Monday, April 30, 2007

celebrity chef hangover

April 29

Wild Salmon, the restaurant formerly known as Tuscan Steak, Tuscan and English is Italian, is serving brunch, and its publicists and asked me to check it out, so I did with my friend Birdman.
Birdman is a loyal and good friend, and he's got class, too: He presented me with my 40th birthday present, a bottle of Armagnac made the year I was born, 1967. Ooh, baby.
Birdman drank Mimosas and I drank Bloody Marys, and we sampled a Bull Shot, which is vodka in beef bouillon, while eating selections from the raw bar, salumi, corn-and-crab soup, Wild Salmon Benedict (eggs Benedict, but with King, Sockeye and Coho salmon), salmon with truffled scrambled eggs, salmon-potato hash, apple cake and lemon panna cotta.
Our server was good-natured and chatty, and we learned that he had been at this restaurant, owned by Jeffrey Chodorow, for all four of its incarnations, and he shared with us his opinions of celebrity chefs.
You see, Chodorow hired Rocco DiSpirito to transform Tuscan Steak to Tuscan. I believe that was the beginning of their relationship that would end in tears and lawsuits with the simultaneous implosion of the reality TV show The Restaurant and the restaurant on which it was based, Rocco’s 22nd Street.
Chodorow hired Todd English for English is Italian.
Birdman expressed mild disdain for Todd English, whom he judged as overrated. I praised Rocco DiSpirito who, although he seemed to let his fame get away from him, was an inspired chef at Union Pacific who won the admiration of other chefs for his creativity. He then lost it on television, but what are you going to do?
Our server said that, in fact, English acted as a consummate professional, working in the kitchen and letting everyone else go about their business, while DiSpirito seemed intent on telling everyone else — waiters, baristas, bartenders — how to do their jobs.
Wild Salmon's chef, Swiss-born Charles Ramseyer, is comparatively low-key. The former chef of Ray’s Boathouse & Cafe in Seattle came out to say a cordial hello, but he clearly would have preferred to stay in the kitchen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

You try to have a quiet night...

April 24

Fr.og, Didier Virot’s new place featuring the cuisine of countries influenced by France (the name stands for "France Origine"), threw its opening party from 6 to 9 yesterday evening, so I thought I would just pop down and have a relatively early night.
It was a good party. I caught up with Kathleen Swires and James Oliver Cury — whom I hadn’t seen since he left Time Out New York for Epicurious — James’ wife Dorothy, and Lisa Amand, but really spent much of the time hanging out with freelance writer Karen Tina, whom I hadn’t seen in a year or more. She’s always fun, and a font of knowledge if you want to eat in Queens.
But then I was waylaid by Akiko Katayama. You might remember Akiko from my trip to Japan, although I probably didn’t mention that she’s a party animal.
She told me that Mai House was throwing a party to launch its late night “10 after 10” menu that evening and suggested it would be reasonable to go there.
But first we made a brief stop at Ninja because Akiko wanted to tour the place, or maybe she wanted to show it to me.
It actually was pretty fascinating — hidden passageways, dark corners and many unusually handsome young Japanese men dressed in black and congenially lurking in the shadows. I might actually try the food there someday.
I didn’t know one could lurk congenially. Now I know that one can.
Then it was off to Mai House, Drew Nieporent and Michael Bao Huynh’s Vietnamese place sandwiched between Tribeca Grill and Nobu, both owned by Drew’s Myriad Restaurant Group.
Robert Larcom was behind the bar, making me a cocktail called the Tiger’s Tail that involved Thai chiles and passion fruit (and Absolut Peppar and Triple Sec). He updated me on his plans with his own restaurant, Detour, while I munched on fried lotus root. I talked to Drew and his brother Tracy, who lamented the cruelty of blogs (he — and the restaurant industry in general, from what I’ve been told — truly hates’s Deathwatch).
But I think Akiko and I might have been the only print journalists at the party, although there were quite a few bloggers, including Ben Leventhal from Eater, Josh Ozersky from Grub Street and I think the Restaurant Girl. I can’t be sure. I only know that I looked at my watch at one point, couldn’t believe that it was almost 2am, took my leave and hailed a cab.
Neither Nieporent would tell me what their plans were with the currently-closed Montrachet, but I’m pretty sure the new chef won’t be David Bouley.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A lot of Beard House food

April 22

Regarding the blog entry below, I was speaking to Susan during a dinner at the Beard House. I try to go there whenever I'm invited, which averages slightly more than once a month, because my job is to write about food trends nationally. The Beard House, where chefs come from all over the country to cook, allows me to check out a wide array of chefs without leaving town.
Usually the restaurants themselves invite me. That was true last night, when Anthony Bombaci from Nana in Dallas was cooking. But I also was at the Beard House the night before, as a guest of the Sullivan family from Denver, who own a few restaurants, including Ocean. Troy Guard’s the chef there. I don’t know him well, but I’ve known him for years, ever since he was executive chef at Roy’s New York, which opened in 1999 (and which is, in fact, still open, by the way; you never hear about it, but it’s there; closed briefly after 9/11, but had reopened by February 2002).
Strangely, I ate at the Beard House twice the week before, too, once as a guest of Hurapan Kitchen, and once as a guest of the Sylvie Forest on behalf of the James Beard Foundation itself.
Sylvie is on the foundation’s programming committee, which means she scours the country in search of interesting chefs and invites them to cook at the Beard House.
By “invite” I mean she asks them to cook there; they have to pay their own way, which costs them thousands, or sometimes even tens of thousands, of dollars, to fly out with their staff, often shipping much of their food, stay in hotels and visit New York restaurants. We could get into a whole discussion about why chefs do it, but I don’t have time at the moment. Feel free to start it yourself by adding comments to this entry.
Time is short, because I have family in town to celebrate my 40th birthday, which is today. There will be a relatively big party tonight (60 people), but today we are going to the Statue of Liberty.

I’ve already told you what I ate at the Beard House during Songkhran with the Hurapans. But here are the menus for the other three nights.

April 14, chef Keith Rudolf of Deep Blue Bar and Grill in Wilmington, Del. (Keith proposed to his girlfriend at the end of the meal, getting on one knee and asking her if she would “walk through eternity” with him. Isn’t that a nice way of putting it?):

Hors d’Oeuvre:
Thai-Marinated Beef and Monkfish Liver Rolls with Sake–Soy Glaze
Bay Scallop Ceviche with Cucumber–Mint Salad and Strawberry Gazpacho
Tuna Tartare with Avocado Mousse, Pineapple–Chile Nage, and Tobiko
American Caviar Cromesquis
Domaine Barmès Buecher Crémant d’Alsace 2005

John Dory Tartare with Smoked Oyster and Yuengling Lager Jelly
Domaine des Dorices Muscadet de Sèvres-et-Maine 2005

Grilled Lobster with Foie Gras–Persimmon Salad and Mango Vinaigrette
Weingut Freiherr Von Heddesdorff Halbtrockener Riesling 2005

Sautéed Skate Wing with Duck Confit Risotto, Glazed Green Asparagus, White Asparagus Sabayon, and Black Truffle Cream Sauce
Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils Côte de Nuits-Villages le Vaucrain 2004

Lavender Sorbet

Bison Tenderloin with Goat Cheese Gnocchi, Port-Glazed Sweetbreads, Morels, and Arugula Coulis
Germano Ettore Langhe Rosso Balàu 2004

Peach Dégustation > Bruschetta, Consommé, and Semifreddo
Jean Fillioux Pineau des Charentes Blanc NV

April 18, chef Troy Guard from Ocean restaurant in Denver (joining me was my excellent friend Andy Battaglia, who works for The Onion but is really so much more than that):

Hors d’Oeuvre:
Crispy Rice Flour–Crusted Kisu
Salmon Wellington
Pepper Crab Potato Chips
Champagne Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé NV

Hamachi Terrine with Sushi Rice, Avocado, Shiitakes, and Kumquat–Jalapeño Syrup
Don Olegario Albariño 2005

Diver Scallop Sandwich with Soy-Braised Kobe Beef, Potato Purée, and Tangerine Mojo
Domaine Louis Jadot Moulin-À-Vent Château des Jacques 2005

Hickory-Smoked Sturgeon–Potato Tart with Grilled Eggplant, Goat Cheese, Chicory, Haricots Verts, and Beet Reduction
Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2005

Surf and Turf > Seared Barramundi and Crispy Pork Belly with Curried Israeli Couscous and Coriander–Lime Broth
Abadia Retuerta Selección Especial 2003

Chocolate–Banana Cream Crumble with Truffle Ice Cream and Walnut Gremolata

And from Anthony Bombaci on April 19 (I also convinced their publicist to invite my friend Clark Mitchell from Travel + Leisure, because dinner is more fun if he’s around. It’s not my custom to suggest that restaurateurs who already are spending a fortune to cook at the Beard House invite my friends as well, but they asked me for suggestions of other food writers who might enjoy the meal):

Hors d’Oeuvre:
Baked Potato Soup Shooters with Lobster and Sour Cream Foam
Green Apple Spaghetti with Oysters and Tellicherry Peppercorns
Foie Gras Brochettes with Sweet Cashew and Star Anise
Four Story Quail with Soy–Sesame Glaze and Chives
what you want to italicizeBaron Philippe de Rothschild Bordeaux Blanc 2005
what you want to italicizeBaron Philippe de Rothschild Bordeaux Rouge 2004


Green Apple Cru with White Apple Soup, Celery Sorbet, Smoked Steelhead Trout Caviar, and Wild Rice Popcorn
Château de Jau Muscat de Rivesaltes 2005

Chicharrón en Tinta with Seared Scallops, Green Onions, and Ginger Aïoli
Goldwater New Dog Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Pan-Roasted Veal Sweetbreads with Brown Butter Purée and Air, Capers, Sherry Vinegar Gelée, and Caramelized Pearl Onions
Amisfield Pinot Noir 2005

Venison Saddle a la Plancha with Caramelized Bananas, Thai Peanut Sauce, and Cilantro
Domaines Barons de Rothschild Quinto do Carmo Reserva 2002

Tomato Marmalade with Bulgarian Yogurt Sorbet and Texturized Olive Oil
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

Friday, April 20, 2007

Beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard beard...

April 20

Great news about the Beard Awards ceremony this year! If you attended the gala last year, you’ll recall that the ceremony went on pretty much forever. Well, I was talking to Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro last night who said they’ve worked to shorten the program.
Last year, quite a few winners didn’t show up, but their representatives nonetheless stood at the podium and gave acceptance speeches on their behalf. Susan said that won’t be happening this year. Also, the broadcast awards will be presented on the night before the big gala at what were until this year called the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, but will now be called the Media Awards.
Also, the reception will be spread out on two floors instead of one.
Some noise has been made here in cyberspace about the fact that since the awards will be in Avery Fisher Hall this year rather than at the Marriott Marquis, the chefs serving up food during the reception will not be able to use open flames, just induction burners. Anthony Bourdain used this — and the fact that Avery Fisher Hall does not have anything like the excellent kitchen facilties of the Marriott Marquis where the chefs could prepare their food — as an illustration of the Beard Foundation’s lack of knowledge of, or even interest in, the way restaurants and food actually function.
Okay, but this is, after all, an award ceremony followed by a reception. Receptions are never places where chefs can show their best work. They’re constrained by space, the fact that they can only serve one or two dishes, and, usually, by hungry, unruly reception attendees (nowhere is this more true than at the Beard Awards, where amateur foodies spend hundreds of dollars to attend the event and then become quite aggressive in trying to sample all of the food; I tend not to eat much there).
Besides, from what I’ve seen, chefs tend to thrive when presented with challenges. Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco claims to have an adrenalin addiction, and that strikes a chord with many chefs I mention it to. Chefs thrive on adversity, and Tony Bourdain knows that. When I interviewed him back in March 2000, shortly before his book Kitchen Confidential was published, he called professional cooking an endurance sport.
Just for fun, here’s an excerpt of that interview:

[Me:] I’ve often thought that writing and cooking are opposite art forms, in that cooking is the only art that utilizes all five senses and writing is really not dependent on any sense.

“[Bourdain:] At a certain level that is absolutely true. If you’re Nabokov or James Joyce, I would say that’s definitely true. You live the life of the mind entirely and produce brilliant works that set the world on fire. That’s not me. For me they’re very similar. They’re both endurance sports. I do them both for love, and they’re both about who’s standing at the end of the day. I hear a lot of guys: “I always wanted to write a book, got some great ideas.” But it’s all about sitting down and cranking it out every day.

Here’s some more, starting with Bourdain:

“Why I got into the business was for the pleasures of the flesh, initially. I got into it because of the lifestyle, because cooks were pirates: They got to do whatever the hell they wanted to, and chefs were pirate kings.

“[Me:] What was piratelike about life in the kitchen in the ’70s?

“[Bourdain:] What we did we did behind closed doors, and we ruled absolutely. Everyone had a personal style to the way they dressed — ripped blue jeans, smoking in the kitchen, headbands, giant doorknocker earrings, all sorts of ’70s leftover type of jewelry, tattoos. The kitchen had its own slang, its own perverse world view of everything outside.
“We lived with a sort of friendly contempt for everybody else. Everybody in the kitchens had idiosyncrasies, whether they stole everything in sight, drank like crazy, did lots of drugs, gambled all night, were screwing their way through the floor staff, the customers, everybody in sight. And we were paid relatively well, spending no money on food and surrounded by criminal masterminds. These were attractive qualities in 1973, ’74 and even up to the early ’80s.
“Also it was a rigid hierarchy. So we lived chaotic, messy lives, but we were still able to survive in an extremely rigid, Byzantine, demanding world, where it’s put up or shut-up: If you can’t cook, you can’t cook. They’ll forgive you your idiosyncrasies if you can show up on time and do your job. If you can’t, you’re out.

I think they’ll be able to handle induction burners.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nieporent, Liebrandt not working together, unless they are

It’s interesting being a print journalist with a food blog, especially since I have excellent, principled editors who demand journalistic rigor and don’t put up with speculation or other crap. It means that neither in my full-time job at Nation’s Restaurant News nor in my regular freelance gig with The New York Sun can I speculate irresponsibly about restaurateur Drew Nieporent teaming up with chef Paul Liebrandt, perhaps to reopen Montrachet in New York City. Such things have been hinted about in Vogue magazine, the blogs Snack, Eater and no-doubt others, as well as at parties and during phone interviews (I was chatting with one person who expressed hope that, if Liebrandt did team up with Nieporent, he wouldn’t lose him $2 million like he did the owners of Gilt, where he previously was chef; as the kids say these days, “ooh, snap!”).
I have the cell phone numbers of both Drew and Paul (no, I won’t share them with you, not even for $20), so I called them, left a message with Paul that he didn't return and got a polite no-comment-I'll-let-you-know-when-I-do from Drew (plus some off-the-record stuff that was, well, off the record), who then asked me when I was going to eat at Mai House again.
I saw Paul last week and asked what he was up to. His answer was vague. I think he said “stuff.”
I suppose such caginess is smart of them, and kind of par for the course. Drew announced the opening of his latest New York restaurant, Mai House, in early October last year, just a couple of weeks before it opened, creating the buzz he wanted when he needed it. In the meantime, all this speculation causes excitement and anticipation. And it’s free.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


April 18

Mazel Tov to my buddy Clark Mitchell, who just got promoted to associate editor of Travel + Leisure.
And to Howard Helmer of the American Egg Board, whom we knew held the record for most omelets made in half an hour (432), but he just learned that he also holds the record for the fastest omelet made and as the fastest omelet flipper.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A lot of Thai food

April 15

April 12-14 is Songkhran, the Thai new year. For reasons completely unrelated to that on Thursday the 12th I had dinner at Land Northeast Thai restaurant. That’s chef David Bank’s second restaurant (don’t let the name full you; David’s dad’s American, but his mother’s Thai, and so is his food).
I went with my friend Chandler Burr, who was in a minor state. He was distracted by the amount of work he had to do. He borrowed a sheet from my notebook and made a list. It was an impressive list, especially considering he’s in the process of getting his third book published (I’m reading the manuscript now, and it’s pretty terrific). But I assured him it was doable (it was), and tried to change the subject with amusing anecdotes (he didn’t find them amusing) and food.
I left the menu in David’s hands and he started with chicken laab lettuce wraps, which he’s clearly pushing as his signature appetizer of the new restaurant, along with a grilled beef salad and a green papaya salad.
Laab is a northeastern dish, and so is green papaya salad. Grilled beef salad is more universally Thai, but David added a sprig or two of dill to it, which is mostly absent in Thailand’s central plains but does appear in northeastern cooking: The Thai word for dill is phak chee Lao, or Lao cilantro (parsley is phak chee farang, or westerner’s cilantro), and Northeastern Thais are mostly ethnic Lao.
Then he sent out a soup that was like tom yam, but with beef.
I told Chandler I’d never had it before.
“So it’s not authentic?” he asked.
I shrugged. Just because I haven’t had something before doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in Thailand.
I later learned that it was tom sap. I knew “sap,” pronounced like what flows through trees, was Lao for “delicious,” but David explained after Chandler left that it also meant hot-and-sour. Instead of using citrus for the sour notes, David used more subtle tamarind leaves.
He sent out a sea bass dish and I picked up a twig studded with green peppercorns.
I asked Chandler if he didn’t find that interesting.
“No,” he said, “I saw it in jungles in India, on elephant back, and plucked it and ate it raw.”
“Yes,” I said, “I know you’re worldly, and I could buy it in the market a block away from my apartment in Bangkok, but this is New York. It’s unusual here.”
We finished with more grilled beef and then Chandler, completely out of steam, left as I polished off a plate of mangoes and sticky rice.
“Is that just a touristy thing that Thais serve to foreigners?” asked Kenny Lao today. We had lunch at Bennie’s Thai Café, on Fulton St.
I assured him that it truly was something that Thais actually ate, with much gusto, in fact, as often as they could from mid-March to May, when the only mangoes deemed worthy of this preparation, Okhrong and Nam Dokmai, were in season. This gave him a truly inspired idea for a new menu item at his Rickshaw Dumpling Bar. He picked up his cell phone and called himself at home so he would remember. I’d give you more details, but he would probably actually kill me if I did.
Kenny and I had planned to go to Sripraphai, in Queens, today, but on Friday night I had yet another Thai meal. This one was actually a Songkhran celebration at the James Beard House prepared by Taweewat and Dejthana Hurapan, the father-son team at Hurapan Kitchen. Seated on my right were some mostly harmless people from Long Island, and on my left were two people from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Teerasil Tapen and Sunida Thirasak. So naturally I asked them about Thai restaurants they liked and they waved off Sripraphai, much to my surprise. Chao Thai in Elmhurst was the place to go, they said, or, near their offices, Bennie’s.
They particularly praised Bennie’s rad na, a dish that the denizens of Bangkok absolutely adore and that I will never understand. It’s broad noodles covered with a bland, gloppy sauce that reminds me of snot.
It reminds Kenny of snot, too, so we didn’t order it. Besides, one doesn’t normally have noodles when eating a full Thai meal. Noodles are for light meals or snacks, not something to be had when rice is served.
But Kenny wanted noodles, so after the spring rolls and thod man pla (fish fritters) and yam gun chiang (a salad with sweet Chinese sausage) and pork with basil and chiles and chicken in a Thai curry sauce, we had phat seeiew — broad noodles with soy sauce — and then mangos and sticky rice.
We had considered going to Queens as planned, but going to a location more convenient to our homes seemed to be a logical first step. We can check out Chao Thai next time.

What I ate and drank at the Beard House:

Koong Krabok — Shrimp Parcels with Sweet Plum Dipping Sauce
Tao Hoo Tod 
Fried Tofu with Thai Peanut Sauce
Tod Man Pla 
Thai-Style Fish Cakes
Beef Satay Skewers
Vegetarian Summer Rolls
Zardetto Prosecco NV

Asian Pear and Crab Salad with Frisée, Micro-Mizuna, Yuca Ribbons, and Kaffir Lime–Mango Vinaigrette

Juvé y Camps Cava Brut Rosé NV

Goat Cheese Wonton with Roasted Peppers, Black Pearl Tapioca, and Wild Mushroom–Lemongrass Broth

Hiedler Löss Grüner Veltliner 2005

Seared Sea Bass with Sautéed Chanterelles, Baby Vegetables, and Ginger Soy Sauce

Rutherglen Estates The Alliance 2006

Pepper-Cured Pork Loin with Teardrop Tomatoes, Coconut-Infused Black Sticky Rice, and Caramelized Maui Onion Vinaigrette

Spice Route Flagship Pinotage 2004

Fuji Apple and Banana Spring Roll with Rum-Roasted Pineapple–Coconut Sorbet

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Onion snacks, ion transfer and the problem with This as a surname

April 11

This afternoon I went to about half of the inaugural event of the Experimental Cuisine Collaborative. It was a four-hour-long workshop called "Experimental Cuisine: Science, Society, and Food." Room 4 Dessert pastry chef and owner Will Goldfarb sent me (and 100 other people) an invitation. He called the collaborative "an interdisciplinary group initiated by the departments of chemistry and of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU." That seemed like reason enough to go.
The focus was on how the culinary and scientific worlds can work together to make food taste better. You might have seen discussions of such things in relation to that artistic culinary school formerly known as Molecular Gastronomy (they’re trying to get away from that term — Goldfarb is working on what he calls "experiential cuisine"), but of course — as WD-50 chef Wylie Dufresne pointed out today — hydrocolloids, modified food starches etc., have been used by industrial food manufacturers for decades. Knowledge of how and why food behaves the way it does can make you a better cook, he says.
French chemist and early proponent of molecular gastronomy Hervé This says that, too. I was late for his keynote today, but he has said it in the past and I assume he said it today. He also says that as a chemist, his job is to provide the tools for chefs, who are the artists. Monsieur This has an unfortunate last name. It's pronounced Teece (and his first name is pronounced air-vey, since I brought it up), but of course native English speakers want to pronounce it "this" when they read it, and so sentences that start with his surname don't scan well.
"This is a very engaging speaker."
"What is?"
"This is a pioneer."
Anyway, he’s both of those, and so is Wylie, who passed out his own house-made version of Funyuns along with the manufactured variety for us to compare. His version reminded me of shrimp crackers, and so I felt very self-satisfied when he explained that those crackers were the starting point of his development of them.
Robert Margolskee of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine had all sorts of interesting things to say about how to alter the flavors of foods (by blocking our bitterness receptors, for example, to encourage children to eat more green vegetables), and facts to share about how our sense of taste works, but he didn’t say them much. Instead he went into laborious detail about how our taste buds work, and how we perceive different things as sweet than mice do, and how he genetically altered some mice so that they couldn't taste anything sweet (very interesting, but he spent more time on the methodology of his tests than the results). He went on and on about what specific proteins we use in sensing sweetness, pointing out things that no one cares about except for biologists and biochemists, who already know all that stuff anyway. And then he’d drop fascinating tidbits in passing — like that the amino acid tryptophan triggers our sweet receptors; what? — before going on to bore us with ion transfer.
It showed what a challenge multidisciplinary approaches can be. I’d love to have had time to sit down for a conversation with the guy, but I had to go back to work.
I did have a chance to chat briefly with Will Goldfarb, George Mendes and the long-absent Paul Liebrandt. I asked Paul what he was up to, but he wouldn’t go into more detail than “things” or maybe “stuff.” I didn’t write it down.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I’m going to have to check my luggage

April 9

Long day.
I left home at 4:30 this morning to catch a 6:10 flight to Atlanta and one from there to Memphis, where I went to the Holiday Inn University of Memphis to check into the hotel, check my e-mail, interview a Chicago restaurant operator about her frying oil, print out the text for a PowerPoint presentation and then walk upstairs to classroom 432 for a slice of pizza and a lecture.
I thought I was just having lunch with some hospitality students — all of the classrooms are at the hotel — but it turns out that I was to talk to them and answer questions about myself and the restaurant world for an hour-and-half as part of an ongoing lunchtime lecture series.
Well hey, I can do that. I know all about myself, and I write about restaurants.
So I gave them my verbal post-high-school biography (plus a mention of the article on dessert mousses I wrote and sold when I was 17), talked about a couple of food trends and opened up the floor to questions. It was fun. I managed to work in my opinions on Whole Foods' removal of lobster tanks, using Homeland Security mandates to restrict immigration from Mexico, strategies for what to do when you’re a server and the non-paying member of a couple starts flirting with you, the role of Rocky Mountain Oysters in the Colorado foodservice scene, the complexities of our seafood supply and the importance of pursuing your dreams.
I was presented with a commemorative plate.
Then back in my hotel room I called a friend to ask about a lease he signed for his second restaurant and then called a Brooklyn restaurateur to ask what he was going to do now that his chef and pastry chef had quit.
Then it was off to the Hilton to be the educational program for a meeting of the Memphis Restaurant Association.
That’s what the PowerPoint text I printed out was for. I showed them 30-some-odd slides of growth projections, menu innovations, popular chains, potential trends and figures about how many meals Americans are believed to have eaten in their cars over the past year. Then over an incongruous but not disagreeable combination of cake and wine I chatted with the MRA members about topics such as the use of surveillance cameras, how to alter the menu mix of a steakhouse in the face of escalating beef prices and where to get the best barbecue in Memphis.
To be honest, I don't think I asked their opinion of barbecue, because I knew my fate had been sealed. My host, Bob O'Halloran, was taking me to Neely’s Bar-B-Que. Still, people in barbecue country like to tell you what they think of barbecue.
Back at the hotel I had 15 minutes to change (one dresses down from lecturing to eating barbecue) and engage in an e-mail conversation with my colleagues about whether sake, the Japanese rice brew, should be spelled with an accent over the e (é). I maintain that it doesn’t need it, but henceforth in Nation’s Restaurant News it will have it. I’m not going to lose sleep over that.
At Neely's I quizzed Bob and Christopher Roan — a Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau guy who was joining us — about the salient features of Memphis barbecue.
I learned that Memphis is pork country, where pulled pork with cole slaw on a bun is a signature item, but where ribs — usually wet- but sometimes dry-rubbed — also are important. Barbecue spaghetti, nachos and pizza also are part of the custom. Sausage and cheese are popular appetizers.
All of that was part of our first course, sent out by owner Patrick Neely, except for the spaghetti.
Patrick then came out and chatted with us. He has two restaurants in Memphis, one in Nashville, and various on-site operations. I asked him about bringing Memphis barbecue to Nashville, and he didn’t shudder, but it was clear that the ways of Nashville were strange to him.
“They wanted barbecue with cornbread,” he said. They also wanted pulled pork on sandwiches with mayonnaise and pickles, but no cole slaw. Clearly they were mad.
"Nashville's really a meat-and-three town,” he said, referring to the standard traditional southern meal of meat with three sides (green beans, mac & cheese and cornbread, say).
Then again, if you get much west of Arkansas, they look at the cole slaw on their sandwich and say “get that sauerkraut off of there!”
But he said that even Memphis has only been an important barbecue center for the past 25 years or so, since Memphis in May, a monthlong festival, put it on the map for barbecue — specifically a weekend barbecue competition that now draws 300 contestants.
He recounted all of this as we dug into a sampler of wet and dry ribs, beef brisket, smoked turkey, pulled pork and sausage. Barbecue spaghetti (barbecue sauce slowly cooked with sautéed onions and peppers and then mixed with cooked spaghetti) and baked beans. We each had our own side bowls of barbecue sauce.
As Patrick left to take his daughter to a recital, he sent word to the kitchen that I was to get a bottle of dry rub and barbecue sauce, which was sent out as I ate my pecan pie à la mode.
That bottle of sauce, of course, is why I’m going to have to check my luggage.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Per Lei

April 6

This evening my friend Clark Mitchell and I had dinner at Per Lei on the Upper East Side. It being Good Friday and Clark being an Episcopalian, he was at church that night and was running late, so I had a drink at the bar. Per Lei being an Italian restaurant, I asked Francesco, the bartender, if he could make a Negroni.
“I make the best Negroni in the city,” he said. So of course I had him proceed. He started with a rocks glass, added a dash of bitters and then flipped a bottle of gin from behind his back and poured some into his glass. Then he grabbed a bottle of sweet red vermouth in his right hand, a bottle of Campari in his left and poured from them simultaneously into my glass.
Yes, if the Tom Cruise character in Cocktail had been from Rome, he would have been very much like Francesco. He practiced flipping plastic shakers between orders.
I snacked on the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and olives that Francesco had set out for me as I waited for Clark. He arrived in due course and ordered a Martini with a twist and we began catching up. For reasons neither of us could quite figure out, we hadn't seen each other since December, so we had plenty to talk about. We recounted our respective trips to Gstaad and Niigata for work (Clark works for Travel + Leisure), and I tried to work out some of the intricacies of Clark’s romantic life.
Per Lei is very much an Upper East Side restaurant with a fairly lively social scene at the bar. We were comfortable where we were, so we ate there. Two women named Henrietta and Lois began chatting with Clark, and I took over the conversation when he left for his 11pm date — with the nephew of a big magazine editor, if I remember correctly. Lois was proud to tell the world that she was 61, which is fair, because she didn’t look it.

What we ate:

tuna tartare
beef carpaccio with Parmesan and marinated artichoke
cocoa pappardelle with duck ragù
Chilean sea bass over caponata
Veal with red wine and asparagus

Friday, April 06, 2007


April 6

I wasn’t planning on going to a press dinner at Wild Salmon, Jeffrey Chodorow’s fourth attempt to do something with the northwest corner of Third Avenue and 40th Street (the space was, in succession, Tuscan Steak, Tuscan and English is Italian). I was planning on just going to a scotch party and calling it a night.
But my friend and former colleague Erica Duecy, who’s now at Fodor’s, e-mailed and suggested we have dinner there and catch up.
So I left the party celebrating the introduction to the U.S. market of 17- and 21-year Old Pulteney single malts and went to Wild Salmon as Erica’s plus-one.
Being a Chodorow restaurant, Wild Salmon must have a theme, and it’s the unlikely one of Pacific Northwest cuisine.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the food of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I wrote a feature about it back in 2000, when everyone was roasting fish on cedar planks. It just seems like an unlikely way to get New Yorkers’ attention in 2007. But Chodorow’s no dummy; we’ll see what happens.
I arrived and one of the publicists immediately called me on not remembering her from a restaurant opening several months ago, which of course I didn’t. One of the drawbacks of having a byline is that people generally remember who you are and are sometimes disappointed when you don’t remember them. I’m not sure why the publicist thought it was a good idea to call me on it.
I joined Erica upstairs. She was sampling a Northwestern sparkling wine and I sampled an Oregon beer that I was told — twice — was only available in Oregon and at Wild Salmon.
I took one sip and was immediately told by someone on staff to go to our table. We took a circuitous route, pausing to talk to freelance writer Jennifer Leuzzi and Laurie Woolever from Wine Spectator, who were dining together. They also were being visited by Grub Street editor Josh Ozersky.
Josh also is known as Mr. Cutlets owing to a book he wrote on meat.
“Mutton Man!” he greeted me, as he always does. I have forgotten why he calls me Mutton Man. I think it has something to do with a conversation we had at Citarella long ago.
David Blend from Thrillist was on the other side of the room and I didn’t get a chance to say ‘hi.’
Chodorow himself was there in a corner booth, gesticulating and looking enthusiastic. Later in the night, after the party at that table left, he sat at a table that included Braden Keil of the New York Post.
Erica’s settling in well to her job at Fodor’s, enjoying assigning stories to freelancers and earning her managerial chops.
Erica’s from Seattle, so Wild Salmon was an appropriate place for our reunion.
Here’s what we ate:

Olympia oyster with wasabi tobiko
Dungeness crab cocktail
house-smoked Alaska scallops with horseradish and crème fraîche
flat bread with sea salt, thyme, oregano and parsley
scallop, bay shrimp and Dungeness crab ravioli with lemon zest and a Chardonnay-tarragon broth
salmon trio (cold-smoked king, coho and sockeye) with warm potato cake, crème fraîche and paddlefish roe
assorted cured meats from Armandino's
Washington wagyu beef short ribs with pear onions
oyster, morel, chanterelle and cremini mushroom ragôut
roasted Walla Walla onion stuffed with pepper bacon
black cod with sake-kasu over Japanese sweet rice
cedar-plank roasted Columbia River King salmon with Yakima peach and raisin chutney and Yakima asparagus.
apple cake with cheddar ice cream
"Chocolate Extravaganza": cinnamon ice cream, hot chocolate and chocolate-glazed hazelnut mousse.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A good time in search of a party

April 5

Last night was the Food & Wine Best New Chefs party, at which the magazine helps to launch ten careers by declaring them to be up-and-coming talent.
Food & Wine does an extraordinary job at finding relatively obscure chefs. It’s my business to know about chefs all over the country, and I only knew of three of this year's winners, April Bloomfield, Gavin Kaysen and Paul Virant. (here's the full list of winners).
At the party I ran into Drew Nieporent — as I always do — and he gave me an earful about a story in Nation‘s Restaurant News that he didn’t like — as he often does. Then he handed me a card for his newest restaurant, Mai House, and told me to eat there. He also introduced me to Los Angeles celebrity chef Nancy Silverton. She asked me who the evening's winners were and I told her that the only one from her area was Gavin Kaysen.
She stared at me blankly.
"He’s the chef at El Bizcocho in the San Diego area,” I said.
“Never heard of it,” she said.
“He represented the U.S. in the latest Bocuse D’Or competition,” I said.
She shrugged her shoulders.
I think Nancy was the only chef I actually met for the first time. The evening's winners were introduced near the end of the evening and then vanished somewhere.
Oh wait! I met David Chang of Momofuku, too. He was a winner last year and was serving his beloved pork buns.
Chris Lee, who buried me in his food the night before at Gilt, was dishing up a delicate ravioli preparation. When he ran out of food he hung out with some other chefs I was talking to, including Pino Maffeo, who like Chris was a Best New Chef last year, and E. Michael Reidt and Randy Lewis (both Class of 2001). Randy’s at Mecca in San Francisco now, and E. Michael has Sevilla in Santa Barbara and The Penthouse in Santa Monica. Pino just bought restaurant L, where he was executive chef, and is now in the process of reworking it. It will reopen soon as Boston Public.
Chef agent Scott Feldman was there, of course, and gave me the rundown on his plans for Aspen. Food & Wine's June extravaganza there is always fun, and I’ll be covering it for NRN this year.
There was some talk about the Beard Awards. The blog world is all up in arms that the awards are being held at Avery Fisher Hall, which doesn’t allow for propane burners and other things that make serving food at tasting stations easier. The chefs don’t seem to care. What makes a good chef a good chef is not the ability to prepare a delectable seven-course meal for 12 people if given two days to prepare it. That makes you a good cook. A good chef has the skill and temperament to get a good meal out for a banquet hall full of hungry people even if the ceiling collapses, destroying all of the kitchen equipment and killing two sous chefs.
Soon there was talk of the evening's afterparties. The official one was a few blocks away at Les Halles — the party's organizers even had business cards printed with a map from the Food & Wine party (which was on the 52nd floor of 7 World Trade Center) to the afterparty. I followed the map, but no one was there, so I hopped in a taxi to the Lower East Side where Eater was sponsoring a party at Freeman’s. That, too, was a small affair in the back of the restaurant, where Eater editor Ben Leventhal — the New York food scene’s favorite Paul Rudd lookalike — seated next to David Chang, was holding court, condemning the day’s review of The Four Seasons in The New York Times. With just 52 restaurants a year to be reviewed, he wondered, why waste the ink on an institution that is immune to the vicissitudes of critics.
(Drew weighed in on the review earlier in the evening, by the way, expressing outrage that the owners, Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini, weren’t even mentioned).
I also met Eater’s other editor, Lockhart Steele. Isn’t that a great name?
Between Freeman’s and my subway stop was New Wonton Garden on Mott Street, where I stopped in for a bowl of won ton and noodle soup.
Today, rumor has it that the proper afterparty to go to was at The Spotted Pig, which would make sense since April Bloomfield is the chef there, but no one told me about it last night. Maybe Kate Krader’s mad at me.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wow, you’re a rock star. Neat!

April 4

You probably don’t remember my discovery that an old high school acquaintance, Peter Yanowitz, has become something of a rock star. He was the drummer for the Wallflowers, and then for Natalie Merchant, and now he plays the bass for Morningwood. I tracked him down on the Internet, contacted him, and after a few tries was able to remind him of who I was. We had spent a month at the same camp in our Jewish youth group, B’nai B’rith, in 1983, and then were on the same trip to Israel for six weeks in 1984. We also both ended up going to college at Tufts, where we saw each other a total of one time. So I was in no way insulted that he wouldn’t remember me right away. I remembered him because he was one of the popular kids. A guy like me remembers the popular kids.
He e-mailed me his cell phone number and said we should hook up. That was back in late October, and although the idea intrigued me, the notion of me squeeking at him in my nasally voice into his cell phone, trying to arrange a meeting after 21-years with someone I didn’t know that well in the first place and who was now a rock star seemed ridiculous, and a little humiliating. So I didn’t bother.
Then last week he e-mailed me:
hey! i haven't forgot about you and would still like to get together sometime. i am all over the place..writing for morningwod..back and forth to los angeles..writing for a broadway musical. and other adventures. i hope you are well, ready for some sunshine.
april is filling up, but maybe towards the end of the month, or may we can find some time to get some dinner.
i hope you are well!
take care,
Meanwhile, Chris Lee, the relatively new chef at Gilt, had been after me to try his food. So I invited Peter and his girlfriend Lisa to have dinner with me there.
The dress code at Gilt is “elegant casual” with jackets preferred on men but not required.
I e-mailed Peter with that information.
His reply: “u mean i cant wear my spandex leopard skin pants?”
I thought of telling him to go for it, but I didn’t want it to sound like a dare. I wanted to express support for him to wear whatever he liked while not necessarily encouraging him to embarrass himself, the restaurant or me.
So I said: “Hey, elegant casual is as elegant casual does. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could pull off the right look in spandex leopard skin pants.
Okay, I’d be a little surprised.”
I mean, who knew what kind of freak I might find myself dining with? Was he a stereotypical rock star who would order inappropriately expensive wine and yell at the staff? Would he be a pretentious lunatic with a ditzy, judgmental girlfriend? It could be a really long night.
But I was giddy with excitement. There’s always something of a thrill in becoming reacquainted with people from your distant past. And Peter had always seemed to have a certain kindness and melancholy that popular kids didn’t normally have so close to the surface.
On the other hand, he had taken the stage name of Pedro Yanowitz. He could be a complete nut.
As it turned out, he wore jeans, a button-down shirt and v-neck argyle sweater, kind of reminding me of the preppy young Guess-jeans-wearing pretty boy I remember from Israel, and a contrast to the long-haired, bongo-playing hippie type that he was when he lived in Tufts’ Crafts House.
We got reacquainted as sommelier Jason Ferris poured Champagne and Chris sent out an amuse-bouche of braised octopus with pickled Asian vegetables and chile powder.
Peter's girlfriend, it turned out, is Lisa Davies, a former model who, after ten years in that job, is now a 25-year-old nursing student with the sort of intelligence and poise you can get, if you pay attention, with a decade’s worth of exposure to the cosmopolitan world.
Peter seems like a sweet, intelligent man with the temperament of someone who has succeeded more than he expected to. He has a bit of the stereotypical entertainer in him in that he doesn’t eat meat and drinks green and herbal tea. Normally, dining with non-meat-eaters can be a drag, but it turned out to be a bonus as Chris planned an entirely different tasting menu for him and Jason, naturally, picked appropriately different wines.
Peter had taken the stage name Pedro in the aftermath of a bad breakup that somehow ended his association with Natalie Merchant (I didn’t press), but his friends have pretty much always called him Peter. He’s working on Morningwood’s second album with a major label and he also is working with Stephen Trask on the musical version of “Clueless.” I can’t wait to see it.
As the three of us ate and drank and ate and drank, we expressed joy that life had taken the nice turns it had for us.
Then, after Gilt’s brand new pastry chef, David Carmichael, sent out dessert (this was the first night that his desserts were being served there) restaurant director and tea expert Christopher Day came out, madman that he is, with a tasting of nine different teas, including a classic Chinese long jing, two oolongs, a jasmine, a couple of other floral varieties, a tea scented with lemon zest and two different earl greys, marked by their difference in age. It was enchanting.
Before we take a look at the rest of the menu, here’s a link to Morningwood. Peter’s the guy on the left.

And now, here’s what else I ate and drank:

Yellowfin tuna tartare with kimchi, rice pearls, scallion pancakes and shallot ginger dressing.
2004 Domaine Jean-Paul Picard Sancerre (Loire Valley)

Diver sea scallops with edamame, passion fruit, lotus root and winter black truffle jus
2004 Sighardt Donabaum Riesling “Brandstatt” (Wachau, Austria)

Crispy black sea bass with pipérade, chorizo, red bliss potatoes, garlic aïoli and saffron mussel broth
2004 Rudi Pichler “Terrassen” Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd (Wachau)

Long Island pekin duck with seared foie gras, rhubarb, fava beans, pistachios and black olive jus
2003 Vallete Frères Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos de la Justice” (Burgundy)

Australian rack of lamb with lamb shoulder ragoût, swiss chard, golden raisin falafel and preserved lemon jus
1998 Brovia Barolo “Ca Mia” (Piedmont, Italy)

Vanilla ice cream, cactus pear and orange flavor foam
Rhubarb crumble with honey mousse and marion berry granité
Pink muscat grape flambé with mascarpone ice cream and raspberry-dusted doughnuts
2005 Hunt County Vineyard Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (Finger Lakes, New York)

Mignardises (I had a whisky flavored chocolate and one flavored with chocolate-covered caramel, and lychee and mango fruit pastes).

Well, why bother to go to the party?

April 4

Food & Wine has announced its picks for the 10 Best New Chefs eight-and-a-half hours before the beginning of the party at which they’re supposed to be announced. I feel all anticipation ebbing away, except for the fact that it’s a really fun party.
You’ll get a full report tomorrow, but for now, here are the winners:

April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, New York City
Gabriel Bremer of Salts, Cambridge, Mass.
Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five, Portland, Maine
Matthew Dillon of Sitka & Spruce, Seattle
Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho, San Diego
Johnny Monis of Komi, Washington, D.C.
Sean O’Brien of Myth, San Francisco, Calif.
Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
Ian Schnoebelen of Iris, New Orleans, La.
Paul Virant of Vie, Western Springs, Ill.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sometimes you have to go out and actually do some reporting

April 3

Nearly three weeks ago, the New York food-blogging world started rumbling with rumors of a shakeout in the kitchen of Varietal.
Although the young pastry chef, Alinea alumnus Jordan Kahn, had gotten some good press, overall media reception of the place was not particularly warm, and the initial rumor was that Jordan had quit.
Now, I know Jordan. I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen with him, I've interviewed him on the phone at least twice, and I’ve given him plenty of ink in Nation’s Restaurant News (and on this blog). I also have worked with his publicists for years, and so I e-mailed them.
“The Eater rumor mill is churning,” I wrote, in a message with the subject hed: “Your friend Jordan.”
“I trust you’ll keep me posted on any developments,” I added.
“Yes, it’s a nasty rumor mill,” I was told, and as far as any of them knew, it was simply a rumor.
Fair enough.
Then word began to trickle in that the restaurant’s chef, Ed Witt, was gone, too. Indeed, Grub Street claimed it got confirmation from the owners.
So I e-mailed the publicists again who assured me they’d let me know when something happened.
I called Varietal to ask what was going on and they denied everything, so I let it go. I didn’t want to report on something that I believed was true but couldn’t confirm. It’s tacky.
Then the blog world reported that Wayne Nish, the chef of Nish, which in its more famous past incarnation was March, was now also in charge of the kitchen at Varietal.
Damn it!
Shortly thereafter, I got an e-mail blast from Nish, promoting its Easter specials and reminding people to vote for them in the Zagat surveys. I hit the “reply” button and asked if Wayne Nish were in fact the new chef at Varietal.
“Yes he is” was the response.
Did that mean that Ed Witt was gone?
Again: “Yes he is” (I don’t know if Nish himself were responding and I don’t know the guy that well, but he seems like he would enjoy that type of staccatto, repetitive response).
I asked about Jordan.
No answer.
So last night I stopped by Varietal, climbed onto a bar stool, ordered a glass of Albariño and a plate of octopus with salsa verde and asked the bartender if Ed Witt were gone, and what about Jordan?
He said they were both gone, and that Jordan had moved to San Francisco.
And was Wayne Nish the new chef?
That was easy.
After I paid with a credit card with my name on it, one of the owners bought me another glass of wine and we chatted. I don’t know if he knew who I was, but he did give me more information, to wit:
Working under Nish will be chef de cuisine Scott Riesenberger. I confirmed the spelling of his name and previous position earlier today with Christopher Day at Gilt. Riesenberger was a sous chef there under Paul Liebrandt.
With Nish and Riesenberger doing the food, Varietal is likely not headed for boring cuisine. Although Nish has been on the New York restaurant scene for years, his food is anything but staid, and of course anyone associated with the food of Paul Liebrandt is bound to do something unexpected.
We’ll find out soon enough. Varietal’s new menu is rolling out on Friday.

Monday, April 02, 2007

They’re going to have beautiful children

April 2

“We can get as messed up as we want to tomorrow night, but tonight we have to get Ray home safely.”
Those were the words of Alex Delgado, Ray Garcia’s best man and, as is the custom, the organizer of his bachelor party.
The evening began at the Heartland Brewery in the Empire State Building. I had forgotten that there was a Heartland in the Empire State Building, but once I was there I vaguely remembered possibly going to the opening (or maybe it was the Times Square location) with my old friend Yishane Lee, whom Ray was about to marry.
Offering debauchery at the wedding in exchange for temperance during what was supposed to be Ray’s last hurrah might seem counterintuitive, but it made sense. The bachelor party was last Saturday, the day before the wedding, which was yesterday, and Ray needed to stand up straight during his wedding and look good for pictures. Afterward he could do whatever he wanted; his flight for his honeymoon in Greece doesn’t leave until 4 p.m. today, giving him plenty of time to recover.
A couple members of the evening’s entourage wanted to kidnap Ray and drag him across the Hudson to places of ill repute in New Jersey, but Ray wasn’t having it.
“Tomorrow it’s an open bar,” he pointed out, supporting Alex’s assessment of the situation.
So we had wings and calamari and burgers and ribs and stuff at Heartland, and I sampled their Alpha Male Ale, which has ginseng and horny goat weed and other things in it that go with the name and seemed appropriate for a bachelor party. I then switched to their Indie 500 IPA.
From there we went to 230 5th, an event space that seems pretty much suited for bachelor parties, with large overstuffed sofas for lounging and pretty, flirtatious waitresses.
Okay, actually, our first waitress was kind of a jerk (and dare I say not that pretty). She was condescending and questioned our ability to party hearty when we weren’t ordering drinks fast enough for her tastes.
So it was just as well that we were rudely and unceremoniously moved to another set of sofas after we went upstairs to check out the roof. Our previous space had been reserved, they said. Well, yes, Alex had in fact reserved space two months in advance, and called a week ahead of time to reconfirm, and they called him a couple of days before the party to reconfirm.
But our new waitress was great — very gracious and accommodating as she poured the Champagne that Alex sprang for.
We were out of there by 11:30, so I woke up the next morning with plenty of time to veg out and go over my lines for the ceremony.
As you may recall, Yishane and Ray had asked me to co-officiate, which as it turns out meant that I would be doing most of the English content of the ceremony, while the actual legitimate officiant, Raquel Algarin, would do the Spanish. I also had to welcome everyone in Chinese.
The wedding was at a Cuban restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen called Guantanamera, which it turns out means “a woman from Guantanamo,” and the ceremony went mostly like clockwork. Raquel and I each were missing a page from our scripts for some reason, but we shared and no one noticed. Yishane’s nephew, who’s about a year-and-a-half old, had a minor meltdown at the beginning of the ceremony but he calmed down when he was placed in the hands of his mother, the matron of honor.
The only religious content was a brief Buddhist ceremony by Yishane’s mother, who chanted as she held an image of Tara — Buddha’s female manifestation — first over the head of Yishane, and then over Ray’s head.
We had no planned recessional, so Yishane just said “Okay, we're going to take pictures now,” and we all went downstairs to sign documents, take pictures, chat and drink mojitos.
The food was Cuban food that you might expect — tostones, ropa vieja, arroz con pescado — plus some appropriate vegetarian content for Yishane’s mom and perhaps others.
Yishane was, in fact, a vegetarian when we worked in Thailand together. Then someone fed her beef and she recovered, returning to the ways of the carnivore. But life can be cruel: Back in the States, her past three boyfriends before Ray had at least some restrictions regarding how and why they’d eat meat. It was really annoying. Thank goodness Ray is not thus afflicted.
Ray has many good qualities, in fact. He’s like the coolest computer geek you ever met. He’s an IT guy and makes references to Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars in everyday conversation, but he’s also articulate, socially adept, a samba dancer and a nice guy. I like his friends, too.
Anyway, it was a great wedding, a good time seemed to be had by all, but the debauchery suggested by Alex never happened.