Monday, March 28, 2011

Food Writer’s Diary readers pick Girl & The Goat as best new restaurant

March 28

Despite a mid-week rally in favor of Torrisi after Grub Street alerted New Yorkers that the Nolita hot spot was losing in my poll for best new restaurant, Girl & The Goat in Chicago still won handily.

Granted, only 26 people voted, but 30 percent of them picked chef Stephanie Izard’s Chicago eatery. Benu in San Francisco came in second.

Next, I’d like you to vote on your choice of Rising Star Chef from among the Beard Award finalists. Please click on a name in the poll to your right, or feel free to make comments below.

Results from the last poll:


ABC Kitchen: 5 (19%)
Benu: 6 (23%)
Girl & The Goat: 8 (30%)
Menton: 2 (7%)
Torrisi: 5 (19%)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Untitled: first look

March 23

Danny Meyer’s new restaurant at the Whitney museum, called Untitled, had a soft opening today, sort of.

“Soft is a malleable word today,” Richard Coraine, president of new business for Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group told me at 2:40 pm. "Because it was busy. Still is.”

I would have swung by the place myself, but I’m woefully behind in my work and shouldn’t even be writing a blog entry today. Call me a rebel.

Untitled wasn’t supposed to open softly this week. It was supposed to just open. But not all of the furniture has arrived yet (the picture illustrating this blog entry is a rendering from designer David Rockwell).

“We had everybody trained and ready to go. Just because we didn’t have furniture, it didn’t make sense to hold up the opening.” So this is a “sneak peak week” at the restaurant, with a limited menu and about 50 seats instead of 85.

Coraine said the missing banquettes actually gives the restaurant the opportunity to "take a few baby steps” and let the staff find their legs while seating is still limited.

Breakfast business was good: “A lot of eggs, a lot of pancakes, and a lot of people came for Stumptown coffee.” At lunch they sold a lot of hamburgers.

So, business as usual in Danny Meyer Land.

One of the highlights of the place as far as I’m concerned is the custom-made soda which they’re serving out of kegs.

Local boyfriend/girlfriend team Brooklyn Soda Works is providing root beer and apple-ginger soda. Coraine said the team makes the soda in their kitchen at home. “The cool thing about them is there’s no syrups. The ingredients are either steeped or macerated. The root beer is made from roots that they foraged,” he said.

The restaurant’s executive chef, Chris Bradley, gave me a rundown of what he had planned a couple of weeks ago. You can read that interview here.

Oh, and see that poll above and to your right, about which Beard Award nominee you’d pick for best new restaurant? Go ahead and vote on that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beard Handicapping 2011

March 21

The nominations for the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards were announced today.

So were nominations for cookbooks, journalism and broadcast media, but I don’t cover those and so I don’t care much.

Even the chef and restaurant awards are kind of, well, I mean it’s great for all the chefs and restaurateurs to come to New York and celebrate, and it’s even better that they get to publicize their nomination and maybe drum up more business, but so many nominees return each year that there are never any great surprises. These will be the 13th Beard Awards that I cover, and they have all started to blur together. 

Then again, why would there be surprises? The nominees tend to be talented chefs and restaurants that many people in their communities love, which is why they get nominated.

So I’m not saying that the awards necessarily need to be done differently. They are what they are; winners should use them for whatever they’re worth and those who don’t win shouldn’t take them too seriously.

This will be my fifth year predicting the winners, and I must say that I’m getting better at it. I guessed seven out 19 winners my first two years, then I bumped it up to eight, and last year I guessed nine winners. That’s practically half, almost.

My approach to these predictions is based on the idea that these awards don’t go to the best chef — I mean, “best chef”? What does that even mean?

They tend to go to those whose names are most easily recognized by the judges, who are food writers and past winners.

My predictions do not in anyway indicate who I would like to win. For the sake of propriety, I will keep that to myself.

And now onto my predictions.

Rising Star Chef of the Year:
I think Christina Tosi will benefit from the name of Momofuku, which introduced Asian food to many New Yorkers who had, it seemed, not bothered to walk a mile south of the East Village to Chinatown or two miles northwest to Koreatown.

Aaron London, Ubuntu, Napa, Calif.
Thomas McNaughton, flour + water, San Francisco
Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, NYC
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans

Best New Restaurant:
Torrisi’s the darling of New York gastroscenti at the moment, and although it’s possible that it and ABC Kitchen will split the New York vote and the award will go to Benu, whose chef Corey Lee won the Rising Star award a few years ago and who still shines in the glory of the Thomas Keller empire as The French Laundry’s former chef, I don’t think it will.

ABC Kitchen, New York City
Benu, San Francisco
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Menton, Boston
Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City

Outstanding Restaurateur:
The judges, feeling bad that they dissed Jean-Georges Vongerichten by not voting for his ABC Kitchen as best new restaurant, will give this award to his business partner, Phil Suarez.

Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg, Blue Ribbon Restaurants, New York City
Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Seattle
Pat Kuleto, Pat Kuleto Restaurant Development & Management Company, San Francisco
Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago
Phil Suarez, Suarez Restaurant Grou, New York City

Outstanding Restaurant:
This one’s always a crap shoot, but if in doubt, pick the restaurant with the most famous owner. That would be Danny Meyer of Eleven Madison Park.

Blue Hill, New York City
Boulevard, San Francisco
Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.
Vetri, Philadelphia

Outstanding Chef:
Paul Kahan is new to this category, and it usually takes a few years for a chef to win. Everyone loves José Andrés, but we’re in kind of a post-molecular gastronomy mood at the moment. I think this one’s a toss-up between Gary Danko and Suzanne Goin. I think I’ll pick the one with the homier reputation.

José Andrés, mini bar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.
Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
Suzanne Goin, Lucques, Los Angeles
Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco 

Outstanding Pastry Chef:
Can Eleven Madison Park possibly win two awards? Well, yes, it can, but Mindy Segal’s the only chef in this category who also was nominated last year. I think that’s a sign

Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
Patrick Fahy, Blackbird, Chicago
Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Mindy Segal, Mindy’s HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar, Chicago

Outstanding Service:
Emeril’s famous, but in my world I think Thomas Keller’s even more so.

Canlis, Seattle
Emeril’s, New Orleans
La Grenouille, New York City
Per Se,  New York City
Topolobampo, Chicago

Outstanding Wine Service:
San Francisco’s got to win something big, and Bay Area judges are used to voting for A16, whose Nate Appleman was named Rising Star Chef a couple of years ago. Appleman’s consulting for Chipotle now, but that’s his journey, not A16’s.

A16, San Francisco, Shelley Lindgren
Blackberry Farm Walland, Tenn., Andy Chabot
Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colo. Bobby Stuckey
Picasso at Bellagio, Las Vegas Robert Smith
The Modern, New York City, Belinda Chang

Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional:
So many ways to go with this one. The Beard Foundation is trying to shake its New York-centric reputation. In fact, it announced the list of nominees at a press conference in Portland, Ore., this year. It was a classy move, but still, if you wonder which city is going to take an award, it’s probably going to be New York.

Sam Calagione, Dogfish head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery, Sebastopol, Calif.
Paul Grieco, Hearth and Terroir, New York City
Rajat Parr, Mina Group, San Francisco
Julian P. Van Winkle III, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Louisville, Ky.

Best Chef: Great Lakes:
Perennial favorites like Zingerman’s tend to linger as nominees, but they don’t win very often. I’m going to guess that Chicago will follow the lead of their new Michelin guide, which gave two stars to Avenues.

Michael Carlson, Schwa, Chicago
Curtis Duffy, Avenues, at the Peninsula, chicago
Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Chicago
Paul Virant, Vie, Western Springs, Ill.
Alex Young, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic:
You know what? Philadelphia’s a really great food city.

Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.
Johnny Monis, Komi, Washington, D.C.
Peter Pastan, Obellisk, Washington, D.C.
Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken, N.J.
Michael Solomonov, Zahav, Philadelphia

Best Chef: Midwest:
I think the Midwesterners are going to vote classically this year, and that means a vote for L’Etoile.

Justin Aprahamian, Sanford, Milwaukee
Isaac Becker, 112 Eatery, Minneapolis
Colby Garrelts, Bluestem, Kansas City, Mo.
Tory Miller, L’Etoile, Madison, Wis.
Lenny Russo, Heartland, St. Paul, Minn

Best Chef: New York City
New York has an incredibly dynamic restaurant scene, and yet April Bloomfield’s the only newcomer on this list. With all due respect to the very deserving nominees here, that says something bad about something, but I’m not sure what.
That said, as much as food writers love April Bloomfield, I think they like Michael White even more.

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern
April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig
Wylie Dufresne, WD-50
Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune
Michael White, Marea

Best Chef: Northeast:
Tony Maws is the only returning nominee on this list and so I’ll follow the same logic I did picking outstanding pastry chef.

Tim Cushman, o ya, Boston
Krista Kern Desjarlais, Bresca, Portland, Maine.
Gerry Hayden, The North Fork Table & Inn, Southold, N.Y.
Matt Jennings, La Laiterie, Providence, R.I.
Tony Maws, Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
Eric Warnstedt, Hen of the Wood, Waterbury, Vt.

Best Chef: Northwest:
This list shows me that I need to get to the Pacific Northwest more often, because I am, quite frankly, at a loss as to who to predict. But I have to pick someone, so, congratulations in advance to Cathy Whims.

Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce, Seattle
Christopher Israel, Grüner, Portland, Ore.
Andy Ricker, Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.
Ethan Stowell, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Seattle
Cathy Whims, Nostrana, Portland, Ore.

Best Chef: Pacific:
I’ve heard many good things about Daniel Patterson, and that means that judges in the Bay Area have, too.

Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francico
Richard Reddington, Redd, Yountville, Calif.
Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco

Best Chef: South:
The Brennans are possibly the most respected restaurant family in the entire country, and this list indicates that New Orleans still is enjoying a post-Katrina bump. 

Zach Bell, Café Boulud, Palm Beach, Fla.
John Harris, Lilette, New Orleans
Christopher Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Ala.
Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon, New Orleans

Best Chef: Southeast:
Bigger cities have more judges.

Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten, Athens, Ga.
Craig Deihl, Cypress, Charleston, S.C.
John Fleer, Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley, Cashiers, N.C.
Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta
Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Ky.
Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Best Chef: Southwest:
Remember what I said about the Southeast? It’s true of the Southwest, too.

Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks, San Antonio, Texas
Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston
Saipin Chutima, Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin, Texas
Ryan Hardy, Montagne at the Little Nell, Aspen, Colo.

And that concludes my predictions. 

Please feel free to share your own observations in the comment section below.

Food Writer’s Diary readers vote differently from Beard Foundation judges

March 21

As you would expect, readers of this blog had a different notion of who should be Rising Star Chef of the year, an award the James Beard Foundation gives to chefs aged 30 or younger who show promise.
Of the five nominees, who were named today, only one, Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, also was in the top five voted on by this blog’s readers from among the long list of Beard Foundation semifinalists for the award.

Not a whole lot of people participated in the vote, just 49, apparently many of them from the Twin Cities.
I’ll post the results below, and also point out that I have a new poll up with the finalists for Best New Restaurant on the right.

Vote away (write in your own candidate in the comments section below)!


Sameh Wadi, Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, Minneapolis — 10
Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, New York City — 6
Jonathon Sawyer, The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland — 5
Kevin Gillespie, Woodfire Grill, Atlanta — 4
Nicholas Stefanelli, Bibiana, Washington, D.C. — 4
Anthony Martin, Tru, Chicago — 3
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans — 3
Andrew Ashmore, The Greene House, Scottsdale, Ariz. — 2
Clayton Chapman, The Grey Plume, Omaha, Neb. — 2
Sheldon Simeon, Star Noodle, Lahaina, Hawaii — 2
Benjamin Bailly, Fraîche, Culver City, Calif. — 1
Eric Gabrynowicz, Restaurant North, Armonk, N.Y. — 1
Will Gilson, Garden at the Cellar, Cambridge, Mass. — 1
Greg LaPrad, Quiessence, Phoenix — 1
Matt Lightner, Castagna, Portland, Ore. — 1
Jesse Schenker, Recette, New York City — 1
Bjorn Somlo, Nudel, Lenox, Mass. — 1
Blaine Wetzel, The Willows Inn, Lummi Island, Wash. — 1
Justin Aprahamian, Sanford, Milwaukee — 0
Sean Baker, Gather, Berkeley, Calif. — 0
Sean Ehland, Kaya, Pittsburgh — 0
Sam Gorenstein, BLT Steak, Miami Beach, Fla. — 0
Perry Hoffman, étoile, Yountville, Calif. — 0
Casey Lane, The Tasting Kitchen, Venice, Calif. — 0
Aaron London, Ubuntu, Napa, Calif. — 0
Thomas McNaughton, flour + water, San Francisco — 0
Paul Qui, Uchiko, Austin, Texas — 0
Dan Richer, Arturo's, Maplewood, N.J. — 0
Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore. — 0
Lee Styer, Fond, Philadelphia — 0
Michael Toscano, Manzo, New York City — 0
Total votes: 49

Friday, March 11, 2011

Preparing for a pop-up

March 11

Last night my evening really began, at least in my own mind, at around 4pm, when I saw the following tweet from Red Cat owner Jimmy Bradley:

“Feeling bitter? Stop by The Red Cat and drown your sorrows with one of Trace’s signature cocktails.”

I wasn’t feeling bitter, nor sorrowful, but I still felt like Jimmy was speaking directly to me.

Three months ago, when our offices were in Midtown East, a shlep to west Chelsea, when I had an event to go to later in the evening near Times Square, would have seemed ludicrous.

But since Nation’s Restaurant News was bought by Penton Media and we moved offices to central Chelsea (17th Street between seventh and eighth avenues, closer to eighth), The Red Cat is now just a slight detour.

So as soon as I could extract myself from the office I sauntered over to The Red Cat and had a couple of bracing drinks — Elixir No. 1 followed by a bourbon-based one that I think was called Old Pal — refreshing but bitter, and looked at my phone to see where I’d agreed to have dinner that evening.

It seemed I'd agreed to attend the opening night of The Feast, a three-day pop-up restaurant at the soon-to-open Sanctuary Hotel (where the Portland Square Hotel was until recently).

The chef: 15-year-old Greg Grossman.

“Oh, Bret, you stupid, stupid man,” I said to myself. “You have RSVPed in the affirmative to something ridiculous.”

But I’m a man of my word. If I can possibly make it to something that I said I’d go to, I go, except when I occasionally forget.

So I paid for my drinks and walked through the rain to the E train and took it to Times Square.

I was early as I walked toward the hotel, and my heart sank when I saw the searchlights in front.

Because an event at which you must endure the silly food of a child is bad enough. Having to do it in the company of scenesters and minor self-important celebrities — well, I wasn’t going to show up early, that was for sure.

I walked to Sixth Avenue in search of time-killing amusement and, realizing I was near Oceana, I walked in for another bracing drink — whiskey-based, slightly sweeter than the ones at The Red Cat; I think it was called The Dubliner.

Chef Ben Pollinger was nice enough to send out some oysters lightly dressed in pomegranate and some escolar sashimi with mango and macadamia.

With three stiff drinks and some fortifying marine protein under my belt, I was ready for the ridiculous.

It started with a fourth cocktail, as servers were handing out rocks glasses filled with dirty vodka Marinis garnished with blue-cheese stuffed olives and truffle oil.

It was, indeed, a scenester crowd with very minor slightly self-important celebrities, and also women dressed in skimpy white outfits, clearly hired for the titillation of the guests.

I don't think I’d seen anything like that since before 9/11, and I see nothing wrong with hiring consenting adults to be eye candy, and if it helps to usher in a new age of decadence, that’s fine with me.

Also, the truffle oil in the dirty vodka Martinis worked for me. So did the fact that the Martinis were on the rocks, which meant they were not in cocktail glasses and thus not nearly so hard to keep from sloshing.

I was seated next to someone who worked at a celebrity web site. He was on my right, and on my left was originally the female companion of one of the hotel owners, but over the course of the evening various other women rotated in there. I didn’t catch their names.

The guy from the celebrity web site seemed nice enough but wasn't interested in talking to me, and the House music was too loud for meaningful conversation anyway, so I mostly sat and let the evening sort of wash over me.

The theme of the Pop-up restaurant was Pop Art — in fact it was called the Pop Art Pop Up. The place was decorated in sort of  Warhol-era theme, and the dishes on the menu developed by our “Wunderkind Chef” — that’s what the menu called him, a Wunderkind — were each named after a work of pop art.

What can I say? I had a good time. The food was mostly delicious, the music was fun — between bursts of House music a diminutive singer, about my height, with great pipes sang songs from my formative years by artists such as Lionel Richie (Hello), Tracy Chapman (Talkin’ Bout a Revolution)  and Cyndi Lauper (Time After Time) — and I’d already had four cocktails by the time we sat down.

But I did notice that Greg Grossman had a surprising level of poise. He came out to talk about the food, described the first dish and realized the crowd wasn’t interested. So he told them all the pictures of the art were on the back of the menu and to enjoy their meal.

I wish more chefs knew to do that.

Oh! I almost forgot: Guess who was helping young Greg Grossman prep? Don Pintabona, former chef of Tribeca Grill and then chef-owner of Dani. Remember him?

Don’s freshly back from Asia (Sri Lanka, Laos and someplace else — I think Vietnam) where he was working on a project to help communities develop sustainable agriculture and such, but he also has known young Master Grossman since he was an even littler kid, and he always has been interested in cooking.

What I ate (with photos graciously provided by the Sanctuary’s publicists):

Jeff Koons “Balloon Dog (Orange)”
Carrot, Stilton, coconut, cardamom and lemon grass

Damien Hirst “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)”
Scallop, potato, apple, tamarind and Thai basil

Andy Warhol: “Marilyn Monroe”
Beef, lamb, salmon and bass in monochromes

Roy Lichtenstein:
New York strip steak, foie gras, cilantro and sherry

Takashi Murakami
“Flower of Joy”
Fennel, yuzu, mango, white chocolate and strawberry

And below, the back of the menu with a collage of all the works of art on which the food was based:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The food at the Gay Men's Health Crisis fundraiser

March 1

People don’t generally go to fundraisers for food, and for good reason. You just have to hope for good dinner conversation or a moving speech about whatever cause you’re there to support. Otherwise you’re better off mailing in your check and ordering pizza.

But Savor is different. The annual fundraiser for the Gay Men's Health Crisis is all about the food — and with good reason since, among the GMHC’s many services, is its meals program, through which it provides nearly 100,00 meals annually to low-income men and women living with HIV.

The focus of those meals is nutrition, but at Savor this year it’s all about showcasing New York’s chefs and food. The five appetizers to be served during the cocktail reception — created by Stephen Lewandowski of Tribeca Grill — are intended to represent each of the city’s five boroughs. Cute, right?

The event’s being held this Monday, March 7 at Gotham Hall.

You can buy tickets at

What they’re serving:

Cocktail reception:
Red wine braised short rib pierogi with caramelized onion sour cream (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
Crispy curried pea samosa with green apple & kaffir lime ;eaf (Murray Hill, Manhattan)
Porcini & walnut baklava with white truffle honey (Astoria, Queens)
Dominican braised pork shoulder on crispy plantain chip (The Bronx)
Rosemary-scented Gulf shrimp with chestnut honey (Staten Island)

First Course, by Peter Hoffman, chef-owner of Savoy:
Winter green salad with Ascutney Mountain cheese, shaved fennel and puffed wheat berries
Second Course, by chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe:
Bloominghill Farm Carnival squash brodo with chicken tortelloni, black truffle butter and sage

Main Course, by Peter Hoffman:
Braised lamb shanks with Swiss chard sofrito and rutabaga mostarda

Dessert, by François Payard of François Payard Bakery:
Crémeux of chocolate mousse and raspberry, raspberry jam and flourless chocolate cake topped with homemade raspberry marshmallows with a hint of olive oil