Thursday, July 17, 2008

Three stars

July 17'

“please come by 10:30-11Pm tonight for some bubbly!"
That was Ben Pollinger, the executive chef of Oceana, which got a three star review in The New York Times yesterday.
I e-mailed him my congratulations, he e-mailed me an invitation for sparkling wine. We both win.
And I had visiting out-of-town colleagues Robin Allen and Catherine Cobb, and that meant an after-work drink or two, giving me the opportunity to linger in Midtown until Oceana closed and the party could start.
The restaurant’s on 54th Street, between Park and Madison avenues, just two blocks from our Park Avenue office.
It was a relatively small, quietly exuberant affair, with very brief speeches from Ben and executive pastry chef Jansen Chan, Champagne, and a banana-cashew cake with chocolate ganache and white chocolate butter cream.
I asked if they were happy with the review, if anyone, like maybe their boss, Nick Livanos, had said anything like: “Why not four stars?”
I even asked Nick that, and he said that to get a four-star review you basically had to run a non-profit restaurant. He also talked about the new restaurant he was opening, Burger Deluxe, in Wayne, N.J., which will be a pared-down version of his City Limits Diner chain. Jim Botsacos, the Livanos group’s corporate chef, was so excited about the new place that it almost made me nervous. Boy, what a great story for Nation’s Restaurant News! (he said) How a savvy restaurateur takes a great concept and refits it for a smaller space in New Jersey!
Jake Addeo, the chef at Abboccato, was there, too — proof that rumors of his departure were wrong.
All of those people are part of the Livanos group of restaurants, but Tony Esnault isn’t. He’s the chef of Adour, Alain Ducasse’s wine-oriented place, but he was at the party, too.
“Do you work here?” he asked me, which is funny since he and I were among the only people at the party who didn’t work for Nick Livanos — us and a guy from Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart or someplace like that who was hanging out with the young publicists from KB (now KB/Hall), which represents the Livanos restaurants.
It was a perfectly reasonable question. Maybe I’d changed jobs.
Tony goes to a lot of chef parties, which I wouldn’t really expect from a Ducasse chef, and that just shows what I know. But I mean you expect someone who works for Alain Ducasse to be aloof, snooty and way too cool to hang out with other chefs.
I kind of expect that from New York Times writers, too, but in fact the ones that I’ve met are quite nice. Then again, I tend only to meet them at parties at the top of my social stratum.
Either there or just randomly on the Internet.
Eventually I settled in to conversation with Jansen, who was kind of mentally parsing the Times review while handing out pieces of cake.
Times critic Frank Bruni said of Jansen’s creations: “Desserts on the whole are splendid.”
Jansen wondered about the word “splendid.” Where, exactly, did it fit in the realm of quality? Better than “good,” surely. But maybe a hair short of “excellent”?
Mr. Bruni especially loved the frozen banana mousse, which is funny because Jansen took it off the menu on Monday, replacing it with a dish of peaches & cream with croissant ice cream. The ice cream is made by making a crème anglaise without vanilla, freezing it and then mixing pieces of baked croissant into it. Jansen leaves the vanilla out because he wants the toastiness and yeastiness — especially the yeastiness — of the croisssants to come through. He also garnishes it with croissant crumbs, if I remember correctly.
The idea came to him when he was eating a croissant with peach jam and butter.
Because of the toastiness, people think there’s coconut in there, but what they're tasting is the toastiness which they associate with toasted coconut. Funny how that works.


Lamanda said...

Sounds like an interesting evening. I think someday when I actually have money in the bank my fella and I will have to plan a trip to NY just so we can try out some of these great restaurants I keep hearing about.

That banana cashew cake sounds particularly scrumptious! Of course whenever I think about any sort of banana cake my mind goes to the banana caramel cake that my Grandma used to make for my PawPaw every year for his birthday. That cake was truly amazing, and I plan very soon to get the recipe from my aunt.

Bret Thorn said...

Well lamanda, don’t expect any dessert to compare with your grandma’s, because that just won’t happen, but there’s a lot of great food in New York. Let me know when you make it up here and I’ll recommend some spots for you.