Friday, October 31, 2008

Coat check meltdown

October 31

I think Aureole invited the entire Upper East Side to its 20-year anniversary party, and all of the food, travel, real estate and probably gossip media.
I know at least one member of the real estate media was there, as I had the chance to catch up with the fun-loving Chris Shott of The New York Observer. You may remember that when I met him at Scarpetta’s opening, he complimented my necktie. This time he complimented designer Adam Tihany’s sport coat. It was, indeed, a very handsome sport coat, but what I liked best was that his pocket square was a different pattern from his tie. He’s Adam Tihany, so he can do that.
Chris also complimented my tie (a Boston Trader floral thing that I’ve had for years, but I still like it a lot), but he admitted that it was a cheap ploy to get mentioned in my blog again.
Like that will work. Ha!
Anyway, the place was packed, and I had been drinking with colleagues the night before and had overindulged a bit, so I wasn’t in the mood to party, really. I realized I’d be doing everyone a favor by calling it a night so other people could get in and eat and drink, and so I stood in line to get the coat and bag that I had checked.
Chaos ensued.
The nice-seeming women who were in charge of checking coats were clearly accustomed to checking a couple of coats at a time, at a rather leisurely pace. Aureole’s not a club with velvet ropes and bouncers, after all, it’s a posh restaurant where people spend leisurely hours relaxing over a meal. It had nothing like the capacity necessary to deal with all of the clothing and baggage that was thrown at it last night.
So I waited. Grill Club members Michael Park and Sara Bonisteel came in. I chatted with them and waited some more. I greeted Regina Schrambling as she came in, told her I was on my way out and waited some more.
Publicist Shari Bayer came in. She was the plus-one of Food & Beverage magazine’s Francine Cohen, whose husband Jake didn’t feel like coming. Francine soon arrived, too, and they stayed with me for awhile while I waited for my coat, but Francine got pulled away eventually.
Michael and Sara, having had enough of the party, were heading out and saw that I was still waiting for my coat. It was amazing.
I’m not exactly sure what the problem was, but the coats and bags were being stored in two separate rooms and it seemed that somehow the coat-check tags were no longer anywhere near what was checked with them. I was eventually brought in to see if I could find my own coat and bag, which I did, although, since it was a standard-issue Midtown black cashmere-wool blend overcoat just like everyone else’s, it took me awhile.
In the meantime rebellion had begun among other people who were trying to leave.
“This is ridiculous, I’ve been waiting 20 minutes!" I heard one guy rant. I mean, really, it was a fair rant, but the coat-check system had been overwhelmed, it had melted down. It was ugly.
Good party, though. Great turnout.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A restaurant Blums in Brooklyn

October 29

As I’ve discussed before, former Olive Garden and Burger King executive Brad Blum is opening restaurants in New York. His Dogmatic Sausage System opened a couple of weeks ago near Union Square, and now, NRN’s Elissa Elan tells me, he has plans to open a Mediterranean restaurant in Williamsburg.
Once the full story appears on, I’ll link to it here, but for now, some details:
The 3000-square foot, 74-seat restaurant will be called Green Canteen and will focus on seasonal ingredients for its 60-some-odd menu items, including ready-to-serve antipasti, salads, flatbreads and hummus bowls. Healthful shakes “high in energy but not in sugar” also will be offered. Menu items will be priced at under $10 and per-person average checks are expected to be less than $20. He hopes to open it early next year.
Blum used his own money to finance the restaurants and he hopes to slowly expand both concepts, gradually opening additional units.
Blum’s people didn’t reveal Green Canteen’s exact location, but a company called Green Canteen-1-Williamsburg LLC apparently has applied for a wine license at 106 N. 6th St.
They did tell Elissa that it’s a building built in the 1890s, which is being restored right now.

Paul Liebrandt’s back

October 29

Of all the chefs whose food I’ve eaten, I think Paul Liebrandt’s is the easiest to recognize. It’s very modular, kind of like the written Chinese language.
As you probably know, Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet. Instead it has thousands of “characters,” each representing a concept or an idea, or, well, something (one character represents the notion of an action having been completed; another indicates that something was done to something else — the equivalent of a passive-voice marker),
Most Chinese words have at least two characters in them. Combine them and sometimes the meaning is obvious:
“electricity” + “brain” = “computer.”
Sometimes it’s more poetic:
“electricity” + “shadow” = “movie”;
“can do” + “mouth” + another “can do” + “happiness” = Coca-Cola.
Paul Liebrand’s food is modular like that. Each flavor component is expressed with clarity and precision. If there's key lime in the foam served with your lobster, by golly it tastes like key lime. If he says the bubbles of milk on the plate with your squab is flavored with pain d’épices, boy, you can taste those autumn spices.
I personally find the results exhilarating, and I’ve liked his food since he was a cocky young kid running the kitchen at Atlas back at the turn of the century.
Now he’s, well, still quite young — 33, the same age as Jesus when he was crucified — and I imagine his ego remains intact despite his moves from Atlas to Papillon to One Little West 12th to Gilt, and now to Drew Nieporent’s newest restaurant, Corton.
Corton is where Montrachet once was, although the space has undergone massive renovation, with the kitchen having been moved to the south side of the building, leaving one spacious dining room with 60 seats where once there were two that, together, seated 80. I'm not a décor guy, but I was taken by the main chandelier, made of thin metal pipes with holes poked in them.
And I was taken by the fact that Drew himself was there, not merely holding court, but greeting people at the door, serving, clearing tables, doing tableside flourishes like pouring sauces on plates.
The restaurant wasn’t full last night, but it did have a quality crowd. Picholine executive chef Terrance Brennan was there, and Food & Wine founders (and current Food Arts editors) Michael and Ariane Batterberry showed up shortly after I did.
“The BAT...terberrys are here!” Drew said at one point as he drifted by our table.
I came with my friend Andy Battaglia, a sensualist who likes weird things and who has been a Liebrandt fan since the chef cooked for us at One Little West 12th back in 2004. That restaurant was really a club whose guests wanted miniburgers and the like, which Mr. Liebrandt made for them, but he didn’t stay there for long.
Actually, he wasn’t at Gilt for too long either.
Corton just opened, but to me it seemed like the chef has found his groove again. Drew seems to have his back, and the sommelier, Elizabeth Harcourt, who also worked at Montrachet, did some cool wine pairings. To wit:

For me:
Veal sweetbreads with Violet Hill Farm egg confit, carrot and argan oil (the combination actually tasted like classy barbecue sauce)
2004 Audrey & Christian Binner Katzenthal Riesling (Alsace)

Wild striped bass with sweet onion, gnudi and chowder sauce
2006 L'Ecette Rully ‘Maizières’ (Burgundy)

Squab with chestnut crème, smoked bacon and pain d‘épices milk
2007 Comptoirs de Mageala ‘La Chance’ (Provence)

For Andy:
Foie gras with hibiscus-beet gelée and blood orange
2005 Bernard & Robert Plageoles “Muscadelle’ (Gaillac, southwestern France)

The same bass, with the same wine

Maine lobster with chanterelles, toasted hazelnut-lobster jus and, not mentioned on the menu, some kind of foam that sure seemed to be an intense key lime, and served with a side of lobster riso with house-made botarga
2005 François Gaunoux (Burgundy)

What we shared for dessert (pastry chef Bob Truitt worked at Room4Dessert, which was headed up by Will Goldfarb, who was Mr. Liebrandt’s pastry chef at Atlas; small world):

First, a palate-cleansing quince sorbet floating in an unusually thick kind of foam, and then:

Caramel brioche with passion fruit, coffee and banana (one of the best things Andy’s ever eaten)

White sesame crème with lemon, huckleberry and salted toffee

Mignardises, including a passion fruit truffle, a salted caramel chocolate bonbon and a citrus macaroon
brewed coffee

Independent Thinking

October 29

Please welcome to the floor NRN’s latest blogger, Mr. Mark Brandau, whose infectious laughter entertains everyone at NRN headquarters. You should make every effort to sing karaoke with him (he tends to fill in with the harmony) or otherwise enjoy his good company. And you also should read his blog, Independent Thinking, for news, interviews etc. for independent restaurant operators.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Maccionis respond

October 24,

Le Cirque’s Marco Maccioni read my blog yesterday, and so he gave Elissa a call and I updated the entry accordingly Click here to see it.

Buttermilk Channel Wednesdays

October 24

I just had a nice chat with Ryan Angulo, chef of the soon-to-open Brooklyn restaurant Buttermilk Channel, named after the strait between Red Hook and Governors Island. The restaurant is supposed to open in the first week of November. “It could be the second week, I really hope it’s not,” Ryan said. It's going to have an American bistro menu, with snacks and charcuterie as well as appetizers and entrées, and also a special for each day of the week. On Wednesdays, that special will be bluefish, of all things, grilled and served with a cranberry bean and linguiça stew, reflecting Ryan’s Rhode Island roots, as it is “kind of a take on Portuguese kale soup,” he said. (when I have a moment, I’ll also tell you about what I did in Rhode Island last week, stay tuned...).
Bluefish is extremely inexpensive these days — as low as $2.95 a pound wholesale, and Ryan says if it’s very fresh it doesn’t have that intense fishy flavor for which bluefish is known.
That brought us to the topic of gamy foods, which I usually really like. Ryan reflected on his time at Picholine, where they served grouse and where one couple, regulars, would come in and order grouse extremely rare, stick their napkins in their collars and go at those birds like, well, people who really like grouse.
Ryan also cooked at davidburke&donatella. Most recently, he was chef de cuisine at Stanton Social.
Buttermilk Channel’s owner, Doug Crowell, is a BR Guest veteran, having managed Blue Fin and Blue Water Grill.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fire sale at Le Cirque?

October 23

My intrepid colleague Elissa Elan came across this item by venerable wine writer Howard Goldberg. It seems that Le Cirque is auctioning off rare bottles of châteaux Margaux, Petrus and Yquem through Nywines/Christie’s on November 17. The reasons for the sale, Goldberg cites Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni as saying, is to create more space in Le Cirque’s cellars and to allow Maccioni, with the cash raised, to refresh his wine list and get more recent vintages.
Really? He's auctioning off prized wines, in this crappiest of all crappy markets, to make more room? He can’t find any off-site storage space? Really?
Elissa, being no fool, called Le Cirque and tried to speak to Sirio’s son Mario and was transferred instead to Sirio’s executive assistant, who has not returned the multiple calls that Elissa has made since then.
So we’re wondering, what’s going on at Le Cirque? Is it that strapped for cash? Are its clientele not buying expensive wines anymore because of the economy? During most recessions, sales of luxury items tend to remain strong as people treat themselves to small luxuries. Then again, perhaps this recession is not like most of them.
A couple thousand dollars for a bottle of wine might not seem like a small luxury, but people forced to sell their ninth home or their second yacht (and there are many people like that here in New York) might need to drown their sorrows in just such a thing as they prepare to park the corporate jet and fly on commercial airlines (first class, of course; I mean, come on).
At the auction itself, Goldberg points out, bidders will be offered a $395 four-course dinner. Why not finish that off with a bottle of ’67 Yquem (estimated value per case: $18,000)?

October 24 update — Marco Maccioni responds

He called Elissa, and this is what he said:
“The wine auction was organized quite a few months ago, before this economic hurricane even started. We literally wanted to clear out the excess stock of our big, granddaddy wines. People are still drinking them; they’re just drinking a little less of them.
“We were a little top heavy in recent years, but since the move from The Palace [hotel, where Le Cirque 2000 was located], we can’t just present Petrus and Margaux.”
Le Cirque is going to take the proceeds of the auction and “recycle it back into our wine program, buy newer growth, more boutique wines to deepen our list and make it more attractive to guests.”
He also said that at different times other restaurateurs have auctioned off their wines, including Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer.
“We made the decision when Christie’s approached us; we knew that nowadays wine auctions can become a source of income for restaurants, and we’re fortunate enough to have a deep wine cellar, so it only made good sense to sell off the excess inventory when the opportunity arose.”
Marco added that they’re focusing the auction on “those collectors who accumulate big wines” and hopes they will “get good business on all the lots even though the market isn‘t the best.”
He also wanted everyone to know that Le Cirque is doing O.K. even though its holiday party business is off from last year.
“My father has been in business for more than 35 years. In that time he has seen the gas prices of the early 70s, the Gulf War and 9/11, but if you have a strong foundation you just have to weather the storm. There is no fear of us closing; we’re just reinforcing the restaurant.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kenyon launches his CD

October 22

I was right! It’s not a universally acceptable act just to plow into people, no matter how crowded a place is or how drunk the people there are, without acknowledging that you’ve made uninvited physical contact.
This was clear last Saturday at the Mercury Lounge, when a sold-out crowd showed up to celebrate the launch of “Like a Bitch," the debut album of my friend Kenyon Phillips’ band Unisex Salon. The place was packed, and Kenyon was obviously thrilled, but even though the doors opened at around 11:30 p.m. and this was unlikely to be the first stop of most of the people there, the crowd was cordial, used the hand-on-the-back gesture when trying to get past people, and in general behaved like they were raised as something other than caged animals.
I drank Sierra Nevada and was delighted by Kenyon’s new sound. I’ve always liked his music, but the album has a harder-rock quality than his previous stuff, which Kenyon says is due to the influence of his brother Stephen Phillips, a longtime studio musician.
“My brother brings a real hard rock influence. And my sensibilities keep it poppy, I suppose,” he told me.
He also told me that his lyrics, which generally sound like they have to do with romantic conflict, are often written by him to himself. Narcissistic, perhaps, but also quite dark.
I shared the CD with my colleague, Elissa Elan, who said it was “interesting” assessed it thus: “Dense instrumentalism and a little bit of a Kinks sound but kind of alt at the same time.”
That dense instrumentalism and Kinksyness would be Stephen’s influence, the alt would be Kenyon, a longtime Brian Eno fan.
I guess the album’s single would be a number called "Don't Look Down," for which Kenyon has even made a video, but my favorite song is the tenth track, ”Feels So Good,” which you can find here if you click through the music.
The after party for the disk launch was at a club called Don Hill’s, a place that I’d never heard of but when I got there it struck me as a gay club for straight people — lots of overt sexual innuendo, a hot-body contest, people walking around in their underwear, others pole-dancing, bad beer selection.
Yesterday at lunch, a native New Yorker told me that Don Hill’s was, in fact, once a gay bar that had been infiltrated by others.
That was at the Peninsula Hotel, which was holding a press lunch featuring Curtis Duffy, an Alinea alumnus who is now the chef of Avenues, the restaurant at the Peninsula in Chicago.
Actually, Curtis had been working for Alinea executive chef Grant Achatz even before that restaurant opened, when Grant was the chef at Trio, in Evanston, Ill. His hometown is Columbus, Ohio.
I bet you were wondering how I was going to get the restaurant world into this blog entry, weren’t you?

What we ate and drank at the Peninsula:

White truffle, tapioca, Parmesan sable, chive
Do Ferreiro Albariño Cepas Vellas, (Rias Baixas, Spain)

Golden trout, Semmillion verjus, honshimeji mushrooms, spruce
Qupe Roussane Bien Nacido Hillside Estate (Santa Inez Valley, Calif.)

Hato Mugi (a type of Japanese grain), red wine, manchego broth and sorrel
P. Manzoni, Pinonero (Langhe, Piedmont, Italy)

Wagyu (actual wagyu, from Japan), smoked coconut, white shoyu (leftover shards from the process of making soy sauce, in fact), African blue basil
Artadi Pagos Viejos (Rioja, Spain)

Carbonated Cabernet verjus, with various aromatic flower petals and fruits

Chocolate, Chambord, malt, anise hyssop
Yalumba Museum Reserve Antique Tawny (Australia)

Wanted: New York sous chef

Glenn Harris over at The Smith (55 Third Avenue, between 10th and 11th Streets, 212-420-9800) is looking for a sous chef to start immediately. Thought you might want to know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Calorie quiz results

October 15

Thanks to the 25 voters who participated.

These are the results. I think I’ll do some opinion polls now, just for fun.

Norwegian tyranny, single malt, and how to greet an ambassador

October 15

As you might have read, Iceland is in a financial crisis, its banks having overextended themselves, making the country’s currency untradeable at the moment. It’s a problem, and embarrassing for a country that by some measures has the highest per-capita income in the world.
Hlynur Gudjonsson, Iceland’s trade commissioner for North America, indicated to me that Icelanders have even temporarily lost their penchant for sarcasm.
I really like Icelanders. To me they seem like more Viking versions of Scandinavians, which makes sense, since that’s what they are. Their little island country of 290,000 people was founded a thousand years ago by the Viking Eric the Red, who was fleeing Norwegian tyranny.
Don’t you love the notion of Norwegian tyranny?
I’ve only been to Iceland once, and briefly, but the people seemed just a bit rougher around the edges than Scandinavians, if for no other reason than that their most common toast when drinking is not the Swedish skål but skál, which is pronounced like “scowl” and just sounds scarier.
The island itself is eerily beautiful. Above is a picture of a frozen waterfall I took a few Februaries ago, when I was in Iceland for the country’s Food & Fun Festival. Below is one of, well, I forget what, but isn’t it eerily beautiful?
In the middle of this financial crisis, Iceland also is vying to join the United Nations Security Council, and as part of the campaign the country is having a sort of culinary festival at the U.N. These festivals are common practice, and the delegates dining room often features delicacies from one member-nation or another. And sometimes that country’s tourism authority or an exporter from there or someone else sponsors a luncheon in the kitchen and invites the media, which is what Icelandic, a large seafood supplier with much interest in Iceland, an Icelandic vodka company and other members of the Iceland Naturally marketing group did yesterday.
Usually the media they invite are food and travel writers, but this time Thomas Lane from the BBC’s UN bureau was there, too, with a professional recording device in hand, I presume to report on Iceland’s security council bid amid (or amidst, since he’s British) a financial crisis.
I liked Tom a lot, if for no other reason than he made me feel like an absolute peasant when he was introduced to an ambassador, who also was joining us for lunch. If I remember correctly she was the Icelandic ambassador to Sweden, but I’m checking on that, because what would she have been doing in New York?
I’m glad he went first, because he said something like: “Ambassador, it’s very nice to meet you." Or maybe even: “Madame ambassador, it’s very nice to meet you, indeed.”
He was no older than I, and probably younger, but so well brought up.
I probably would have just said, “Hi.” But instead I followed his lead.
I wonder if I should have called her “Your Excellency.” Probably not, or Tom would have done it. He’s a Londoner working for the BBC at the United Nations, surely he knows how to greet an ambassador.
Hlynur greeted me and other guests at the U.N.’s main entrance and took us upstairs. Did I mention he’s the trade commissioner for all of North America?
(His name, by the way, is often pronounced "linner," rhyming with “dinner,” in the United States, but the initial consonant, he explained, is really much rougher than that, involving a course Germanic-sounding guttural sound along with the ‘l,’ and the final ‘r,’ as Icelandic final ‘r’s do, comes to a screeching halt with that sounds almost like a ‘k.’ It’s very odd, but it still mostly rhymes with “dinner”).
One of the great things about Iceland is that it’s such a small country that you usually get a ministry head or two even at small press functions. I met the country’s president a few years ago at a reception at Cafe Gray featuring Icelandic lamb. On my trip to Iceland, my tour guide, Hannes Heimisson, was the consul general for New York.
Hannes’ wife was fascinating, by the way. She was an ethnographer who had interviewed many Icelanders about their beliefs in elves. Here’s a common belief: Elves make delicious pancakes because they have much better wheat than we do.
Yesterday’s chef, Hákon Már Örvarsson, served up tiny Icelandic shrimp and big langoustines and scallops and a haddock-potato dish and several salmon preparations and two caribou preparation — one cured and one made into a terrine — served with berry preserves, as well as that lamb I mentioned before. For dessert was little fried dough called kleinur and pancakes (perhaps made by elves, I couldn’t say) stuffed with whipped cream and covered with another berry jam.
So I was two days' worth of full, but I had a dinner that evening, at Double Crown, Brad Farmerie’s new place, hosted by Highland Park scotch.
One reason I’d planned to go to that event, apart from the food and scotch, was that my friend Clark Mitchell of Travel + Leisure was going to attend, and I hadn’t hung out with him in months. Really, it’s been months. He canceled at the last minute, though: T+L is sending him to Switzerland tomorrow and he had to make his travel arrangements immediately, which is fair.
But who arrived late and sat next to me but Peter Hellman? I’d never met him before, but we knew each other’s names because we were both regular contributors to The New York Sun’s food and drink section until it died last month. I did mostly restaurant openings, he did mostly wine. Seems like a nice guy.

What we ate and drank at Double Crown:
Highland Park Fig Smash
(12 year old scotch with muddled figs, fig & port reduction and crushed ice).

Streaky ham and fenugreek-glazed figs with whole grain mustard
Highland Park 15 year old scotch whisky

Miso glazed bone marrow with orange-olive marmalade and brioche
Highland Park 18 year old

Roast half duck with sherry-braised prunes, red onions and orange salt, served with sides of garam masala potatoes and green bean salad
the 25 year old

Bitter chocolate trifle, malted Devonshire cream, English toffee and a chocolate crumpet
35 year

And then finally, the debut of the Highland Park 40 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

And because Hákon was nice enough to send it to me, the full menu from our luncheon in the kitchen of the UN delegates dining room:

Hot smoked salmon with chopped egg vinaigrette
Smoked salmon with cream cheese and pancakes
Cured reindeer loin with herbs and balsamic sauce
Reindeer terrine with blueberry sauce

Cold water shrimp salad with 1000 island dressing
Marinated scallops with confit of bell peppers

“Plokkfiskur”: Shredded cod and potatoes in cheese and bechamel sauce, gratinée
Broiled Icelandic langoustines in the shell with parsley and garlic
Roast loin of free range Icelandic lamb served with lamb jus, barley and rutabaga

Icelandic pancakes stuffed with jam of mixed berries and whipped cream
Icelandic doughnuts: “Kleinur”

Monday, October 13, 2008

A setup in search of a punch line

October 13

“An AIG employee walks into Death & Company...”
Or should it be: “An AIG employee walks into Death & Company and orders vodka...”?
I know there’s a joke in there somewhere. There just has to be. Ben Schmerler thought so, too. If only we could figure out the punch line.
He and his business partner, Michael Gitter, threw a little gathering on behalf of Champagne Delamotte last Friday at the Thompson LES hotel. They held it on the 15th floor, in two suites, at twilight (6-8 p.m.), affording really lovely pink-hued views of the New York City skyline that I didn't even attempt to capture with my camera. I think unless you’re a really great photographer (which I most certainly am not), beautiful views just have to be enjoyed in the moment.
It was very elegant, very tasteful, very much in line with what Ben and Michael usually do.
And topping it off, chef Susur Lee was serving food — possibly for the first time, ever, to the public at the Thompson LES hotel. He didn’t actually come to the party, but Ben and I saw him in the hallway, unmistakable signature ponytail dangling from the back of his head, looking after some detail or other. His first restaurant in the United States, Shang, is scheduled to open in that very hotel soon. Maybe this month. The food at the party was Southeast Asian-influenced Chinese, sort of: Duck confit nibbles with Asian aromatics; shrimp and lobster croquettes; tofu skewers with Thai basil, pineapple and "Phuket peanut" sauce and “Singapore Slaw” with apricot ume dressing all were passed around.
I caught up with the folks at Eater and Grub Street.
By the way, Daniel Maurer tells me Grub Street is still looking for a replacement for Josh Ozersky (who is of course now at Citysearch). It would be quite a sweet, potentially high-profile job for someone who likes following the New York City food scene.
I also caught up with Ben, and told him the story about the AIG guy who tried to drink vodka at Death & Company. He was the one who thought it was a great setup for a joke.
I also chatted with the always chatty Akiko Katayama, who gave me suggestions for Japanese food in the East Village.
I thought I had a late-night party to go to at 5 Ninth that evening, but in fact I had read the invitation wrong. Thinking I had time to kill, I wandered the East Village in search of a place to sit, and maybe to try some food I hadn’t had before, or, barring that, walk over to Rhong-Tiam for Thai food, because the food at Thompson LES was delicious, but one should not try to fill up on party food if a long night lies ahead. Long hours of drinking benefit from a full belly, if you ask me (although it depends).
I walked by Kurve, the crazy restaurant of Rhong-Tiam chef-owner Andy Yang, designed by the, oh, let’s call him mercurial Karim Rashid.
At a little after 8pm on a Friday night, Kurve was almost completely empty, and didn’t look particularly inviting, but I do like Andy’s food a lot at Rhong-Tiam, so I popped in.
I feel like describing the place in some detail. Click here if you’d like to read about that.
Otherwise, let me finish up with my other weekend activity.
Thinking I was supposed to be at 5 Ninth and realizing I was mistaken, I ended up strolling back nearby Fatty Crab and who was outside eating dinner but Allen Katz of Slow Food (and the snail pin on his lapel proved it), and Laren Spirer, soon to be formerly of Gothamist (the 15th is her last day). So we caught up, I offered my setup for the punch line, and Allen called Death & Company the best bar in the country. I’m going to go ahead and assume that Allen’s been to every bar in the country. He does get around.
Cocktail maven and all around excellent person Audrey Saunders did not think it was funny at all. Being a small-business owner herself, she doesn’t think business calamities are funny. And she’s right.
But the joke still could be.
I ran into Audrey at the after party of Sweet, the gigantic dessert event of the New York Wine & Food Festival. I mostly avoided the festival, stopping into the blogger lounge to say hi, and then wandering off to the Grill Club, a periodic gathering of friends who like to grill competitively with one another. Michael Park, who's a friend of my friend Sara Bonisteel and sometime writer for Epicurious, asked me to be a judge, and I agreed.
To the left is a picture of me judging along with Annie Kim (on the right) and Judy Kim (no relation to Annie, both are simply Korean-Americans). On the left is our moderator and MC, "Tater" Read.
After the judging (Sara’s team won for her ribs, served with cherry compote and a nice barbecue sauce she made for us, along with a shot of bourbon), I was going to leave for Sweet, but instead went with them to Mars Bar, the worst-smelling bar I have ever been in, and I’ve lived in China. But for six bucks I got nearly a tumbler full of bourbon, which drove away the really unacceptable urine smell that dominated the place.
Then I took my leave and attended the tail-end of Sweet, catching up with Oceana pastry chef Jansen Chan, John Fraser of Dovetail, Pichet Ong of P*ONG and various others in quick succession, before heading upstairs for much drinking and hilarity.
Jean Georges pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini tried to introduce me to Audrey Saunders, but we already knew each other. That's when I tried my setup on her, and it didn’t work at all, but we still had a nice time.
I met the wife of French Culinary Institute dean of technology Dave Arnold. He introduced her as Jen, and she reintroduced herself as Jennifer, so Jennifer it is. The two met in college at Yale. She went on to be an architect and Dave didn’t go on to be a stock broker or investment banker or whatever. Instead he became one of the coolest food-tinkerers in the world. His folks should be really proud.
A highlight of the party was my brief chat with Travel + Leisure bigwig Nilou Motamed, because it is always a highlight to chat with her. She’s without a doubt my favorite Iranian Jew, and she recently became an American citizen and will be voting for president for the first time.
Oh, what else? Dancing with liquor publicist Ana Jovancicevic and others, catching up with the representative from a chef uniform company. You know, typical Saturday night post-dessert after party stuff.

understanding Kurve

October 13

Andy Yang’s Thai restaurant Rhong-Tiam opened quietly about a year ago and no one noticed. It did gradually get the attention of Southeast-Asian food connoisseurs and then finally of The New York Times, and now it’s a successful, thriving, business concern.
Andy’s other restaurant, Kurve, was anticipated with great, well, I don’t know what. Schadenfreude maybe, or skepticism, or perhaps just curiosity. It sat there, glowing in pastel colors with squiggly lines, plasma screens pulsing with undulating patterns more suitable to a dance club in the Meatpacking District, or Las Vegas, than a restaurant in the heart of the East Village, on the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Second Avenue.
The restaurant opened furtively in July, then closed again, then opened again, and then closed. Sometimes it was serving a limited menu, sometimes just drinks. It was hard to pin down.
I went to the opening party in July, stopped in at another time for a drink, and last Friday as I walked by a little after 8 p.m. it looked like it might be open, and possibly even serving food. Indeed it was.
Here’s the thing about the food at Kurve: It’s well thought out and quite creative (I am, of course, biased, as Andy is a friend of mine), but much like the restaurant itself, I wonder if it belongs where it is.
Because Kurve feels like a club, and the food is intellectual, and not just intellectual but intellectual for people who get Thai food.
Take the “salmon-wrapped larb duck.” Larb (or laab, as I prefer to spell it), is a highly seasoned northeastern Thai dish of minced meat with spices, herbs and khao khua, or crushed roasted rice. This particular version doesn’t taste right (or grom glohm, as Thais say it — meaning all of the flavors blend together and are well balanced) unless you eat it with the salmon — wild king salmon, which is all that Andy uses at Kurve. The salmon adds an unctuousness that doesn’t really belong in laab, but that I thought worked in this variation of it. It’s sort of like what I hear Alan Wong does with Hawaiian food: He’ll take classic loco moco or a plate lunch and serve it as an upscale joke that locals appreciate.
I also had what the menu called "Thai risotto" with kurobuta pork belly, but it was really more what Thais would call joke (pronounced just like the English word for something funny) and that Malaysians, Singaporeans and quite a few Americans would call congee, a thick rice porridge. Kurve’s is made, quite unusually, with both jasmine rice and sticky rice. The belly is topped with ginger, scallions and other aromatics that you would put in congee. Break up the belly and mix it all up, and it tastes like a good joke. Otherwise, it’s a belly surrounded by rice goo. People who don’t know congee won’t get it.
Andy also sent out some appetizers, including skewers of tender kurobuta shoulder with a fairly typical vinegar-chile dipping sauce, and "crispy salmon cups" which were a combination of two classic Thai snacks. Those cups will likely amuse Andy’s Thai guests.
I wonder if the food at Kurve is intended for white folks, or if the setting is intended for the East Village’s typical denizens. Most of the people in the restaurant on Friday (it started to fill up at around 10 p.m.) were Asians, part of a private party. I think they were speaking some sort of southern Chinese dialect, like Cantonese or Hokkien, but I couldn’t really tell. Others appeared to be visiting from Murray Hill.
Everyone working at Kurve is wearing old-style hats, like the one you see Andy wearing here on the right. He said this was meant to imply an old-school style of service to go with the old fashioned drinks that are being served at the bar.
But the drinks — a Piña Colada with hand crushed pineapple, a ginger Caipirinha, a chile Margarita, all developed, so I’m told, by Sasha Petraske — aren’t old fashioned, and even if they were, what do hats have to do with it?
The hats are kind of cute, though. If nothing else, they have curves.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Adrià launches a book, I eat derivative Thai food

October 10

I’m told that Corton, Drew Nieporent’s new restaurant with chef Paul Liebrandt, is superb. I was told that by Drew, who might not be the objective source, but who is objective when it comes to food?
The restaurant’s business card is certainly elegant. Plain white, or possibly eggshell, with "CORTON" written in a clean, medium-green sans-serif font. Very nice.
Drew handed it to me as I arrived at the most A-list party I’ve been to in awhile, the launch of Ferran Adrià’s new book.
The event was held in a private room at Per Se, which of course implies A-list, but I don’t know — there was something about the lighting or the way the servers were dressed or the fact that they were serving not just white cava but rosé that made it feel almost intimidatingly so. I shared this observation with Little Owl chef Joey Campanaro and then with James Oliver Cury, the executive editor of, but they didn’t give me an adequate explanation.
“The lighting” offered my friend Yishane Lee, who was there as a gues of her friend Riza, who works for Vogue. We stood around and drank both colors of cava and I told her who everyone at the party was — well, not everyone, I didn’t know everyone. But people were there from Food & Wine and Good Housekeeping and Food Arts and The New York Times Book Review and Martha Stewart.
Herself was there, too, I later learned from my new Twitter friend Mark Tafoya, who has posted posted pictures on his facebook page.
He also did a video.
So that was fun and the food was good — foie gras with apple gelée and fennel pollen, José Andres’s interpretation of a cheesesteak (beef and a whisper of cheese in an almost impossibly light pastry, topped with truffle shavings), Señor Adrià’s offering: a drop of encapsulated seasoned olive oil with a bit of gold leaf sticking out of it. The publisher, and then the host (Thomas Keller) gave brief speeches and then the author spoke briefly, I think in Catalan, because it didn’t really sound like Spanish. He actually started with two words in English: “Good night.” He meant “good evening,” of course, so it’s probably just as well that he continued in Catalan.
Anyway, I promised Dallas-based publicist Jeffrey Yarbrough that I’d go to his party at Highline, a Thai restaurant I’d never heard of on the outskirts of the Meatpacking District that’s owned by the same people who own Peep and SEA and a bunch of other highy-stylized restaurants serving Thai food toned down for New York tastes.
So I hopped in a taxi and tried to talk to the restaurant’s owners about Thai politics, which are just a freaking mess at the moment, but they said that I probably knew more about it than they did, so we talked about food.
As I said, these guys don’t claim any authenticity, but they still added kapi, a funky fermented shrimp paste, to the fried rice, which left a guy from Wine Spectator slightly befuddled.
The desserts actually were interesting, in that Asian desserts, in my opinion, generally suck, but these both tasted distinctly Thai, but also good, like a sort of jasmine-infused panna cotta, and Thai iced tea ice cream.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Twitter and other things I don’t understand

October 8

When did it become okay to make uninvited physical contact with people, even in a crowded place, and not acknowledge that you’ve done so? I’m not asking for cash compensation, just an “excuse me” or a “sorry.” Even a single-syllable “oops.”
There are exceptions. If you want to get past someone in a crowded space, especially a loud one, a gentle hand on the upper back or shoulder is an acceptable form of communication. It should be responded to by trying to move out of the way when it’s convenient to do so.
People do it on subways (acknowledge that they’ve touched you, that is). Recently even a neighbor’s three-year old, who accidentally reached up and smacked me in the leg as we were entering our building, apologized, and I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn — Spoiled-Child Central.
But not last night at the opening of M by Megu, a new bar upstairs at that restaurant’s Tribeca location. It was one of those velvet rope paparazzi parties and I guess the people who got there right before I did were famous — pop stars or reality TV show people or models or someone from another genre I don’t follow — because they posed for the photographers who eagerly snapped away.
One of the publicists offered to pose with me, which was nice, but I declined. If paparazzi don’t want my picture then I’m not going to give it to them.
Inside the party was just 15 minutes old, but it was already loud and crowded, which is of course what you’d expect.
I asked the bartender to make me something that was easy for her.
“Fruity or not?” she asked.
“Not,” I said, and she made me a saketini garnished with cucumber.
Then I tried to move away from the bar to let others get drinks, and a woman with her back to me blocked my way.
I tried the hand-on-the-shoulder trick, but she ignored me, perhaps because she was so accustomed to people touching her uninvited. So I squeezed by as nicely as I could, apologized and proceeded to get hit by ladies’ purses and body-checked by people who didn’t seem to notice that I was there. One woman, trying to show the stain on her beige top caused clearly by a splashed pomegranate Martini, extended her arm right into my chest, and then just left it there as if I didn’t exist.
I guess it’s just normal these days. A couple of weeks ago I went with my friend Andy Battaglia and his baby brother Jeff to a show at the new Chinatown club Santos Party House, where two of Andy’s favorite German techno/house DJs, Michael Mayer and Superpitcher were performing.
Little Jeff (actually, he’s several inches taller than Andy and built like the ex-fraternity, golf-playing guy that he is, whereas Andy looks like the cerebral music critic that he is) is in fact the CFO of a financial services firm — one that doesn’t trade in mortgage-backed securities, by the way — so I didn’t argue with him when he paid for the taxi ride home.
He’s just 30 years old.
Anyway, even before the headliners started people were walking through each other like they couldn’t see, and they all seemed to think it was perfectly normal. One guy, clearly in a different-from-usual state due to hallucinogens and/or stimulants, barreled right through me on the way to the bar, so I asked Andy if I could beat him up.
Andy shook his head.
“He’s pretty messed up,” I said. “I bet I could take him.”
Andy told me not to.
“What if I asked Jeff?”
He shrugged his shoulders. I decided not to bother.
Santos was a lot of fun, and the sound system was so good that the music made my whole body tingle without harming my ears. It was like being a baby in one of those vibrating chairs. Andy assured me it wouldn’t make me sterile.
For a club, Santos had an unusually good beer-on-tap selection. Stella Artois, of course, for Jeff and other Wall Street types (or to be fair, anyone who likes a mild lager), Guinness for the slightly more edgy, a hoppy Six-Point for snobs like me who like pretentious, bitter beer, preferably from a local microbrewery, and something I didn’t recognize and couldn’t read on the tap.
I asked the bartender about it. He said he had no idea what it was and poured me a taste. It was dark, but not as dark as Guinness.
I later asked a different bartender, and she didn’t know what it was either. Apparently they’d just added it and I guess no one had asked about it yet.
So I called them the next day. Turns out it was from a Pennsylvania craft brewery called Tröegs.
So that was good to know.
Earlier that same night, at a somewhat strange Scotch-tasting event I might get to describing some other time, I asked Andy, Jeff and Andy’s friend Dan Foster, a former intern of his, if they understood this thing Twitter and why people would want to read very brief updates about what a bunch of people were doing.
They didn’t.
Now that I’ve been tweeting (apparently that’s what it’s called) for awhile, I get it to a point. I understand why I’d want to be updated on what food trucks are in my neighborhood for lunch today, and I guess I even understand why I’d like to hear litte musings from good friends of mine. Especially since I have unusually poetic friends, like Craig Stuart, who keeps us up-to-date with his observations, like “1990s white BMW with wide center, red racing stripe down hood and roof, and Tintin image painted on side door, at Hayes and Buchanan.”
He’s a Sagittarius.
Anyway, my marketing people want me to tweet for this blog and see if it will drive traffic. And indeed it is driving a little bit of traffic.
(sign up here, if you want).
Speaking of Andy’s interns, I met another one last night at the opening of Naya, a new, rather high-end Lebanese place not far from my office. Young Paul Caine, who also is an intern at Eater, was talking to my friend Akiko Katayama. He thinks Andy’s awesome, which of course he is.
Apart from interning at two fine publications, Paul also works at a restaurant. He’s quite the go-getter, and kind of looks like Andy, actually.
Then consultant and former restaurateur Rita Jammet arrived and we eventually found our way to the back of the restaurant and hung out with the place’s owner Hady Kfoury, François Payard, with whom Hady used to work, and later on Todd English and Sam Hazen.
Rita and Hady had plenty to talk about, as they both grew up in Lebanon.
Sam, as you might know but I didn’t, because I don’t read Grub Street closely enough, recently left his job at Tao to become Todd’s corporate chef.
François expressed good-natured disappointment that I was so uninformed.
“You should read the papers,” he said.
From Naya I went to M by Megu, got jostled and chatted with freelance writer Jean Tang, among others, including a former server at Morimoto who now works at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new soba place, Matsugen, which is just around the corner from Megu.
I snacked fairly well on three types of kibbeh as well as hummus, falafel and cheese pastries at Naya, and I had a bit of sushi at M by Megu, but soba still sounded good. So I slipped out and popped into Matsugen, whose kitchen had just closed, it being just after 11pm. I still stayed for a drink, though. I had a Moskomur — clearly a Moskow Mule (vodka, ginger beer, lime, mint, simple syrup) with a Japanese accent. It was made with vodka, ginger juice and shiso.

Calorie quiz

October 8

I decided to play around with the survey gadget here at blogger, although I'm using it as a quiz to see how many people can guess which chain restaurant items have more calories. Here in New York that information is posted on menus and menu boards (of restaurants with 15 or more units nationwide), and I've found the results surprising.
I'll give you the answer to the first quiz in a week or so.

Update, October 15

This is how people voted when asked which Starbucks Item is more fattening:

Pumkin Scone: 19 (76%)
Old fashioned glazed donut: 6 (24%)
In fact, according to the labels at Starbucks, they’re close, but a pumpkin scone has 500 calories and a donut has 480.

Monday, October 06, 2008

a better word for lard

October 6

I have to remember to send Kevin McKay my copy of Food in History by Reay Tannahill. Kevin, our guitar playing bourbon aficionado who sells ads for Nation’s Restaurant News in the Midwest, is something of a renaissance man, and he wants to expand his horizons with better knowledge of food culture.
Having read this blog, Kevin told me he’d be dead if he ate and drank as much as I do. I don’t think he intended it as a compliment, but I don’t think he meant it as an insult, either. I also don’t think it’s true, as Kevin has four kids all under the age of seven, which I think means he’s immortal.
I mean that as a compliment.
I hung out with Kevin, John Krueger (John’s a Cubs fan; feel sorry for him) and other NRN ad sales people over the weekend in Charlotte, N.C., during our annual Culinary R&D conference, and also with our event planning staff — mostly Jesse Parziale (who has three young kids — Dylan, Lauren and Ethan) and Adam Cardona, who I don't think has any kids.
But mostly I spent time with chain restaurant chefs, a fascinating group of people who basically feed America. I mean, wouldn’t you like to know the guy who developed the chicken Whopper? The genius who invented snack wraps? The man in charge of developing the latest iteration of the Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity breakfast?
Those are the types of people who come to this conference (although Burger King and McDonald’s were absent this year). Old hands at the conference, like Adam Baird of Mimi’s Café, Carron Harris of Buca di Beppo, Debra Olson of Golden Corral and David Groll of McAlister’s Deli, were joined by newbies, such as Trevor Wilson from Sonic and Pierluigi Trotta, who is in charge of R&D for the 296 restaurants of Rosinter, a company in Moscow that operates a bunch of different concepts, including TGI Friday’s for which it is the franchisee for Russia and Eastern Europe. Nice guy. Found out about the conference through Google.
I was actually in town a day early, because I was moderating a four-hour-long roundtable discussion on health and nutrition with half a dozen corporate R&D people. That might sound deadly-boring, but instead of thinking of it as being trapped in a room all afternoon, think of it as spending time in interesting conversation discussing relevant topics with people who know a lot about it. It's actually almost fun. It also meant that I had time the night before to sample local Charlotte cuisine, which I did at Mert's Heart and Soul, where I had pulled pork, Charleston rice, collard greens, corn bread and sweet potato cake.
The conference itself was awesome — put together by restaurant industry genius Nancy Kruse and our own event-planning maven Monique Monaco. Of course, what else am I going to write in my work blog but that the people I work with are terrific. But they really are. Nancy is great at condensing all of the data about the restaurant industry that she has at her fingertips, and Monique’s events always run like clockwork. I often feel kind of smug when I go to other organizations’ events as they veer off schedule or teeter on the brink of boringness (or fall right off the edge, and I could name names, believe me).
“That’s not how Monique does it,” I want to say.
One of the highlights was a presentation by cereal genius Shirley Corriher, who demonstrated how to make great biscuits while chatting away breezily about the challenges of gauging protein content in flour and other things.
Someone asked her about trans fats, and what would be a suitable fat to use in its place.
“Lard,” she said, without hesitation, pointing out that, apart from making delicious biscuits, it was high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and was more healthful than butter. She also chuckled at people who were concerned about monoglycerides and diglycerides — naturally occurring substances that can be found in all sorts of nice things, including olive oil
“So get over it!” she said.
The discussion of lard continued that night at Arpa, a tapas place owned by the local Harper’s group, where a corporate chef at a southern chain was hoping to figure out a more consumer-friendly word for lard, which she would love to use in her biscuits. We couldn’t think of anything good. Later on, I thought up ”bacon shortening,“ but your suggestions are welcome.
We’ll be assembling our coverage of the conference soon, so stay tuned to for more details. You might even consider subscribing if you don’t already.

Industry PSAs

October 6

A couple of public service announcements:
First, for anyone looking for restaurant equipment, or looking to sell some, NRN has soft-launched a web site to link buyers and sellers. Check out Anything 4 Restaurants. Your feedback is welcome.

Secondly, for New Yorkers in the foodservice industry, Aureole has a special for you in advance of its move to its new Bryant Park location next spring.
Every Monday, the restaurant is offering a five-course tasting menu for $45. Some specially priced wines will be available, or if you prefer to bring your own, the corkage fee will be waived.
For obvious reasons, Aureole asks that managers make reservations for their staff (or for themselves) and identify them as being in the business, and that they make the reservations by end of service on Friday.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The New York Sun newspaper has folded

October 1

When a newspaper’s name is a heavenly body, it’s so easy to make puns about it. In this case, the fact that the Sun stopped printing after September 30 was described mostly as the “Setting of the Sun.” But here at Nation’s Restaurant News when a company fails, we avoid humorous headlines, because people are losing jobs, and that’s not funny.
Then again, most people I heard, or read, use that “setting” turn of phrase meant it sympathetically. It was simply the easiest way to describe it. In fact, a bunch of Sun staffers and freelancers are having a sun-set watching party this Friday to say goodbye. I won’t be there, though, because I’m in Charlotte.
So The Sun’s gone (I said that last night to publicist Katherine Bryant, with whom I was dining at Apiary, and at first she thought I was trying to be poetic in describing the fact that it was nighttime), and with it my column, Kitchen Dish.
It’s a great name, isn’t it? Pia Catton, the Sun’s culture editor, the one in charge of creating that whole great section, thought it up back when she was food editor.
I enjoyed the extra money (it wasn’t much, but I got it every week), and I enjoyed being part of the restaurant-opening dialog that so many New Yorkers take so seriously, but I’m not one of those New Yorkers who take it so seriously, and frankly I’m happy not to have to worry about every damn cupcake shop and burger stand that opens for business. I’m happy not to get grief because the Times broke the news about a new branch of an overrated dessert store before I did and then to have to listen to the store’s publicists’ lame excuses (“oh gosh, I don’t know how you weren’t on that e-mail list...”).
With all there is to discuss about food in America, what new restaurant is opening is far from the most interesting. It probably doesn’t make the top ten.
Even so, I broke a fair number of stories in my little column, even though it was something I did in my spare time, and that’s because I’m a truly excellent journalist.

Just kidding. It’s mostly because New York is a vast city with enough news for everyone if you just get out and pay attention, and because, since I work for the trade press, I move in slightly different circles from most other food writers.
And it’s also because the Sun’s editors (some more than others, it’s true) valued finding offbeat information that wasn’t being covered by everyone else. That, as Pia explained it to me shortly after the paper was launched, was its goal — to create a place for intelligent thought that wasn’t The New York Times.
I loved the idea because the Times doesn’t have all the news that’s fit to print, not by a long-shot. As my friend Susie Park once said, “The Times is a good newspaper, but a bad religion.” Unfortunately, it is the religion of many New Yorkers, and that’s no way to run any society.
So it was good to have a different voice out there. I mean, the news and editorial sections were quite a bit farther to the right than I am, but journalists usually lean to the political left of their bosses, if for no other reason than because they have less money.
But of course there are other voices out there — a number of other daily newspapers based in New York or nearby, a hefty supply of weeklies and, of course, in this electronic age, more information, opinion and commentary — ranging from brilliant to just plain stupid — than any of us can handle.
Still, it’s sad to see a newspaper fold. Thanks to the writers who have said nice things about Kitchen Dish. I’m so grateful I think I’ll link to some of them:
Grub Street
Robert Simonson
A few people have asked if Kitchen Dish will find a new home. It will not (unless I get a really good offer, of course — I mean, I’m not stupid), but I will continue to break what news comes my way here and at
One more reason Kitchen Dish’s demise will ease some pressure from me: The Sun used serial commas and didn’t allow contractions, NRN doesn’t use serial commas and uses contractions all the time. It was like switching from American to British English.

Chris Cheung on the move again

October 1

Remember Chris Cheung, recently of Monkey Bar until the Glazier Group sold it? Well, it turns out he’s a neighbor. I ran into him while I was running some pre-flight errands before leaving for Charlotte for Nation’s Restaurant News’ Culinary R&D conference. He says he’s not with the Glazier Group anymore. He is in talks to join another restaurant group, but he wouldn’t start until December, so he’s headed for Shanghai. His wife is from the area, so he’s going to visit her village as well as the giant metropolis, expand his flavor palette and generally enrich himself.
Obviously, I wish him the best of luck.
I’d better pack.