Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Yorkers don’t dress like characters from Sex and the City

May 29

I had lunch at Benoit with Howard Helmer of the American Egg Board and Tina Ujlaki, executive food editor of Food & Wine, and was struck by how decked out most of the women eating there were. They looked like they were trying to be extras in Sex and the City, and since the movie hits theaters tomorrow I'm pretty sure all the filming has already been done.
“I think they’re European,” Tina said. And she was probably right. Either that or they were expensive call girls who decided to treat themselves to straightforward French bistro food for lunch. Maybe the name Benoit gave them the wrong idea about the place.
I’m not sure if the particular class of European women that we were observing normally tart themselves up so much at lunch or if, having watched the TV series, they assumed that was how New Yorkers dressed and they were trying to fit in.
On a totally different subject:If you’re French, is eating at Benoit in New York kind of like eating at one of the chains in Times Square if you’re from the Midwest?

As an appetizer we ordered the charcuterie plate, which among other things had langue de veau Lucullus. That would be veal tongue layered with foie gras. Tina already knew that, but I had no idea. It did remind me of the tale I’d read of Lucullus, a legendary Roman gourmand known for his lavish banquets. One night when dining alone, his servants prepared a not-so-lavish meal, and he expressed outrage: “Today Lucullus dines with Lucullus!”
I’ve always liked that sentiment.
Then Tina and I split the roasted chicken for two, with fries and roasted garlic, and Howard had steak tartare. We also had asparagus with hollandaise sauce for the table. I had a glass of a straightforward Languedoc red wine to go with it.
For dessert we had the vanilla millefeuille and the Mister Mystère, which was a sort of hazelnut semifreddo layered between thin meringue disks, served with chocolate sauce.

The heart of Brooklyn

May 29

“Where does Crown Heights begin?” I asked long-time Brooklyn resident (and food and beverage writer) Jack Robertiello.
“You’re in it, baby,” he said, or something to that effect.
Gloomy economy or not, the gentrification of Brooklyn continues with Abigail Café & Wine Bar, whose opening I went to last night, at 807 Classon Avenue (at St. Johns Place), which is possibly Crown Heights, although some people insisted that we were still in Prospect Heights until Franklin Avenue, one more block east.
Realtors tend to exaggerate the reach of trendy neighborhoods, so for some years now it has been an open question where Park Slope ends and Sunset Park begins, for example. And some cheeky marketers have even named Windsor Terrace a sub-neighborhood of Park Slope. As if.
But I have no idea what the traditional boundary of Prospect Heights is, so I guess I don’t have anything more to say on the subject.

I drank tasty Malbec and not-quite-as-tasty Shiraz out of a plastic cup (no breakage at this opening party), while nibbling on Kobe beef meatballs (with ketchup or a mustard-mayonnaise dipping sauce; I chose the former), cheese stuffed peppadews and mini-grilled cheese sandwiches, while Jack theorized about the history of specific cocktails — Negronis and Margaritas, as it happens, but his point was that you can never really know where exactly any set of ingredients were first mixed together, only where they were popularized. We also wondered — and I don’t remember how it came up — why no one seems to cook cardoons in the United States. I had some in Bologna that changed my life.
Jack and some others went off to have dinner at The Farm on Adderly, in what The New York Times says is Ditmas Park, although Google Maps calls it Kensington. I declined their invitation to join them, because it is such a rare treat to be able to walk home (just across Grand Army Plaza to Park Slope) from an opening party.
I closed out the evening chatting with a small pack of young women who used to work for, and with guys who seemed to be their boyfriends, but first I chatted with food enthusiast and general networker Gary Cheong, who declared his love for the Thai restaurant that I’m trying to popularize because of its excellence, Rhong-Tiam (541 LaGuardia Pl., between Bleecker and West 3rd streets). But he said he needs to go with someone other than Pichet Ong, because Pichet doesn’t like spicy food.

One final note: Abigail is also a co-owner of Camaje, which I thought was pronounced ca-may-hay, but no. In fact, it almost rhymes with “mirage.” Abigail didn't pick the name — it already had it when she took over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

E. Michael Reidt in Los Angeles

May 27

Good news for Los Angeles! E. Michael Reidt (pronounced "reed") will soon be cooking there for real.
E. Michael was up in Santa Barbara, at a place called Sevilla, for awhile, and he also was chef at The Penthouse in Santa Monica, although from what I understand The Penthouse isn’t really about food. He left that place last October and has been traveling the world since then, until just a few days ago when he took over the kitchen of L.A. Farm. He says the place is going to be gutted and redone, to open with a new name in October.
E. Michael is a great guy and a talented chef with quite a nice résumé. A native of Lowell, Mass., he first got recognition at Bamboa, in Boston, where he was a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef in 2001. Then he moved to Wish in Miami Beach, got more acclaim (I snagged the picture of him from a profile we did in 2003, when he was at Wish), and he eventually ended up on the West Coast.
E. Michael’s recent travels included a month-and-a-half in Southeast Asia. I wonder how that will influence his food. In the past his fondness of many Brazilian things was brought to bear in his cooking, but not in an overwhelming way.
I have spent a fair amount of time hanging out with E. Michael in Aspen, but I’ve only had his food once, at the James Beard House in 2006, for Carnaval.
Below is a list of what he served then. I have no idea whether he’ll be doing anything like this at the new incarnation of L.A. Farm.

hors d’oeuvre:
crispy bacalhau with West Coast sea urchin
grilled shrimp with squid ink and linguiça
Kobe beef ceviche with banana and rice crisps
sweet potato soup with foie gras and saba vinegar
truffled goat cheese pao de quiju and coconut

smoked scallop tartare with caramelized cauliflower, pineapple, truffle salt and osetra caviar

salt cod crusted black bass with black-eyed pea mousseline, baby beets, Maine shrimp escabeche and acaraje cracker

a spontaneous extra course of truffled gnocchi

Maine lobster with poached lobster moqueca, grilled lobster sausage, kabocha squash and hen of the woods mushrooms

Veal Threesome: Confit cheek churrasca, Seranno wrapped loin, braised osso-bucco and celery root

Doce de leite cake, caramel mousse tower, lil' doughnut and passion fruit marshmallow

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Speaking of barbecue...

May 22

That last blog entry reminded me that the Big Apple BBQ is coming up in New York in a couple of weeks (June 7-8). Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group is heavily involved in that, and in past years their staff has been responsible for the smooth operation of the party, which is extremely well attended, and so chaos threatens and long lines are a virtual certainty.
A couple of years ago I was chatting with Will Guidara, who is now the GM at Eleven Madison Park but at the time worked at The Modern (and for people in the chain restaurant world, the son of Uno’s chief, Frank Guidara) about the event. He said it was best to go on the second day, when operational kinks were likely to be resolved.
So there you have it.


May 22

Andy Battaglia wondered if Stephen Hanson knew Atlanta very well.
Because Wildwood, which is the name of Hanson’s new Park Avenue South barbecue restaurant, is also the name of the section of the Atlanta metropolitan area where IBM’s offices are. Andy, who was raised in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, says Wildwood (the suburb) is the sort of place where professional men in short-sleeved shirts jocularly punch one-another in the arm and reminisce about their fraternity days. It’s not the part of town you would go for barbecue.
But then again, neither is 18th Street and Park Avenue South in New York.
I think Wildwood (the restaurant) is Hanson’s third try in this space. He had a good run with Park Avalon, but then he closed it and changed it to a tapas place called Barça 18, which failed to thrive. So Hanson poached Lou Elrose from Hill Country to make him the pitmaster of his new place.
I ate there with Andy last night.
The restaurant’s revolving door had a design element on it made of wood or similar material the color of a brown paper bag. I had to pause, because to me it looked like the restaurant was still under construction. But Andy, who had arrived a few minutes earlier and was waiting for me outside, assured me that it was okay.
The restaurant is about midway between the Union Square W Hotel and SushiSamba, both places for young, well-paid, good-looking, slightly trendy people to meet one another. Park Avalon attracted a similar crowd.
Wildwood’s clientele was more mixed than that, and definitely more casual, with some former frat boy types who might have jocularly punched one another in the arm. The place was packed, which is good on a Wednesday night.
Andy’s the city editor of The Onion’s New York edition, and also a music writer and general lover of all things sensual. So he noticed that the chairs at Wildwood looked like they had been designed by the Eames brothers[rather, the Eames couple, see comment #1 below], and he noticed that the hand dryers in the bathroom were of the new-fangled high-pressure variety that actually work but, in the process, push your folds of skin around and make your hands look like they're being subjected to high g-forces.
Andy handed me a couple of CDs for my birthday — which was last month, but he forgot to bring them to my celebratory dinner at Rhong-Tiam.
Andy’s a big fan of electronica. In fact, he’ll be spending Memorial Day weekend in Detroit for a techno festival. He’s psyched.
“Detroit?” you ask.
Ah, but Detroit was where Techno was invented, you see.
So he gave me a techno mix, as well as a mix that he assembled for of songs from 2007 that fit a particular theme.
He had written an article that went with the 2007 mix explaining that his mix is about being an American.
Among Andy’s many skills is his poetic writing. Here’s how he describes being an American: “the mix of indignation, bewilderment, and inspired joy that swerves toward rage while also steering verily against it.”
Andy is an optimist at heart. He is.

What we ate:
a platter of brisket, chicken and pulled pork
another platter, of spar ribs, jalapeño sausage and pulled pork
cast iron skillet cornbread
salt & vinegar chips
kettle cooked burnt ends and bacon baked beans
onion rings
Wildwood’s version of s’mores

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hundred Acres

May 20

“Who the $*%! are these people?” I asked Andrea Strong last evening as she walked with Vicki Freeman to the back of Hundred Acres.
I should have asked Vicki, because she’s the co-owner of Hundred Acres (and of Five Points and Cookshop), the new restaurant that opens on Thursday in the space that once was Provence, but I had never met her and didn’t know who she was.
Andrea introduced us and Vicki said most of the people at the opening party were her friends, although the press had been invited, too.
As far as I could tell there were only three press people there: Andrea, Ted Lee and me.
Ted’s getting married on Saturday, so congratulations to him.
But soon enough everyone else showed up; it was New York City's biggest restaurant opening of the week, after all. And so as I snacked on oysters, asparagus tempura, sliders and mini mint-chocolate ice cream cones and drank Sauvignon Blanc — followed later by something red that went down easily — I made the rounds. I saw Peter Meehan for the second time in my life and we had a very enjoyable chat about career choices. Peter’s about to leave The New York Times, you see, and people don’t do that very often. I suggested that leaving the Times was the coolest thing in the world to do. Then you can say, with nonchallance, “yeah, I had a column in the Times, but I quit. It was time to move on.”
I talked about my cousin Sarah Boxer, who worked at the Times for years, but finally quit to have a kid and otherwise readjust her priorities. She lives in the DC area now with her husband, Harry Cooper, who is, like, director of modern art at the National Gallery or something similarly spectacular, and their son Julius.
Sarah just came out with a new book, about blogs, and seems to be doing very well. Her parents, my Aunt Florine and Uncle Phil, are certainly proud.
Then I fell in with Julie Besonen of Paper and her husband, Jim Knapp, who were soon joined by freelancer Kathleen Squires and her plus-one, whose name I didn’t catch, but she sold clothing to department stores for Nike, and I ended up having a long talk with her about textile-import regulations and negotiation techniques in Asia.
I like speaking with plus-ones, because how much food-scene gossip does a person really need?
Then I talked with some people about vacationing in Colorado, caught up with David Blend of Thrillist and re-met his underling Steve Bryant.
I also caught up with Laren Spirer, sometime-contributor to Gothamist and, like me, a graduate from Tufts. Laren was in one of Tufts' three, yes three, a capella groups. She was in the offbeat, co-ed group called the Amalgamates, as opposed to the all-woman Jackson Jills (although Tufts is co-ed, on paper the women all attend Jackson College and the men attend the College of Liberal Arts; it is a tradition) or the legendary Beelzebubs. Really, the Bubs are legendary. My young colleague Mark Brandau, who was himself in an all-male a capella group in college, says the Bubs’ CD “Code Red” is the standard by which all other all-male a capella groups are measured.
Sure, you may want to laugh at college a capella groups, everyone does. But the Beelzebubs got laid more than anyone else at Tufts. I swear they did. Laren said so, too.
Amalgamates, not so much.
Laren and I briefly played the do-you-know game, and it turns out we both know Mayer Danzig, who was in charge of promoting concerts and stuff at Tufts. He booked the band for our Spring Fling. In fact, he booked The Band, but it was 1990, so it was minus Robbie Robertson, and I mocked his choice in my column in The Tufts Daily. He actually threatened me with physical harm, afterwards, but it was at a party thrown by large gun-toting friends of mine, so I wasn’t concerned.
Mayer’s now involved in the web site Twangville. I’ll have to shoot him an e-mail.
I swung by the table where Lockhart Steele and Ben Leventhal of Eater were assessing the situation.
Ben is always smiling. Always. He’s always smiling. I think he likes his job.
Ben and Lockhart are launching — on Thursday, I think — a new version of Gridskipper, which will be covering the Hamptons for the summer. We talked about several other things, which they then declared to be off the record, like anyone cares about their flirting strategies anyway.
I left at the same time as Steve Bryant, who I think was going to some other opening, and as I walked to the subway he let me rant about what’s wrong with my own neighborhood, Park Slope (in short, some of the most fortunate people in the world live there, but they spend their time simultaneously overindulging their children while also pumping them full of neroses, running in Prospect Park not to embrace life but to fight death — and all the tortilla chips sold at my minimarket are made with organic corn, like that makes the slightest bit of difference once the corn is processed and fried).
It is a pretty neighborhood, though.

Friday, May 16, 2008


May 16

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, calling this blog “Food Writer’s Diary,” because I imagine you thinking that every food-related event I attend is mentioned here.
People often comment to me after reading my little blog that they can’t believe how many lunches, press dinners, cocktail parties, book launches, goat-milking competitions, almond harvest tours, chef conventions etc. I go to.
But in fact, I go to even more of them than you think.
Why, this week, all I mentioned was my attendance of the opening of Scarpetta and a dinner at the James Beard House. But I also had lunch at Les Halles with a couple of people from International Enterprise Singapore to discuss ways to promote restaurants and ethnic cuisines. I had a salad and blood sausage, the American from IES had a salade Niçoise, and the Singaporean had soupe à l'oignon gratinée and duck confit; I'm not sure what can be learned from what we ordered, but it was interesting, nonetheless. So was the fact that, when discussing marketing strategies, we were eating in a French restaurant best known for its relationship with Anthony Bourdain, who was chef de cuisine there before becoming a famous writer and TV personality.
Then that night I had dinner at Felidia with some travel writers, a publicist from Orange County and staff from some of the hotels she represents. There were actual vocal Republicans among my dining companions, and you don’t see them very often in my circles in New York. To the publicist's discomfort, we engaged in spirited political discussion. We remained polite about it, though. Perhaps torture and capital punishment are not traditional topics of conversation at press dinners, but, I mean, we’re all adults, and exchanging ideas is good for the soul.
And then the next day I stopped by Aureole for summer cocktails being promoted by an orange liqueur company and caught up with my old friend Julie Besonen, who grew up in Arkansas but whose family is from Minnesota. It turns out she’s from that part of Minnesota where people eat Cornish pasties. This delighted me, because in the coming week’s issue of NRN I have an article on the growing trend of hand-held foods, with suggestions of items from other countries that could catch on here. I mentioned the pasty, which is already quite the rage in the mining areas of Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where it was introduced in the 19th century by Cornish miners and picked up by others, including Julie’s Finnish ancestors. Her family’s pasties actually aren’t hand-held, but are made into regular-sized pies. I discussed with her the great carrot controversy — some people add carrots to their pasties, an act that outrages traditionalists, including Julie’s father, some of whom consider it an unwelcome Scandinavian innovation.
Crazy Scandinavians, always eating carrots.
And then from there I stopped by the Rink Bar, which is what the famous skating rink at Rockefeller Center becomes once the ice melts. They were having an opening party, so I sipped on a raspberry lemonade and then a lychee Martini before heading to the Beard House dinner mentioned in my previous blog entry.
But that’s not all I did this week, either. Last night I went to a new Brooklyn spot called JakeWalk, where Dave Wondrich was mixing up a new cocktail of his, JakeWalk punch, which had aperol and lime and candied ginger, among other things. Cheese-and-whisky and cheese-and-wine pairings were being offered, and jamon Iberico paired with sherry, and head cheese and rillettes, and fondue.
While sampling the whisky I had a really nice chat with Dave Crofton, the pastry chef at One Girl Cookies. I told him that I bake like a cook — kind of winging it as I go, playing it by ear. He said that pastry chefs, contrary to popular wisdom, have to do that, too. You can’t just follow formulas, you have to look at the dough, see how it's behaving, adjust it if it’s not working right.
I also learned that One Girl Cookies is working on getting a beer and wine license, so that’s exciting.
And that, I think, is all of the food events, restaurant meals and drinkfests that I attended this week. Unless I forgot something.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Denver Five

May 15

Last night I ate at the James Beard House, where five chefs from Denver were cooking in what publicist Leigh Sullivan-Guard hopes to turn into a tradition. Leigh's the wife of Troy Guard, a chef who was involved in his father-in-law’s Denver restaurants until a recent parting-of-the-ways that I decided not to pry into. But he plans to open a restaurant called TAG (his initials — his middle name is Atherton) in Denver’s Larimer Square later this year. Also cooking were Tyler Wiard of Elway's, whom you might remember from the recent Taste of Elegance; Matt Selby of Vesta Dipping Grill, Goose Sorenson of Solera, and minor celebrity chef Keegan Gerhard of D Bar Desserts.
Leigh wants this Denver Five thing to really take off, so Denver chefs consider it a genuine honor to be chosen for the group, part of which involves cooking at the Beard House, which costs thousands of dollars because chefs have to pay their own way to get to New York, stay in hotels, and eat and drink themselves and their staff silly.
But it might work. The chefs last night definitely seemed psyched to be there.
I sat between Leigh and Rebecca Weitzman, a native of the Boston area who was a pretty important chef in Denver, at Cafe Star, before she moved to New York. Now she’s the chef de cuisine at ’Inoteca and she says she loves working for the Dentons, who own the place.
Keegan expressed shock that the diners could actually eat his dessert after everything else that we’d eaten. He was the Denver newbie of the group — I think Tyler, Matt and Goose are all Colorado Natives, and Troy’s been there for quite awhile, although he’s originally from Hawaii. Keegan said he’d been on TV for the past several years, and “It’s awesome to be cooking again.”
That’s nice.
Leigh is from the Denver suburb of Wheatridge and is a fourth-generation Italian-Coloradan. I’m a third generation Colorado Jew, and we’re probably within ten years of each other’s age. But Wheatridge is on the West Side, and I’m from the East Side, so we wouldn’t likely know anyone in common. But if she’s descended from West Side Italians, her ancestors were probably in gangs that rumbled with (or is it against?) the West Side Jews that my mother knew (although she herself is an East Side Jew, thank you very much).
I’m not so sure how tough those gangs were, actually; my childhood dentist had been in one of them.
Anyway, here’s what we ate:

Passed hors d’oeuvres:
Truffle salt-cured foie gras with buttermilk biscuit, sottocenere and huckleberry gastrique by Matt Selby
Colorado Buffalo Panini with goat milk brie, green chile and roasted fuyu persimmon jam by Troy Guard.
Wisconsin Monforte Gorgonozola with membrillo and Maldon sea salt by Goose Sorensen
and Prime beef tenderlooin tartare with crispy Colorado potato and golden Iranian caviar by Tyler Wiard
Adriano Adami Garbel 2006 Prosecco “13” and Villa Giada 2006 Barbera d’Asti

by Matt Selby:
Lobster, pit ham and camembert croque monsieur with fennel, Olathe corn and tarragon salad (the sandwiches had been individually wrapped in cellophane before service and looked just like 1970s sandwiches from a machine, but they didn’t taste like that)
Yangarra Estate 2005 Rosé from McLaren Vale, South Australia

by Troy Guard:
Flash-seared seafood salad with Kona kampachi cutthroat troat and otoro, grilled ramps, myoga, crimson watermelon and yuzu vinaigrette
Drylands Estate 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

by Goose Sorensen:
Serrano ham-wrapped Colorado lamb looin with haystack mountain goat cheese and local morel-stuffed piquillo peppers
Pesquera Ribera del Duero, 2003, Spain

by Tyler Wiard:
Grilled USDA Prime Smithfield New York strip with green chile-braised short rib, Navajo fry bread, poached quail egg and smoked red chile jus
Papapietro Perry 2005 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Calif.

Colorado Cheese Course:
Windsor Dairy Colona Cow's Milk, Windsor, Colo.
Haysteck Mountain Red Cloud Goat's Milk, Longmont, Colo.
James Ranch, Animas Valley Cow's Milk, Durango, Colo.
34 Degrees Crackers and herbed mallo
Taylor Fladgate 10-year-old Tawny Port (Portugal, obviously)

by Keegan Gerhard:
Chocolate Sur del Lago “Cremeux et Moelleux”
Inniskillin 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


May 13
Scott Conant got Spanish dancers (I think Flamenco, but I don’t really know) to perform last night at the opening of his new Italian restaurant Scarpetta (where Gin Lane was, in case you follow that sort of thing). That’s cool — no reason to overdo the theme, and Spanish dancing’s sexy.
I interviewed Scott about the restaurant yesterday, and he said he wanted it to be sexy — fun, relaxed, a place where you feel comfortable letting your hair down, picking up a piece of bread and sopping up sauce with it. That sauce-soaked bread is called a scarpetta, and the restaurant’s logo is a streak of sauce.
The party was also a launch party for Scott’s cookbook, “Bold Italian,” a copy of which is now sitting on my desk.
It was a good party. There was plenty of food — pasta, pea soup, calamari, hamachi crudo — the wine flowed freely, and the food world turned up in respectable numbers. And prestigious ones, too. Florence Fabricant stopped by, and the inimitable Kate Krader from Food & Wine and Nilou Motamed from Travel + Leisure. Both are inimitable, they really are — that's them in the picture. Aren’t they inimitable? (You can also see the profile of Caryl Chinn, event planner and former girlfriend of Todd English).
I met Chris Shott, a real estate reporter from The New York Observer, who praised the Soverign Beck tie I was wearing.
Marissa May, the manager of San Domenico stopped by, too, which makes sense since Scott worked there for four years, starting in 1990. San Domenico is giving up its lease this June, and theoretically moving to a new location. Skeptics have said that it will probably just close down, for good, but Marissa indicated that they have, indeed, found a new space, and they’ll announce it on June 19, which is the restaurant’s 20th anniversary. She said the designer of the new space will be Massimo Vignelli. So that’s exciting.
Nutritionist and public health advocate extraordinaire Marion Nestle was at the party, too. She told me about her new book, coming out this September, about the pet food recall and what it means for our food supply generally. It’s called “Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.” Isn’t that a good title?
I finished out the evening — and pretty much closed the party — hanging out with Josh Ozersky and his friend Abbe.
Good times.

Friday, May 09, 2008

guess the restaurant

May 9

Guess which restaurant’s incompetent publicist had the following e-mail exchange with me over the past three weeks:

April 23:

Hi Bret,
I wanted to touch base regarding any upcoming stories you might be working on that feature up and coming young chefs.

[The restaurant I represent, badly] has several young chefs and pastry chefs that are quickly making their way through the ranks. They have recipes, entertaining tips and general cooking advice that I would love to share with you and your readers.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that female sommelier, [name deleted for obvious reasons] was recently made Head Sommelier at [this quite famous restaurant with a bad publicist], an accomplishment we are very proud of and would also love to share with your readers.

Please let me know if you are interested and I will be happy to send along bios and whatever else you may need.
Many thanks,
[bad publicist]

On 4/24/08 4:47 PM, "Thorn, Bret (NRN)" wrote:

Do you think I could have a five-minute phone chat with [the new female sommelier for whom you claim to want exposure]? I'd like to mention her promotion in my Kitchen Dish column in The New York Sun.

On 4/29/08 11:39 AM, [the bad publicst] wrote:

Hi Bret,
My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Do you think it would be possible to send the questions you would have for [the sommelier] as opposed to arranging a phone call?
Many thanks,
[bad publicist]

On 4/29/08 1:39 PM, "Thorn, Bret (NRN)" wrote:

Okay. All I really need is [her] job history and a brief statement about what she plans to do with the wine list.

On 5/08/08 11:39 AM, [the bad publicst] wrote:
Hi Bret,
I have been working on getting some information for you regarding [the sommelier, something that could nearly be accomplished by a badly trained seal] and unfortunately it is proving a difficult process.

I wanted to suggest in the meantime mentioning [a totally different person], the pastry sous chef at [a restaurant that certainly has the money to hire a better publicist] who began as part of an externship but whose talent was immediately recognized by Chef [a famous chef, really] and he subsequently employed her permanently.

If you are interested please let me know-apologies for the delay with [the sommelier, quickly vanishing into obscurity]’s information.
[bad publicist]

So I wrote her back, asking for a résumé or bio or something of this fabulous pastry sous chef, but I haven’t heard back.

Enter your guesses in the comment section below, if you like.

Spaniards don’t take siestas

May 9

Spaniards don’t take siestas! That’s what I was told by my dining companions last night at a dinner at Sea Grill promoting the food and wine of the Spanish region of Rioja — a small, wine-rich area west of Aragon and Navarre and south of the Basque country. At my table was a young American publicist representing the region, a Spanish journalist, a Spanish publicist representing the region and Pedro M. Sáez Rojo, general manager of the Rioja government's food quality and agriculture research department. Somehow the topic came up of how it’s not uncommon to have dinner in Spain after 10 p.m. Yet they’re expected to show up at work in the morning at the same time Americans are.
Thus, I suggested, the need for a siesta. And they politely laughed at me — they don’t siesta, certainly not in seasons other than summer. They just don’t get much sleep.
The food was prepared by five chefs from La Rioja, starting in the cocktail hour with some sort of raw fish preparation I didn’t get around to trying. They also passed spoons of sweetened white asparagus purée with a piece of green asparagus stuck into it, a raspberry to the side and lots of black pepper. That one got mixed reviews from the crowd. I tried two of them and I’m still not sure what I thought about it.
While I tried to figure that out I chatted with Glenn Collins from The New York Times (and good friends with cousin Leonard Kamsler) and his wife Sarah about Thai food, Caesar Augustus’ use of the institutions of the republic to become Rome’s first emperor, and other light topics.
The food of the evening definitely was showing an experimental side of Spanish cuisine.
At the table was a bowl filled with a spread that I later learned was made of some sort of crustacean (probably langoustine, but we didn’t work too hard at translating it accurately), mayonnaise, cucumber and mint.
We also had:
sunflower seed tuiles
country bread to use in tasting Rioja olive oils
cherry gazpacho with langoustine
asparagus with mushroom mayonnaise
cod in pil-pil sauce
meat ball over potato parmentier
French toast with cheese mousse served with cacao jelly
assorted mignardises, including a chocolate bon-bon filled with olive oil.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pork after hours

May 8

Gamble at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino and you might well notice that, although attendants hand out free coffee, there’s not a drop of alcohol to be seen.
From what I understand, the casino’s neighbors complained that alcohol and the winding roads leading to Barona didn’t mix, and so now the place is basically dry. No alcohol is allowed in public spaces, except for the steakhouse. You can drink at private events, like the National Pork Board’s Taste of Elegance, provided you have a wrist band indicating that you can, and in your room, but that’s about it.
We had been warned about this, and so before going to San Diego I filled my hip flask with good bourbon.
That turned out not to be necessary as the pork board had arranged for alcohol service, because they know better than to get between chefs and their alcohol.
I really like the chefs at this type of event: mostly unpretentious, good-natured, bright folks from mostly Midwestern communities with whose culinary scenes I am not as familiar as I should be.
The New York chef community is close-knit, so imagine how it is in cities like Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
In this picture, on the left we have Rebecca Peizer from Las Vegas and Todd McDunn from Columbus, Ohio, and on the right we have Brandon Hamilton. You might recognize them from the blog entry below, as they were all competitors in the Taste of Elegance. But next to Brandon is Abbi Merriss, who, like Brandon, had received a culinary scholarship in Indiana and came to San Diego to help him. Isn’t that nice?
In the next picture, we have chefs Francisco Vintimilla and Tony Beran, but who’s that guy in the middle, wearing the sport coat? Why, that’s Mark Otto, a French-trained chef from Minneapolis who decided to have a wife, family, an income and reasonable work hours, and became an accountant. But he came out to San Diego to cook with Tony.
I put my camera down and spent much of the official after-party hanging out with Michigan chefs Jake Robinson and Dave Rensi, along with Jake’s little brother, who also cooks in Ann Arbor, and some other guy who’s relation to the other Michiganders I didn’t catch, but he seemed nice enough. How long, we wondered, do you have to stay at a job you don’t like for it not to look bad on your résumé?
Then toward the end I fell in with the Minnesotans and Hoosiers and ended up in one of their rooms for the first hotel room party I’d attended for quite awhile. It felt very college, or maybe high school.
They had vodka, rum, tequila and basic mixers, but I passed around my bourbon flask, too, and we talked about many things, including how competitions shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Really, they shouldn’t. I’ve judged enough of them to know that opinions vary, votes can go many ways, and the results should in no way reflect your opinion of yourself — it says more about the judges than the competitors. I think that’s especially true in the final round of judging. Getting nominated for something, or making it to the finals, indicates you’ve crossed a certain hurdle, but the final results quite often are a crap shoot.
So, imagine that discussion, but add tequila and bourbon.
As the Minnesotans drifted off I ended up grilling Brandon and another Hoosier, John Adams, sous chef at L'Explorateur in Indianopolis, about chefs I should be paying attention to in their state.
Their list: Neal Brown (John's Boss), Greg Hardesty, Regina Mehallick and, in Bloomington, David Tallent.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Taste of Elegance

Tyler Wiard (pronounced “wired,” not “weird”), the executive chef of Elway’s Steakhouse in Denver, won this year’s Taste of Elegance for his cumin roasted pork loin and braised shoulder with green chile, posole cake, smooth avocado and red chile. That’s a very Coloradan dish, featuring the green and red chile of New Mexican cuisine, which we Coloradans have adopted.
It’s a tough event. Chefs compete regionally, and then the winners all meet for the nationals. This year 22 chefs were supposed to compete, but only 21 did as Patrick Ponsaty, the local winner from Bernard’o in San Diego, had to back out suddenly. The chefs get up early in the morning and start cooking, and the first one presents his dishes to the judges at 11:45 a.m., after which he comes out to the media and we grill him about his dish.
By around 3 p.m. they’re done, eight finalists are announced, and they have to start over again, preparing the same dish that the judges — already stuffed from the earlier judging — have already eaten. Fortunately the six judges have the good sense to split their jobs — with each one sampling just half the dishes in the first round. It’s not completely fair to the contestants, but neither would forcing the chefs to eat 21 dishes — contestants 16-21 wouldn’t stand a chance.
Above and to the right there is Tim Bucci, chef of the Renaissance City Center in Joliet, Ill., who placed second for his (hold on to your hat) Roasted apple and juniper berry brined pork loin with a pumpernickel bratwurst mantle, date and cider pork jus, butternut squash and braised pork neck dumpling, savoy cabbage with house-made smoked bacon, spiced apple purée, root vegetables and haricots verts and candied air-dried "pig tail” (that last bit made out of ham).
Forrest Parker, a Charleston native who now is chef at the Old Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, came in third. You can see him there on the left. He made a spice-rubbed and shagbark lacquered pork loin with sweet potato hash and green bean casserole.
Kevin Storm was another one of the eight finalists. That’s him on the right, looking mad. He wasn’t really mad, that’s just the face he was making when I snapped the picture. He did look annoyed when I asked him his favorite color, though. I probably did sound kind of frivolous when I asked (it’s red, by the way). He’s the chef of Bellerive Country Club in Ballwin, Mo., and he made what he called Peking Style Pork: Crêpe, carrot ginger sauce, Asian pear chutney, smoked pork loin and herb salad.
I didn’t capture Shad Kirton’s personality very well either. That’s him on the left, looking gloomy and suspicious, which I don’t think he is at all. He’s quite jovial and good-natured, in fact, and a local favorite among members of the pork board, which is based in Des Moines. He was representing Absolute Flavors and Smokey D’s BBQ, both in that city, and he was a finalist for his maple bourbon glazed ribs.
I’m afraid I didn’t get to know Ian Sullivan all that well, so I don’t know if I captured him in this picture. He’s the chef at an Italian restaurant called Vivace in Raleigh, and he cooked up some braised pork belly with egg ravioli, piave crema and micro green salad. The ravioli were actually filled with egg yolk, a technique New Yorkers might know if they eat at San Domenico, which is famous for that dish. Piave is the kind of cheese Ian used in his sauce. I don’t think I'd ever heard of it, but it comes from Italy’s Po River valley and, oddly enough, Tyler Honke (pronounced honkey, oh yes it is), used Piave, too, for his tête de cochon. True to the dish’s name, Tyler, on the left, the chef of Tre Lounge in Sioux Falls, S.D., cooked a whole head of pig. He served fennel-dusted temple, garlic rubbed cheek medallions, and a bit he called “pork piave,” just below the jawline and crusted with the cheese. He used other bits of the head for a lettuce wrap. We asked what part of that dish might appear on his menu at Tre Lounge.
“None of it,” he said. Sioux Falls is apparently not ready for pig head.
Brandon Hamilton, over there on the right, made the top eight with his pork trotters with Shagbark hickory custard, meaning that both chefs who used shagbark — a southern sweetener its users both compared to maple — made it into the finals. What do you suppose that means?
Brandon is the executive chef of Traders Point Creamery Café in Zionsville, Ind. He’s a nutrition buff, but he can hold his alcohol, as we shall see, probably in the blog entry after this one.
Jake Robinson, on the left, is on a health kick, too. He says he’s a big green tea drinker, although he also seems to know how to drink beer. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry (you might remember him as the guy who made Dave Rensi his bitch), this Ann Arbor-based chef’s main job is at Chartwells, although at this competition he was representing Pacific Rim with his Pan Asian Trio: pork confit spring roll, Thai chile and ginger braised shoulder with brown sugar-soy tamarind glaze, and Taiwanese pork sausage.
And here on the right is Francisco Vintimilla, chef of the Sailfish Point Country Club in Stuart, Fla. A native of Ecuador, he made Andouille-wrapped slow-roasted pork shoulder with a sweet potato tart, Brussels sprouts and apple chutney, braised pork and plantain fritter with refried beans, avocado, pico de gallo and pickled red onions. I chatted with him later about the national dining scene and other things. Nice chap.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Shawn Timmerman who — and I don’t mean this in a hostile way — seemed like the contestant most eager to be on Top Chef. And it wasn’t just the facial hair, which you can see in the picture on the left; he just seemed to be an “I’m real casual but would love to be on your TV show” kind of guy. When he won the competition for Iowa’s Quad Cities area, he was the chef of Pebble Creek Golf Course in Bettendorf, but his bio says he’s the new chef of Front Street Brewery in Davenport, and he told us that he was about to start as the chef of Farradday’s, back in Bettendorf.
He made peach barbecue short ribs with braised belly, Iowa corn relish, (Maytag) blue cheese grits, spicy nuts and mâche.
You know, when I was chatting with Jason Santos yesterday (on the right), I didn’t notice he had blue hair. I guess it’s kind of a subtle blue, as blues go. He says it has been that color for years, but perhaps it has run its course — it is the first thing that people mention when they write about him, and he’s not just about blue hair. I think Jason’s about joy, but not in a wimpy way. He made a char siu pork belly, baby back gyoza and miso butter, which he whipped up using a couple of hydrocolloids, because he’s into that sort of thing.
And now on the left we have Paul Trout, yes Trout, who runs a catering and consulting company called Chef Paul’s Experience, with operations in Redding and Stockton, Calif. He made San Joaquin Valley citrus ribs and Cargill spare ribs.
Cargill sponsored the event, you see, providing all the meat.
Have you noticed that tenderloin isn’t playing much of a role in this competition? That’s because starting last year, to spur creativity, the Taste of Elegance people disallowed it as the main component in a dish. You can throw it in on the side, though.
They’re thinking of banning the whole loin. Imagine that.
Here on the right is Matthia Accurso of the University Club of Columbia, Mo. People want to call him Matthias and add an ‘s’ to his name, but that’s just not who he is.
He made a roast pork shoulder with sweet potato-and-apple purée and apple reduction, orange fennel sausage with toasted walnut green beans and cherry Port sauce, along with a pork shoulder confit cigarette, honey-glazed carrots and huckleberry gastrique.
Next, on the left, we have Germain Haro from the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor. Doesn’t he look like he’s about 16 years old?
His bio’s pretty short: It says he graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, externed in the US Virgin Islands and started working for Marriott at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Gulf Club & Spa “where he was quickly promoted to assistant sous chef.” Then in 2005 he became a sous chef at a property on Maui. So what does that make him, 26?
He braised a pork belly and served it with a savory Asian ginger rice pudding.
Ah, and here on the right is Tony Beran, from the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. He’s a mere line cook. He’s had higher positions, but he said he wants to take more time to learn his craft, which you’ve gotta respect. Later in the evening he said that I should definitely write about him, that he was the real story at the competition. He was pretty much joking, but he gets points for moxy, and his capacity for bourbon, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry.
Tony says his dish was the only belly in the Minnesota competition. It was a pork belly Wellington with smoked ham hock and leek ragoût.
On the left we have Rebecca Peizer, an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas. A native New Yorker, she introduced herself with a joke about cooking pork and having an Israeli Jewish mother. But her mother was at the awards ceremony that evening, and she totally eats pork.
Anyway, she made crispy braised pork belly with edamame ravioli, snow pea threads and mushroom shiso broth. The ravioli reminded me of the edamame potstickers at Buddakan here in New York, and indeed, she said that’s where she got the idea.
From Columbus, we have Todd McDunn of Sanese Services at Scott’s World Headquarters — yes, B&I chefs are welcome at these competitions, of course they are. His dish was “A Day with Five-Spice Pork,” for which he made breakfast, lunch and dinner pork preparations, all flavored with his house-made five-spice, and each constructed in a way that it would reflect the spice mix’s different qualities (five spice generally has fennel, clove, Sichuan peppercorn, star anise and cinnamon), so one dish was flavored additionally with fennel, another with cinnamon.
And on the left we have Larry London, chef-owner of Big Tomatoes in Green Bay, Wis., and so his explanation of his dish also required a discussion of the Packers. He has very busy Saturday nights when there’s a home game on Sunday, because so many out-of-town fans come for the games.
He made apple garlic sausage-wrapped loin over pulled pork and butternut squash risotto with spiced onion marmalade with pork demiglace and pomegranate gastrique.
Sophia Chatfield’s favorite color is “earth tone,” which is to say the muted colors of, well, dirt. You really never do know what the answer to that question is going to be.
Originally from Solo on the Indonesian island of Java, Sophia now works at the Brookridge Golf & Country Club in Overland Park, Kansas. She made blue masa pork tamales with mole and salsa verde, and goat cheese and pork belly stuffed piquillo pepper with adobo sauce and pork black bean chili.
And now on the left we have Eric Moyer of the Lehigh Country Club in Allentown, Pa., who made four small plates and called it the Four Seasons of Pork, to wit:
Winter: roasted pork loin with parsnip purée and lingonberry gastrique
Spring: ham with rhubarb chutney
Summer: barbecue ribs with chayote slaw, and
Fall: Apple sausage with brasied red cabbage, fennel, apples and Woodchuck cider juice.
The judges took their time, both in selecting the eight finalists and then the three ultimate winners. They said the competition was quite stiff.
Tyler, for his efforts, got a $5,000 check and a cruise for two people.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pork 101

May 5
I love being in a room with people who aren’t grossed out by watching a pig carcass being dismantled. I’m at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino in Lakeside, Calif., which would be San Diego County if it weren’t a Native American reservation.
I’m here for the Taste of Elegance, an annual cooking competition by the National Pork Board.
It’s a big deal among a certain set of people, the culmination of a two-part competition, in which chefs from all over the country compete in state or regional events. The winners of those contests — 22 this year — then head to the finals.
In years when the event is held in pork country, often Des Moines, they have been preceded by farm tours and such, but this year we made do yesterday with an overview of pork, given in the banquet hall where the gala celebrations will be held tonight.
It started with quite a good PowerPoint presentation about pork production, including facts like no pigs are given growth-hormones, no matter what you hear, and that pasture-raised pork can’t be guaranteed to have a vegetarian diet.
“I’ve seen them eat birds,” one farmer said.
And it ended with the butchering of half a pig, with an explanation of its component parts.
Here’s another interesting fact: the belly, not the loin, is currently the most expensive primal cut of pork, and has been from some time.
After Pork 101 and some downtime to gamble, nap, update your blog, what-have-you, was a reception for chefs, media, pork producers, judges etc. So I got to know some of them.
Pictured here are Jason Santos, on the right, and his old friend Michael Marino, who was a chef but now is a waiter in Las Vegas, making more money and having a good time.
Jason seems to be enjoying himself, too. He’s the chef of Gargoyles on the Square. That would be Davis Square in Somerville, Mass., near my alma mater of Tufts University. Gargoyles used to be a Mediterranean place, but now it’s whatever Jason wants it to be. A native of the Boston area, he’s having fun experimenting with flavors and textures — puréeing birthday cake and making it into blinis, etc.
Michael’s at Barona helping him prepare for the contest.
“Your helper,” I suggested to Jason.
“My bitch,” he said.
“Hey, this is going into a national magazine!” Michael said.
Well, one of its blogs, at any rate.
I would have let the “bitch” thing go, even though chefs do use famously salty language and I don’t see any reason to shy away from that, but Jake Robinson (in the middle of this picture), said the same thing about his old friend Dave Rensi (on the left).
Dave and I go back years and years, because he’s almost always at the Taste of Elegance, often as a finalist, but this time as Jake’s bitch. Jake’s main job is working for Chartwells in Ann Arbor, but during Taste he’s representing Pacific Rim, an independent restaurant in Ann Arbor where he also works. They funded him and clearly taught him a lot about Asian food.
On their right is Mary Kelpinski, executive director of the Michigan Pork Producers Association.

Tacos in North County San Diego

Dear reader: if you’re looking for an explanation of “rose meat,” please scroll to the bottom. It’s in the last paragraph and in the comments section that follows.
Thank you.

May 4

San Diego is known for its tacos. The city of San Diego, that is, and of course Tijuana across the border. Being an ignorant New Yorker, I didn't really fathom how big a county San Diego was. It’s big. Still, the nice people who had arranged for me to stay at Estancia La Jolla had also pressed a chef at its sister property, L'Auberge Del Mar, into the service of fulfilling my request for tacos.

So I was met yesterday afternoon at Estancia by Jesse Bajana, L’Auberge’s executive sous chef, who was charged with finding me good tacos in North County.

Jesse was initially flummoxed. He presented his dilemma to his friend and former colleague, Fred Estrada, the chef of Yellow Coyote Tortilla Factory in Carlsbad. That’s him in the first picture, holding some of his tacos.

“We have pretty good tacos,” Fred apparently told Jesse, and so off we went.

Jesse’s car had a Colorado license plate — it turns out that his mother is from Denver, and although Jesse was born and raised in southern California, he recently spent six months in Denver, in the Highlands neighborhood. A lifelong Broncos fan, he could walk to the stadium from his house and he attended every home game.

Part of his family is also Native American from New Mexico, and so he was quite familiar with the green chile of New Mexican cuisine, which is the sort of Mexican food I was raised on in Denver.

Anyway, that second picture obviously is of the Yellow Coyote Tortilla Factory. Below is a close-up of the dogs in front of it, which Jesse and I agreed made the restaurant look like it was in Mexico.
Jesse shared with me his philosophy about tacos, which was pretty straightforward: The tortillas must be fresh, the salsas must be good. And when it comes to fish tacos, the fish should be battered and fried. He said his step dad’s uncle used to have the best fish tacos in Tijuana, but he sold his taqueria.

Fred brought out a bunch of salsas, along with guacamole and a carrot-jalapeño pico. He recommended the arbol chile salsa as the best one for the tacos, although he also gave a nod to his spiciest salsa, which was a blend of arbol, roasted jalapeño and serrano.

Jesse and I each had a beer (Corona, with lime; it seemed appropriate) and eight tacos. We started with carne asada, chicken and carnitas tacos. The carnitas had some diced pineapple in it, which Jesse had explained was common in pastor tacos, which are made in a style similar to Greek gyros: The beef is stacked on a vertical rotisserie and slowly roasted. Typically for pastor tacos, a pineapple is placed on top of the roasting meat, slowly basting it, and some of that pineapple is also put in the taco. I don’t think I’d ever had that before.

Next we had two totally inauthentic tacos — tasty, but not authentic. One was made with braised short ribs, and the other with queso fundido — melted cheese with roasted poblano and red bell pepper rajas and chorizo. Neither Jesse nor I had seen such a thing before.

Jesse hadn’t seen shrimp tacos either. I’m not sure whether I had or not, but he went wild over them — breaded and fried, just like the fish tacos (made of pollock) were. We also had grilled mahi mahi tacos. All three of those were served with Fred’s signature chipotle aïoli and yogurt sauce.

Next Jesse wanted to take me to a little hole-in-the-wall at a strip mall in Oceanside, near his home, that had the best tacos he’d had north of the border.

“If you don’t mind the drive,” he added.

What did I care? He was driving, and the trip would give me some time to digest my eight tacos.

The name of the restaurant is Los Tacos (2183 Vista Way, suite B9, 760-757-8226, in case you have trouble finding it). It is, indeed, in a strip mall, next to an Einstein Bros Bagels.

There we had tacos made of tripa (which is to say intestine, not stomach lining), tongue and cabesa. Cabesa is the meat from the face of a pig. Quite tasty. In addition, we had tacos al pastor, with the pineapple and topped with an avocado sauce, and finally a taco suadero, which was unhelpfully translated into English as “rose.” The owner explained that it was the top part of the beef, just below the skin. Once the taco was brought to us — crispy fat on top of rich beef, I surmised it was like picanha, a Brazilian cut of meat that is the top part of the sirloin, with a thick layer of fat still attached. You can get it at many churrascarias if you ask.

Pictured are the pastor (in front) and the tripas.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


May 3

While drinking my Margarita at Bodega Wine bar last night, I heard an exchange between a customer and the bartender that I think means our taste in wines has evolved, but maybe not.
The customer ordered two glasses of White Zinfandel. The bartender said they didn’t have White Zinfandel. Would he like Red Zinfandel? The customer said that would be fine.
Okay, now, White Zinfandel might still be the most popular wine in the United States. It certainly was up until a few years ago. Maybe Chardonnay passed it at that point. I don’t know.
Still, it’s not that surprising that a bartender in a fancy wine bar would either feign ignorance of the stuff or actually not know that White Zinfandel and Red Zinfandel have nothing in common when it comes to taste. It's especially unsurprising in a bar where, I later learned, the only Pinot Grigio available was the least expensive wine by the glass on the list, and thus shunned by customers lest they be considered cheap.
I’m pretty sure Pinot Grigio is gaining popularity in the United States faster than any other varietal. Indeed, in recent years, people ordering a “Pinot” might very well find themselves with a Pinot Grigio instead of a Pinot Noir.
Pinot Grigios tend to be mild, inoffensive, straightforward, easy-to-drink wines and are therefore disdained by most wine cognoscenti.
Back to Zinfandels, red ones tend to be big, fruity, spicy affairs. White Zinfandels are actually pink, quite sweet, and completely out of fashion. They are responsible for giving Rosés a bad name in the United States.
The guy who ordered a white Zinfandel and settled on a red one was in for a surprise, but he didn't come back to complain. I guess he and his companion just wanted something to drink.

Jesse Frost

May 3

Dinner last night started in Estancia’s Bodega Wine Bar. I was told to go there and have a cocktail, and I’d be met by the property’s executive chef, Jesse Frost. I decided to take my instructions literally and had a cocktail instead of a glass of wine. Being near the Mexican border, I had a Margarita.
I showed up just as the bar was in the middle of a little rush. It seemed that everyone in the hotel wanted a pre-dinner drink.
The bar rush ended as fast as it had begun and soon the bartender and I were practically alone.
Soon enough, Jesse came out and we had a chat. He’s an interesting guy. His father is a New Yorker from Queens (Astoria), who ended up working for Pepsi and was stationed in Mexico City, where Jesse spent the first ten years of his life. He later studied cooking in the San Francisco area and then came down to the San Diego area. He has been at Estancia for about three years.
His favorite color is the earth-tone red that is so prevalent in the terrain of the Southwest.
A note at the bottom of the menu requests that guests not use cellular devices because the ultra-high frequencies interfere with chef jesse’s sauces.
His food isn’t as precious as that — it is Southwestern enough to remind us of where we are without hitting us over the head with that fact. Still it’s a cute note.
I was taken next door to Adobe El Restaurante, and this is what I ate and drank:

Jesse started out by bringing me an oblong plate with eight indentations in it. In each one was a little amuse-bouche:
poached lobster with heirloom tomato and citrus crème fraîche
red pepper and white bean hummus with toasted lavosh
saffron poached prawns with silken mayonnaise (made with tofu)
salt roasted beets with olive oil and sea salt
tomato-raisin compote with a tempura croquette of confit pork belly
ahi tuna pastrami with haricots verts and Madras curry emulsion
roasted pecans with cabrales cheese, pears and endive
tequila-cured foie gra with blackberry compote and sourdough wafer

With that I drank a 2006 Campalou Vouvray

I continued drinking that with seared scallops with orange-onion marmalade, lemon beurre blanc, a sweet onion tartlet, corn-crayfish salsa, balsamic vinegar and fried caperberries

Then Jesse sent out a Kobe beef flat iron, topped with a bordelaise sauce and served with a short rib tamale, fried lotus root chips, pumpkin seeds, red pepper purée and chive oil over Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccolini.
It turns out the beef was actually a Wagyu-Black Angus hybrid from Texas. To go with it they poured a 2004 Arrendell Vineyards Pinot Noir (Russian River)

With dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake with toasted coconut, pineapple sorbet and a chile-spiked tuile, they poured a surprisingly raisiny 2000 Freemark Abbey Edelweis Gold late harvest Johannesberg Riesling

It’s easy being green

May 3

A few months ago, our information technology department sent an e-mail to everyone in the company saying that Lebhar-Friedman, the parent company of Nation’s Restaurant News, was now a green company as they had developed a little green dingbat — a picture of a tree in front of a lawn and a winding river. We were to paste that dingbat on the bottom of all of our e-mails along with the words “Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.”
Our IT department is loaded with bright and capable people, and the statement that developing a dingbat made us green was tongue-in-cheek, I think, but it could have come with great sincerity from any of a number of PR firms, telling me about a new restaurant or company that had changed its light bulbs or was recycling its paper or turning down its thermostats in the winter and was therefore now environmentally sound and worthy of our attention. I get e-mails like that every day. I consider the environment and don’t print them.
It’s 2008. I was born in 1967 and was potty-trained in cloth diapers because my mother didn't want to contribute to disposable diapers clogging landfills. She wouldn’t start the dishwasher if there was still room for a shot-glass in there. Our thermostat in the winter hovered around 58 (we were encouraged to wear sweaters). My parents saved their paper and aluminum and took it to the supermarket the one day a month that recyclable materials were accepted there. That's just the way it was. I was raised to pay attention to the environmental impact of my actions.
My parents were ahead of their time (they still are), but they were hardly revolutionary. Where has everyone been for the past 40 years? A former vice president makes a movie and all of a sudden everyone’s making token gestures. They’re suddenly realizing, now that gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon, that maybe they shouldn’t have been driving those SUVs throughout the 1990s.
Do people really print e-mails without considering the environment? Is our company really green now that we tell everyone else how to behave? Will the addition of that line at the bottom of our e-mails possibly push our messages over the edge of one page, so that if their recipients do decide to go ahead and print them anyway they'll end up printing two pages instead of one?
These thoughts were on my mind yesterday as I landed in San Diego. The National Pork Board’s annual Taste of Elegance is being held here, starting on Sunday. I’m in town a couple of days early, because I’ve never been to San Diego before and it makes sense to check out some of the food here.
As a New Yorker, I can be a smug environmentalist. I can shake a disapproving head at southern Californians and say “I don’t even own a car.”
But of course in New York, I don’t need a car. I have access to the country’s best mass transit system.
But in San Diego I need a car, so I rented a hybrid.
Of course, not driving a car at all is better for the environment than driving a hybrid, so once I arrived at Estancia La Jolla, where I’m staying, I handed the weird non-key starter device to a valet and headed inside, turning off some of the lamps in my room, as well as the machine that was making theoretically calming ocean sounds.
I would have dinner in the hotel.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


May 1

I got a blurb from a publicist today about a new soda.

“It's an organic, healthy, energy drink made with Açaí and other Rainforest fruits and botanicals — absolutely nothing artificial! [This drink, whose name I have deleted out of the goodness of my heart] tastes and makes you feel great, and it’s perfect for all those energy drink lovers out there that are looking for something that actually tastes good and is good for you.”

Healthy? Good for me?
So I asked for the nutritional information.

Here are its ingredients: Carbonated water, organic evaporated cane juice, organic clarified açaí juice, organic acerola juice (water, organic acerola concentrate), natural flavors, citirc acid, organic guarana extract, yerba mate extract, green tea extract, and fruit and vegetable juice for color.

Its first ingredient is carbonated water, it’s second is sugar. I know it says it’s organic evaporated cane juice, but chemically that’s the same thing as sugar.

Here are the ingredients of a popular cola: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine.

The cola (per 12 ounces): 140 calories, 39 grams of sugar.
The “healthy organic energy drink”: 120 calories, 30 grams of sugar (or possibly 28.5 grams — a serving size is listed as 8 fluid ounces, which has 19 grams, but did they round up or down?).
So it’s a little better for you than soda. But does that make it healthy? It's still sweetened water, and don’t let the “organic evaporated cane juice” line fool you. Fructose does break down a teeny, tiny bit faster than sucrose, which is the sugar in sugar cane, so it might have a slightly different effect on your metabolism if you happen to be diabetic (although probably not enough for even a diabetic to notice) but nutritionists have pointed out to me that the difference between the monosaccharide fructose and the disaccharide sucrose is precisely one molecular bond, and chances are pretty good that, after being in liquid suspension (a can of soda, for example) that bond is likely broken anyway.

But what really burns me up is the gall, the unmitigated gall, of a soda company pretending that its product is good for you, and obfuscating the details of what’s actually in its product. “Organic evaporated cane juice” is accurate, but what kind of cane do you suppose it is, rattan? Bamboo? Of course not, it’s sugar cane. Why not just call it that?

The new product also has 750 percent of the U.S. recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, which is useless. Excess Vitamin C is merely flushed out of our system, thrown away, a waste of our precious rainforest resources.

I also got a press release about a premium ice cream from down under being launched in the United States. Everything in it is “natural,” a word that doesn’t mean what most people think it does. In fact, it doesn’t really mean anything concrete — just “of or pertaining to nature,” and what, exactly, is nature?
Still, it’s a good marketing buzz-word and I’d let it go. But then there’s this line in the release: “Customers are able to enjoy a healthy, premium ice cream without having to compromise on the exceptional taste and texture that are as natural and clean as the pristine land they come from.”

Healthy? Really?

Ice cream by definition is made from cream, which is loaded with saturated fat, and sugar. Is it evil to eat ice cream? Of course not. Do I recommend that people eat it? Sure, if they like it. Is it good for you? Perhaps in a spiritual sense — it makes you feel good, it makes you happy. But healthy? It's full of artery-clogging saturated fat and the tooth-rotting, empty energy of sugar. Eat it, enjoy it, but don’t believe for a second that it’s healthful.