room in the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, Atlanta
John Fleer, Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
Mike Lata, Fig, Charleston
Scott Peacock, Watershed, Decatur, Ga.

Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT)
David Bull, Driskill Grill, Austin, Texas
Nobuo Fukuda, Sea Saw, Scottsdale, Ariz.
X Sharon Hage, York Street, Dallas
Monica Pope, Tafia, Houston
Andrew Weisman, Restaurant Le Rêve, San Antonio

South (AL. AR, FL, LA, MS)
Michelle Bernstein, Michy 's, Miami
John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, Miss.
Jonathan Eismann, Pacific Time, Miami Beach
Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Ala.
X Donald Link, Herbsaint, New Orleans

I’m not going to predict the design and graphics awards, but here they are, in case you’re curious:

Outstanding Restaurant Design
Lewis. Tsurumaki. Lewis (LTD) Architects
Designers: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, David J. Lewis, New York City
For Xing Restaurant

Rockwell Group
Designers: David Rockwell, Shawn Sullivan, Nils Guldager
New York City
For Nobu Fifty Seven

Tadao Ando Architects and Associates
Designers: Tadao Ando, Stephanie Goto, Masataka Yano
New York City
For Morimoto

Outstanding Restaurant Graphics

Baron and Baron
Designers: Fabien Baron, Takashi Hiratsuka
New York City
For Buddakan

Base Design
New York City
For Stand

Memo Productions
Designers: Douglas Riccardi, Lisa Eaton
New York City
For Pizzeria Mozza (in LA)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thirty-two business cards later...

March 18

If you ever get a chance to be the guest of honor at a dinner thrown by the heads of Niigata’s food and beverage world, I suggest you go for it. You might want to do some stretching first, though. Niigata’s old school, and that means festive dinners are eaten at low tables while guests sit on legless chairs — basically on the floor. It’s murder on the knees if you’re not used to it.
A local television crew was there as our hosts at O Noyya restaurant greeted Naren and me.
Naren was seated at a table of sake experts. At my table were authorities on Niigata's food. I was seated next to Takeshi Endo, a local businessman and an old friend of Akiko’s. Takeshi has an MBA from Boston University, a degree he called a “Masters of Being in America.” He also later referred to it as a ”BS in BS.“ He was armed with an electronic dictionary which proved less than useful when trying to identify some of the mountain greens and other vegetables we were eating. It informed us that shungiku was "spring chrysanthemum" or "garland chrysanthemum,” from which we learned nothing, but it was fun listening to Takeshi try to pronounce “chrysanthemum” (no disrespect to Takeshi, chrysanthemum's hard to pronounce). It reminded me of one of my teachers in China, who never got much closer than "krimasanathem."
Our first toast was going to be with beer until Kenji Ichishima, the tall, cosmopolitan president of Ichishima Sake Brewery whom Naren had adopted as his mentor, insisted that it be with sake. He had a point.
So we toasted with sake and Takeshi went through the process of quizzing the experts across the table about what we were eating. I’d be fine with not eating some of it again, like a slimy seaweed called mekabu and a tiny, unbelievably salty shrimp called agahiye, which means "red moustache." The agahiye was served with finely minced pickled daikon.
But the buri was unbelievable. Buri is what kampachi and hamachi become when they grow up, which is to say mature yellowtail. My hosts said the yellowtail from the cold waters of the Sea of Japan was fattier than others. They also said that, as far as they were concerned, buri worthy of the name must be wild. Most yellowtail apparently is farm-raised.
I later asked Akiko if there were a generic Japanese word for yellowtail. She said there wasn’t.
Anyway, the buri was delicious, but my hosts said that, because it was so fatty, eating it as sashimi soon caused palate-fatigue, so they also eat it as shabu shabu — the Japanese version of a hot pot. A simmering pot of broth was on the table, and they had me compare the buri raw and cooked, first insisting that I must never let my chopsticks lose their grip of the buri as I dipped it in the broth, lest someone else eat it. It was a joke, but the Japanese have a lot of protocol and I didn’t want to mess anything up.
But of course the buri immediately slipped out from my chopsticks' grasp and into the broth, but I recovered it instantly, preventing it from being overcooked.
Both preparations of buri were completely engrossing and I almost forgot that I had to interview a chef for Nation’s Restaurant News. Fortunately, I remembered in time and began quizzing Yokoyama Norio, the chef-owner of Murui Sushi Restaurant, one of 170 sushi restaurants in the city of Niigata, which has about 800,000 people.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but apparently I had gotten me and my entourage invited to Murui for a second meal. There Yokoyama-san’s underlings introduced us to some of the innovations that he had discussed during our interview, which I’m not going to tell you about lest I steal the thunder of my upcoming article.
But I will tell you that one of the pieces of nigiri sushi I had was topped with shrimp brain. That definitely required a good belt of sake, which I found went remarkably well with shrimp brain.
The highlight of that second meal, simply for the experience, was a dish of water and live shrimp, their legs scrambling in the water. Takeshi giggled and expressed a lack of interest in eating it.
“How do I eat it, I asked,” and Yokoyama-san tore off the shrimp’s head and had me suck out the interior as he ripped off the shell, so I could eat the body. Not bad, but the raw-shrimp sushi that followed actually was better for some reason. Kenji said that was generally the case. Maybe it’s similar to having roasted meat settle before carving it.
Then it was time to cater to Naren, which meant barhopping.
We started at a bar with walls lined in Americana where the bartender specialized in sake cocktails. Someone in our entourage produced peanuts and I asked if they were from Niigata, too.
Kenji laughed. “No, they’re from Chiba Prefecture,” he said, as if everyone knew that that’s where peanuts come from.
We then went to a bar where I sampled a sake cocktail made with cherry blossom liqueur and grapefruit juice squeezed to order. The bar snack served their was chicken breast boiled in sake, peppercorn-coated cheese, pomegranate and a frozen lychee imported from Taiwan.
The lychee was semi-thawed to a precise state in which it was easy to eat, but not so thawed that its texture would be compromised.
Naren made it to two more bars, but my last stop was a place simply called The Bar. And that’s exactly what it was. Hidden on, like, the 5th floor of an office building, a row of stools, a varnished bar, a solemn bartender with greased back hair and, behind him, an array of whiskeys, some of which even Naren had never heard of before. I sampled some Sazerac rye while Naren watched the bartender make, with great deliberation, the best Manhattan he had ever drunk.
The bartender was so intense, and we watched him with such seriousness, that eventually he broke down and giggled.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A reprieve from the hangover gods

March 17

Naren and I greeted each other with some confusion in the hotel lobby at 7:50 a.m., ready to leave for Niigata. It wasn’t the morning-after confusion brought on by sleep deprivation, dehydration and alcohol withdrawal that one could reasonably have expected from the night before. No, we were confused by the lucidity and general sense of well-being we both were enjoying.
In fact, although we had left Akiko in the hotel so we could findt ramen at 2:30 a.m., and she had given us a stern warning about the need to look sharp in case Niigata television wanted to interview us, we had beaten her downstairs.
We spent the hour-and-half on the bullet train to Niigata photographing and asking questions about seven bento boxes that one of our growing number of traveling companions from Japan Railways had fetched for us — one from Tokyo, six from Niigata.
We arrived in Niigata and were greeted by more JR people and government types, checked into the hotel and then headed to a sake festival, at which 92 of Niigata's 97 breweries participated.
It looked like a trade show. We were led around by the event's organizer — one of the brewery owners — who explained the finer points of sake to Naren while I chatted with Philip Sugai, who teaches marketing at the International University of Japan in Niigata. He’s a white guy from Rhode Island, but he has been in Niigata prefecture for seven years, having married a Japanese woman and taken her surname. This, he said, is quite a common practice in Japan and has been for centuries. Families without reputable sons often adopt their daughters' husbands to continue the family lineage, he said.
Anyway, Philip and his wife Yoshie clued me in on many of Niigata’s delicacies while I followed the sake tasters around and sampled their wares.
I kind of paid attention to the sake facts, too. I learned that Niigata is the third-largest producer of sake and that, while the producers in Kyoto and Tokyo tend to produce sake on a large scale, Niigata's sake brewers tend to be smaller and more boutiquish. Their sake is relatively mild, owing to the indigenous rice variety, Gohuakumangoku. However they have been crossbreeding that rice with Yamadanishiki from Kyoto. The resulting rice, Koshi-Tanrei, combines the smoothness of one parent with the rich body of the other.
At the festival we also ate many fried things and witnessed the comedic stylings of a Manzai team.
Philip said Manzai is a brand of comedy from Osaka in which two guys play off of each other à la Abbot and Costello.
There also were Ginza dancers.
Oh, and Naren and I were interviewed by a local TV journalist.
After the festival I could have taken a nap, but I didn’t need one. It is truly strange.
And now, I'm off to dinner...

Why James Bond’s Martinis are shaken, not stirred

March 17

Everyone (well, okay, the few dozen people in the cocktail world and various dorks like me who care) knows that Martinis generally are to be stirred, not shaken. Shaking usually is only done with cocktails made with fruit. So what is James Bond’s problem? Surely Mr. Sophisticated should know that.
I’ve posited my own theories about that earlier, because that’s how big a dork I am, but I had the chance to ask that question yesterday of Naren Young, a cocktail expert who is on a trip to Japan with me.
We arrived in Tokyo yesterday, and during the flight I had time to sleep, eat and watch two-and-a-half movies, including the latest James Bond hit, Casino Royale. I noticed that the Martini 007 ordered wasn’t just gin and a little vermouth with an olive. Oh, no. It was something more complex than that involving Lillet and a lemon twist. I didn’t catch exactly what it was because since I got a DVR my ears have become lazy, having grown accustomed to my ability to rewind and listen to dialog again.
But since it was top of mind, I brought it up with Naren, who said that the drink in question was, in fact, part of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. It was three parts Gordon’s gin, one part vodka (brand unspecified because who cares?) and half a part Lillet, shaken, with a twist.
Naren — which actually is short for Narendra, in case you were wondering — explained that shaking does two things: it dilutes the drink faster, obviously, but it also aerates the drink, giving it slight effervescence. This is, in fact, desirable for the Martini variation that Bond orders, which has come to be known as a Vespa, named after an arch-nemesis of his (or rather, per Josh's comment below, Vesper, for Vesper Lynd, who is a nemesis of sorts).
Naren ordered that for us at Hoshi, a very excellent Tokyo bar in the Ginza area that had been recommended by friends of his on the bartending circuit (Naren himself tends bar at two New York places, Public and Pegu Club). It was a very cool, very upscale establishment on the seventh floor of an office building and the nicest bar I’ve been to by an order of magnitude to allow its clients to remain passed out in public view. The drunk young salaryman thus slumped on the bar added an excellent bit of ambience that is difficult to explain. So did Hoshi Yuichi, the enthusiastic bartender.
We never would have found Hoshi had we not been walked there by a staff member of Tender, another bar on Naren’s list.
Tender Bar, instead of bartender. Get it? I didn’t until Naren explained it to me.
There we sampled many house cocktails, the most interesting of which was called Shungyo, or "spring dawn." It was made with green tea liqueur, vodka and sake, and was garnished with a cherry blossom that had been preserved in salt. It was the garnish that made the drink representative of spring, even though it was preserved in salt. It’s interesting how the Japanese bring seasonality into their food that way.
Naren and I are both guests of Niigata prefecture, where he is learning about sake and I am learning about the area’s food. Our guide is Akiko Katayama, a New York based journalist and all around cool person.
Despite the inevitable grogginess, we felt that it was necessary to paint Tokyo a little bit red before leaving for Niigata the following morning. Akiko suggested we go to the Ginza, which of course we did.
After wandering the back alleys for awhile we stumbled into Yoshihiro, which apparently is a rather well known restaurant, although Akiko and our guides from Japan Railways hadn’t heard of it. Then again, Akiko lives in New York and our JR friends are from Niigata. We were mightily pleased, though.

Here’s what we ate:

Matzuzaka oxtail from Osaka simmered for four hours in soy and mirin, garnished with some kinome, an herb that I learned later in the evening is supposed to be smacked between your palms before being eaten. That releases the aromatic oils and makes Japanese people think you know what you’re doing.
Sashimi of Matzuzaka beef, katsuo, madara (a fish from Hokkaido), maguro, a shellfish called tsubu that we couldn’t identify and some sort of internal organ of the tsubu, all served with soy sauce, grated ginger, grated garlic, fresh wasabi that we grated ourselves on sharkskin, shiso and myoga — an aromatic root vegetable that looked like an onion but that tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before.
Tomato wedges with freshly grated Himalayan rock salt.

We drank Yebisu (a dark beer) and warm sake — something that is out of favor in the US but that can be pretty awesome. Naren also had shochu served with a large ball of ice that apparently is a common thing to do in Japan. Naren hopes to find the stuff needed to make those ice balls and introduce them to the Pegu Club.

Naren and I finished the evening by goading one of our Niigata friends, Kunihiro Yoshioka (he said we should call him Kuni) into finding a late-night ramen place for us. He said he knew of an all night Italian place where we might be able to get spaghetti but he speculated that all ramen places would be closed at 3am. But we sent him forward into the night and in about three minutes we found our ramen place and I had one loaded up with wakame.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What else do you call quesillo?

March 14

Last night I ate at Mercadito with publicist Tracey Henry and Alfredo Sandoval, who is one of Mercadito's owners and also is involved in Simon Oren's restaurants, most notably Sushi Samba, which has locations in Chicago, Miami and Tel Aviv as well as two in New York. Soon Alfredo will be heading to Dallas to look over the opening of the Sushi Samba there. After that, the next Sushi Samba will be in Las Vegas. It will open in the new section of the Venetian around the end of the year.
But that's not all, Alfredo is also the brother of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval, who owns Mexican-oriented restaurants in Denver, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Dubai, as well as Zengo, which is Asianish, in Denver and DC.
So we talked about business and the power of the media (it’s apparently very good for business if New York magazine says you have the best fish tacos in New York), and Alfredo's plans for the future, which include the opening of fast-casual taquerias in New York. After he described the concept I suggested that chains such as Chipotle would be competitors. That seemed to hurt his feelings a little bit. Tracey's more so.
We talked about marketing, too, and I told the story of a Midwestern chain restaurant that had a delicious tres leches cake that no one would order, until they changed its name to "milkshake cake."
The Sushi Samba team is trying to figure out a new name for a dessert that everyone who works there seems to think is the best sweet on the menu, but that sells badly. It's a creamy affair called quesillo, even though there's no cheese in it.
If you have suggestions for what else to call it, why not write me a comment?

What I ate:

tortilla chips with three types of guacamole: traditional, mango-chipotle and pineapple
mahi mahi ceviche
shrimp ceviche
shrimp taco with chipotle, garlic butter and red onion
tilapia taco with huitlacoche, tomatillo salsa and manchego cheese
beer-batter fish tack with chipotle slaw (that apparently is the one New York magazine likes so much)
pastor taco with pineapple and arbol salsa
steak tacos with avocado salsa
pollo a las brasas (grilled adobo-marinated chicken)
rice and beans
oysters with manchego cheese, chorizo and epazote crema fresca
tres leches cake
coconut flan

What I drank:
Margarita de Pepino (tequila, cucumber juice, arbol chile and lime)
Tres Citricos Margarita (tequila, orange juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and habanero peppers, garnished with a jalapeño)
a sip of Alfredo's michelada (beer, lime juice, Tabasco and Worscestershire sauce, served over ice as a hangover treatment)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

um, What?

March 14,

I’m sorry, I just have to point out some of the less informative pieces of information publicists have been sending in the past 24 hours:

From a press release issued by a peanut company: “ ‘Nutrition’ begins with ‘nut’.”
(Who cares and, by the way, peanuts aren’t nuts; they’re legumes).

From the pick-whatever-adjective-seems-sexy department: The chef at a new mostly-Moroccan restaurant has been hired to “revolutionize this ancient, yet mysterious cuisine, fusing French influences with the luxurious flavors and tastes of Morocco.” (I added the italics; it seemed like the thing to do)

This just leaves me speechless:
“The visceral passion behind [company name deleted; just because you hire a bad publicist doesn’t mean you need to be further humiliated] can only be described as: Brooklyn. Lifestyle. Individualism. Authentic. Quality. Healthy. Urban. Organic. Rasta. Global. Energetic. Passionate.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Amalia

March 13

This is embarrassing, but I forgot that Ivy Stark is from Denver. I knew I liked her, and that we had met when we were judging a cooking competition, but I forgot the Denver connection. She reminded me last night when she came out of the kitchen, her hair in pigtails, and we talked about the food she had just cooked for me and two of her publicists at Amalia, where she is now chef.
If I remember correctly, she went to Thomas Jefferson High School. She is a brown-and-gold-wearing Spartan. Since I went to East, that theoretically makes us mortal enemies, but what are you going to do?
(It turns out I remember incorrectly; she went to Fairview in Boulder, so we are not enemies).
Ivy had been making Mexican food in New York for awhile. Her most recent two jobs were high level positions at Rosa Mexicano and Dos Caminos. But now she's doing Mediterranean in a dimly lit dining room of beautiful people at the Dream Hotel. She looked happy.
I was eating with Vanesa Vega and Chloe Mata, with whom I’d also eaten at InTent not long ago but never managed to write a blog entry about it. We talked about Colorado and my birthday plans (April 22) and sushi in Los Angeles, while ignoring New York Magazine’s Adam Platt and company, who were two tables away. It’s not polite to acknowledge restaurant reviewers in restaurants. They’re supposed to be incognito.
I also met Amalia’s general manager, who has the most excellent name of Thomas Vaucouleur de Ville d’Avray. He’s French, but was raised in the Far East — mostly Hong Kong and Singapore — and speaks Cantonese, Japanese and Tagalog (and French and English), but when he learned that I spoke Mandarin claimed that that language was too hard for him.
To that, all I can say is guojiang (which basically means “you flatter me”).

What I ate:
Arak-cured salmon with chickpeas and cabbage
duck confit-stuffed medjool dates with serrano ham, frisée, sherry and dried fig mostardo
roasted golden baby beets with smoked sea salt and truffled gaufrettes
sautéed and crispy calamari with white beans, chorizo, piquillo pepper, garlic toast and saffron broth
braised short ribs with carrot purée, tamarind, vanilla and tuscan black kale.
mussel and clam fideeau with toasted vermicelli and romanesco cauliflower
smoked Berkshire pork porterhouse with roasted apples, whole gran mustard, sunchokes and rosemary jus
sautéed baby spinach a la catalana
duck-fat fried french fries with Seville orange hollandaise
couscous

Desserts (by pastry chef John Miele, formerly of Aureole):

hazelnut and polenta tarte with praline hot fudge and ricotta gelato
Earl Grey chocolate ganache tarte with salted caramel and malted chocolate semifreddo

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reunions

March 9

I was 45 minutes late meeting Birdman for dinner at Almond Flower Bistro because we still had pages to close at Nation‘s Restaurant News, and of course you don’t get your dinner until you close your pages.
But I called Birdman to let him know I was late, and I trusted that he would be fine sitting at the bar being fed wine and calamari by our hosts of the evening.
You may remember Birdman from previous blog entries here as the paleontologist and biology professor David Krauss, who is an old college friend of mine and who advises me on things like the structure of trans fats, metabolization of alcohol and assorted other things. This evening he recounted for me the battle of Thermopylae, which is a little embarrassing because I’m the one with the history degree.
You might also remember Chris Cheung, but probably not. I met him years ago, when he was trying to open his first restaurant, which he hoped to call Tigerlily. I did a Q&A with him in which I asked him what it was like to try to open your first restaurant.
He ended up calling the restaurant Tiger Blossom and opened it in the East Village in the summer of 2001, which was a bad idea, but no one knew that at the time.
Then he had a place in Brooklyn called Little Bistro, which is no more, and now he has Almond Flower Bistro, on what I guess is the border between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, at Bowery and Hester.
Anyway, I got to the restaurant, climbed onto the barstool next to Birdman and apologized for being late. Who do you think came in after me and set next to me but Mark Beckman!
Mark was my sophomore-year roommate in college, but I wasn’t as shocked to see him as you might think. He’s a lawyer for Kaye Scholer and actually works in the same Park Avenue building as I do, so I see him from time to time.
But he and Birdman hadn’t seen each other for, like, 18 years, and they seemed glad to see each other.

What we ate:
foie gras char siu bao with black truffle
grilled cuttlefish skewers
grilled oysters, foie gras, gruffle oil and scallop
miso marinated broiled sable with cauliflower cheddar casserole and barbecue sauce
babyback ribs with corn on the cob and mac & cheese
lychee custard tart
Asian pear pie

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The offending tie

March 9

I took another picture of the tie mentioned in what might be my only fashion-related blog entry, ever, and invite you to share your own opinions of said tie, which I shall continue to wear no matter what you say.
To get the ball rolling, I have solicited comments from friends, colleagues and people who happened to e-mail me yesterday and have posted them as anonymous comments following my own self-criticism.
You’ll see that most people dislike the tie, and some commentors who appear to be complimentary in fact avoid taking a stand, such as the one by my dear friend who declared me to be “the tie master.”
Take a look.

Oceana addendum: Searching for David Carmichael, finding Morgan Larsson

March 8

David Carmichael had been the pastry chef at Oceana under the reigns of executive chefs Rick Moonen and Cornelius Gallagher, but of course the presence of Jansen Chan as top toque in Oceana’s pastry kitchen means David’s not there anymore.
The staff at Oceana said David had gone to The Russian Tea Room, to be pastry chef there. But I called that restaurant and he seems to have gone the way of Gary Robins, who was executive chef there until last month, when he was made to leave.
The search for a replacement for Robins continues, but filling David Carmichael's shoes is Morgan Larsson, who was The Russian Tea Room’s pastry chef from 2000 to 2002 and then became executive pastry chef at the St. Regis Hotel.
He returned to The Russian Tea room about two weeks ago.
Larsson’s no slouch. Before his first stint at The Russian Tea Room he was executive pastry chef of Windows on the World. He also has worked at Aquavit and at Solo, the kosher restaurant in the Sony building.
David Carmichael is reportedly taking some time off.

Oceana


March 7

I noticed that this evening’s dance card was empty when a publicist e-mailed and asked when I might like to check out the food being cooked by Ben Pollinger and Jansen Chan, the fairly new chef and really new pastry chef at Oceana.
Pollinger (pictured above), who spent a number of years working for Floyd Cardoz at Tabla, has been at Oceana since October.
Chan, who was pastry sous chef at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, has been there for just a few weeks.
Now, unless a publicist specifies that I should bring a guest when they invite me to dinner, I come solo. Showing up with uninvited guests is simply tacky.
So I came to Oceana alone, and they asked if a lady or a gentleman would be joining me and I showed them the book that I would be reading to keep me company (I’m catching up on my science fiction classics and reading Snow Crash; it’s historically interesting, but otherwise not so good).
Pollinger’s exposure to Indian flavors comes through, for sure. Here’s what he and Chan served me, and what the sommelier paired with it:

Marinated ruby red shrimp with young coconut broth
Scallop ceviche with pomegranates, seaweed and hearts of palm
Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne

South Florida stone crab claw with spinach, pumpkin purée and curry leaf aïoli (and also some pumpkin seeds)
2005 Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc (Loire)

Grilled baby octopus with cranberry beans, olives and basil sauce.
2005 Ronco del Gelso Tocai Friuliano

Gulf shrimp risotto with roasted acorn squash, pumpkin seed oil, and a little seafood foam on top
Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc

North Carolina steamed grouper with young coconut, Chinese broccoli raab, lotus root and black bean sauce, topped with chiles, ginger, cilantro, chives.
2005 Allan Scott Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)

Almond crusted red snapper with roasted beets, beet greens, beet puree and almond compote
2004 Amber Knolls Cabernet Sauvignon (Lake County, Calif.)

Taro wrapped daurade with baby bok choy, Chinese long beans and cilantro-coconut milk sauce
2004 Cambolargo Bairada (a Tempranillo-Shiraz-Merlot blend from Bairrada, Portugal)

Mixed tropical fruit with crème fraîche sorbet and coconut tuile
Coppo Moscato D'Asti (Piedmont)

Warm vanilla grapefruit cake with poached grapefruit segments, earl grey ice cream and grapefruit tuile.
Telmo Rodriguez Muscatel (Spain)

Brownie with toasted cinnamon whipped cream, espresso granité, chocolate sauce, espresso crumble and a little edible gold
Michel Chapoutier Black Grenache (Rhône)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Does my mother let me go out like this?

March 4

Chandler and I had dinner at Sumile Sushi on Friday, where we were waited on by Aaron Kahn, who it turns out is the older brother of Varietal's pastry chef, Jordan. So that was fun. He let us know that Ryan Bartlow, who used to cook with Jordan at Alinea, has moved to New York to work with Sam Mason at his soon-to-open restaurant, Tailor. Ryan also has worked as a personal chef for a Gatorade executive.
So Sumile Sushi’s chef, Evan Rich, is sending out food, and we’re chatting with Aaron and others, and suddenly Chandler looks at me and says “Darling, please, take off that tie.”
This was not the beginning of a long, drawn-out seduction, but rather the bursting of a dam. He’d been looking at my tie — a black-and-metallic number, with some green and brown — for too long and he couldn’t stand it anymore, so much did he hate it.
“I like it,” I said as I took it off. Neckties are not required at Sumile Sushi, and I saw no need to offend Chandler’s sensibilities, but I did feel a need to defend my own tastes.
He said it looked like something that would be picked out by Wardrobe to wrap around the neck of a third-tier mafia character.
Then he condemned my gray shirt as “funereal.”
I don’t mind it when Chandler disagrees with my taste. To be honest, it’s kind of refreshing to have someone speak his mind and I’m almost always happy to hear other people’s criticisms. Compliments are nice, but criticism is useful.
Besides, I couldn’t be friends with Chandler if I didn’t like honesty. The first time we met he expressed disagreement with my shirt-tie combination. He had a point. On some mornings I’m not always sure if a combination works, but I go with it to see how I feel about it later in the day; that was one of those days. I still am not sure what to wear with that shirt, in fact. It's a Burgundy tattersall, and finding a tie to go with it is a challenge.
Chandler has expressed alarm at hair in my ears and at the hair on my head if I let it grow longer than the #3 setting of my barber's electric clippers. He wants me to shave my head.
But all of that means I know that he really does like my goatee, or he wouldn’t say so.
Chandler’s necktie outburst reminded me of a trip I took with Jennifer Leuzzi and Mitchell Davis to New Zealand. That was when Jennifer represented New Zealand’s venison producers and organized a trip for us. During our last morning there, Mitchell said to our hosts something he clearly had been holding back for the entire trip and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you have to do something about your bread.”
It was underkneaded, he said, across the country.
The three of us then added that their coffee was kind of insipid too.
Incidentally, my choice of clothing was insulted during that trip, too. The three of us were going to a club in Auckland with local venison producers and the bouncers didn’t want to let us in. They singled me out and said “I’m sorry, sir, I’m afraid you’re a bit too casual.”
I was devastated.
Our hosts talked our way in, and Jennifer said it was simply an excuse to try to keep out a party of five men and one woman. But still, why pick on me?
The day after dinner with Chandler I spent an hour and twenty minutes getting from Brooklyn to Inwood, where my friends Yishane Lee and Ray Garcia were having a pre-wedding, meet the families brunch.
Here I am sitting between Ray's best man, Alex Delgado, on the left, and his brother-in-law, Greg Arver. I’m wearing a shirt that my sister-in-law told me looks like it should be used to upholster a couch.

What we ate at Sumile Sushi:
edamame with sea salt and powdered nori
handmade tofu with shiitake dashi
beau soleil oysters with ponzu, wasabi and yuzu
Taylor Bay scallops
tiny crab cakes
braised gulf shrimp with tomato fondu, kaiware and horseradish-infused tomato water
hand roll of arugula and tea-smoked anago
King crab, caviar, house-made kimchi and yuzu scent
clam dashi
lobster chile
duck with eggplant purée and Brussels sprouts, accompanied by a pot of rice topped with scallions, foie gras and unagi
sushi: Big-eye tuna, Kampachi with yuzu-kosho, ama ebe, fluke marinated in kelp, unagi with avocado
strawberry-shiso sorbet with hazelnut brittle
black sesame with frozen sauterne and chamomile honey

And here is a picture of the tie in question. What do you think?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tavern’s new chef

March 1

My former Cordon Bleu classmate — the only one I know of on the New York dining scene — is resurfacing. Brian Young, the Chinese-Canadian who made a bit of a splash with Mainland back in 2005, is the new chef at Tavern on the Green.
Brian was fired from Mainland last June. I’m not sure why, but someone who knew more than I said that Brian proved to be “not particularly warm and fuzzy.”
He also had a brief stint at Citarella — so brief that you probably wouldn’t remember — before that restaurant’s kitchen was taken over by Brian Bistrong, who then went on to The Harrison and Citarella’s pastry chef, Bill Yosses, who now is doing the bidding of Laura Bush, became executive chef until the restaurant closed.
Anyway, Brian replaces John Milito, who apparently is leaving to work in a country club somewhere. Brian takes up the position next week, but he won’t likely be introducing a menu of his own until June, as John Milito already had the Spring menus in place when he announced his departure.
And there you have it.

Behaving like a Julio-Claudian

March 1

Last night Sean Griffin was cooking at the Beard House. He’s chef de cuisine at Neros Steak & Seafood (no apostrophe) at Caesars Palace (no apostrophe there, either) in Las Vegas. I was sandwiched between the Beard House’s president, Susan Ungaro, and Kenneth Langdon, the director of PR for Caesars Entertainment. A woman on maternity leave from Star Chefs was seated next to Susan, and she showed us pictures of her beautiful four-month-old twins. She expressed some concern that beautiful babies often grow up into rather homely teenagers, and vice-versa. I consoled her with the fact that beautiful teenagers that become the high school quarterback and cheerleader tend to peak at around age 17 anyway.
Ken was his high school’s quarterback.
Susan was a cheerleader.
Potentially awkward, but we had a good laugh.
The next day Sean and Ken were scheduled to meet me in NRN’s offices for an interview at 11 a.m. They were just 10 minutes late, which is pretty good considering our offices are at 425 Park Avenue and they showed up 30 blocks away at 425 Park Avenue South.
They greeted me with their coffee cups in hand and Sean, who the night before was a handsome, enthusiastic young southern Californian, was a worn-out, green-skinned man who didn’t take off his coat.
Oh, I knew that feeling. He looked like he’d been out drinking all night, which it turns out he had been. He and his crew went from cooking dinner to eating at Babbo, to drinking at Mas, to further drinking at a jazz club the name of which he couldn’t remember. He said he got back to his hotel room and then got ready to meet with me. His wine director was still in bed.
Very much to his credit, although he clearly wanted to lie down, he instead discussed in great detail the preparation of the pork shoulder dish he serves at Neros, which fits in very well with a story that I'm working on. By the end he was practically alert.
Their meeting with me was to be followed by lunch at Le Bernardin, so I don't really feel that bad for Sean. He’ll be fine.

What he served at the Beard House:

Kumamoto oysters with verjus gelée and steelhead trout roe
Blue crab and Maine lobster cakes with blood orange aïoli and hearts of palm
Seared foie gras slilders with port-braised rhubarb and candied ging