Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Free lunch

December 29

It turns out that I have one more blog entry to make this year, to let you know about a free lunch tomorrow at Rhong Tiam East, formerly known as Kurve. That's 87 2nd Ave., at the northwest corner of 5th St.

Chef-owner Andy Yang is promoting his rendang. That's actually an Indonesian dish, but Andy tells me it's made in Thailand, too, where it's called panang neua toon. It's a rich, dark brown curry that should be appropriate for the blustery cold day that Wednesday the 30th promises to be.

Andy's using his grandmother's recipe and serving it with either flat wide noodles called sen yai or the Thai version of ramen, called ba mee.

Rendang is traditionally made with beef, but Andy's serving it with either beef of chicken. As I said, it's free tomorrow, from noon to 3. Every day after that it's $4.95.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

trying for a better decade

December 23

I have a feeling I’m not going to have much to report to you for the rest of the year. I’m lying low for Christmas and still waiting to see what materializes for New Year's Eve.

I rarely plan in advance for New Year's Eve, because that inevitably raises expectations and usually results in disappointment. Last minute invitations generally find their way to me around December 28, and if they don't, well, I’m happy to spend the holiday quietly at home, avoiding the amateurs who crowd the restaurants and bars that night — people who don’t go out much and don’t know how to drink properly or, really, behave in public generally. You see them in restaurants on Valentine’s Day, too.

The last time I tried to make plans in advance for New Year’s Eve was in 1999, because, you know, that was kind of a big deal, it being the end of the millennium and all (I know, technically the millennium ended in December of 2000, but you know what I mean).

I failed. My friends, turned off by all the hype, were mostly planning quiet affairs at home. So I made myself prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and asparagus and planned to enjoy myself that way, when I got phone calls from two friends, separately, who had suddenly popped up in the city, and, after I finished my dinner, I ended up party hopping with them. They were Thomas Crampton, who if memory serves was working for The International Herald Tribune and doing a stint at a sister publication called The New York Times, and Craig Stuart, who at the time was in business school at Yale and dating Susan Kim, who is now Susan Kim-Stuart, and Craig is a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank. I’m so proud.

It was a good evening.

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that New Year's Eve of 1999 was a big bust for the hospitality industry, which had, for the most part, jacked up prices in anticipation of revelers feeling obligated to pull out the stops for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration opportunity.

Well, the American public quietly and non-confrontationally rebelled. Instead of doing what was expected, like they do on most Valentine’s Days and New Year's Eves, they said, “Screw you, we are not paying $1,000 per person for dinner,” and stayed home.

I’d never seen a consumer rebellion like that before, and I haven’t seen one since.

Some restaurant operators I spoke to afterwards blamed all the hype about Y2K (remember that?) for people staying home, but I think they were just fed up with the obvious greed of the restaurants, hotels and bars where they otherwise would have celebrated. It was just too much.

That was ten years ago, and since then, well, I, personally, have had a great decade, but from 9/11 to the economic collapse and every lousy piece of garbage in between — war, hurricanes, tsunamis — so far the 21st Century has been lousy.

And here’s something weird: We have yet to pick a name for this decade. I think we all figured that some name would emerge. The leading candidate seems to be “the aughts,” or possibly “the naughts,” although both of those seem so early 20th Century. “The naughties” has been suggested, and “the oughties,” and we'll see if either one of those takes.

The TV show Futurama refers to this period, broadly, as The Stupid Ages, and, frankly, that works for me.

Let's hope the teens are better.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Latkes and Bones

December 13

[update June 2, 2011: a new latke recipe can be found at the bottom of this entry]

I’m sort of on vacation in Denver (sort of, because I’m also working on stories on chili and on likely food trends in 2010, and keeping my blog up to date).

I like to travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because it’s a lot easier than traveling during those holidays. Technically, I’m also here, visiting family, during Chanukah, so I made latkes for the first time in about 15 years.

Latkes are the traditional Chanukah food of East European Jews. They're potato pancakes, preferably fried in a lot of oil.

Because Chanukah is the celebration of the Jews’ successful guerrilla war against the forces of the Seleucids, who inherited a big chunk of the Middle East from Alexander the Great. A military victory is not considered a suitable reason for a religious holiday, so instead we celebrate what seems to me to be a very minor miracle involving oil (sanctified oil used to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple) that lasted a lot longer than expected.

Chanukah is often called the festival of lights, but as a food person I like to think of it as the festival of oil.

The best latkes I’ve ever had were technically platski, which is what Poles call them. I had them at Lomzynianka in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint.

I e-mailed the restaurant, asking how they made them, but I didn’t hear back, so I used the recipe I’ve been using since I was probably 12 years old, which I learned from Bobbie Towbin around then.

It’s very simple.

In a food processor, purée together one peeled white or yellow onion for every two large potatoes. Season with salt. Spoon into hot oil and fry. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.

This time I drained the mixture first. The latkes were nice and crispy, but they weren’t fantastic. I think they need work.

I think next time I might spread the purée on wax paper or parchment paper, freeze it in sheets and then slice it into latke-sized pieces for better consistency in shape and thickness, and ease in dropping them into hot oil.

I haven’t eaten out much on this trip, although I did go to Bones with my old friend Ben Weinberg. Bones is the nickname of chef Frank Bonanno, who also owns Mizuna, Luca D’Itlaia and Osteria Marco.

Bones is an Asian-ish place, focusing on noodles. I think I’d place it in that not-yet-defined restaurant category of fast-fine: Top-notch food, reasonably priced in a setting that lets you get in and out quickly. Some trend spotters see that type of dining as the future of fine dining in America (not that white tablecloth restaurants will go away, but there will be fewer of them).

What we ate and drank:

black cod tempura
steamed pork belly buns
udon with slow-cooked pork shoulder from Salmon Creek Farms, topped with a poached egg
ba mee with roasted spaghetti squash, mustard greens and horseradish mascarpone cream
2008 Infinite Monkey Riesling (Denver)
I also got an order of escargot pot stickers to take home to Mom.

[update, June 2, 2011, below]:

I got an e-mail from Bobbie Towbin awhile back, who said my recipe was incomplete and inaccurate.
I have finally pasted her full recipe below.
I have no recollection of ever following this recipe as a kid when we made latkes with Bobbie in Hebrew school, but maybe she secretly slipped in some of the ingredients. More likely, I wasn't paying attention:

2 very large potatoes
1/3 medium yellow onion
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sugar

Chop 1 potato in Cuisinart medium fine with 1 egg and onion.
Put second potato through Cuisinart grater
Mix all together with seasoning
Heat oil and drop mixture from mixing spoon into frying pan.
Fry until brown and crisp.
Don't drain the potatoes until they become too watery at the  

end, you lose too much of the potato starch if you drain them initially.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Predicting the future

December 10

The results of my marijuana poll are in. There were 27 responses from 20 people, because I let people pick more than one answer.

Nearly half of people responding to my poll asking how they thought legalizing marijuana would affect restaurants said it would have no affect, presumably based on the assumption that people who want to use marijuana already do.
The next biggest group, 40 percent, thought legal pot would increase restaurant revenues due to customers getting the munchies. The rest of the results are below. If you'd like to see respondents' written comments, click here.

How would legalizing marijuana affect restaurants?

increase revenues due to customers getting the munchies: 8 (40%)

increase the number of back-of-the-house injuries: 3 (15%)

result in chronic absenteeism: 1 (5%)

improve job satisfaction: 4 (20%)

benefit the pot-themed Cheba Hut "Toasted" Sub chain: 3 (15%)

hurt Cheba Hut: 0 (0%)

have no effect: 9 (45 %)

For my next poll (above right), I'm going to ask you to predict what the driving factors will be in foodservice trends in 2010.
As always, feel free to comment below.

Elevation Burger a step closer to opening in New York

December 10

I mentioned awhile back that Elevation Burger, a chain serving grass-fed beef and olive oil fries, had plans for opening in New York City.
Well, they finally signed a lease, at 103 W. 14th St., next to 7-Eleven's new flagship location in the city.
They hope to open in May.
The 1,900-square-foot restaurant is expected to seat 50-60 people inside and it also will have an outdoor seating area.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

December 9

New York’s a great city on so many levels, and it’s romantic, too. So get ready this Valentine’s Day weekend for a big food writers' conference at the Roger Smith Hotel. I'll be on two panels, one on food writing in magazines, and one on food writing in blogs and such.
The conference web site says those panels are running concurrently, so I’m not exactly sure how that will work, but conference organizer Andy Smith is a very capable man. I’m sure he’ll figure it out.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

News from Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Columbus Circle

December 8

I'm in Denver at the moment, and I'd tell you all about what's going on in the Mile High City, but it’s 4° outside right now, so I haven't been wandering the streets exploring as is my wont.

Instead I’ve been working, researching and generally learning things, some of which I’d like to share with you, dear reader:

1) Poor Prospect Lefferts Gardens! It has lost one of its only full-service restaurants. My friend Milford Prewitt reports on the closing of Fly Fish:

“When it opened, it was named Billy Sunday's Barbecue, but I pointed out to them that Billy Sunday was a kind of Rush Limbaugh evangelistic preacher back during the Depression days who was racist and used the then-new technology of radio to rant and rail against blacks and immigrants with the Bible for support. He used a tent to feed barbecue to his flock after a sermon.

"So they changed the name to Whisky Sunday and that did no better.

"Finally they got out of the barbecue biz, rebranded the whole concept into a New Orleans-style deep-fried fish and chicken shack called Fly Fish."

But alas, some issue having to do with rent meant it shut its doors for good last Thursday, and, Milford tells me, will likely lie fallow through the winter.

Enduro, next door, is still doing very well.

2) If you follow, um, news, you’ve likely heard that AOL and Time Warner are parting ways because the plan for AOL to use its distribution network to broadcast content provided by Time didn’t pan out.

But the news is not all bad for those of us in the world of food writing.

AOL is working on developing content of its own, and that includes food. They’ve brought on Cheryl Brown, quite recently of Gourmet, as food director and, from what I hear, she has brought on a bunch of the people from the former Gourmet test kitchen to do some freelance work at AOL.

That’s nice.

Friday, December 04, 2009

My week on the Lower East Side

December 4

It’s been a good week, not least because I got to chat with Brad Farmerie. Twice.

Brad is the warm and gracious chef of Public (and the adjacent Monday Room) and Double Crown. I first saw him at the first anniversary of Shang, Sino-Canadian chef Susur Lee’s restaurant at the Thompson LES hotel.

I hadn’t made it to Shang before, and the space wasn’t what I’d expected. It has a cavernous industrial looking lounge with lots of concrete. I think I’d imagined something sleeker and faux-Asian in dark lacquered wood like at Kittichai (faux because in all my years in Asia I’ve never seen anything designed that way — the closest to it being the Sukhothai hotel in Bangkok, which I think is beautiful).

The party had a good and eclectic turnout that included cookbook writers and journalists, bloggers and chefs, restaurateurs and radio personalities.

Okay, one radio personality that I know of — Leonard Lopate — whom I greeted while he and Drew Nieporent were catching up.

Among the chefs were Anita Lo and Seamus Mullen. Seamus greeted Brad with a warm but intense two-handed grab of the back of his neck. I’d never seen that before.

I’m guessing that Brad and Seamus bonded when they were contestants on The Next Iron Chef. I spoke with Brad about that a bit. He seemed to have just a hint of post-reality-TV ennui — wondering why he put himself through all of that, but maybe I’m imagining it. He did say that the winner, Jose Garces, was a great guy.

I ended up falling in with the New York Post’s Carla Spartos and her colleague Julie Frady. Julie mostly does layout, but she did think up the headline that the Post used when Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face while quail hunting: “The Buckshot’s Here.”

Oh, I do love Post headlines.

The celebration started late for a sit-down dinner — cocktails at 8, dinner at 9 — especially since they had many more guests than they had seats, so the dining was staggered.

I wasn’t really paying attention; I was talking to food writers Francine Cohen and Nancy Davidson when I was grabbed by one of the hosts and seated between Carla and Julie.

It was fun.

I had been wondering about the restaurant’s name. Shang, and the Chinese character in the restaurant’s logo, means “on” or “above” or ”high” or similar things. It’s the first character of the word Shanghai, which means ”on the sea.”

I asked Susur about that when he stopped by our table, and he said his intention had been for Shang to be a step up from his other restaurants. He said that, in fact, it turned out to be a step down from them.

I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but it seemed refreshingly honest.

Less than 24-hours later I was back on the Lower East Side at the relaunch party of Kampuchea, which has expanded and is now a dual concept place — one with slightly haute Cambodianish cuisine, and the other, in back, is called "The Norry at Kampuchea." A Norry is apparently a type of primitive Cambodian train made of bamboo, and that part of the restaurant is a cocktail-and-handheld-food venue.

Brad Farmerie was there, too, and so was his brother Adam, whom I’d never met before. Adam’s the co-founder of AvroKO, the design firm that owns Public (and the adjacent Monday Room) and Double Crown and designs other places. Their family resemblance is slight, most pronounced in their very straight noses.

What I ate at Shang (apart from assorted sushi during the cocktail hour):

assorted cold platter with aromatic duck, beef tongue, octopus and pig ear foie gras (I think I had that last item and I’m still not altogether sure what it is; I’m glad that I like mysteries)

crispy oysters with yuzu-smoked chile sauce and citrus

vegetable chop chop lettuce wrap with almonds

crispy Canton chicken with sweet & sour sauce and shrimp chips

caramelized black cod with Asian preserved vegetables, miso mustard and salmon roe

Mongolian braised leg of lamb and lamb chops with lotus crêpes, tomato jam and chutneys

pearl noodles with Hong Kong XO sauce

Monday, November 30, 2009

Legal pot: Kind for restaurant sales or cause of chronic absenteeism?

November 30

There was an interesting article in last Monday’s Washington Post, saying that support for legalization of marijuana is growing rapidly in the United States.

It took the Great Depression to repeal the prohibition of alcohol (the 76th anniversary of that is being celebrated this coming weekend in what has become a sort of holiday in the mixology world). Will our current economic crisis lead to the legalization of another substance that is used widely by Americans to relieve stress? The tax revenues alone would be enormous.

Obviously, we at Nation’s Restaurant News like to look at this from the restaurateurs’ perspective.

And so I would like to ask you how you think legalization of marijuana would affect the restaurant world.

Please participate in the poll (you can choose multiple answers), comment below or do both.

Glad tidings from Hawaii

November 30

Our loss is Honolulu’s gain. Johan Svensson, who until recently was executive chef at Aquavit, has moved to Hawaii.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about because you thought celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson was executive chef of Aquavit, Samuelsson is chef-owner of Aquavit and hasn’t been executive chef there for years. He does spend a fair amount of time there, though; Nation’s Restaurant News’ offices are across the street, so I meet people there for drinks with some frequency, and Samuelsson often comes out to say hello.

But of course he can’t be there all the time. Sometimes he’s busy cooking state dinners at the White House, or otherwise occupied as a celebrity. It happens.

Johan was the opening executive chef of Riingo, which is under the same ownership as Aquavit, and he became Aquavit’s executive chef after Nils Noren left that position to work at the French Culinary Institute.

But he is moving to sunny, sunny Honolulu to work for the BLT Steak scheduled to open on Waikiki at the new Trump International Hotel & Tower there.

Details (like exactly what his job is there) haven’t been confirmed, but I’ll write up a news item on that for NRN once they have been.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Marcus Jernmark, who started working at Aquavit in August as a sous-chef, is running the kitchen for the time being.

This particular Marcus is no slouch, either, having recently worked at the residence of Sweden’s consul-general in New York, but. management still seems to be looking for someone to fill the position permanently.

At any rate, congratulations all-around.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

split decision

November 25

Thank you, one and all, for participating in my poll on mandated sick leave.
Forty-five percent of respondents said it would significantly increase restaurants’ operating costs. Another 45 percent said it would make no difference, and one person said it would significantly decrease operating costs. Since only 11 people participated in the poll, however, that one person accounted for 9 percent of total votes.
Of more interest, I think, were the insightful comments this blog's readers made. You you can look at or add to them here.
Machinations are underway for a new poll on Monday. It should be a doozy, so stay tuned.


significantly increase operating costs 5 (45%)

significantly decrease operating costs 1 (9%)

make no difference 5 (45%)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kurve unkurving

November 20

On Monday Pichet Ong was busily plating yuzu cheesecake and jackfruit cake and passing out peanut butter cookies at a press event for his new dessert venture on St. Mark's Place with Michael Bao Huynh, called Spot, when ponytailed Andy Yang walked in and started telling me about new activities in his world.

Andy’s the owner of Rhong Tiam, my favorite Thai restaurant in the city and the recipient of a Michelin star (something that improved my opinion of the tire company’s New York guide considerably). He’s also the owner of one of Eater.com’s favorite punching bags, Kurve.

Rhong Tiam serves quite traditional Thai food, with an occasional Indonesian dish such as rendang dropped in here and there, the spice toned down to suit the New York palate. Kurve, on the other hand, was Andy’s attempt at a sort of nouvelle Thai, which I enjoyed, but I guess it was too high-concept for people not so familiar with Thai food (I wrote about all of that in more detail than necessary awhile back).
Pichet did the desserts there, by the way.

Anyway, Kurve is finally giving up the ghost, soon to be reborn as another Rhong Tiam.

But that’s not all. Andy’s also working with the people at Collective Hardware, at Bowery and Delancey, to open a Rhong Tiam there, to be called Rhong Tiam at Collective Hardware (not a particularly imaginative name, but clear enough). He’s currently working on getting a full liquor license for that location — which will also have a rooftop bar, maybe with a celebrity cocktail maker behind the stick — and then he’ll try to get one for his original location at 541 LaGuardia Place (between Bleecker and W. 3rd), which currently just serves beer and wine.

Andy’s also expanding beyond the New York market, and opening a Rhong Tiam just outside of Princeton, N.J., in the town of Plainsboro. He says it will probably open in about a month.

After catching up with Andy and eating Pichet's desserts, I felt a need for something savory, so I walked upstairs to Pho 32 and Shabu. Pho, as you probably know, is a type of Vietnamese noodle soup. Shabu is actually shabu shabu, a sort of Japanese hot pot of thinly sliced beef.

But the menu was in English and Korean, which actually was the second indication to me that Pho 32 was a Korean chain. The first was that the instant I sat down I was presented with a cold vegetable — in this case one of those "Asian" salads with a peanut vinaigrette. The servers all wore stylized sarongs that looked basically Burmese. I’m not sure why they were wearing sarongs, but hey, if you’re a Korean chain serving Vietnamese and Japanese food, why not?

I had Pho #3, which has brisket, flank and soft tendon. I would have had a beer, but the license is pending.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Parties, and New York’s shifting food writer hierarchy

November 18

I’m not a first-tier food writer in New York City.

You probably already knew that, but if you didn’t, I hope you’re not disappointed.

Chefs tend to enjoy getting mentioned in Nation’s Restaurant News, in print or online, but, well, if Food & Wine declares you one of the year’s ten best new chefs, that’s better, by a lot.

A friend of mine who’s a restaurant manager here in the City told me recently that getting a restaurant mentioned in my blog was a good second-tier hit, which was nice of him, and generous. New York has a lot of tiers. I think I’m probably around tier number four.

That’s okay. I have enough oomph that chefs return my phone calls more often than not, and restaurateurs let me come to their parties (not to brag; that’s true at tier 6, too). And really it takes the pressure off of me. If you’re in a top tier — say a critic at the Times or New York magazine — people take your words seriously. Losing a New York Times star can cost you not only prestige, but money. Even if I were a critic I couldn’t break a place, and that’s a relief. All I can do is spread a little sunshine, or very occasionally hurt someone’s feelings.

And any commenter on Yelp! can hurt restaurateurs’ feelings. They’re sensitive.

The people at Oceana certainly had hurt feelings when I was there for lunch yesterday. New York had just given them a hostile-sounding one-star review. The restaurant had recently relocated from an upper-midtown townhouse to a giant space in the McGraw Hill building that most recently housed a Strawberries clothing store. I’m a food guy, not a décor guy, but I loved the place — big and fun like a brasserie. And it was doing a robust lunch business for a buttoned-up clientele — I was glad I’d worn a suit that day.

But New York critic Adam Platt mostly didn’t like it, and he hated the space.

The chefs and owners were obviously disappointed, but they were also nervous, because the Times was reviewing it today (turns out it got two stars, which would be nice, except until today it had three stars).

Back to the different tiers of New York food writers, I think it’s fair to say that the new Times critic, Sam Sifton, occupies the top tier by himself, and Mr. Platt is on tier 2.

Then again, maybe not. The Times remains the religion of a large group of New Yorkers, but as media outlets multiply and publishing empires crumble, there’s a fair amount of apostasy going on. How Oceana’s loss of a star — or the drubbing poor Aureole took in last week’s one-star review — will actually affect sales remains to be seen. Up until now, business at both restaurants has reportedly been good, and it hasn’t been the fickle trend lemmings filling the seats, from what I understand.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this whole tier thing had to do with some of the parties I went to last week — at the opening of Obao a food writer from one web site was just a tiny bit miffed that he wasn’t invited to Eleven Madison Park’s eleventh anniversary the night before, even though people from Eater.com had been invited.

The Eleven Madison Park party was good, but there actually wasn’t a whole lot of media there. I think most of the guests were simply good customers of the restaurant. I mostly spent the evening with my bosses, Pam Parseghian and Ellen Koteff, but I did enjoy a story from a caviar salesperson explaining how her competitors stole business from her: Their tactic was to call the restaurant on the chef’s day off and just say, “hi, I’m calling about your caviar order.”


And my friend Akiko Katayama, practiced networker that she is, introduced me to Financial Times reporter Nick Lander, who shared with me the interesting fact that, although Indian food is tremendously popular in Great Britain, it’s only popular at dinner. People don’t eat it at lunch.

The geniuses at Eleven Madison Park were waiting outside with full-on coffee service in to-go cups for people as they were leaving. This is no surprise as the place is ably led by general manager Will Guidara, who many NRN readers might be interested to know is the son of chain restaurant veteran Frank Guidara, who currently heads up Uno Chicago Grill.

Akiko also was at the opening on the following night of Obao (Michael Bao Huynh’s new place; I ate oxtail soup and crunchy pork belly cubes on skewers), which I got to late, so she was going as I was coming, because Bar Henry was opening that night, and she had a dinner to go to after that.

No, you won’t see grass growing under Akiko’s feet.

I was soon at Bar Henry, too, having taken the subway with Metromix's Alexis Loinaz and a friend of his whose name I have forgotten.

I hadn’t bothered to read anything about Bar Henry, but it was soon evident that it had a serious wine list, because high-tiered wine writer Alice Fiering was there.

Alice does not suffer fools lightly and would not set foot in a random bar opening. No way.

And soon Food & Wine’s Kate Krader was there, too.

We were drinking good wine throughout the party, but, you know, it was opening-party wine.

But they pulled out the good stuff for Alice and Kate, and soon I was enjoying a 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Hurray!

(A brief aside: Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes specifically from Avignon, which was where the head of the Catholic Church relocated for much of the 14th Century; this is easy to remember because the wine’s name means “the Pope’s new castle.”)

We had good conversation, too, although perhaps I shouldn’t have called Kate the spotted pig-lady. Really, I meant “The Spotted Pig lady,” which is to say she was a key player in garnering fame and attention for New York’s favorite gastropub, The Spotted Pig, but out of context it doesn’t sound very good.

I could also call her the Momofuku lady. Maybe I’ll do that next time.

What I ate at Oceana:

marinated oysters with cucumbers, apple and toasted spices
Taylor Bay scallops with shoyu and togarashi
a poke trio of tuna, hamachi and wild salmon
fluke tartare with cashews, mango and young coconut
snapper ceviche with roasted corn, hearts of palm and cilantro
Thai style red snapper with silk squash, jícama and kaffir lime-coconut water broth
Arctic char á la plancha with sautéed root vegetables and cranberry-apple coulis
Frozen pear chiboust with yogurt lemon grass soup and angel food cake croutons
Persimmon cake with apple sorbet
Assorted doughnuts

paid sick leave

November 18

I’m happy to report that the past 500 visitors to this blog came from 32 different U.S. states, four Canadian provinces and eight other countries, but 68 of you (that's 13.6 percent) came from New York.

So for my next poll I'd like to address an issue concerning local restaurants, that of mandated paid sick leave for workers.

The New York City Council’s considering such a measure, and so of course we at Nation’s Restaurant News are writing about it.

And one of my colleagues wants to ask you what you think.

For some background information, click here.

Pleas click what you think on the upper right hand corner of this blog, and, as always, feel free to write comments below, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Environmentalism and marketing

November 16

Oh, you cynical, cynical blog readers.

In my most recent poll I asked you to complete this sentence: “I think the main reason restaurateurs are engaging in more environmentally sound practices is...”

Seventeen percent of respondents clicked on “To save money by reducing waste.”

Another 17 percent clicked on “Because they want to help protect the environment.

And 66 percent of you clicked on “Marketing.”

What dark souls you must have.

On the other hand, it’s not like our environment has only been imperiled since Al Gore made a movie about it. I was writing about global warming in college, in the late 1980s. Air and water pollution? Tom Lehrer was singing about it in the 1960s.

The first Earth Day was in 1970.

What has changed? Now environmentalism is cool.

So I guess you have a point.

I’m afraid I don’t have another poll ready for you, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maialino opens tomorrow

November 10

Danny Meyer's much-anticipated Roman trattoria at Ian Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel opens tomorrow, according to a press release that landed in my e-mail box at 2:40 p.m. Reservations (212-777-2410) will be limited, initially, though walk-ins are welcome. The restaurant will only be serving dinner for the next couple of weeks, but management plans to start serving breakfast in December, and lunch in January.

But of course it all depends. Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group is perhaps the most respected restaurant company in New York — possibly even in the country — but I don't know of any opening it's had without a glitch or two. The genius of the company is that it sees the hiccups and fixes them in short order.

The chef is Nick Anderer, a veteran of Danny Meyer's organization, having most recently cooked at Gramercy Tavern (for the past six years). Before that he worked in Milan at San Giorgio et il Drago, and before that he was at Mario Batali's flagship, Babbo (and made it into Heat, Bill Buford’s book about cooking there). He also worked under local-seasonal pioneer Larry Forgione.

General manager Terry Coughlin most recently was GM at another Danny Meyer place, Tabla.

I bet there will be much talk of the restaurant tomorrow night at 11 Madison Park, Meyer's four-star restaurant, which is celebrating its 11th anniversary with what I assume will be a blow-out party. I know I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Supporting my local restaurateurs

November 9

Starting out the week by doing a good deed, because I rarely hear from restaurateurs themselves instead of publicists (true story: one publicist today sent a press release to me about an image consultant, noting the importance of a first impression, and then sent out a correction because she had misspelled her client's first name), I’d like to help out Astoria restaurateur Yann Henri (non-New Yorkers, Astoria is in the borough of Queens), who says he opened a little French place called Bistro Les Minots last March at 47-16 30th Avenue (non-New Yorkers, that’s what Queens addresses look like, and they’re quite brilliant; the number before the hyphen indicates what cross street it’s near).

The owners are French, from Paris and Marseille, and the menu is traditional French bistro fare. They serve a $16.95 prix-fixe lunch and a $19.95 prix-fixe dinner.

They also have a $19.95 all-you-can eat moules-frites special on Monday. The restaurant’s phone number is 718-606-2535.
This message has been brought to you by the fact that I’m in a good mood today.

Friday, November 06, 2009

I take it that means, “no”

November 6

Well, my latest poll was a dud. I asked readers of this blog if they or their customers had changed their food-sharing habits due to fears of the H1N1 virus. Only seven people responded. Five said no, two said yes, everyone else, by their lack of response, I guess were indicating that they hadn’t thought about it or weren’t interested in the question.

That’s fair.

Here’s another one for you, from another of my colleagues, about restaurants’ moves to engage in more environmentally sound practices.
As always, feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


November 3

Clark Mitchell does not, I repeat does not, drink vodka Martinis. I’m not sure why I thought he did, or why I said he did in this recent blog entry, but I have fixed the mistake and thought I should let you know.

Normally I’d just fix the mistake and go on with my life, and Clark certainly didn't grouse about my error, but, well, vodka and gin Martinis illustrate people in very different ways.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Books, Southeast Asian food and what not to say at dinner

November 2

I went to some good parties last week, including two book parties.

I don’t go to book parties much, because we don’t have much use for cookbooks at NRN — occasionally we can use art from them, but that’s about it — and I personally like to cook based on what’s on hand. If I have questions about specific technique I just grab my battered copy of The Joy of Cooking.

But on Wednesday, after going to the see-and-be-seen party at The Four Seasons to welcome its new chef, Fabio Trabocchi (the most interesting person I met was a writer and publicist with the unlikely name of Paxton Quigley, author of Armed and Female, a self-help book instructing women how to use guns to protect themselves), I went to the East Village for the launch of the Veselka cookbook. So I went from really lovely Champagne and foie gras and truffles to cheap red wine and pierogis, but I like pierogis and haven’t met many wines I can’t drink (I do remember one, boasting that it was made from 100 percent grapes! that was kind of hard to get down). So I chowed down on pierogies and borscht and meatballs and ran into my old colleague Craig Waters (his byline is C. Dickinson Waters, in case you want to look for it), who now works on the business end of Macmillan, which published the Veselka book.

Then yesterday I went to a packed event celebrating Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, New American Table. The party was sponsored and thrown by HSBC bank, which I remember from back when it went by its full name, Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation. Now, of course, it’s going for more universal appeal.

A lot of bankers were at the party, including a nice one with whom I spoke about travel to Southeast Asia. But some chefs were there, too, including Alfred Portale from Gotham Bar & Grill and Nils Noren from the French Culinary Institute, who for many years was Marcus' executive chef at Aquavit. Anita Lo, of the once and perhaps future Annisa and the current Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, was there, too, and I had a long chat with chef, consultant, writer, etc. Robert Danhi, who moderated a panel I was on a couple of years ago at the National Restaurant Show. It was about Asian food trends. Robert, who's based in Southern California, is married to a Malaysian woman and travels back and forth to Southeast Asia a lot. So we talked about his love for durian, my inability to appreciate it so far, the joy of a good mangosteen, and other things.

Marcus came by and ripped off my nametag in disgust, wondering why a bank would make us wear such things. He did it in a really friendly way, though. Marcus is good people.

I wasn’t so sure about people I’d met earlier in the week. At one dinner I sat next to a woman who expressed shock and almost disgust that I would admit to liking science fiction. She liked realistic things, she said, because she was a Virgo. I asked her, then, about her belief in astrology, and she readily acknowledged the contradiction, so maybe she wasn’t so bad. But still, who at a civilized dinner would show disgust for someone else’s taste? It’s not nice.

But speaking of Robert Danhi, I did have good Southeast Asian food at the Beard House last week, where Mohan Ismail, the chef of Rock Sugar, was cooking.

Rock Sugar’s a Southeast Asian restaurant in Los Angeles that’s the little brother of Cheesecake Factory. Ismail, who’s originally from Singapore — click here if you’d like to read a whole profile and interview of the guy, written by my colleague Lisa Jennings — but the salient point for this story is that he was on the opening team of Spice Market in New York’s Meatpacking District, and so was Pichet Ong, who was also at the Beard House, helping Mohan.

Pichet told me a little about his new dessert shop that’s opening soon on St. Mark's Place. He said it would be a masculine dessert shop, rather than all the frilly and feminine ones that are out there.

He said the only other masculine dessert place in town was Max Brenner’s, but Pichet’s consulting with Max these days, so he’s biased.

What I ate at the Beard House:

Hors d’oeuvre:

Crispy imperial rolls with pork, shrimp and shiitake mushrooms
Raw hamachi with sesame and tobiko
Crispy chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt
Stuffed naan with spicy ketchup
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé NV


Green mango and papaya salad with crushed peanuts and crispy shallots
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Indonesian-grilled cilantro shrimp with corn, sweet potatoes, peas, coconut milk and chiles
L’Aventure Rousanne 2007

Tai snapper with gai lan, shiitakes, and padifield sauce (a rich chile sauce reminiscent of many chile sauces that top whole in Thailand, although this fish was filleted)
Side dishes for the table: Coconut rice with lemon grass, pandan leaves and cashews, and nonya sambal eggplant with sweet soy and chiles (“Nonya” is a Malaysian word for “grandmother” and also refers to the Peranakan cuisine of what are known as the Straits Chinese of Peninsular Malaysia, and Singapore, who are the descendants mostly of Chinese immigrant men who were imported by the British to work in the tin mines and married Malay women; the food is those women’s attempts to make Chinese food, which naturally included incorporating local ingredients, techniques and sensibilities).
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Los Carneros Napa Valley Merlot 2005

Singapore black pepper filet mignon with asparagus and shiitakes (you might think of shiitakes as Japanese — I know I do — but I once visited a shiitake farm in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands)
Roth Cabernet Estate Bottled Sauvignon 2006

Caramelized banana custard cake with milk chocolate ice cream, malted crème Anglaise and praline nut brittle
Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2007

Friday, October 30, 2009

Two gay guys walk into a strip club...

October 30

Undulating. That's a good word, and one that comes to mind when I think of “gentlemen’s clubs.”

Gentlemen’s clubs are, of course, places where men, gentlemanly or otherwise, get to spend time with scantily clad, often undulating women who are paid to be there. They are usually dark places that serve expensive but ill-prepared drinks and food you might not want to eat.

There are exceptions, of course, when it comes to the food. The Diamond Cabaret, a topless bar in Denver, was for years known as having some of the best steak in town. I don’t know whether it still is, but it might be.

And here in New York Robert's, developed with the help of chef Adam Perry Lang, was opened a couple of years ago at the Penthouse Executive Club and got a positive one-star review from New York Times critic Frank Bruni. The critic also took the opportunity of the review to go ahead and more-or-less come out as a gay man.

Many people in New York tittered with glee, which, it being 2007, I thought was, well, I’m pretty sure I’ve never used the word “puerile” before, but I think this is the right place for it. News that a food writer in New York City was more-or-less openly gay in 2007 shouldn't have been worth a single titter, but there you had it.

Anyway, there’s a new Robert’s in town. The owners of the Penthouse Executive Club bought the former Scores location in west Chelsea and reopened it with a Robert's inside. In charge of the food: Will Savarese, an alumnus of Le Cirque, Aureole, La Côte Basque and Westchester County institution La Crémaillère. He was executive chef at The Tap House, too.

I ate at the new Robert’s last week and, for a laugh, I invited my friend Clark Mitchell to dine with me. We both appreciated the irony of two gay men having steak at a girly bar, especially at one just a few doors down from The Eagle, arguably the most skeevy gay leather bar in all of New York City.

General manager Ed Norwick sat down with us over Martinis (mine: gin — Hendrick's at the waiter's suggestion — with olives; Clark's: gin — Beefeater — with a twist, because they didn’t have cocktail onions) and talked about plans to open more Robert's at gentlemen's clubs across the country. He explained that strip clubs and similar venues aren’t typically the first stop in an evening, and sometimes life (traffic, a phone call from the wife, what have you) gets in the way in the middle of an evening out. If guests start the night at a place with undulating women, well, there’s a good chance that they’ll stay.

For dinner, Clark and I split a porterhouse for two and drank a big Cabernet. He had an iceberg-and-blue-cheese salad — not, to his minor dismay, in wedge form — and I tried a nightly special of field greens, balsamic vinegar etc. Dessert was a sort of chocolate brownie cake.

Clark’s an editor at Travel + Leisure, and so while the guys at the table next to us bought dinner and drinks for their undulating women, we were left alone and spoke with concern and sadness about the demise of Gourmet magazine, and shared stories of our own publications’ adjustments in these difficult times.

Here at Nation’s Restaurant News, those adjustments are big. Next year the print magazine will be bi-weekly instead of weekly, and the content will be less news and more awesome analytical stuff — not too long, but smart — as well as an easy-to-use news synopsis in the front of the book (that’s what we in the magazine business call a magazine — a book).

For breaking news, of course, you can turn to our fact-packed web site, but you might as well go ahead and subscribe to the print version. Come on, all the cool people are doing it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


October 29

I'm working on some new blog entries that I hope you’ll find fascinating, but in the meantime, I’d like to pass on to you, dear reader, a question from one of my colleagues: Has H1N1 affected the shared-plates fad (or trend, if you prefer) in restaurants?
Click on the poll to the right, and if you feel like being more detailed, please feel free to comment below.
Thank you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On rugby, service, and Bloomberg at Bill's Bar & Burger

October 20

Blain Howard played rugby in college.

That explains a lot about Blain, because Americans who play rugby are a little bit weird.

Normal people, mainstream people, play football or baseball or basketball. If they just want some exercise they play soccer or tennis, or they might swim. Hockey's fine in the northern states, Lacrosse is cool if you're a particular breed of white, upper-middle-class future doctor, lawyer or investment banker, or the future spouse of one.

But rugby?

Rugby players have chosen a sport that no one (in the United States) cares about but them, but it requires serious physical conditioning and is an intense, full-contact sport played without the sissy padding of football. Rugby games, I’m told, are played with brutal aggression, followed by pretty much mandatory consumption of alcohol with the other team.

In American Rugby, from what I gather, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how much you can drink.

But unlike other niche tribes — the computer geeks, the science fiction nerds, the comic book dorks, Red Sox Nation — rugby players are diverse and have many interests. Sure, they use their bodies as weapons and shields and then drink until they fall down, but then they’re in punk rock bands or lock themselves in their rooms to play with their new computers, or go out and socialize like mainstream people might. I met a rugby player in culinary school, I knew a few in college.

My parents were friends with one who was a special ops military guy in Cambodia in the early 1970s. His wife introduced me to the Maryland crab boil, which is still probably my favorite way to eat anything, ever.

I’ve never met one who was boring or predictable.

Which explains Blain, who used to do mixed martial arts — he's 6'4", slim but solid — and now is a publicist for video games. He thinks he's a nerd because he likes comic books (excuse me, graphic novels) and science fiction and video games. His boss told him he wasn't smart enough to be a geek.

Or maybe he thinks he’s a dork because he’s not smart enough to be a nerd. I forget.

But he’s also friends with the Los Angeles reality TV star set and socializes and dates women and knows how to carry on a conversation at a dinner table.

He’s also smart as a whip, by the way.

And he’s a willing dinner companion, and someone with whom I can have serious discussions about zombie literature (he mentioned Socrates in there at some point — something about mankind's most raw desires and how zombies exemplify them).

Blain and I have broken bread twice in the past week-and-a-half, once at 48 and, last night, at Steve Hanson’s newest restaurant, Bill’s Bar & Burger.

Forty-Eight’s a new lounge on the ground floor of the McGraw Hill Building. That’s 6th Avenue and 48th Street, which is sort of no man's land for nightlife. West of Rockefeller Center, East of Times Square, where tourists fear to tread and locals wouldn’t bother. But many New Yorkers work there, and they could use a place to drink, and 48’s open until 2 a.m. during the week and 4 a.m. on weekends — something to remember if you ever need a nightcap after partying with a bunch of Midtown investment bankers.

Its owners had invited me in to check it out.

We had a terrific waitress — professionally chatty and alert, but she didn’t hover — and then we had all of the owners and management.

Individually, they were lovely, nice people who wanted to make sure we enjoyed ourselves, but as a group it seemed like one of them came by every 45 seconds to ask us something.

“Would you like a drink?”
“I just ordered one."

"Something to eat?”
“Yes, let me take a look at the menu.”

“How’s your drink?”
“I just got it, but it looks great.”

“How's the pizza?”
“I'm in the middle of my first bite right now, but I’ll keep you posted.”

Really, that’s the main theme of this entire blog — isn’t it? — where I eat and how I’m treated differently from the average diner. But it’s usually not quite as intense as that. Usually Blain and I have time to finish our reminiscences about Firefly or to assess the development of the Starbuck character in the last episodes of Battlestar Galactica without being interrupted with questions about how our bourbon is.

So I thought it was just an unusual fluke from overenthusiastic management on a relatively quiet Wednesday night in a lounge in a paradoxically remote part of central Midtown Manhattan.

And then we went to Bill’s Bar & Burger.
Bill's is in a very accessible part of the Meatpacking District and, although it just officially opened last Thursday, has already been the subject of much adulation.

A word about Steve Hanson and the restaurants in his BR Guest group: These are places like Blue Fin and Dos Caminos and Ruby Foo's — places that are good, but you don’t go there for the food (Fiamma, now closed, was an exception). You go because of the service and the drinks and the general vibe of the place. I think it was in one of Steve Hanson’s places that I realized what’s important to most guests in a restaurant. The most important part of a meal is who you eat with, next most important is the Steve Hanson stuff — service, ambience, vibe. Then, as long as the food is good enough, as long as it meets expectations, the customers will have a good time.

That’s not to say that BR Guest food isn’t good — and some of it’s terrific — it’s just not the point of those restaurants. Service and vibe are paramount.

So Blain and I were at a crowded but not packed BR Guest restaurant at 8 p.m. I was there a few minutes earlier and had already decided what I wanted, but the minute Blain sat down we were beset with questions about our drink order, which is, you know, reasonable and even desirable in a restaurant, and Blain, being a grown man and rugby player and thus capable of quickly scanning a beer menu, settled on the Ommegang, and I ordered an IPA.

“Are you ready to order your food?” our server asked.

I suggested that we might take a couple of minutes to do that.

Our server was great, and just like at 48, everyone else was gracious, but we had at least two managers covering for our server, who seemed perfectly capable of doing it himself.

I started to think maybe they just wanted to hang out with Blain, too, or perhaps they wanted to have an intellectual conversation about zombies as well. I mean, who doesn’t?

Or maybe they were particularly attentive because the man, Steve Hanson, was in the restaurant.

I didn’t notice him at first, or maybe he arrived later. But he was pretty low-key. I think I'd only seen him in a sharp business suit before. But he was casual last night, wandering around, fiddling with thermostats and such.

And then Michael Bloomberg walked in.

I’m usually not taken aback when celebrities walk into a restaurant. Well, okay, I’m a little taken aback, but there’s something thrilling and odd about having the mayor of New York come into the burger bar where you’re eating. He and Steve Hanson hugged and sat down to talk, and everyone else, being New Yorkers, went on enjoying their meal.
Although I couldn't help but tweet about it. Nor could this kid.

Blain, being a rugby player, had the good sense to take a picture

The mayor is the gray-haired guy in the window. Steve Hanson's to the left. The people in the foreground are probably perfectly nice people, but not germane to this blog entry.

What we ate and drank:

at 48,
meatballs with honey and pineapple glaze
seared skirt steak skewers with roasted red onion, grilled portobello, romaine lettuce and goat cheese vinaigrette
mini Cuban sandwiches (roasted pork, fontina, cotto ham, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise)
mini grilled cheese sandwiches (fontina and manchego with tomato and roasted tomato mayonnaise on challah)
mini pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella and Roma tomato
Bread pudding with almonds and cranberries
French Forty Eight (Hendrick's Gin, Canton ginger liqueur, lemon juice, sparkling wine, rosewater and strawberries)
St. Zipang (St. Germain elderflower liqueur, sparkling sake and yuzu)
Steve Collins (a sugar-free Tom Collins made with Bombay Sapphire, stevia, lemon juice, lime juice and ginger)
assorted whiskys

At Bill's,
French fries
Disco fries (smothered with gravy and melted cheese)
beer battered onion rings
The Bobcat (Bill's classic burger topped with New Mexico green chile and jack cheese)
The Fat Cat (a hamburger with caramelized onion and American cheese on an English muffin with lettuce, tomato and pickles on the side)
Key Lime Pie
assorted beers
Oreo (a milkshake of vanilla ice cream with Oreos chocolate syrup and a shot of Amaretto)
Peanut Butter Fluff (a milkshake of vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and banana with a shot of Frangelico)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lying low, in public

October 16

Sometimes it’s simply more work than I want it to be to find someone to join me for dinner. Maybe I’ve been invited to something at the last minute, maybe I can’t figure out which of my friends would be most suitable to join me at a particular restaurant, maybe I don’t feel like strong-arming someone into joining me in Queens. But twice this week I’ve dined solo.

I have no qualms about eating alone. I enjoy my own company, and it let’s me focus on the food or my surroundings, or to stare out the window and watch the people go by.

Actually, yesterday I didn’t watch people go by, I tried to piece together the drama that seemed to be unfolding across the street from ’wichcraft on 20th St.

That unit of Tom Colicchio’s fast-casual sandwich chain has been serving dinner, full-on dinner with servers and beer and wine and cloth napkins, since April — quietly, for regular customers, to see if it would work.

It seems to have worked, because they’ve decided to go public with it and will likely be offering dinner at some other ’wichcraft units soon.

They got a good turnout for their press dinner. I arrived early, at 6, because I was tardy in RSVPing to the invitation to dine there and was told that all the prime time tables were booked.

Dinner is being served upstairs at that ’wichcraft, and I was seated at the window. I had a micro-brew pale ale from Maine and sampled an avocado-and-radish salad as the sun set. It was getting pretty dark by the time I was having my anchovies and gruyère on grilled bread, and by the time my pork and pickle had arrived (pulled pork with slightly sweet dill pickles and brown grainy mustard on thick bread), I had become fascinated by the activity in the building across the street, where everyone apparently belongs to a religion whose practitioners don’t believe in curtains or window shades of any kind.

One window was the locker room for the Equinox gym, so that was fun, and the other seemed to be some sort of office, but with bookcases and a couch. Not only was it lighted as though it were a stage, but everyone in there gesticulated like they were on stage. One woman walked in and dramatically plopped herself in a chair that looked like it was at a desk with a computer, although I couldn't be sure. A guy walked in and spoke using grand gestures, and laughed big laughs, leaning back for dramatic effect. Another guy walked in and got the first guy briefly in a playful fake headlock in the way that they do in TV and movies but not very often at all in real life.

I was fascinated, and continued to watch as I ate my walnut-apple crumble with vanilla ice cream and drank my espresso.

I was sorry to leave, but I imagined my table was reserved for someone else soon, so I got up and chatted briefly with Matt Lee, who was two tables away with his wife and five-week-old son, Arthur, who was resting peacefully in his stroller in the way that babies usually don’t.

My colleagues Elissa Elan and Ellen Koteff had RSVPed earlier, and so they had just recently sat down and were snacking on shishito peppers as I was leaving. I joined them briefly to give them ordering advice and to discuss Balloon Boy Falcon Heene (or I guess, really, Non-Balloon Boy, since the kid was never in the runaway balloon to begin with).

Two nights before that I went to Cávo, a 10-year-old restaurant in Queens (Astoria, to be more precise) that had recently hired a pretty big gun to be its chef, Richard Farnabe.

Farnabe was the chef of a restaurant that Drew Nieporent opened in Midtown about 10 years ago called Berkeley — serving California cuisine and playing music from the 1960s. It only lasted for about 10 minutes. But Farnabe landed on his feet as chef of Lotus, which was one of the hottest tickets in town in the pre-9/11 era. He then worked at Bruno Jamais, and was also corporate chef for Milos.

I hadn’t heard about him in awhile when I was told he was at Cávo, and it seemed reasonable to check him out on a quiet Tuesday night.

Cávo’s big and beautiful, with a lounge that’s like a glamorous cavern and a spacious, dark-colored, big-shouldered dining room in the back. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I find grand and beautiful places in Queens, and it just shows that I am a parochial boob of a Brooklynite, because I was surprised.

Manager Jesse Normand entertained me between courses of fried stuffed zuchinni blossoms, a chicken-and-leek pie that was Farnabe's take on Spanakopita, and a grilled, pepper-crusted tuna loin that tasted just like steak au poivre.

Dessert was cheesecake with sour cherries.

I noticed sour cherries were served with the chocolate dessert on ’wichcraft's dinner menu, too. I think that just might be the fruit of this autumn.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Organika, and the fact that I look like Jason Alexander

October 6

My friend Kenyon Phillips is many things — actor, copy writer, singer, musician. He's also a historian of music, film, pop culture and anything related to sex.
I have, for example, learned from him that Mussolini liked strong-smelling women, and that while it was considered normal in ancient Greece for men to take boys aged 12 and up as, um, companions, if the men were seen at schools where children under the age of 12 were present, they could be beheaded.
Kenyon’s also a vegetarian, so I must choose carefully when dining with him. He’s an easygoing guy, so he’d find something to eat anywhere we went, but I want him to truly enjoy his food, and I want the restaurant to be one that embraces vegetarians and can show their talent without using animal protein.
So we went to Organika, a new little Italian restaurant that opened in July in the West Village, right next door to SushiSamba 7.
We spoke of many things, as friends do, including the fact that I am frequently told that I look like actors who are popular, but not for their looks. Wallace Shawn is one example, and when The Princess Bride was a popular movie I was frequently asked to say “inconceivable.”
I am glad that I lived in Thailand during much of the run of Seinfeld, because when I was in the United States I couldn’t be outside for 20 minutes without somebody shouting “George!” or at the very least pointing out that I look like Jason Alexander.
Observations that I resembled these actors were not, I would insist, with all due respect to Wallace Shawn and Jason Alexander, compliments.
I would be told that Wallace Shawn was in fact a great actor and that Jason Alexander was not only popular, but he could sing and dance, too. All true, but no one said I acted like Wallace Shawn or danced like Jason Alexander, they said I looked like them. And while they might be cute in a cuddly sort of way, like a teddy bear or a duck, they were not sex symbols, and that’s something that I think we all would like to be on some level. I certainly would.
Au contraire, Kenyon told me — not about people wanting to be sex symbols, but about Jason Alexander not being one (Kenyon looks like a rugged Jared Leto, by the way, and is possibly the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in real life).
Jason Alexander was, in fact, the romantic lead in a McDonald’s ad in the mid-1980s, Kenyon said.
And he was good enough to forward the link to me.
You must click on it. Oh, you must.

What we ate:
Sfornato di Melanzane (baked eggplant, Parmesan, basil, tomato purée)
Torre Caprese (stacked mozzarella, tomato, basil sprouts, roasted peppers and basil oil)
A pizza with mushrooms, arugula and truffle oil
Tagliatelle Bosco (ribbon pasta with garlic, zucchini, wild mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, basil and cream)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sad that Gourmet’s closing

October 5

“I can’t believe it!” everyone keeps saying when hearing the news that Condé Nast has decided to cease publication of Gourmet magazine.
But then they admit that they can, in fact, believe it, because these are awful times in the world of publishing. Gourmet is not the first big title to say good-bye, and I doubt that it will be the last.
But still, it’s a sad day in the food-writing world and it didn’t seem quite right to let it to go by without acknowledging it.
I had a couple of groups of visitors to the office today.
One group came from Lemaire, an old-school fine dining restaurant in Richmond, Va., that, like so many fine dining restaurants, has reconcepted itself to make it more accessible to a wider variety of guests and occasions, offering things like braised rabbit sliders on jalapeño cornbread and specialty cocktails using local herbs and such (restaurant director Ben Eubanks is trying to coin the term “farm to glass”).
They brought me a gift basket of Virginia ham and Virginia peanuts and some little chocolates and an alligator Christmas tree ornament (the alligator is an important symbol of Lemaire dating back to an earlier time, when it was fashionable for Virginia ladies to wear baby alligators on short chains, sort of as brooches — I couldn’t make this stuff up) and a trivet with a recipe for spoonbread on it.
They’d tried to drop off a similar basket to someone at Gourmet on the way to meet with someone at Bon Appétit, and were told the bad news and that they probably shouldn’t leave the basket.
I think they said they couldn’t believe it.
My other visitor was a representative from Sonic Drive-In, who came in just to touch base and talk about flavor trends. She said the mango drinks they sold as limited time offerings this summer did well — probably not well enough to be brought back full-time, but they got a lot of anecdotal feedback asking when it would come back.
She also said that cranberry Diet Dr. Pepper is delicious. So that’s good to know.
She said she was sad that Gourmet was closing, too.

Live blogging from MUFSO

October 5,

I’m not attending our big annual Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference, because someone has to man the fort here in New York, feeding the hungry beasts that are a weekly magazine, live web site etc., so I'm doing the next best thing and reading the blog of my colleagues who are there. I think you should, too.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hell week

September 25

This week is always a difficult one at Nation’s Restaurant News, because we lay out our special MUFSO issue.
MUFSO is, of course, our annual conference for chain restaurant operators (this year it’s October 4-6 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas), and if you’re a restaurant operator and haven’t registered yet, well, I don’t know what to say. I could ask what’s wrong with you, but that would be impolitic, so instead, I’ll just give you this link, allowing you to register for half price. Because I’m that nice.
So for the first half of the week I’m always scrambling to finish the stories that I have to write for the issue.
Our focus this year, by the way, is an examination of the likely restaurant landscape in the aftermath of the recession. It’s a good read, trust me.
This week is also when Star Chefs chooses to hold its International Chef Congress. I haven't managed to make it there in the past two years, but on Monday afternoon, with Blackberry in-hand so I’d know when I needed to go back to the office to interview people, I did manage at least to stop by the congress trade show, where I caught up with people from Pork Board and some nice folks from New Zealand. I sampled a new variety of New Zealand apple called the Envy, which, like the Jazz apple that I love, is a cross between the Braeburn and the Royal Gala. It had almost pear-like qualities because of its very floral aroma.
Then I went back to the office, finished my story on the future of fine dining (in a nutshell, recovery will be slow and fine dining restaurants have adjusted by expanding their bars and giving their customers more control over how much money they spend and also how much time they spend in the restaurant — it's now okay to have a cocktail and a snack in most fine dining establishments, not just a full-on multi-course meal).
Then I went to the James Beard House for a full-on multi-course meal sponsored by the O‘ahu Visitors Bureau, which, you may recall, brought me to that fine island earlier this year.
That was Monday night. Tuesday I mostly lay low; I just went to a little party at Bar Boulud introducing a new program called Perfect Pairings, in which liquor companies sponsor cocktails and other beverages to go with specific foods. It's a good way to encourage the upsell of a tasty beverage. My friend St. John Frizell was there, shaking a grapefruity gin cocktail. Most of the time he's at his new restaurant in Red Hook, Fort Defiance. He got after me to stop by, which of course I should do.
Wednesday found me at MAD46, the rooftop venue of the Roosevelt Hotel. I was there for the launch of Kolache Mama, a new chain that wants to popularize the East European pastry by stuffing it with all sorts of non-East European things like hot dogs and scrambled eggs and whatever else people might want inside of them.
It was a weird party. Pretty young women in pink T-shirts pointed us to the check-in table where we were handed check-in cards with our initials on them. Then a humorless bouncer showed us to an elevator where another humorless bouncer took us to the rooftop, where we handed in the check-in cards we were just given and then we were let into the party. I guess that was supposed to make the party seem exclusive, I dont know.
I tried a couple of kolaches and ran into my friend Sara Bonisteel of AOL, and we headed to the next party of the evening -- the launch of John Besh's cookbook.
Now that party really did seem exclusive. It was also on a rooftop, but it was a private penthouse residence on the corner of 93rd Street and Park Avenue, thank you very much.
A bartender handed me a Sazerac and I went outside to enjoy a buffet of shrimp & grits and rich pastas and other goodies while hanging out with John Besh and his famous chef friends like Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boulud and Anita Lo, whos working on renovations of her restaurant Annisa while doing the food for Rickshaw Dumpling Bar.
It was at that party, with all the smart people there, that the mystery of the previous week's Beard House dinner was explained to me.
What, I had wondered, were people from the big network morning shows doing eating the cuisine of Dante de Magistris?
Grub Street Boston was kind enough to find out that Dante's publicist wanted him to be on TV so the restaurant would get more destination dining.
But the question to me wasn't why a restaurateur might want morning show producers to eat his food, but how to get them to show up at the Beard House, and past their bedtime to boot.
Bret, silly, it was explained to me, Dante's publicist also represents celebrity chef Todd English.
Ah. Solutions to mysteries are so obvious once you know them.
I actually had Thursday night off, and on Friday went to an odd but charming event called Le Fooding, a French-organized tasting event to benefit hunger-relief organizations.
I took the subway to Long Island City and almost turned around and left once I saw the line to the event. I wondered what would be more rude, not going to an event that I said I would go to, or announcing the fact that I was a member of the press and wondering aloud if there might be a special line for powerful and influential people like me.
Instead I took option three, which was to follow Gael Greene around the corner to the VIP line and get ushered inside, past the actual proper paying guests.
I'm not sure why the line was so long -- you check off a person's name and let him or her in; it should take maybe six seconds -- but my embarrassment at my priveleged status didn't keep me from taking advantage of it, and soon I was in a pretty garden listening to jazz and eating chicken necks made by Wylie Dufresne and the spicy pork lettuce wraps of David Chang.
There was even a special VIP room for non-paying guests, where we could dip into steaming-cold bowls (steaming from dry ice, you see) and drink gin punch, or drink more Champagne. I mostly hung out with people from d’Artagnan, whom I understand were later escorted from the party due to rowdiness. But I had already taken my leave at that point.
Also at the party were Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appetit, whom I hadn't seen in a very long time. Kate Krader of Food & Wine was coming as I was going.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patrick Swayze, Wolfgang Puck and the mystery of the Morning-Show TV producers

September 24

You’d think that this Great Recession of ours would take the wind out of the sails of party planners — and restaurant operators and others who host parties will tell you that, indeed, it has. But considering the events I’ve been invited to lately, you’d have no idea that we were struggling through an economic crisis. I’m sorry that the general autumnal mishigas of my job, exacerbated by more staff cutbacks, has kept me from keeping you as abreast of my activities as I’d like, because it’s all been pretty intense.

Last Wednesday found me at lunch at Gramercy Tavern with a couple of people from Pali Wine Co., a new operation based near Santa Barbara that focuses on buying undervalued or over-produced Pinot Noir grapes and making them into affordable but delicious wine.

So there we sat — me, the winemaker, his publicist and Time editor-at-large Justin Fox (you might have seen him promoting his book, The Myth of the Rational Market, in recent weeks), with four glasses each on our table, sampling wines from Santa Barbara, the Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast and Willamette Valley, while munching away on chef Michael Anthony's food (I had chilled corn soup with crispy oysters and shishito peppers, followed by halibut with romano beans, wild rice and American caviar). We spoke of many things, including the passing of Patrick Swayze and the fact that most of his obituaries failed to mention his role in the movie Red Dawn.

Patrick Swayze came up again the following night, when I had dinner at the James Beard House, where Boston chef Dante de Magistris was cooking.

It was an unusual dinner, not because of the food, which was every bit as creative and tasty as you’d expect, but because the press table was dominated by media from television — and from morning shows. Those people have to get up at, like, 4 a.m. They can’t be boozing it up at the Beard House on a work night.

But indeed, there they were — two producers from The View, one from the Today Show, I think three from Good Morning America, and a young fella from CBS Early Show.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Dante seems personable and good natured. He’s probably just fine on television, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the entire morning television world was there to eat his food.

I was in a bit of a grumpy mood that night (“Why?” I bet you’re wondering, “because you had to buy your own lunch, you spoiled brat?”) and in general I have a fair amount of hostility toward television news, because I think it’s unbearably shallow and a detriment to the spread of knowledge or the creation of useful, interesting dialogue in this country — that indeed one reason why mainstream media is in crisis right now is because it has failed its public, which eagerly seeks other sources of information on the Internet.

So I surmised, based partly on my observations of the evening but probably mostly on my dislike for television news and no-doubt jealousy that they can actually exert broad influence on public opinion, that all of those TV people also were just what you’d expect, quick-witted and shallow. But I’m sure it’s not really true. I’ve met a number of TV people, and like in any field, their personalities and cognitive abilities come in all shapes and sizes.

But the topic of how people get their news came up, and I said that I don’t watch TV news (except for NY1 in the morning to tell me if the world ended the night before, what the weather’s like and if my train’s running), nor do I read daily newspapers, but somehow I keep abreast of what’s going on. And if I don’t know immediately about breaking news all the time, that’s fine. I’d rather read the third-day story, anyway, because by then most of the gross inaccuracies are usually weeded out.

But I did admit that I had gone two days without knowing that Patrick Swayze had died (lunch at Gramercy Tavern was the first I’d heard of it).

I’m pretty sure that Sue Solomon, hard-nosed, platinum-blonde producer of The View, at that point determined that I was a ridiculous human being and was done with me. She did say that she occasionally liked watching News Hour on PBS, because they actually take the time to explain the stories, but that as a general rule it’s too slow for her.

One of the TV producers referred to News Hour as MacNeil/Lehrer, which is funny because Robert MacNeil retired 14 years ago, in 1995. You’d think news hounds would know that.

That lunch at Gramercy Tavern the day before actually had just been the beginning of my eating and drinking for the day. Late in the afternoon I stopped by the Calvisius Caviar shop at The Four Seasons hotel, which was having an open house for the media, and had a couple blinis with caviar (one osetra, one white sturgeon) and a glass of Champagne, before finishing up at work and going to the 50th anniversary party of Brasserie.

Cocktails from each of the five decades were being served. I narrowed in on the Kir Royale of the 1970s and caught up with the entire food-writing world (I can say that, because Regina Schrambling was there; she gets cross when I say that everyone was there when she wasn’t). At one point I was actually in a circle with Bob Lape, Gael Greene, Glenn Colins (from the Times) and Sara Moulton. I felt like I was standing in the shadows of giants.

And from there I went to a multicourse meal at Beppe, promoting chef Marc Taxiera’s new fall menu.
So that takes care of Wednesday and Thursday.

On Friday I had lunch at Le Bernardin with Judy Shertzer, who sells spices and flavorings to restaurants and other people. That meant I was overdressed for the Mets game that I went to, organized by my friend Ray Garcia, the coolest computer geek in the world.

The Mets, as you may know, are completely, 100 percent out of the running for the playoffs this year, and that really took the pressure off. It was a really mellow evening, and I ate a sausage-and-pepper hero (the bread was a little dry) and drank several Brooklyn lagers while watching the Mets lose.

Then on Saturday it was off to Atlantic City, where I had dinner at the new Wolfgang Puck American Grille at the Borgata (I call it "the Borgata," its official name is just "Borgata," but that sounds awkward to me; sometimes you need a definite article).
A number of interesting people were there, including good old (well, young, actually) Joshua David Stein and his wife Anna.
Josh's shaggy beard is long-gone and now he’s working on growing a moustache. He also had his hair relaxed, giving him a look from another era. If it weren’t for the tattoos, I think he would have fit in well in the 1920s. I think it’s a good look for him.

Wolfgang Puck was there, and Josh spoke to him of boxing and I scheduled a more in-depth interview with him later on.

Also at the table were Jill and Andy Freedman, the nice lawyer couple who do the blog Wined & Dined.
The following day, as we rode the ACES train back to New York, Andy asked me if, given my job, I could go out to food events as often as two nights a week.

Oh, if he only knew.

But why, perhaps you’re wondering, were all those TV people at Dante de Magistris’ Beard House dinner?
I had to wait until this week to learn the answer, so stay tuned, and once I get to recounting this weeks’ adventures, you’ll learn the answer to the mystery of the Night of the Morning-Show TV producers.

What I ate at The Beard House:

Oxtail raviolini with ovoli mushrooms
chicken liver bruschetta
pomodorini, burrata, Sicilian oregonal and pistachios
baccala polpettine
NV Prosecco di conegliano, Tofoli, Veneto

baby octopus affogato, potato gnocchi, guanciale, garlic chives
2007 Vermentino ‘Solosole’ Poggio al Tesoro, Tuscany

“pizza” gialla, braised greens, pig's feet and tail
2008 Lacrimosa rosé, Masterberardino, Campania

Guinea hen “spezzatino,” potatoes and kale
Slow-roasted Guinea hen, porcini crema, buckwheat orzo and grapes
2006 Grilli di Testamatta, Bibi Graetz, Tuscany

veal braciolettine, tomato, pine nuts, raisins and escarole
Veal loin tonnato, giardiniera, rughetta
2003 Negroamaro ‘notarpanaro”, Taurino, Puglia

Chocolate hazelnut torta della nonna
Poached peach, panna cotta, almond and moscto broth
2006 Brachetto d’acqui ‘passione,’ Coppa, Piedmont

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Katz's v Schwartz's

September 16

I spent early Monday evening with a nice Quebecoise woman named Katerine Rollet, who does a food blog for Montréal’s tourism board. She, or her bosses, or a combination thereof, wanted to find food connections between New York and Montréal.

You’d think that would be fairly easy. Montréal's just an hour flight or an easy six-hour drive away (go up the thruway, turn left at Montréal), but apart from Milos, which also has a restaurant, older than the one in New York, in Montréal, and Riad Nasr of Minetta Tavern, who is from Montréal, the only other connection we could find was T Poutine, a restaurant on the Lower East Side that specializes in the Québecois dish poutine, which is French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy (think nachos, only with French fries, cheese curds and gravy instead of chips, melted cheese and salsa), there's not much cultural culinary dialogue between what are arguably the two best food cities in the Northeast. Top Chef alumnus Spike Mendelsohn would have been good, as he’s from Montréal, but he’s not in New York anymore.

As far as Tourisme Montréal was concerned, Milos was too high-end for Katerine’s audience, and as far as I was concerned Kieth McNally’s restaurant empire, which includes Minetta Tavern, were too difficult to work with.

So I made reservations at T Poutine and the authorities in Montréal decided that it would be a good idea to compare New York and Montréal bagels.

New York is more famous for its bagels than Montréal, but the Montréalais are adamant about their product's superiority.
So we met at the original H&H Bagels in the remote, industrial reaches of 46th St. and 12th Ave.

Katerine was not impressed. But from what I understand a Montréal bagel is a different animal from a New York one — crustier and more pretzel-like.

She was nice about it, though, and expressed enthusiasm for the everything bagel, which does not exist in her hometown.

From there we were supposed to eat at T Poutine, but despite my having made a reservation there, it turns out that the restaurant is closed on Monday. This could have been a disaster, but Katz's Deli is just down the street from T Poutine, and is a worthy comparison to Schwartz's, a Montréal restaurant known fro its smoked meat, which is similar to corned beef.

Technically, that means Carnegie Deli would have been a better comparison, as Katz's is better known for its pastrami, but it was nearby, and a deli institution of similar gravitas, so we went there.

Not surprisingly, Katerine preferred Schwartz's smoked meat to Katz's corned beef, but, quite apart from the fact that she works for Tourisme Montréal, because I wouldn’t accuse her of being biased because that would be rude, she was raised on Schwartz's.

Also, this was her first time having pastrami, and she didn't take to it readily. To her, the taste seemed artificial.
What can I say? New York is a big, grown-up city. It can take a lump or two from time to time.

Katerine’s colleague, who has the great name of Tanya Churchmuch, recorded our experience at Schwartz's on video, which you can enjoy by clicking here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


September 10

“That’s Duff Goldman,” said Metromix’s Matt Rodbard.

“I don’t know who that is,” I said.

“You know, from Ace of Cakes.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“You know, it’s, like, the Food Network’s biggest show.”

“I don’t watch it.”

“Ace of Cakes!”

“Don’t know it. I don’t watch food TV.”

“It’s, like, a huge show.”

I don’t think Matt was being obtuse, he was just having fun. And I was being a curmudgeon who doesn’t watch food TV — like lawyers don’t watch law shows and doctors don’t watch medical dramas — because there’s already enough food and food-related things in my work life. I don’t want to sit in front of the TV at home and watch more of it.

Being in the presence of a celebrity you don’t care about can be awkward, because the fawning fans look so pathetic and I feel embarrassed for them.

We were at the James Beard House, at a Greens event. That’s what the Beard Foundation calls events targeting people younger than 40. I think it’s an attempt to create a tribe of young food enthusiasts who are loyal to the Beard Foundation, and I’m not sure how well it’s working. Greens have been around for as long as I’ve been in New York, but I don’t hear about them much.

This particular party was in celebration of Jack Daniels’ birthday, which is celebrated for the entire month of September as no one knows the exact day on which the whiskey’s namesake was born. I don’t expect that anyone has tried too hard to find out, either, as not knowing gives Jack Daniels, the company, an excuse to celebrate and promote the brand for an entire month.

Duff Goldman had made a 150-pound human-shaped cake that looked like Jack Daniels. It was pretty cool. My friend Andy Battaglia of The Onion was appropriately impressed.

I was more interested in checking in with Dave Wondrich, the cocktail historian, drink maven and delightful person who had developed the cocktails for the evening — the Monkey Nut and the Little Ricky.

The monkey nut was a type of Manhattan with orange bitters. I asked if he was using Regan’s orange bitters. Their creator, Gary Regan, was Nation’s Restaurant News’ beverage columnist, and thus we are forever inextricably bound.

In fact, Dave said, he was using a blend of Regan’s bitters and another company’s orange bitters. He said the New York tribe of cocktail makers had all decided pretty much simultaneously that one of those bitters was too orangey and the other was too bitter, so now it’s common practice here to combine the two.

Tribe’s my word, not Dave’s, because tribes are the theme of this blog entry. But Gotham’s mixologist community really is a tribe. It is.

Anyway, the Little Rickey was exactly that.

Not to say it was Desi Arnaz Jr.

Dave explains: Jo Rickey, of Fulton County, Mo., was a prominent Democratic lobbyist at the end of the 19th century. His signature drink was bourbon with soda water and lime juice; later, people made it with gin.

So a Rickey can be any cocktail of booze, citrus and soda water. This one was made with a fancy small-batch bottle of Jack Daniels, a little honey syrup — an addition of which Jo Rickey would not have approved, as he believed sugar heated the blood, Dave said — and lemon juice, shaken, poured into cylindrical shot glasses and topped with sparkling water. Little Rickeys.

I didn’t meet Duff Goldman, and during all the speeches in honor of Jack Daniels I hung back and let the gawkers gawk, but he sounded like a smart, good-natured guy.

“Let them eat cake!” declared Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro, which was silly of her, because, as Duff pointed out, the person who originally said that was beheaded.

As you may know, that sentence was supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and wife of King Louis XVI, when she heard that the peasants had no bread to eat.

In fact, I believe what she was supposed to have said was “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or, “they should eat brioche.” It displayed her failure to comprehend the fact that her peasantry was so poor that it had nothing to eat — that their caloric shortfall caused by the lack of ordinary bread could not be alleviated by switching to richer, egg-enriched bread, because they didn’t have that either. Ignorance is not a crime, but it’s no excuse, either, and perhaps her executioners decided that it should, in fact, be a crime.

Anyway, they killed her, and uttering her infamous declaration at an event of well-heeled young New Yorkers who have been spending the evening gorging themselves on ribs and little mac & cheese tartlets is weird at best. It was nice that Duff knew that.

Also, incidentally, his cake was delicious.

Anyway, tribes. Legitimate tribes of cocktail makers, an attempt to invent a tribe of young Beard Foundation devotees.

In recent weeks over at the listserv of the Association for the Study of Food and Society , in which I participate, there was quite a kerfuffle that started with a discussion of the meaning and sociological implications of the word “gastronomy,” and that ended with the departure from the list of a person who felt completely justified to hurl ignorant, baseless and personal insults at the gastronomy program of Boston University simply because she felt like doing so.

Other members of the listserv disagreed. She left in a somewhat self-righteous huff, and some of those who remained began a navel-gazing exercise into what the ASFS was. It is, Ken Albala suggested, a tribe.

“ Our interactions work nothing like a business or even a department within a college, because we're not in competition. We all work in different places, and if one of us benefits, the whole group and discipline benefits. And it's why we rose to the defense of our members, and it's why everyone here is so generous with time and ideas — a common enterprise and common goals.”

A tribe. Why not?

I had been at another tribal event the night before. It was the second anniversary party of Bobo, Carlos Suarez’s plaything of a restaurant in the West Village.

I don’t mean “plaything” in a bad way. I mean that it has very personal touches appropriate for his intention, which was to make his restaurant like a private home where he was throwing a dinner party, only you had to pay to eat there. Only recently did he relent and put a sign bearing the restaurant’s name outside the house, on 7th Avenue South and West 10th Street, where the restaurant’s located.

He has a top-shelf cocktail developer in Naren Young and a well pedigreed chef in Patrick Connolly, and a dining room that I find enchanting.

And he has style. He has a turntable and a collection of vinyl. At the party he served Champagne in classic tulips rather than modern flutes.

Tulips do cause a drink to slosh, but there is something extra-celebratory in being drenched in Champagne, even if inadvertently.

Usually parties like that are inhabited by fellow members of my own food-writing tribe, but I was an alien at this gathering which seemed otherwise to be populated by Carlos’s well-groomed, not-quite-lock-jawed Upper East Side friends whom I suspect might otherwise been eating at the Waverly Inn.

At least that’s what I surmised. I don’t know, as I don’t read the society pages. It seemed like some of the people there would have been mentioned in them, though.

They all seemed to know each other from the monosyllabic prep schools they had attended together.

I ended up chatting with young Diana Foote, of the Memphis Footes. I don’t know if there really are Memphis Footes, but Diana was from Memphis, and she vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard (“not Nantuckett?” I thought), although her current visit to New York was making her consider visiting the city more often.

They were gracious and lovely people. Many of them actually brought birthday gifts for the restaurant.

There was an unusually large percentage of very tall blond women there.

There was also an unusually large percentage of very tall blond women at my next party of the evening, the opening of Le Souk Harem.

We all know what a harem is. Souk is Arabic for “market.” So I can think of no other way to translate the name other than “whore house.”

I was invited by the Hall Company, who were doing PR for the restaurant’s food (the chef consultant is Doug Psaltis), but the party was really by Lizzie Grubman, whom you might remember as the society publicist who faced criminal prosecution some years ago when, in a fit of pique, she ploughed her SUV into a bunch pedestrians who were in her way when she was leaving a party.

This scenester tribe also has a bunch of tall blonde women, but rather than being gracious and elegant they’re tacky and boorish. One physically moved me out of her way so she could walk down the stairs.

The restaurant itself had hookahs and belly dancers (dancing to, among other things, Rockin’ the Casbah by The Clash — oh yes, they went there). It all seemed oddly out of place in these dour times.

Anyway, it wasn’t my scene, but I did have a tasty Caipirinha there.

So I was at Bobo and Le Souk Harem on Tuesday, and then took Andy to the Beard House on Wednesday. And then Andy took me to Le Poisson Rouge, a music venue on Bleecker Street that I remembered as Life, a loud nightclub catering to the same tribe as Le Souk Harem.

But Poisson Rouge is a dark and arty spot, and performing there was Circulatory System, and they are members of Andy’s tribe.

Andy is a music writer who went to the University of Georgia, and Circulatory System is a group of psychedelic musicians based in Athens, Ga. When Andy was in college they were Olivia Tremor Control, and he said they had tremendous influence on him.

I don’t think I knew what psychedelic music was, really, but I have an idea, now, and I think it has given me insight into electronica that might help me appreciate it more the next time Andy takes me to one of those shows.

I tend to focus on lyrics and melody and harmony when I listen to music, but Circulatory System was really creating an entire atmosphere of sound that had nothing to do with those things. They just kind of created a music bubble that filled the room, so I just let it wash over me and it was a lot of fun. Sounded pretty, too.

We went back stage after the show, and Andy was greeted with hugs and happy noises of greeting that pleased him. He was clearly glad to reconnect.