Monday, March 31, 2008

podcast time

March 31

My latest podcast is up, ready for your listening pleasure.
Comments on its content, including our new and funky music, is most welcome.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


March 26

Last night, walking from Commerce restaurant down Seventh Avenue South to the 2 train, I was approached by a scruffy, probably somewhat drugged-out gentleman who struck up a conversation with me — I learned that he lives with his mother and is not a McCain fan.
As we walked he made sidelong glances at parked cars and bikes that we passed, in case there were something in or on them to steal.
He asked if I had ever smoked cocaine and if I’d like a hit.
I said “No,” and “No, thank you,” and then we parted ways.
I wanted to tell him that this was the West Village in 2008, not in 1978, and that conversations with potentially dangerous drugged out ne'er-do-wells just wasn’t done, but he seemed harmless enough as long as I didn't give him an entrée.
Today I checked with my baby-boomer colleagues — who, being from the era that they’re from, are drug experts, one and all — to see if smoking cocaine was by definition smoking crack, or if un-crackified coke could be smoked. They didn’t know, but one did a web search and told me that yes, cocaine can be smoked in its powdered form.
So I guess that’s good to know. You never know when a fact might come in handy.
But are scruffy druggies in the West Village a sign of bad economic times, or was this just one of those anachronisms that big, complex cities like New York inevitably produce?
At any rate, dinner at Commerce was fun. I ate with one of the restaurant’s publicists, Katherine Bryant, who, apart from being a publicist, also is in a sketch comedy troupe called Fearsome. Her fiancé, David Flaherty, is a sometimes-actor and budding wine expert originally from Fort Colins, Colo. I occasionally think of him as “the smart barista” from a role he played for, oh, probably less than a minute, on an episode of Law & Order Criminal Intent. He totally helped solved the case, though.
So Katherine knows various comedy actors, including Kristen Schaal, who plays Flight of the Conchords’ only fan and recently had her debut on The Daily Show, one would assume to the delight of her friends and fans. I know I was pleased. So was Katherine.
It was a theater-oriented evening in my mind anyway, as the last time I’d been in the space currently occupied by Commerce it was Grange Hall, where I’d eaten before seeing the play Fully Committed.
I’d been meaning to eat the food of Harold Moore, Commerce’s chef, for years and years.
And this is what we had (paired with wines by sommelier Justin Coleman):

Beef tataki with ginger, soy and shiso
Marinated fluke sashimi with chile lime and petit radish salad
a Torrontes from Mendoza in Argentina

Porcini and fontina ravioli with caramelized salsify and Parmesan emulsion
Green and white asparagus fricassée with mushrooms, truffle and a poached egg
Pelisero 2006 Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy)

Whole roasted chicken for two, with potato purée and foie gras bread stuffing
2003 Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas (Rhône, France)

Tropical fruit pavlova with Greek yogurt and lychee sorbet
Chocolate peanut butter marquise with celery salad and salty peanuts
Chocolate soufflé with coffee crème Anglaise

Monday, March 24, 2008

Beard Handicapping ’08

March 24

The James Beard Foundation has announced its list of nominees for its annual awards, which people in the restaurant world take quite seriously. Awards are strange, though. The results are capricious, the meaning unclear. Nonetheless, I shall now take a shot at predicting the winners.
I did this last year and ended up getting seven out of 19 right, which is a failing grade except in baseball, when I would have batted 367.
I have made my predictions in boldface. They are my predictions, not my votes. I’m not saying that I would be happy about these results, but they are the people and restaurants I expect to win.
I’m only predicting in restaurant and chef categories. For a full list of nominees, visit
Here now, my predictions for the 2008 James Beard Foundation Awards:

[March 26 update: Oops, the Beard Foundation forgot that Gary Danko won the outstanding service award in 2006, so they took that restaurant off the list and replaced it with La Grenouille in New York. Also, I’ve been asked why I picked who I picked and if I’m crazy, so I have added reasons for my predictions]:

Best new restaurant:
Anthos in New York
Central Michel Richard in Washington, D.C.
Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas
Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Osteria in Philadelphia
reason: I think the star effect of Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton will put it over the top

“Rising Star Chef” (aged 30 years or younger):
Nate Appleman of A 16 in San Francisco
Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C.
Gavin Kaysen of Café Boulud in New York
Johnny Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C.
Matt Molina of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore.
reason: see above

Outstanding chef:
Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago
José Andres of Minibar in Washington, D.C.
Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York
Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles
Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala.
reason: All of these chefs are very highly regarded, but Grant has been battling cancer. To call his victory a sympathy vote would make it sound like he’s not deserving, so let’s call it a hero vote.

Outstanding restaurant (these tend to go to old, well-established restaurants with a lot of history):
Boulevard in San Francisco
The Slanted Door in San Francisco
Gramercy Tavern in New York
Jean Georges in New York
Campanile in Los Angeles
reason: This one is always tricky, because more than any of the other awards it seems to be based on sentiment and a sense of the nominee’s place in the restaurant firmament. But I’ve never heard an unkind word said about Gramercy Tavern.

Outstanding pastry chef:
Gina DePalma of Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in New York
Pichet Ong of P*ONG in New York
Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco
Mindy Segal of HotChocolate in Chicago
Nicole Plue of Redd in Yountville, Calif.
reason: combination of name recognition of Gina herself and Batali star power

Outstanding wine service:
Aureole in Las Vegas
Picasso in Las Vegas
Bin 36 in Chicago
Eleven Madison Park in New York
Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
reason: Blackberry Farm gets nominated often enough in enough different categories (it was nominated for both best chef and best service last year). It just feels like this is its year.

Outstanding restaurateur:
Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali in New York
Tom Douglas in Seattle
Richard Melman in Chicago
Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles
Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York
Reason: Jean-Georges' restaurants are the most high-end in this group, for the most part, and I think Beard judges still have a weakness for that.

Outstanding wine and spirits professional:
Dale DeGroff of Beverage Alcohol Resource in New York
Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Wines in Sebastopol, Calif.
David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards in McMinnville, Ore.
Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo.
Terry Theise of Terry Theise Estate Selections in Silver Spring, Md.
Reason: Frasca’s hot.

Outstanding service:
Canlis in Seattle
La Grenouille in New York
Spiaggia in Chicago
Vetri in Philadelphia
Terra in St. Helena, Calif.
Reason: Canlis has a reputation for being classic and likeable that I think will appeal to judges.

My picks for the regional awards, except for New York which is the market I live in and thus the one I know best, are based purely on gut reaction having to do with name recognition and general reputation. In the case of New York, people in the food world here can’t help themselves — if there’s an award, they’ll give it to David Chang.

Pacific (California and Hawaii):
Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, Calif.
David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif.
David Myers of Sona in Los Angeles
Craig Stoll of Delfina in San Francisco
Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco.

Mid-Atlantic (including Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia):
Cathal Armstong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va.
Jose Garces of Amada in Philadelphia
Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama in Hoboken, N.J.
Cindy Wolf of Charleston in Baltimore
Eric Ziebold of CityZen in Washington, D.C.

Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin):
Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery in Minneapolis
Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City
Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in Minneapolis
Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis
Adam Siegal of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee

Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio):
Graham Elliot Bowles of Avenues in Chicago
Carrie Nahabedian of Naha in Chicago
Bruce Sherman of North Pond in Chicago
Michael Symon of Lola in Cleveland
Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich.

New York City:
Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern
Terrance Brennan of Picholine
David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants
Wylie Dufresne of WD-50
Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern.

Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York excluding New York City, Rhode Island and Vermont):
Patrick Connolly of Radius in Boston
Rob Evans of Hugo’s in Portland, Maine
Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine
Michael Leviton of Lumière in West Newton, Mass.
Marc Orfaly of Pigalle in Boston.

Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming):
Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen in Portland, Ore.
Maria Hines of Tilth in Seattle
Holly Smith of Café Juanita in Kirkland, Wash.
Ethan Stowell of Union in Seattle
Jason Wilson of Crush in Seattle

Southeast (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia):
Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten in Athens, Ga.
Arnaud Berthelier of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta
Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta
Mike Lata of Fig in Charleston, S.C.
Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in Charleston, S.C.

Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah):
Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas
Sharon Hage of York Street in Dallas
Ryan Hardy of Montagna in Aspen, Colo.
Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo.
Andrew Weissman of Restaurant La Rêve in San Antonio, Texas.

South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi):
Zach Bell of Café Boulud in Palm Beach, Fla.
Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami
John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss.
Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala.
Douglas Rodriguez of Ola in Miami.

Friday, March 21, 2008


March 21

“The cheesecake is Argentinean-style, which is like Italian-style.”
“Then why are you calling it Argentinean? Why not just call it Italian?”
“Most people don’t know what Argentinean-style cheesecake is, so I’m just saying it’s like Italian.”
“But what’s Argentinean about it?”
“I’m saying it’s like Italian so people will understand.”
This conversation was going on between my friend Birdman and our waiter at GustOrganics last night. It could have gone on all night, so I thought I’d intervene.
“Is the pastry chef Argentine?” I asked (I prefer “Argentine” to “Argentinean,” for no logical reason).
“The whole restaurant is Argentine.”
Birdman, aka David Krauss, is a science professor. He likes to get his facts straight, and he’s a stickler for clarity. He’s also a stickler for proper use of the English language, and woe unto students who can’t use it properly. Indeed, I’m sure they look at their graded tests and say “woah!”
Like pretty much any scientist I’ve ever met, Birdman, who’s a biologist with specialization in paleontology, is easily irritated by the fast-and-loose usage of scientific terms — such as organic.
GustOrganics says it’s the first Certified Organic restaurant in New York City and the first one in the country to use 100 percent USDA Certified Organic ingredients (I’m not saying that it’s not, but I haven’t confirmed it). The owner, Alberto Gonzalez, is from Argentina, and he is apparently so excited about his restaurant being organic that he didn’t bother to mention that it was Argentine, although the press materials do call the food ”Latin-inspired.”
Now, to be Certified Organic, you have to follow all sorts of regulations and jump through a bunch of administrative hoops. To be organic in common parlance you have to be grown or raised without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
But from a scientific perspective, “organic” just means formerly alive. So petroleum, which is former dinosaurs, is organic and therefore so is plastic. Glass, on the other hand, being silicon-based, is not. Neither is table salt (which is sodium based). Bug parts and mammalian excretia: organic. Water: not organic (or more precisely, inorganic).
Speaking of water, a chemical is anything that can be described using a chemical formula, such as dihydrogen oxide (water). It is impossible to grow any plant or raise any animal without chemicals.
Most European languages that I know of use the term “biological” instead of “organic” (biologique in French, for example), which makes no more sense than “organic.”
Perhaps we should just call a spade a small shovel and label some foods as politically correct and others as not.
At the moment, GustOrganics is BYO, so Birdman picked up a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, which we drank from stemless glasses (inorganic) as we ate a spinach salad topped with strawberries and peanuts and a beet salad (made with raw beets), and then beef stew (which tasted like beef stew but was more like braised brisket, really) with a side of grilled vegetables, and vegan risotto with endive.
For dessert we had a “tortita,” which was sort of an Argentine-style strawberry shortcake, and dulce de leche ice cream.
I asked Birdman why we couldn't eat petroleum products but we can consume vegetable oil (for example). He said that the “oils” we eat are actually fatty acids, not true oils, but he couldn’t say whether a teaspoon of motor oil, say, would be harmful in any way, so he didn’t.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

cocktails and vegetarian food

March 20

Rarely have two parties held so closely together had such a similar crowd as the ones held at Tailor on Tuesday and The Bikini Bar on Wednesday. One was promoting a wine-based apéritif, the other promoting tiki rum cocktails. Jim Meehan was making cocktails at both of them. At Tailor Toby Cecchini of Passerby, Brian Miller of Death & Co. and host Eben Freeman were making drinks, too.
I started with Brian Miller’s drink.
“What are you shaking?” I asked him.
“I’m stirring a Fat Like Buddha,” he said, which had said apéritif, rum, benedictine, orange liqueur and an orange twist.
I do respect a mixologist who takes himself seriously.
Beverage, wine and food writer Jack Robertiello and I continued our ongoing discussion of which types of writers are the most insufferable. He has had horrible experiences with food writers, whom he has seen engaging in high-school like acts of cliqueyness and one-upsmanship (or one-upspersonship as most food writers are women). I contend that wine writers, as a general rule of course, are trapped farther up their own personal orifices than food writers, whom I find generally act in just the friendly, contented way that well-fed people with slight wine buzzes should behave.
But I still think travel writers are the worst.
We continue to agree that virtually everyone involved in the hard-liquor world is gracious and fun to spend time with.
I caught up with Darrell Hartman, which didn’t take long as I’ve seen him in the past couple of weeks, but I think I spent most of my time with James Oliver Cury and Jay Cheshes, who both exemplify how nice food writers are.
Come to think of it, I didn’t see James at the party the following night — although I definitely saw Jack, and I’m pretty sure I saw Jay — but I wasn’t there for very long. Bikini Bar is in Tribeca, and I took the E train to Chambers Street, a huge subway stop with many exits, and I selected the one farthest away from Bikini Bar. I still managed to get there just 15 minutes after the party had started, but that still just gave me 15 minutes before I had to trek to the opening party at Broadway East.
Still, that gave me enough time to sample a rum I hadn't tried before, drink Jim Meehan’s cocktail and chat with a couple representatives from a major Puerto Rico-based rum company (can you guess which one?).
I talked with them about rum and its potential for growth in the American market. Rum as we drink it here is generally light and sweet, and people think of it as festive. The proliferation of infused rums further brings it into competition with the United States' favorite spirit, vodka.
The guys seemed eager to point out the distinctions between rum and vodka, which I found interesting since if I were trying to sell alcohol in the United States, I’d try to underscore its similarities to vodka because, despite all the efforts of the country’s “mixologists” and “cocktailians” to promote gin, brown spirits and, well, anything but vodka, vodka remains king.
I wasn’t at the party long, but I’m afraid I did manage to hurt the feelings of a representative from the Distilled Spirits Council, which was throwing the party. He suggested we write a story about all the different safe-drinking programs the various liquor companies had (which of course they do), and even though I’d had only one drink, I told him that was a boring story, which was mean of me (but true).
So I felt bad about that as I left that party, passing Bon Appétit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton on my way out, sorry we didn’t have a chance to catch up, as I hardly ever see him anymore and I enjoy his company.
So I had two things to regret as I walked to Broadway East, the new mostly vegetarian restaurant, where I was meeting my vegetarian friend Kenyon, for whom it is worth leaving a party.
Kenyon is not only a vegetarian but a straight-edge one, and yet I still enjoy his company. I think that’s quite a tribute to him (or maybe the fact that I think so means that I’m a narrow-minded schnook).
It was a star-studded party. Not only were Kenyon and I there, but so, I was told, was Tatum O’Neal, although I didn't see her. She’s supposedly dating the owner or something.
I did see Kristen Johnston, from Third Rock from the Sun. She definitely looks vegetarian.
So I drank Pinot Noir and ate tempura vegetables and tandoori tofu and non-meat sliders and whatnot, and Kenyon ate the same stuff (but not the mackerel) and introduced himself to the random beautiful women who walked by and introduced themselves to him first.
I asked if people frequently introduced themselves to him because he was hot (I get mistaken for Jason Alexander — especially in profile — he gets mistaken for Jared Leto).
“Is that why?” he asked and shrugged.
Kenyon’s best friend and ex-girlfriend was performing that night at a place on Avenue B that used to be called Club Midway but that now apparently is Rehab.
I bought a Guinness and then who did we see but a girl named Michael, whom you might recall from a couple of weeks ago.
We were early, so we hung out with the band and I felt very hip and insidery.
The bands, Saints & Lovers, Neimo, and The Go Station, were all a lot of fun — Saints & Lovers mostly for the bassist/lead singer’s great voice, Neimo for the lead singer’s stage presence, and The Go Station for the overall music and the lead singer’s doleful facial expressions.
Kenyon, in fact, left before The Go Station came on stage, but I figured I’d stick around, although I switched from Guinness to Bass.


March 20

I got an invitation yesterday afternoon for an event this morning. It was to visit David Bouley’s test kitchen and then get a preview of his new restaurant, Bouley, which will open in the building he bought after closing his original Bouley in 1996, sold after September 11, 2001, and then bought again recently (161 Duane St.).
I met David Bouley back in 1996, just as he was getting ready to close his restaurant, in part to travel the world in search of new flavors. I lived in Bangkok at the time, and Bouley was doing a brief guest-chef stint at The Regent hotel there (which is now a Four Seasons). His food was so good it made me want to giggle, and I have been paying attention to him ever since.
The chef was very chipper today, wearing pin-stripe trousers and an elegant sport coat over an open collared, French-cuffed light blue shirt (or possibly violet, but I think light blue). He chatted about the ripening apples that gave the original Bouley its distinctive smell and that will also be placed in the new restaurant’s foyer.
On the floor of the lounge at the moment are beams that were installed in a French château in 1751. They will adorn the lounge’s ceiling once the restaurant opens. The dining room is on the other side of doors from the 1760s. The floor — the parts that aren’t walnut and oak parkade made by craftsmen in Brooklyn, is 18th century Burgundian stone.
(stone, of course, is millions of years old, but I imagine it was hewn in the 18th century).
David Bouley said he would be back in the kitchen for this restaurant, cooking every day, looking at every plate, “like I was in ’96,” he said.
The new restaurant will have about 30 seats fewer than the original, so, somewhere in the 70-80 seat range.
Then Bouley waxed poetic about a wide range of topics, mostly the joy of really excellent ingredients, and how visits to Japan over the past decade have taught him how American restaurants’ own movement toward connection to farms is still very much in its infancy, even though when the first Bouley closed he was working with 2,000 farmers, some of whom could only supply him for about three weeks, when, for example, their peaches were at their best.
Then Bouley changed into his chef jacket and we headed into his test kitchen to snack on things like silken tofu with mushrooms and black truffle (soy bean, mushroom and truffle all taste of the earth, and so go together very well, he said), while he reflected on food in the way that geniuses reflect on things.
The session ended on time — five minutes early, even — which is extraordinary considering how famously uninterested in timing the chef is. His handlers were very interested in timing, however, with one agitated young man muttering in Bouley’s ear about the absolute urgency with which he needed to wrap things up. The chef listened politely and kept talking, but we were eventually politely shooed out anyway.
Bouley’s publicists said the restaurant would open in six to eight weeks. I would suspect it won’t be ready until mid-summer, and who open’s a restaurant in New York in the middle of summer?
So expect a fall opening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Il Giorno di San Patrizio

March 18

What can I say? I’m not Irish, even on St. Patrick’s Day, so I spent yesterday evening, the 17th, with Jamie Tiampo, budding food writer and food photographer and a partner in Dell’anima, where we ate.
Jamie used to work in technology, but decided his real love was food, so he made a career change, something his wife — who works in finance or banking or something and clearly makes a good living — clearly supports. Jamie acknowledges that he’s a fortunate man.
We spent about four hours chatting — and eating grilled sweetbreads with celery root purée, lemon and capers; salad of chicories with Campari-honey dressing; tagliatella alla bolognese risotto alla pilota (chef Gabriel Thompson’s specialty) with housemade sausage, salumi and pecorino romano; a special ricotta-stuffed ravioli that wasn’t on the menu but that Jamie loves, and he’s an owner; chicken al diavolo with roasted sweet potato and chicken sugo; and barramundi with spring onions, Parmigiano brodo and saba (grape must reduction) — about politics and food and so on. So I sent him home late to pack for his trip the next day to New Orleans (some sort of gumbo expedition associated with the IACP).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Too many fancy events

March 17

“GET A DOO-WOG!” said this truly horrible woman with a heavy New York accent to a blind man at the James Beard House last Wednesday. She was one of those people who thinks it’s actually okay to tell other people, unbidden, how to live their lives, as if a blind man carrying a white cane and being escorted by his companion (maybe his wife, but one mustn’t assume) hasn’t examined his options and chosen to live his life as he sees fit.
You get a dog,” he said, which of course was a mistake because then she kept talking (excuse me, too-wahking) about her own stupid cur. And I was not in the mood for it last week.
“I’m having existential ennui,” I later told my friend Jonathan Ray, who teaches history at Georgetown. I’m a New York City food writer, so I’m allowed to use pompous words to express melancholy. It’s what we do.
“That’s because you go to too many fancy shmancy events,” he said.
Jonathan’s one of my favorite people in the world.
That was on Friday. He’d called me the day before just as I was tying my matte silver tie for my tuxedo.
It was a long tie, which it seems to me is more in vogue than bow ties for tuxedos these days, although I think the pendulum is swinging back. We’ll see what people are wearing at the Beard Awards in June.
The material on this particular tie is pretty thick, so a full Windsor knot would have looked bulky. I settled on a half Windsor as I chatted with Jonathan.
“You’re busy. I’ll let you go. We’ll talk soon,” he said.
Too many fancy shmancy events can lead to existential ennui, because if you think life is about fancy events and you go to a lot of them, you realize that they don’t contribute to your emotional well-being. That comes from inside.
I don’t think that was what was irritating me last week. Sometimes you just feel annoyed.
The week started with a fundraising dinner for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which might have been the only fundraising dinner in the history of the world to have no chicken or steak, but escargots, bone marrow, sweetbreads and rabbit. They raised $650,000.
As a member of the media, I was seated at a table with seats to spare, where I could be easily slotted in. My particular table had mostly been bought by Washington Mutual, and so I asked one of their financial analysts to apportion blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis while we assessed the makeup of the emcee, food-TV personality Ted Allen.
The honoree of the evening was Urvashi Vaid, executive director of The Arcus Foundation.
“Revolution is Fun,” she said, which is my quotation of the week.
I did also have an amusing but brief exchange at the bar with a tall gentleman who was ordering a bourbon to soothe his throat, coughed raw by an illness from which he was recovering.
“Tuberculosis,” he said, to no one in particular.
“Hey, it beats lung cancer,” I said, not that I have lung cancer or anything — I just wanted him to look on the bright side.
“I’m working on that. Do you have a cigarette?”
Tuesday at lunchtime found me downtown at a somewhat New Zealand-themed place called Nelson Blue. I was having lunch with Jay Louisson of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, the people who took me down under recently (and I’ve finally finished updating my blog about it. Click here for the final installment). I debriefed her on the trip while I ate a lamb curry pie. The restaurant choice was mine; it seemed appropriate.
That night I went to an absinthe tasting, at which Lance Winters of St. George Spirits spoke about the stuff. I was late and feeling harried, and the event was in a dimly lit room in the bar named Little Branch, and so I reintroduced myself to Kate Goldstein-Breyer, with whom I had just been dining a few days before at The Monday Room. So that was awkward and I decided to bury my embarrassment under Thai food. I walked to my new favorite downtown Thai restaurant, Rhong-Tiam, and ate Thai comfort food. I had khai-jiew woon-sen, which is a sort of deep-fried omelet, and a bowl of guay-tiew tom yam, which is a type of noodle dish from Sukhothai that we used to eat in Bangkok, walking from our offices on Phra-Arthit road across a little canal, past a small ice plant to a little noodle shop.
At Rhong-Tiam a scene that could have been in Bangkok unfolded for me. A middle aged white man came in (it occurs to me that I, too, am middle aged, but that’s all right) and spoke in fairly decent Thai to the waitresses as he asked them what food they recommended. He took a particular shine to one waitress who was clearly a tenor. She didn’t have a low voice, but it certainly was a masculine one, and she was obviously a man (why, then, am I referring to him as a she? Well, I think you should refer to someone as he or she would like to be addressed).
Transvestites are really quite common in Thailand, and so it was refreshing to see one in a Thai restaurant, and amusing to see the customer fall for her, going as far as complimenting her voice and comparing it to Marlena Dietrich’s.
So that was fun, and yet on Wednesday I was grumpy anyway and not in any mood to hear a loud mouth tell a blind man how to live his life.
He (the blind man) told the idiot that the problem with dogs is they don’t actually know where things are.
“You tell them, ‘go to the bank!’ They don’t know where the bank is. You still have to find your own way.”
Blind men were, in fact, the topic of conversation last week as New York’s lying hypocrite of a governor, Eliot Spitzer, was about to be replaced by New York’s first legally blind African-American governor, David Paterson.
One person said she wasn’t concerned about his being black (as of course that would be racist and therefore inappropriate to say), but it seemed wrong for him to be blind (a fair indicator of what prejudices remain socially acceptable).
Someone else wondered if all of our sighted governors were so great, implying that perhaps it was time to give the blind people a crack at it.
Apart from the dog-loving idiot, also at the Beard House on Wednesday was a simpleton who had, on a previous night, gone from table to table soliciting recommendations for restaurants in Barcelona. I recommended Rincón de Aragon for its roasted goat leg and she shuttered and acted like I was ridiculous for recommending such a thing. What’s wrong with goat leg, especially if you’re the sort of person who frequents the Beard House?
Believe it or not, that same simpleton was at the European Wine Council’s gala dinner at Le Cirque on Thursday as the escort of a truly unpleasant man I’d met at the gala about five years before.
He has a new food network. Actually, at the moment it’s a web site.
“It’s a network. I’m very sensitive about that,” he said, bristling at the word “web site.”
Oh, brother.
My date was Yishane Lee. I think I’ve gone to three European Wine Council gala dinners and Yishane has been my date at all three of them. Also at our table was Michael Aaron, chairman of Sherry-Lehman Wine & Spirits, whom I had met at that same gala some years before, when it was at Le Cirque 2000. I remembered him because of the bejeweled tuxedo studs he was wearing. They are family heirlooms.
Seated between us on Thursday was his wife Christine, a former interior designer who carries her own peppermill with her everywhere she goes. It contains a blend of five different peppers. I got a whiff of nutmeg in there, so I suspect that one of those five is Szechwan peppercorns, but Christine wasn't sure. She passed it around the table for people to use, and I said that if one were to have an eccentric affectation, carrying around ones own peppermill was a charming one.
The wine gala is an A-list event. So Food & Wine founders Michael and Ariane Batterbury were there. So was Nation’s Restaurant News (and New York Times) columnist Florence Fabricant, and Leonard Lopate and Rose Levy Beranbaum and many other people.
At one point some years ago, Rose Levy Beranbaum had the eccentric affectation of carrying around a tiny wooden box filled with fleur de sel.
If I were to have such an affectation, it would be to carry a mother-of-pearl caviar spoon with me at all times, so that if caviar were on hand I’d have the right utensil.
You don’t want to be caught off-guard on such occasions.
Michael Aaron performed an amazing feat at dinner. One of the gentlemen at our table was wearing a tuxedo, but with an open collar. Michael asked if that were some new sort of style from Los Angeles and the gentleman said that his bow tie had simply been too tight to fasten. He held it up for us to see and Michael expressed disappointment that it was one of those wrap-around ties.
Then, to show how simple tying a bow tie was, he untied his at the table and retied it again perfectly.
Let me repeat that: He untied his bow tie at the table and retied it again, perfectly. Without a mirror.
Better yet, he said he was taught to do that by Jonas Salk’s wife, Françoise, a former mistress of Picasso’s.
I suppose it wouldn’t be ennui if there were a reason for it.
But what, you wonder, did I eat at these events?

At the Gay Men’s Health Crisis event at Skyline Studios:
Escargots Saint Honoré with marrow and sweetbread cervelas (by Orsay executive chef Jason Hicks)
Slowly simmered rabbit raviolo in white burgundy with winter vegetables (by Aureole executive chef Tony Aiazzi)
Braised short ribs with butternut squash risotto (by Galen Zamarra of Mas — and it actually was risotto, not butternut squash cooked like risotto, which people were doing a few years ago, causing me to wonder why they called it risotto)
Chocolate meringue roches, Lillet gelée, nougat glacé with lavender honey (by Water Club executive pastry chef Victoria Love)

At the Beard House, by chef Jean Paul Desmaison of La Cofradia Restaurant in Coral Cables, Fla.:

Passed Hors d’Oeuvres:
Peruvian corn anticucho with huancaina sauce (a somewhat spicy cheese sauce)
Scallop Bloody Mary
Slow braised pork and grapes with pisco
Gosset Brut Excellence NV Champagne (France, obviously)

Lemon sole, octopus and shrimp ceviche
S.A. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, 2003 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany)

Piquillo peppers stuffed with beef, pork, peanuts and raisins, with a creamy rosemary Parmesan sauce
Marchesi di Barolo, “Ruvei” 2005, Barbera d'Alba (Piedmont, Italy)

Peruvian yellow chile risotto with sautéed Florida lobster tail and coral crème sauce
Jean Luc Colombo “La Bell de Mai” 2004, Saint Peray (Rhone, France)

Duck Confit with spinach and sweet corn couscous and black currant gastrique

Goat cheese ice cream with satuéed berries in port-balsamic reduction
Cellers Fuentes, Finca el Puig 2002, Priorat (Spain)

At the European Wine Council gala at Le Cirque:

Hors d’oeuvre:
Ratatouille tart with poached quail egg
Branzino tartare
Asian tuna roll with dipping sauce
Crab cakes with Béarnaise
Pierre Sparr mèthode Traditionnelle d'Alsace Brud Réserve
Don Olegario Albariño, Rías Baixas, 2006
Pfeffinger Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken Pfalz 2006
Ayios Andronicos, Monte Royia Winery
Proseco Aneri

Shrimp with Asian mixed vegetables and cocnut jus
Schloss Schonborn Riesling Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck “Erstes Gewachs” Rheingau, 2004

Foie gras ravioli with green cabbage marmalade and black truffle emulsion (Yishane’s favorite; Christine’s, too)
Château des Capitan Julienas 2006

Roasted loin of veal with haricots verts en persillad and morel cream sauce
Malleolus de Sancho Martin 2005, Ribera del Duero
Vamvakada red wine, 2004

Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Brie de Nangis with honey and assorted breads
Bolla Amarone DOC 2004

Dessert buffet of milk chocolate mille-feuille, pear tart, mini crème brûlée, crokenbush, tiramisu tart and petits fours
Commandaria Saint John, Keo Winery
JJ Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese, Mosel 1994
J. Vidal-Fleury Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
(Yishane’s favorite)
González Byass Matusalem, DO Jerez
Arèle Vin Santo

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fatty ’Cue

March 13
The charming and barbecue-obsessed people of Grub Street dropped a Leap Day bombshell a couple of weeks ago that Zak Pelaccio would be opening a barbecue joint with Robbie Richter, the former pitmaster of Hill Country, a barbecue restaurant in Manhattan that has adoring fans.
Zak has his fans, too, of course, particularly for Fatty Crab, his mostly Malaysian restaurant in the Meatpacking District. But he has been picking up some local detractors, too, for all the consulting work he has been taking on.
I was poking my nose around one of those projects — a vaguely mused-about venture, perhaps called The Windsor and also maybe involving experiential pastry chef Will Goldfarb, Japanophile Josh DeChellis, and Robert Truitt, a former pastry chef at Will’s former restaurant, Room 4 Dessert.
The vague musings seem credible. A blog called The Life Vicarious noticed a listing in The James Beard Foundation’s event calendar that promised to introduce us to “the Windsor, the cozy yet elegant collaboration they [the chefs above] hope will become a hangout for chefs and food lovers alike.”
But the principals are mum. I called Josh, who said he’d keep me posted once there was something to keep me posted about. I e-mailed Will. He e-mailed back:
rumours abound
thats all they are
its a concept that we are working on

Zak heard I was snooping and he e-mailed me this (boldface added by me for your convenience):

I'd like you to know...and feel free to spread the gospel...that i will not be involved as consulting chef in any more projects for quite a while and I will only be focusing on fatty related projects: Fatty Crab and a new concept: fatty 'cue (bbq with a southeast asian palate, with a particlar focus on thai and malay flavors).

The address will be 91 South 6th St. in Williamsburg, and Zak hopes to open it by late spring or early summer.
Oh, he's also opening another Fatty Crab, on Broadway near 77th street, in June (2170 Broadway).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Comfort Food

March 9

(summary for news hounds: a new Thai restaurant in the touristy, NYU part of the Village, a frozen yogurt shop in Park Slope, Red Hot is closed.)

"Comfort food" is a very much overused, misused and surprisingly ill-understood term. It refers to simple, unpretentious food that makes you feel good. Very often it's the food of one's childhood, but it depends. If you're an American, think about the food you ate, or wanted to eat, in the days that followed September 11, 2001. I ate meatball heros, barbecued pork sandwiches, Big-Mac-large-fries-diet-Coke, Singapore mai fun, Thai food. I drank beer.
This last Friday evening was miserable and rainy and a good night for comfort food, so after going to a photography show opening that included some of the work of my friend Ray Garcia, I met my friend Chandler and his friend Marty at Rhong-Tiam, a new Thai place near NYU that claims to have the only "authentic" Thai food in New York City.
Now, I could go on and on for far longer than you'd like about the notion of authenticity and food, but suffice it to say that, although there is a lot of bad Thai food in New York, there's plenty of good Thai food, including some that would fit just about anybody's definition of authentic. But I respect a bold claim and figured the place was worth checking out.
Rhong-Tiam, whose name translates to something akin to "inn," is owned by a Thai chap who goes by Andy Yang, although his actual name is Rachapas Yangeksakul, and Erik Cheah, a Malaysian who's an owner of a bunch of the Penang restaurants in New York City. Andy himself comes from a restaurant family. His father owns a couple of Thai restaurants in Bangkok as well as two Taechiew restaurants -- one in Bangkok and one in Hong Kong.
Briefly, the Taechiew, also known as Chao Zhou, Chao Chao etc., come from the area around the city of Shantou, also called Swatow, and are the largest Chinese group in central Thailand. I'm told many Taechiew live in western Hong Kong, too. Their food is regarded as some of the finest of all Chinese cuisines.
I arrived before Chandler and Marty, so I had plenty of time to chat with Andy about the challenges of making great Thai food, in particular the great duck dish pet yang nam pueng (honey roasted duck), which he says requires a Chinese ingredient called yet sae to make properly. Neither of us is sure exactly what yet sae is (I'd never heard of it before), but we agreed that we had yet to enjoy proper pet yang nam pueng in the United States. This is particularly annoying in that you can't swing a dead cat in Bangkok without finding a decent version of the dish.
Andy also shared his philosophy about spiciness when it comes to Thai food: Some Thai dishes are spicy. They have to be. If you don't like spicy food, order something else because he's not going to tone it down for you.
When Chandler and Marty arrived Andy promptly sent out a banquet, which I'll list below.
Some notes on the ambience at Rhong-Tiam: A motorcycle sits in the foyer, the banquettes are upholstered with wide vertical black stripes. A railing is decorated in fake greenery and Christmas lights. The sound system was playing classic jazz vocals. In essence, it was an extremely authentic Bangkok-style setting, like a restaurant set up by a bunch of friends from Thammasat University on Phra-Arthit Road that reflected the personal, whimsical tastes of its owners.
My comfort-food mood continued the next day, and so I sent Clark Mitchell a text-message, wondering if he might want to have lunch at Lobo, a Tex-Mex place on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope that he loves.
"That's a genius idea," he wrote, and so we drank Margaritas and ordered what to us was the essential comfort food in the Tex-Mex repertoire. For Clark that must include queso dip, and he also had a chicken quesadilla. I had a combination platter (this particular one included a couple of different enchiladas and a beef taco, but it doesn't really matter; any combination platter will do).
I tried to continue the comfort food theme into the night by ordering from Red Hot, my go-to Chinese delivery place in Park Slope, from which I would order shredded beef with fresh hot pepper and pork fried rice, but they didn't answer the phone. This left me feeling bereft, so I went for a walk to see what would strike my fancy, and noticed that a new frozen yogurt place, Yogo Monster, had just opened on Seventh Avenue between Union St., and Berkeley Pl. I'd seen the sign earlier, but I'd misread it as Yoga Monster and imagined it would be one among 10,000 other yoga studios in Park Slope. I had visualized zombies doing yoga.
But no, it's a Pinkberry knock-off, with plain and blueberry flavors. I had a plain topped with raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and kiwifruit and decided that would do for dinner.
This evening I walked the 16 blocks to Red Hot to see what was up. It was locked, secure behind its grates. It looked intact, but it was closed and I was crestfallen.
Okay, now for what we ate at Rhong-Tiam (541 LaGuarda Pl., between Bleecker and W. 3rd streets):

Chicken and shrimp khanom jeep (similar to shumai)
kho mu yang (roasted pork neck strips with a spicy sauce flavored with roasted rice)
yam pla duk foo (fluffy catfish salad)
yam makhuea (salad of smoky roasted eggplant with chicken and shrimp)
duck and vegetarian spring rolls
Mu narok ("pork from hell" a sort of roasted pork with kaffir lime)
khua glin gai (a very spicy southern Thai dish -- even other Thais consider the food of their southern cousins too spicy for words -- of minced chicken with curry spices).
khai jiew woon sen (a deep-fried omelet mixed with glass noodles and, in this case, minced chicken, served with Sriracha sauce; this particular one brought me right back to Bangkok)
Tom yam gung (the classic shrimp soup served with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and galangal, although in this case the inedible aromatics have been removed, replaced by edible vegetables, and all of them topped with chile oil)
Ped chu chee (duck cooked with a southern Thai curry)
and for dessert:
sangkhaya fak tong (sweetened pumpkin with custard and coconut cream)
Mexican mangoes and sticky rice
a roti drizzled with condensed milk
orange-ginger tea

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Monday Room

March 7

Last night I had dinner with Olga Katsnelson and Kate Goldstein-Breyer. I’d never met Kate before, but I’ve known Olga for years and years, from back when she worked in New York for KB Network News, and later for Bullfrog & Baum.
Now she and Kate have their own PR business based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but nonetheless they work with AvroKO, the design company that owns Public restaurant here in New York and its little sister chamber The Monday Room, where we had dinner.
The Monday Room is based on the notion that the first day of the work week is not generally an enjoyable one. In the hopes of making it, or any day, better, this little lounge is a hideaway where the weary can retreat and enjoy food and drink — food prepared by chef Brad Farmerie (favorite color: “If I had to say, I’d say green”) and paired with drinks picked by sommelier Ruben Sanz Ramiro.
Or you can do it the other way around — pick the wines you want to drink and have Brad make food to go with it. Either way.
But before I digress further, I have news. The AvroKO gang is taking over the space on Bleecker and Bowery that is currently Mannahatta and plan to turn it into, well, they’re not sure what yet. Certainly it will be a restaurant, but the democratic folk at Avro Ko are still hashing out most of the details. Brad knows that he wants to have house-churned butter there, and that the chef de cuisine will be Chris Rendell, whom he knows from the time he spent in London.
“He’s just a rock star,” Brad said.
Other than that, well, we’ll see. The wheels of democracy turn slowly, but they still hope to open the place sometime this spring. Avro Ko designs lots of places. But this will be the first expansion of the company’s own restaurant empire since The Monday Room opened.
Brad and I last saw each other in the Blenheim airport in the New Zealand region of Malrborough. So I showed off my new New Zealand cufflinks (North island on the left cuff, South Island on the right). We spoke of Lauraine Jacobs, the food editor of Cuisine magazine in New Zealand, for whom Brad had cooked dinner and with whom I dined. I mentioned that she said he made the best blood pudding she’d ever had. I asked if he was putting it on his brunch menu, and in fact he is, as part of a traditional Irish breakfast with an egg, maple-roasted apple and slow-roasted tomatoes.
The sausage itself is actually a venison sausage (although the blood is from pigs), flavored with cumin, coriander, turmeric and cinnamon.
Here’s a picture of Brad. I left the dinner menu up to him, asking him to send out whatever he thought was interesting these days.
And this is what he thought (and what Ruben thought we should drink):
Manzanilla Pasada, Pastrana Vinícola Hidalgo, Sherry

Glazed eel with pickled bean sprouts and soft boiled quail egg
Tokaji Furmint, Mandolás, Oremus, 2004

Miso baked bone marrow with blood orange-olive marmalade and five-spice brioche
Amontillado, Contrabandista, Bodegas Valdespino

Old school pig’s head terrine, guindilla gribiche and radish salad
Vouvray, Demi Sec, Vignobles Brisebarre, 1985

Raw Tasmanian sea trout with piccalilli, shichimi and three slice pile up
Arbois Pupillin, Emmanuel Houillon —M. Pierre Overnoy, 2006

All day breakfast (the blood pudding, roasted apple, eggs etc.)
Pinot Noir, Martinborough Vineyards, 2004

Wattleseed braised short rib with vanilla celeriac purée and spiced broccoli raab
Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Moss Wood, 2004

Saxelby's selection of six American farmstead cheeses
Cour-Cheverny, Cuvée Renaissance, François Cazin, 2002

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sake, cocktails and Spanish food

March 3

Full day. It started with, you know, work, but by 2pm Sonya Moore and I were at the residence of the Japanese consul general for a seminar on sake, followed by a trade-show style tasting event.
The seminar was to-the-point and straightforward — appropriate, since it was called Saké 101 — highlighting the rice, water, yeast and mold that make up Japan's national beverage. One thing I learned: After rice is steamed, it is mechanically cooled and picked a part in such a way that the outside of the polished kernels dry while the inside stays wet. This is essential, as mold, speaker Michael John Simkin pointed out, is water-seeking, and making sure that the grain is moist only in the middle ensures that the mold penetrates the grain.
I love stuff like that.
The seminar had a good turnout. Of course, Sonya and I were there, which should have been enough, as was our boss's boss's boss's boss's son, Lebhar-Friedman heir Randall Friedman, who speaks Japanese and has displayed a fondness for sake. USA Today’s Jerry Shriver was there, too. So was Alain Sailhac, dean emeritus of the French Culinary Institute. Cocktail maven Audrey Saunders was there, so were Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Crab, Chop Suey etc., and Michael Schulson, formerly of Buddakan, currently, I guess, of the reality TV show Pantry Raid, and very soon of an as-yet-unnamed Japanese restaurant at Borgata in Atlantic City. Nice guy.
Rita Jammet was there, which was interesting. She might have just been there to drink sake, but she says that she is doing some restaurant consulting, so who knows? Rita, who with her husband André owned La Caravelle for many years until it closed, actually had an early hand at subtly introducing Japanese influence into American cuisine as she hired Tadashi Ono as chef of La Caravelle in the early 1990s.
(The Jammets and Tadashi also teamed up, along with Union Square Hospitality Group veteran Larry Goldenberg, in the ill-fated Sono, which was replaced by the worse-fated pAZo, in the space now occupied by BLT Steak — the first restaurant in Laurent Tourondel’s empire — so much for cursed spaces).
I had a nice chat, as I always do, with Steve Mumford, who sells ads for Gourmet. He's now the magazine’s wine and spirits director.
Randall noticed at the tasting that the sakes were set up according to the trading company that imported them. That’s confusing for tasters, but Randall pointed out that it was logical for the potential buyers who were the target market for the event.
Sonya and I found ourselves at the same event later that evening, a jam-packed Tales of the Cocktail preview at Flatiron Lounge. I never made it to the actual bar, because I'm no longer interested in fighting through a crowd just for a free drink. Besides, servers were passing drinks around with some frequency. If people wanted to talk to me, they could find me closer to the door.
I caught up with Jay Cheshes and Darrell Hartman. I think maybe Darrell has gotten even taller.
Perhaps the treat of the party was running into Colleen Curtis, former managing editor for features at the New York Daily News. Colleen was the first person, lo these many years ago, to tell me after William Grimes' departure as The New York Times' restaurant critic, that his replacement would be a political reporter by the name of Frank Bruni, then based in Rome.
Anyway, she has just started working at AOL. Good for her.
Erica Duecy and her husband Jono Pandolfi were there, too, and she insisted that we must eat at Terroir, once it opens. So I suppose we will.
Of course it was a treat to see Erica and Jono (you might recall that I attended their wedding and wrote about it at some length). But I’ve seen them in the past few months. I hadn’t seen Colleen in years.
That party was followed by dinner at Pamplona with the restaurant’s publicist, Gail Schoenberg, at which we ate the following:

Chickpea fries with guindilla pepper emulsuion
Braised duck leg bocadillos (grilled sandwiches) with crema de cabra
Crab lasagna (spelled “lasaña” because Pamplona’s a Spanish restaurant) with salsa verde
Chicken stuffed with chciken-cauliflower purée and morcilla
Paella with braised short ribs, chicken, crayfish, fresh cilantro and mussels
Bouillabaisse (called “sopa de marisco”) with salmon, cod, mussels, shrimp, fish sausage, purple potatoes and savoy cabbage