Tuesday, October 19, 2010


October 19

I wanted to comment about a tweet I made the other day: “Venison two nights in a row. Is it the protein of this fall?”

It occurred to me that maybe you thought I was weird, that just because I had chosen to eat venison two nights in a row didn’t mean everyone else was eating it. Who was I, some genius so plugged into the Zeitgeist of the modern American dining world that, if I was eating something, so was everyone else?

And you’d have a point, except that I often don’t choose what I eat. At the sort of dinner’s I’m often invited to, they don’t give you a choice. You show up, sit down, and they bring you whatever they’re showcasing. They generally provide you with a printed menu of what you’ll be eating, but you don’t get to pick anything, you just eat it.

That’s probably my third favorite way to eat in restaurants, because I don't have to think about anything. I can just sit there and let the whole experience wash over me.

My second favorite way to eat is alone in a nice restaurant, off the clock, without having to talk to anybody or meet anyone’s expectations. That approach might drop in my esteem if I did it very often, but I don’t.

My favorite way is a Maryland-style crab boil, with newspapers on the table, a mallet, and crab juice dripping down my arm.

Anyway, I made that tweet from The Four Seasons restaurant, where I was having dinner at a 10-top in the pool room with my friend Jennifer Watson. It was, believe it or not, The Four Seasons’ first-ever Spanish wine dinner. It’s 2010 already, and that landmark restaurant has wine dinners all the time, but I guess they’ve mostly been focused on French and Italian wines.

But The Four Seasons isn’t known as being super-progressive. It sails its own course and does just fine with that. It did try to get a bit more hip late last year when it hired celebrity-ish chef Fabio Trabocchi as its executive chef, but that only lasted for about three months.

That’s not to say that the food at the restaurant is boring or bad, but you don’t go there to be cutting-edge, you go there, well, for a lot of reasons.

Back in 2007, when Frank Bruni reviewed the restaurant for The New York Times and demoted it from three stars to two, I remember talking to eater.com founder Ben Leventhal about it. This was actually right before the review came out, but Ben, a native New Yorker (Upper East Side, I’m pretty sure), who knows perfectly well what places like The Four Seasons are all about, said the newspaper was wasting its time reviewing the place. A Times review can put a restaurant on the map, and it can damage the prestige of many restaurants, but The Four Seasons is The Four Seasons. People eat there to have power lunches or to enjoy the setting or to say they’ve eaten there or because they always have eaten there. What the Times says about it doesn’t make a lick of difference, Ben said. And I think he was right.

So the main course during the Spanish dinner, paired with a big, lusty 2005 Clos L'Obac Priorat, was roasted venison loin with huckleberries — a classic combination, although it would have been considered trendy in 1999, which was The Year of the Huckleberry.

Indeed, back at the turn of the century venison was all over fall menus, but you just don’t see it much these days.

Then on the following night, I had dinner at the James Beard House, where the featured chef was Ty Thoren of the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas (where MUFSO is being held next year). Ty might live in Texas now, but he’s originally from Ithaca, N.Y., and talks faster than your average downstater. I’m not sure what his hurry was, but we sat down to dinner at around 7:45 and were out of there before 10.

That's a good thing.

What I ate and drank:

At The Four Seasons:

Fluke, tuna and mackerel carpaccio
2009 Albariño, La Cana

king salmon with roasted porcini mushrooms
2000 Bodegas Muga, Rioja, Prado Enea “Grand Reserva”
2001 Bodegas Muga, Rioja, Prado Enea “Grand Reserva”
2005 Bodegas Muga, Rioja, Torre Muga

Roasted duch breast with Hudson Valley foie gras
2005 Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Malleollus
2006 Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Valderramiro
2006 Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Sancho Martin

Filet of lamb with black truffle
2007 Bodegas Alto Moncayo, Campo de Borja, Alto Moncayo
2006 Bodegas Alto Moncayo, Campo de Borja, Aquilon

Roasted venison loin with huckleberries
2005 Clos L’Obac, Priorato

Christopher’s Dream (that would be pastry chef Christopher Broberg)
2007 Victoria, Jorge Ordóñez, Malaga

(oh, and Four Seasons has two co-executive chefs these days, Pecko Zantilaveevan and Larry Finn)
At the Beard House with chef Ty Thoren:

Grilled Texas quail with jalapeño–bacon vinaigrette and butternut squash succotash
Veramonte Chardonnay Reserva 2008

Fire-roasted poblano soup with oven-dried tomatoes
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2008

Cilantro and ancho–rubbed ahi tuna with chile–chipotle barbecue sauce and jícama slaw
Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2008

Mesquite-smoked venison chop with spicy pomegranate glaze, crispy cheese grit cake, and braised greens with tumbleweed onions
Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Caramelized apple lattice tart with white chocolate–cardamom sauce


Edward said...

To begin with, I hate crab. The thought of any seafood sauce dribbling down anyone's arm is kind of nauseating to me...

Anyway, you're definitely right about one thing: a review can make or break a restaurant. People scoff at reviews of restaurants and whatnot all the time, but the fact is that many people DO rely on the ratings. If your restaurant is getting 1-star ratings all across the board, will you even bother giving it a chance, particularly for a special occasion? I'd lean toward "No." That's the power of journalism for you, I guess. Definitely a double-edged sword!

escalante blogger said...

same here, I hate crab too. I don't the eat same. :-)

Lex said...

I don't think these people have ever had a Maryland-style crab boil. Anytime I'm in DC or Baltimore I make my friends go down to the waterfront to pick up a bag of jimmies. make a huge mess, drink beer, and release your inner barbarian. it's sublime, and completely delicious.

Sedan Service in D.C said...

People scoff at reviews of restaurants and whatnot all the time, but the fact is that many people DO rely on the ratings.