Friday, May 21, 2010

The Big Show

I’m leaving town tomorrow to help Nation’s Restaurant News cover the gigantic National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, also sometimes called the NRA Show, the Restaurant Show, or The Show. 

While I’m there, I’ll be collaborating with my colleagues on our NRN@NRA blog, which you can link to by clicking on the logo above, or simply by clicking here.

So this blog will be dormant until I return on Tuesday night, and probably longer as I’ll be behind in my work. 

In the meantime, follow me and my dear colleagues on the NRN@NRA blog, and I’ll try to check back in with you here next week.

But before I go, here's a link to some breaking news about a new partnership between Nation’s Restaurant News and the National Restaurant Association. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fashion 26 and Hotel Griffou

May 18

I should just take a pastry brush and a bowl of vegetable oil, lay out all of my dress shirts and paint a light coat on each of them. It would save me the trouble of worrying about grease stains. I should just be proactive, make them all nothing but stain and be done with it.

I should probably soak them all in red wine first.

Instead, I stood in the middle of Rare Bar & Grill in the Fashion 26 hotel with streaks of grease down the front of my gray cotton shirt with French cuffs.

I don’t know how they got there. I was trying to be careful. It was, after all, the fanciest launch party I’d been to in awhile, and the fashionistas were there in droves, posing in front for photographers and then standing around looking statuesque and fabulous. Not a stain on them.

If this had been 1999, say, or even 2004, it would have been easier to avoid having grease drip down my body. But it’s 2010, and that means that at fancy, high-brow openings, they must serve sliders at the very least. For this opening they also served buffalo wings and cones of French fries with mini-cones of ketchup in them and fried pickles (the first I’d had in New York — batter-fried little disks).

I was snacking on the fries and looked down because I thought I’d sensed a drip from the ketchup, and there I was, covered in grease.

It was probably the slider, but I’ll never know.

I hadn’t seen a coat check so I still had my bag with me. I adjusted it so the strap covered most of the stain and went to get a cocktail.

What can I say? I don’t let a stain get in the way of a good time, and the DJ was phenomenal.

My cocktail was something with citrus, strawberry purée and a brand of tequila that was far too good to be used in a cocktail. But with positive GDP growth in the first quarter and anecdotes of robust restaurant traffic here in New York, I guess the days of the over-fancy cocktail are back.

The food is still supposed to be down-to-earth, though.

Business was certainly robust last week when I stopped into the Hotel Griffou at the request of its publicist.

“It's a good thing you guys have a publicist,” I said, raising my voice over the din at the packed bar. “This place is dead. I’m surprised I don’t see tumbleweeds rolling through here.”

They expressed polite amusement at my sarcasm and showed me and my guest to our table.

The Hotel Griffou actually isn’t a hotel at all. It’s one of those cute restaurants tucked away in the West Village (in this case West Ninth Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues) that everyone likes so much. Its original owner was a certain Madame Griffou, and she did run a hotel there.

We wound our way through the crowded bar area and ended up in one of several more sedate dining rooms — homey, eclectic, it reminded me of a more casual version of the second floor of Bobo.

My guest for the evening was the always awesome Blain Howard, my pop-culture and sci-fi guru (who, by the way, encouraged me to see Kick Ass, one of the funnest movies I’ve seen in a really, really long time).

Looking at the cocktail menu, Blain, a warrior at heart (rugby player and former mixed martial artist, as you may recall), was intrigued by the Beowulf Bramble (Aquavit, blackberries, lemon juice and crème de mure), but instead went for the Avocado & Vanilla Daiquiri.

Yes, trendy food is often staid, but the drinks can be as crazy as you like.

I had a Negroni.

What we had for dinner was also very, very 2010. And here’s what it was:

Poutine with duck confit and thyme
foie gras seared with plums, parsnip purée and kiwi berry

grass-fed steak frites with poivre sauce
Hanger steak grilled with potatoes, asparagus and maitake mushrooms

Very, very 2010.

I did get out of there stain-free, though. I think.

This blog’s readers are not animal rights activists

Actually, I’m surprised.

I thought mentioning foie gras would trigger the Google Alerts of some rabid, misinformed (though possibly well-meaning) people and draw them out to defend pampered, well-fed ducks.

But no. Not a one.

I guess they just don’t care anymore.

A couple of the participants in my latest poll — which asked, simply, "Foie Gras, yes or no?” said they don’t like foie gras, and a few said they hadn’t really thought about the treatment of ducks raised for their unctuous livers (thanks for participating, all the same).

But most participants (52 percent), said they think foie gras ducks are treated just fine (and they are, by all accounts from informed people that I've heard), and just about a third said they don’t care how the ducks are treated.

See for yourself.


I refuse to eat foie gras because I think it's cruel to animals: 0 (0%)
I think foie gras ducks are treated fine: 20 (52%)
I don't care how foie gras ducks are treated, I like how it tastes so I'm eating it: 12 (31%)
I don't like foie gras: 2 (5%)
I hadn't really thought about it: 4 (10%)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bill Yosses, not such a classicist

May 13

I enjoyed this story in yesterday’s New York Times that profiled Bill Yosses, the breathtakingly affable pastry chef at the White House (he really is, I had a great chat with him and some of his friends back in 2007 at the opening of Sweetgreen in Georgetown).

But I was surprised by the passage about him being a relative culinary traditionalist:

“He might play with a little agar-agar (to set finely chopped rhubarb into a soft gel) or crystallized vitamin C (to preserve the green of an herb purée), but he has generally kept to a strong French backbone of flavor profiles. In his work, chocolate remains paired with hazelnut; pineapple with lime.

“ ‘He does not approve of a dessert like tomato sorbet with rosemary syrup,’ said Jonathan Hayes, a forensic pathologist and former food writer who has been a friend and fan since the 1980s.”

French backbone, really? I mean, certainly his pastry roots are French, but I’ve always thought his style was a bit more cosmopolitan than what the article describes, and he has spent a significant amount of time in Southeast Asia, which is reflected in his style.

I guess it’s true that he doesn’t get completely crazy with weird flavor combinations, but back in 2006, when he was a partner in a Vietnamese restaurant called Boi, he made a dessert of coconut tapioca garnished with diced mango, toasted coconut and pomegranate molasses. Also in that dish were basil seeds that were hydrated in warm water steeped with vanilla bean, star anise, cinnamon and lemon grass.

Sounds tasty, but not so French.

When he was at Citarella in New York, in 2002, he made a gelatin out of the super-tart juice of the Philippine citrus fruit calamansi. He froze that in a madeleine mold with an orange segment in it, and served that over warm coconut tapioca to give it an acidic spike. That dish was rounded out with coconut sorbet and a pistachio madeleine.

And even when he’s sticking to the French palette of ingredients, he gets whimsical. At Citarella he used a classic French combination — Pears and Fourme d'Ambert cheese (a cow milk bleu from the Loire Valley) — but made up the name Pear Dauphinois for it. The name was a play on pommes dauphinois, which is mashed potatoes mixed with cream puff pastry dough, rolled into balls and deep-fried.

Pear Dauphinois, on the other hand, was made by plunging paper-thin slices of pear into a 50-50 mixture of water and pear juice, spiked with vitamin C (to keep the pears from discoloring) and pear brandy (because why not?), and then layering them with the cheese to make a sort of dessert casserole, which he served with quince paste and almond biscotti.

I never tried the Pear Daupinois, but Bill said it was a very satisfying end to a meal, and I believe him.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Foie Gras, yes or no?

May 10

I have a new poll for you this week. I think it speaks for itself. It's on the right. Click away!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Beard Awards 2010 — not a jedi to be seen

May 4

The James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards ceremony and the awards press room were practically unrelated this year.

There are really two press rooms — one for sanctioned, formal photography of each of the winners, where people like Kent Miller take pictures like this of people like Timothy Hollingsworth (pictured here in a photo taken by Kent Miller), who was named Rising Star Chef of the Year at the awards last night.

Click here for a complete list of winners.

Then there’s the press room for the rest of us, where we drink Champagne and cocktails (there was even a gin sponsor this year), and eat cheese and drink espresso. This year there was caviar, too, all domestic and sustainable, yet tasty.

And there were little flat screen TVs where, if you wanted to, you could watch the beard awards.

You couldn’t hear them, though. The speakers weren’t working right, so to hear anything above the din of the socializing journalists you had to walk to the very front of the press room — a foyer, really — where you couldn’t see the TVs but you could hear pretty well.

If you didn’t pay attention, you missed the winners, and God help you if you wanted to hear any of their speeches, or the tribute to Michael and Ariane Batterberry, who were given lifetime achievement awards.

I did pop my head into the photographer’s press room long enough to notice that whenever an award winner was named, they played music from Star Wars.

I tried to figure that out. The theme for the awards was “The Legacy Continues,” which sounded bizarre, but it was supposed to be about mentoring and fostering talent and so on, which is nice.

Today I asked my sci-fi and pop-culture guru Blain Howard if "The Legacy Continues" could be associated with Star Wars in any way.

“30th Anniv of Empire is this MAYBE? that?” he suggested.

I commended him for his efforts, and remain confused by the Star Wars music and by the fact that nobody who might possibly write about the awards could simultaneously see and hear them.

But it was still fun. I hung out with old friends, met some fans from the blogosphere, drank multiple cocktails and ate caviar, periodically peering up to see who had won what awards.

Last night I thought I’d predicted eight out of the 19 categories that I care about (I don’t guess the design and graphics awards), but I had missed the fact that Jason Wilson of Crush in Seattle won. I’d predicted that, too, meaning I got nine right. That’s practically half (47 percent), which isn’t bad if I do say so myself.

I didn’t eat much after the awards. I don’t like to stand in line for food, I was full on caviar canapés and the slice of pizza (pepperoni) I’d had before the awards, and there were pictures to take, people to catch up with etc., so I drank a Leffe Blonde and ate some Mangalica ham from D'Artagnan, and a "French Kiss" from them, too. That’s a foie gras-stuffed Armagnac-soaked prune, I believe. It was good.

And I took some pictures

I decided to pick one after party and stick to that one this year, and I picked Eleven Madison Park, whose chef, Daniel Humm, was named, as I predicted, best chef in New York City. It made sense. Daniel Boulud (whose restaurant Daniel won the Outstanding Restaurant award). Stood on some furniture with Humm and danced, eventually spraying the crowd with Champagne.

He did that in 2006 at an after party at Thor (he’d won Outstanding Restaurateur that year), so it was kind of old hat, but people loved it.

The picture above, taken by Kent Miller, is of Daniel Boulud earlier in the evening.

I have some pictures of my own to share, but they’ll have to wait as I’m late for dinner (at Aquavit, sampling the food of its new chef, Marcus Jernmark), so I’ll post one now, and more later.

(Starting on the left) This is French Culinary Institute dean emeritus Alain Sailhac with his wife Arlene, and awesome chef extraordinaire David Bouley and his wife Nicole Bartelme Bouley.

The Bouley’s were wed in a legendary, awesome five-day feast that was in fact covered for the New York Times by my good friend Thomas Crampton.

Oh, and below are the results of my most recent poll, in which I asked you to vote for the Rising Star Chef of the Year. I find the results interesting.

Timothy Hollingsworth, French Laundry, Yountville, Calif. 9 (31%)

Johnny Monis, Komi, Washington, D.C. 3 (10%)

Grégory Pugin, Veritas, New York City 3 (10%)

Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore. 7 (24%)

Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans 7 (24%)

May 7 update: I have dug myself out of the work hole I have been in all week and have time to upload some more pictures from the Beard Awards, starting with a shot of Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson, chef-partner of Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo., and Bobby Stuckey, that restaurant’s master sommelier and partner.

Lachlan might be the quietest chef I know, or maybe we just haven’t had a chance to bond.

Next we have Gary Danko, who you won’t be surprised to learn is the chef-owner of restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. To his left (your right) is George Atterbury, general manager of Craft restaurant in New York City.

I’m not sure what they’re doing together, and frankly it’s none of my business.

It’s none of yours, either.

Moving right along, we have Nancy Olson and Chris Bradley.

Nancy, of course, is the famous pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern in New York City, Chris is that restaurant’s sous chef.

He’s not famous yet, but you never know. It’s good to be a sous chef at Gramercy Tavern.

Next up, we have Rita Jammet, former co-owner of La Caravelle, with her twin sons Nic, on the left (her right) and Patrick.

Nic is a partner in a successful little fast-casual salad-and-frozen-yogurt chain in the Washington, D.C., area called Sweetgreen. Very big on local, organic, sustainable stuff, including using recycled materials to build their stores. Their yogurt truck is a supergreen hybrid. They hired someone special just to source the best products, and called her their sourceress. Cute, right?

Patrick works for one of those high end beverage companies that sells tea drinks. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one.

From the Chicago contingent, pictured here are best chef in the Great Lakes region nominee Bruce Sherman from North Pond (sporting the beard), and Paul Kahan, who has already won that award.

In fact, this year that award went to one of his underlings, Koren Grieveson. This is what Paul (@PaulKahan) tweeted about that: ”First time ever that someone wearing a jb medal said I was their mentor. Feels pretty great.“

Staying with the Chicago contingent, we have two other previous Beard Award Winners.

On the left is Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, etc., and on the right is Tony Mantuano, chef-owner of Spiaggia.

I’m embarrassed to say that I have never eaten Rick Bayless’s food, except for a bit of salsa served at a cooking demonstration at the St. Helena campus of The Culinary Institute of America.

I’ve eaten at Spiaggia, though it was years ago. It was the first, and possibly the last, place I ever had Ohio wine — not that it was bad, you just don’t see a lot of Ohio wine out there. It was a flinty Pinot Grigio.

Heading down south, we have this year’s best chef in the Southeast winner, Sean Brock, executive chef of McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C, who was just beside himself that he’d won. Shocked, really, and I’m not sure why.

Next to him is New Orleans chef Susan Spicer. I don’t know if she and Sean actually know each other. I pulled them together in the press room for this picture.

Here’s Michel Nischan and his son Chris.

I met Michel, oh, probably in 1999, when I was a new puppy at NRN and he was the chef at Heartbeat at the W Hotel in Midtown East. It was the first of the five Ws that are now in New York City, and Heartbeat was ahead of its time in offering food that was good for you without tasting like you were missing something.

He’s currently the chef-owner of The Dressing Room in Westport, Conn.

Chris and I had never met before.

Finally, from DC, we have pastry chef David Guas, who was with the DC Coast restaurants for years but now has his own company, damgoodsweet. Next to him is Ann McCarthy, whom I met years ago when she worked at Saveur. But now she’s José Andrés’ communications director.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Chef’s Night Out

May 3

Chefs’ Night Out, the annual party thrown by Bon Appétit magazine and the James Beard Foundation on the night before the chef and restaurant awards, was held last night at SD 26, the newer, younger, more downtown, hipper incarnation of the former San Domenico.

Odette Fada reportedly is leaving her job as executive chef there, but she hasn’t left yet, and she was downstairs in the kitchen, moving around and supervising things in the way you’d expect a chef to do when hundreds of people from the food world are milling around in your restaurant expecting you to feed them.

The picture at the beginning of this blog entry is SD 26’s Porchetta, which was being served in the downstairs kitchen. That picture was taken by my friend Yishane Lee, who has two small children at home and so doesn’t get out much.

She was my guest last night, because we both agree that, although she doesn’t get out much, she should get out once in awhile, and why not go out to a fabulous see-and-be-seen chef party?

Yishane took that picture right after publicist Sam Firer tore off the pig’s second ear to eat.

On the right you can see a wider shot, giving you the whole tableau.

Sam’s an immigrant from Brezhnev-era Russia, his excuse for his ability to eat anything.

I don’t see why he would need such an excuse. What's wrong with eating a pig’s ear?

I’m old and jaded. Tonight will be the twelfth time I’ve covered the James Beard Awards, and last night was my eighth or ninth Chefs’ Night Out. In some ways that’s nice. It means I don’t really have to go out of my way to shmooze and can mostly stand around with Yishane, drink red wine, eat pork, pizza and pasta and comment on other people’s clothing choices. It’s an agreeable way to spend an evening.

I did catch up with a lot of old friends and acquaintances, got a good basic Margarita recipe from Zarela Martinez (one part lime, one part triple sec, one and a half parts silver Tequila; quoth Zarela: “It’ll knock you on your ass”), and met a couple new people.

I briefly met Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Ore., who's up for a Beard Award for best chef in the Northwest. And I had a really fun conversation with the disarmingly charming David Sax, who has just won a Beard Award for his book Save the Deli.

Those awards were handed out last night, and, as is the custom, many of the attendees then came to Chefs’ Night Out.

David was wearing the big gold-colored medallion that is a James Beard Award. The only places, ever, where it’s appropriate to wear such bling is Chefs’ Night Out and the Beard Award after parties that will happen later this evening.

Normally, David says he wears a big diamond-crusted Mercedes medallion, but I think he was joking.