Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wisdom that comes with age

January 30

“You need to stop calling people kids,” Andy Battaglia told me the other night while we had dinner at Monkey Bar.
I have taken to doing that. You might have seen me do it on this blog from time to time — I say things like "the bright kids at Eater.”
I mean it as a compliment. Kids are energetic and enthusiastic.
But Andy, who is my cultural guru, says it makes me sound old.
“I am old,” I told him.
“No you’re not,” said Andy, who just turned 33.
I’ll be 41 in April, which isn’t, you know, old old, but it means I have a little perspective. And I realized last night that it has made me slightly less stupid — my internal “you’ve had too much to drink! Stop, stop now!” alarm goes off much earlier than it used to.
Back when I was truly young, and living in Bangkok, that alarm went off when it was time to find a taxi to fall into rather than pass out on the street.
I am happy to report that I have never passed out on a Bangkok street.
Last night, it went off while I was talking to beverage writers and such at a rum party at the Brandy Library.
The party was in the bar's basement, down a spiral staircase that required some level of sobriety to navigate.
I had a mini-burger or two while chatting — mostly about world travel if I remember correctly — with assorted people from the drink world. But I didn't eat much because I'd had a meatball hero for lunch, and a meatball hero's a lot of food.
High-end VSOP rum, and an orange-flavored cordial made from rum, were being dispensed from cute little casks, and I sampled them with enthusiasm while talking about the benefits of flying business class with Jack Robertiello, what to do in Argentina with a caterer whose name I have forgotten, places to drink in New Zealand with Naren Young, while also catching up with the regular gang.
I was having a perfectly nice time when, after refilling my little snifter and taking a sip, my better self, watching me from the relative safety and objectivity of my brain, said "THIS IS YOUR LAST DRINK!"
I finished my conversations, put my glass down, said my good-byes and was able to take my gift bag, climb the stairs, get my coat and engage in what seemed like perfectly reasonable parting words with Shawn Kelley and Allen Katz, who were chatting outside the Brandy Library, and made it to my subway. I don't think my speech was even slurred.
This morning, no hangover.
Good alarm.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Clubhouse Cafe

January 29

Last night, before having dinner at Monkey Bar, I went to a party at Clubhouse Cafe, which until quite recently was Tintol, a tapas bar specializing in Portuguese wine and food. Now it’s a kosher bar and lounge. Owner Jose de Meirelles also owns Le Marais, a kosher steakhouse across the street, and he saw a demand for a more casual place for people who follow Jewish dietary laws, both for spillover from his steakhouse and, well, just because.
It was a good party. I met Beth Aretsky, who is perhaps best known a “The Grill Bitch” in Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. It made sense that she was there, as Jose used to be partners with Philippe Lajaunie in Les Halles, where Bourdain was chef.
Since the restaurant is kosher, Andrea Strong brought her kosher-keeping mother from Queens to be her guest. That was nice, and I would have chatted more with them but I ended up mostly talking with Jamie Tiampo, who came with the ubiquitous Akiko Katayama.
Jamie's a Sino-Canadian food photographer, food enthusiast, and partner in Dell'Anima. We spoke of many things, including his background (his grandfather left China’s Fujian province at the age of 6 and was raised in the Philippines, one thing led to another and Jamie was born in Calgary and raised in Vancouver, had a career in technology, decided he wanted a career in food and moved to New York). He gave my colleague Sonya Moore pointers on photographing liquids (in brief: It’s very hard to do).
I had a glass of red wine, and then went to dinner.

Chinese Monkey Bar

January 29

I didn’t know how Chinese Monkey Bar had become.
My friend Andy Battaglia and I were actually supposed to check out a relatively new restaurant last night, but it turns out the chef there was out of town, so we changed plans to see what Chris Cheung was up to. Chris replaced Patricia Yeo, who had been hired by the Glaziers, who own Monkey Bar, to revamp the menu of this formerly old school Midtown bar and restaurant.
Andy admired the restaurant’s walls, which had been painted red with Chinese-style scenes, many involving monkeys, as is appropriate for Monkey Bar, while I assessed the menu.
Everything is served family-style, and although probably only the potstickers were actually Chinese, Chris' style of using Chinese ingredients and techniques, plus some Southeast Asian ones, in Western-looking preparations was more evident than I'd expected. And the food was some of the spiciest I’ve had in Midtown. Who knew?
Here’s what we ate:

Kaffir lime leaf curried chicken salad
Salad of baby vegetables with chile lime dressing
mini short rib spring rolls with truffled Sriracha sauce
classic Cantonese shrimp and pork potstickers
crispy duck breast, lychee, mandarin oranges and Sriracha hoisin
wok seared sirloin steak, chile, garlic and creamed chrysanthemum spinach

Monday, January 28, 2008

Stop the presses! Chef goes on vacation

January 28

I called Bún restaurant in SoHo today to see who their new chef is.
“New chef?” the person on the phone asked.
Yes, I said, because the whole New York food blog world is all in a tizzy that Michael Bao Huynh has left Bún, perhaps to open a noodle shop.
“Where did you read that?”
I told him.
“First I’ve heard of it. He is on vacation in Vietnam, though.”
Now, it’s possible that there has been a kerfuffle in upper management at Bún that hasn’t been communicated to the staff. That happens, but the blogosphere also says that Mr. Huynh is gone from Mai House, the restaurant he runs in partnership with Myriad Restaurant Group. I e-mailed them to ask what was up and got a call from Myriad chief Drew Nieporent. No, he said, he and Michael are still partners in the restaurant, they get along fine, no problems.
Well, I’ve been lied to before, plenty (though not, to my knowledge, by Drew, who can be as tight-lipped as any businessman, but he's no liar). But I still take people at their word until I can’t anymore.
So, as far as I can tell, Michael Bao Huynh is on vacation but still involved in Bún. Running the kitchen at Mai House on a day to day basis, as they have been doing all along, are Spike (not Mike) Mendelsohn and Sean Scotese. (Spike also is a contestant on the next Top Chef, so congratulations to him).
People in the restaurant industry will in no way be surprised that the executive chef isn’t working on the line every day. If someone’s chef at more than one restaurant he (or occasionally she) obviously isn’t cooking at each one every night. That’s why one develops management skills and a good staff.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Home, in bed

January 25

Okay, so maybe I shouldn't try to go to three parties in different parts of Manhattan in one night, because now I'm sick. I don't think it's anything serious -- just a bad cold that started with sinus congestion and then settled into my chest.
For almost as long as I can remember my coughs have sounded much worse than they are. I project, from the diaphragm, with great rumbling noises coming out of my lungs. It's the same cough I get any time I have a cold, and it always causes great concern among friends and colleagues.
"You sound like Hellacious," my colleague Elissa Elan said to me the other day, eliciting a confused look from Paul Frumkin. I think he was wondering who Hellacious was.
"She meant, you sound, comma, like, comma, hellacious," I explained.
That must have been on Wednesday the 23rd, because I've been at home in bed ever since. I'm well on the mend, but my cough will still likely scare people.
And my voice is hoarse -- hoarse enough that when I ordered Chinese food from my regular delivery place, Red Hot, they tossed an orange in gratis. It's nice that they care.
Normally I get shredded beef with fresh hot pepper from Red Hot, but in my weakened state I've been feeling a need for more produce, so I've been ordering vegetarian dishes, along with pork fried rice.
I've been drinking fruit smoothies, too, and they have an emotionally therapeutic effect if nothing else.
Oh, I did eat out once this week, on Tuesday. Birdman and I went to T-Bar, a steakhouse on the Upper East Side. Birdman started with the tuna tartare and I had the chopped caesar salad, and we split the porterhouse for two and a bottle of St. Estephe. Then they buried us in dessert -- strawberry shortcake, cheesecake, and a caramelized banana parfait.

Friday, January 18, 2008


January 18

I did what I thought was impossible last night. I went to parties on the Upper East Side, Astor Place and Times Square, all in one evening, and was home before 11.
I wasn't even going to try to make it to all three, but by 5:30 I realized that my productivity in the office had come to an end for the day, so I hopped uptown on the 6 train and made it to 2nd Avenue and 84th by a little after 6 to witness the opening of Cafe Notte, a cafe by day, wine bar at night kind of place, with a focus on local, seasonal stuff and using recycled furniture and so on.
Just so you know, I’m sick and tired of all the green rhetoric. I was raised by dyed-in-the-wool (using environmentally safe dye, of course) environmentalists and I find many of the people jumping onto the green bandwagon (hybrid bandwagon, acoustic guitars, or perhaps solar-powered electric ones) over the past couple of years, without really knowing what they’re talking about, to be venal, insipid and kind of gross.
But Steven Salsberg seems serious about his mission at Cafe Notte. A representative from the Greenmarket was there to chat about the food, and to hand out a list of farms whose stuff was being served that evening. The soup recipes come from Steven’s wife, and so does the challah recipe. The young beverage manager seemed genuinely excited to be sharing his wine discoveries. It was really very sweet, and I was sorry to have to cut my visit short, but the Astor Center awaited. I rushed to the 6 train.
I was not actually interested in seeing the opening of a new event space, not really. But it was definitely the see-and-be-seen party of the evening. So I went, I saw, I was seen. Publicist Jesse Gerstein, the only male I know of to have worked for Philip Baltz for an extended period of time, was bragging about all the cocktail experts who were there that evening (basically, all of the New York-based ones were there except for Jerri Banks). I gave him a bored look just to be a jerk, because it was an impressive turnout. I wandered over to Dave Wondrich’s bar to drink his Manhattan, which I sipped, appreciating the lemon twist, while circulating through the party.
And then who do you think stopped me but Elizabeth Andoh?
Elizabeth is probably the most knowledgeable native English speaker about Japanese food on Earth. She enchanted the audience at NRN’s Culinary R&D conference last year when she broke down the fundamentals of the cuisine for them, and in general she is a fascinating and charming person, and I was very glad to see her. We spoke of weather and the quality of fish and what makes Japanese food so expensive in Japan (she contends that it’s the labor and serving accoutrements, not the ingredients).
So that was fun, but it was time to hop on the N train to Times Square for the opening party of Chop Suey.
Chop Suey is the really bad name for Zak Pelaccio‘s latest venture. It’s supposed to be a Koreanish restaurant and I have no idea why it’s called what it is, as chop suey is a Chinese-American dish and has nothing to do with China, let alone Korea. But it’s in the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square, so what do you want, authenticity?
I have no idea what the food is like because they had stopped serving savory food and were only passing around dessert. I guess the desserts were developed by Will Goldfarb, but I really wasn’t in the mood.
I did have a nice chat with Zak, though, and he advised me of a new Thai restaurant in Astoria to try, which I’ll have to do.
Apart from Zak, the only person I knew at the party was Tara Mastrelli of Hospitality Design magazine, so I sipped red wine and hung out with her and other design people, who didn’t seem to mind the space.
Meeting Tara late at night is potentially dangerous, as it can lead to a long night of karaoke and other things, but tonight it did not. We headed home early and, as I said, I crossed the threshold of my home before 11.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

big food writers at Dovetail

January 17

Food writer Jane Sigal realized that she didn’t really know anything about how restaurants work. So she got herself a job as a hostess at Dovetail. She was there last night, sorting through numbered tags and associating them with my coat and bag, and with the belongings of Dovetail’s publicist, Aurora Kessler, with whom I was dining.
“Now I know what happens when someone like you walks into a restaurant,” Jane said.
Dovetail was full of people like me last night. In fact, by my reckoning, I was the least important food journalist in the dining room, behind Food & Wine's Dana Cowin, The New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo, and the inimitable James Oliver Cury of Epicurious.
So Dovetail’s in the full throes of the opening phase of “important” New York restaurants, when we in the food world check the place out (Alan Richman and Andrew Knowlton have been in, for sure — and no-doubt countless others).
I sat in the corner, in a spot that Thais might call a chaiyaphum — a fortified position suitable for making a stand in battle.
I’m thinking in Thai a bit today because Aurora, like me, lived in Thailand for about five years. We overlapped by one year — she was there from 1988 to 1993, I was there from ’92 to ’97 — but we never met. She is, like, half my age, after all.
Between Aurora's gentle pitches about Dovetail, we gossiped about chefs, publicists and food writers, reminisced about Thailand and exchanged notes on Thai food in Manhattan — Land, Won Dee Siam, Pam Real Thai Food.
We also ate and drank, starting with a glass of Prosecco.

And from there:
lamb tongue with muffaletta pressé, olives and capers
chicken and skate wings with chickpeas and oranges
Bergerie de L'Hortus Pic Saint Loup (Languedoc, France)

Salad of Brussels sprouts leaves with Serrano ham, cauliflower purée, cauliflower florettes, Bosc pears, Manchego cheese, sunflower seeds and sage vinaigrette
Vinicola Hidalgo S.A. Oloroso sherry

Cod with coco beans, saffron and crab
Jakoby Mathy Riesling Kabinett (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany)

Rack and leg of lamb with Indian spices, winter tabbouleh and yogurt
Donna Luna Aglianico (Campania, Italy)

chocolate caramel fondant with earl grey streusel, hazelnuts and yogurt sherbet
brioche bread pudding with bananas, bacon brittle and rum vanilla ice cream
La Nora Pedro Ximenez sherry

I was looking forward to giving Jane Sigal a tip for getting my coat and bag — I even broke a $20 in anticipation — but they were fetched by someone else.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Southerners at Aquavit

January 16

I can be a selfish man, so when a publicist representing the fine city of Charleston, S.C., wanted to take me to dinner this week, I suggested Aquavit, which is very convenient for me as it is across the street from my office.
There are many restaurants in New York that I’ve been meaning to try. Some, such as Monkey Bar, newly under the helm of Chris Cheung, are nearly as close to my Park Avenue office (between 55th and 56th streets, thank you very much), but I can never think of them when people ask me to dinner. I really should make a list.
But yesterday was my first day back in the office after a vacation in Denver, where I attended the Bar Mitzvah of my second cousin once-removed Micah Levi. Nice kid. The event was certainly worth a blog entry, and maybe I’ll post one later.
At any rate, I knew I would have a boatload of work to do upon my return and did not feel like a long commute to dinner. So, Aquavit.
Of course, Aquavit also, even as a 20-year-old restaurant, continues to maintain a distinctive character and interesting cuisine, and for the past year-and-a-half Johan Svensson has been in the kitchen, and I don’t have a single mean thing to say about the guy.
To the right is a picture I took of him from last year’s C-CAP gala.
I was eating with publicist Melany Mullens and a little puppy dog of an executive chef, 25-year-old Aaron Deal (favorite color: Cobalt Blue), who just recently took over the kitchen at Tristan in Charleston.
There he is on the left. I didn’t take that picture. Melany sent it to me.
He’s in town to cook at the Beard House tonight with a bunch of other Charleston chefs, including crazy molecular gastronomer Sean Brock of McCrady’s, whose food I’d had at the Beard House back when he was a chef in Tennessee.
While Melany, Aaron and I were eating in Aquavit, Sean was of course downtown eating at WD-50.
The other Charleston chefs cooking tonight, just for the record, are Marc Collins of Orca 1886, Frank McMahon of Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, Fred Neuville of Fat Hen (which actually is on John’s Island) and pastry chef Kelly Wilson of Cypress. I think some of them were eating at WD-50, too, but I can’t say for sure.
And when I call Sean crazy, he’s not really, I don’t think, and Aaron tells me he’s moved away from the molecular gastronomy and more toward the local and seasonal stuff, which is in fact more trendy at this point anyway.

Being with a chef, it seemed necessary and proper to have a tasting menu, paired with beverages. Johan sent different things to Aaron and me, but of course we shared, because that's what you do, as we talked about what we liked about our jobs, and other things.

What we ate and drank:

For Aaron:
lobster roll with trout roe and egg dressing
2006 Claar Cellars Riesling (Columbia Valley, Washington)

foie gras ganache with smoked duck tartare
2003 Alois Kracher Auslese Cuvée (Burgenland, Austria)

hot-smoked trout with sunchoke and horseradish broth
2003 Tenuta di Arceno “Primavoce” Merlot/Cabernet/Sangiovese (Tuscany, Italy)

venison with lingonberry sauce and horseradish dumplings
2006 Barrel 27 Syrah (Central Coast, California)

Fourme d'Ambert cheese with apple and date bread
Samuel Smith Imperial Stout (Yorkshire, England)

vanilla-yogurt sorbet with candied beats

ginger-chocolate mousse with glogg poached pear
Fonseca Bin 27 Port

For me:

yellowtail with sea urchin, lime and duck tongue
2006 Karl Fritsch Grüner Veltliner (Wagram, Austria)

octopus with smoked avocado and persimmons
2005 Navarro Gewürtztraminer (Mendocino County, Calif.)

seared tuna and scallop with fennel brûlée
2004 Louis Jadot “Le Vaucrain” Côte de Nuits Pinot Noir (Burgundy, France)

ribeye and (beer-braised) short rib with parsnip purée (sweet, and I think flavored with vanilla)
2005 Sirech “Deux Terroirs” Merlog (Libournais, France)

Constant Bliss cheese with apricot mustard chutney and walnut bread
Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest White Ale (Ibaraki, Japan)

vanilla-yogurt sorbet with candied beets

squash bread pudding with lingonberry sorbet
2004 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji (Tokaji, Hungary)

Melany had a vegetarian tasting, and I didn’t note all of the items

Friday, January 11, 2008

Free food at BarFry

January 11

Here’s the thing about’s Deathwatch: It would be an amusing little feature except for the fact that many New York diners don’t have any more confidence in their taste in restaurants than 14-year-olds have in their taste in music or fashion or pop idols or whatever. If the cool people say you’re not supposed to like something anymore, the cool-people-wannabes stop liking it.
And so, I’m told by some insiders in the New York restaurant scene, Deathwatch can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When a restaurant is given the kiss of Deathwatch, customers stop going. This is extraordinary and sad, and I don’t blame Eater for it — Eater’s reporting on restaurant news as it sees fit. I blame people who go to restaurants because they’re told to, not because they like them.
But with every culture there is also a counter-culture, with every fallen stock price the opportunity for bargain hunting, with every deathwatch the hope of renewed life.
And this brings us to the latest target of Deathwatch, Josh DeChellis' BarFry. The reason for the Deathwatch: BarFry is going to be handing out free food during happy hour (hours really: 4-6 p.m., and then again from 11 p.m. to closing). Sounds to Eater like a desperate measure to drum up business. Sounds to me like an opportunity for Josh to experiment and use his drinking customers as willing guinea pigs.
Josh loves experimenting with food — and with drinks, actually, such as the extraordinary rhubarb Manhattan he made for me years ago when he was at Sumile, even before it had been renamed Sumile Sushi. They don’t all make sense economically or from the perspective of kitchen logistics, and I imagine not all of them will taste terrific, but perhaps he’s giving guests an inside look into his creative mind.
Oh, and BarFry’s launching a new cocktail menu, too, and a signature beer that Josh developed over two years in cooperation with Rogue Brewery of Newport, Ore.
But I’m getting off the topic. Here’s my point: When a restaurant is hit with Deathwatch, it’s diners' chance to be the goths, mods and punks instead of the preppies, to go counter-culture and patronize those restaurants that Eater has declared no longer to be cool.
If nothing else, the lines will be shorter.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The things I do for my job is conducting its fourth annual salary survey among foodservice professionals, and I can get the results if I mention it to you, dear reader.
And so click here to take the survey. If you do, you will be entered for a chance to win four chef passes to StarChefs' International Chefs Congress this September 14-16. So that’s something.


January 10

My cousin Micah Levi’s Bar Mitzvah is on Saturday, so I’m in Denver to go to that, and to take a week to hang out with family. I’m staying in my old room in my parents’ house on 12th and Race (the blue house; you'll know it if you walk by — it has little white gargoyles on the second story balcony and butterflies are painted on the front porch). For breakfast here I pretty much always have an egg fried over easy and served on a bagel with melted cheese. The yolk runs through the hole in the bagel, which is a problem. I tried blocking the hole with the cheese, but it just melted down the hole too. There's a way around this, I know, such as using an English muffin. But I prefer bagels.
Anyway, apart from Micah’s Bar Mitzvah, the main point of the visit is to hang out with nephew Harrison (8) and niece Tahirah (12). I also have a niece Alia, Harrison’s sister, but she’s a year-and-a-half old and, though cute as a button, not a great conversationalist, and I can't really bond with her yet.
Our big outing, at Harrison’s suggestion, was to a place called Monkey Bizness, which is sort of an indoor playground with giant soft slides and obstacle courses and such. Air hockey, too. I did the obstacle course once and was reminded that, despite being a Colorado native, I am no longer acclimated to high altitude. It reminded me of when cousin Joe Levi, Micah’s dad, moved to Denver in the 1970s and would go running and then come back to the house panting and doubled over. It was funny. Silly lowlanders running around like it’s no big deal to be at 5,000 feet.
Joe’s fine now, though.
After Monkey Bizness I took Harrison to Arby’s (he had chicken fingers and curly fries; I had a super roast beef sandwich and potato cakes) and took Tahirah across the parking lot to Subway (she had a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise and assorted vegetables). The kids had never had Arby’s potato cakes before but I convinced them to try them and they agreed that they were a good idea.
Then it was off to Starbucks for a tall double chocolate chip Frappucino for Tahirah, a tall vanilla crème for Harrison, and a short cappuccino for me.
So I’d had dinner, taken the kids home and was hanging out with my folks, having had a full day and realized it was only 8:30 p.m. So I checked out a new restaurant attached to The Tattered Cover on Colfax called Encore where I had a Manhattan. Then I wandered down Colfax to the Satire Lounge. If I'd been hungry I would have had a bowl of their green chili, but instead I drank Newcastle Brown Ale and chatted with a guy named Ray who, from what I could surmise, had just been thrown out of his house in Conifer by his wife and was staying at the Ramada Inn nearby. He'd just been to his first AA meeting. I guess it didn't take as he was drinking beer with me, but he planned on going to seven meetings the following day. Nice guy. A bit troubled.
Then I wandered up to 13th Avenue, to Wyman's, which is conveniently less than a block away from my folks' house. I drank Smithwick's and assorted microbrews and conversed a bit with people who were playing Scrabble with an open dictionary. Friendly group.
Other restaurant meals have included a combination meal at Las Delicias (a burrito, a tostada, a taco, something else — you get the idea), and sushi at Japon with my sister Courtney and her friend Chrissy (I had some some snapper and horse mackerel nigiri sushi and something called a Denver Roll, which had fresh water eel, albacore tuna, cucumber, avocado & flying fish roe.
Last night brother Todd, sister-in-law Helen, their son Harrison and my sister Courtney to nine 75 (Courtney's daughter Tahirah had Hebrew school, my parents stayed home).
Nine 75 is one of the Sullivan Group’s restaurants, whose chef is Troy Guard. Troy and I go back quite a way. You can read about it here if you’re curious, but I don’t like to alert chefs about my arrival because I worry that it implies that I’m asking for free stuff, and I’m not.
As far as I could tell, we got in and out of the restaurant unnoticed. [January 12: We sure did — I just got an e-mail from Troy's wife, Leigh Sullivan-Guard, and it turns out that Troy and Leigh left the Sullivan group in June of last year].
We decided to eat all small plates, except for a chopped salad and a bowl of corn bisque.
Here’s what else we had:
Charred edamame
popcorn shrimp
crunchy calamari
chipotle lobster tacos
bbq pork sliders

And for dessert:
house made cotton candy
rice krispie treats
Belgian waffle with maple custard

I also had an espresso, and Courtney and I split a bottle of Carro Tinto (mostly Tempranillo).

Friday, January 04, 2008

Caucus food

January 4

The ListServ of the Association for the Study of Food and Society discusses many things. This week one topic was food served at the Iowa Caucus.
Here are some reports:

From freelance writer, photographer and editor Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

Reporting from the 65th precinct in Des Moines. We had three times the number of caucus attendees as 4 years ago; 207. The meeting room was jammed with people. Hillary had a relative "spread" with mini ham sandwiches (good Iowa pork), fruit salad (no spoons), chocolate chip cookies, M&M cookies, and bottled water. Since the food was set out on the only large table in the room, others besides Hillary supporters helped themselves. Reportedly the Obama group had plenty of cookies, but they were such a large group, I saw no evidence of it. The Edwards coalition had homemade fudge and caramels, which weren't brought out until the head count was over.

From Warren Belasco:

NPR's Linda Wertheimer, reporting from the town of Nevada, Iowa,
observed that while cookies were allowed inside, sandwiches were not.
Obama's supporters brought cookies. Clinton's brought sandwiches. Draw your own conclusions.

From Robin Kline of Savvy Food Communications:

The town of Nevada (pronounced Nuh-VAY-duh) has some weird rules. I think they were caucusing at the county USDA Extension Building so maybe only 4H-sanctioned cookies (snickerdoodles, etc.) were "allowed".

In the 74th precinct we had 532 registered caucus attendees....Obama had really cute homemade sugar cookies decorated with the Obama "logo" red-white-blue "O" in colored frosting. Edwards had some fine looking cookies and salty snacks; Clinton offered the ham-and-cheese sandwiches, fruit salad (with forks), chips and water.

Here’s another one, sent second hand:

(A) Hillary supporter[s] brought bun sandwiches with some meat filling and some cookies, and bottles of drinking water. An Edwards supporter brought small pretzels with some kind of frosting (cream cheese?) topped off with an M&M. And some Obama supporter brought some Brachs, individually-wrapped Milk Maid fruit-flavored candies.
I did hear several say that they were surprised to get caucus literature suggesting bringing snack foods for attendees, a first in their memories.
That's the short story on a small Iowa (mostly rural) Caucus food offerings.

The ASFS being what it is, I’m not expecting any reports from the Republican front.

January 5

More rapportage:

From Rachelle H. Saltzman of the Iowa Arts Council

69th precinct reporting in--there was an organized effort on the part of Hillary and Obama folks to bring food (the same [catered] ham/cheese on little buns reported by others for Hillary; Obama's folks had boxes of large sugar cookies iced w/the Obama logo [and clearly catered from one of the local supermarkets]). Not sure who brought the water bottles, but the Edwards folks brought all sorts of homemade cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chip, etc.) plus excellent brownies, and quick breads (cranberry and I think banana).

results--we had over twice the numbers from 4 years ago w/a total of 480 (209/Obama, 100/Edwards, 87/Hillary, and 72/Richardson--these were the final results; we started w/fewer for the top three and 50 for Richardson, 30 for Biden, and 1 for Kucinich, and some undecideds).

To echo my Iowa colleagues, it was a great night for caucusing here--crowded and enthusiastic and very congenial.


ps--I strongly suspect the food bringing was driven by the Wash Post story as well as the catered efforts by the Hillary and Obama folks--not sure what the deal was w/the Edwards homemade contingent (and everyone shared w/everyone). I did ask a neighbor who grew up in NW (VERY rural) Iowa, where people really do/did caucus in private homes about food when she was a kid (she's a boomer), and she said that folks definitely brought food, much like a potluck (didn't have time to get into details as to the kinds of foods).

More from Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

In talking with friends today, Hillary's staple was what was at my caucus.
However, caucuses that met in school and some libraries did not allow any
food or drink. Wonder what they did with the trays of food—instant frozen

Also interesting to note that the sandwiches were not typical for Iowa, as
they were meat only—no cheese....


Cathy Wilkinson Barash

From Stasi McAteer:

Reporting from Davenport, my parents informed me that the Clinton camp there also provided the ham sandwiches, but they had chips instead of fruit salad ( folk = less healthy?), and water and dessert. They were impressed with her spread (but not enough to go to her camp).

"Somebody" had granola bars, which my folks thought was silly in comparison to the sandwiches. No report of cookies. A few other candidates had provided drinks.

Obama's people, realizing that it was expected, ran out last minute to buy water. Didn't matter though - 2/3 of the room was in his camp already anyway.

On a non-food note, it was really neat to hear from my mom (who called during the event) and her voice was so excited. She hadn't ever gone to a caucus and had voted Republican in the last several elections. She was definitely "fired up."

And here’s a peach from pescatarian, high-fructose-corn-syrup-hating Doris Witt:

I can indeed offer an at least partial report from my local (Democratic)
caucus venue here in Iowa City, which was, appropriately enough, the
City High School cafeteria. The caucusing process usually begins at
7:00 p.m. and ends around 9:00 p.m., and therefore I think most
caucus-goers have probably already eaten before arriving. In the past I
have occasionally seen individuals carrying bagged dinners. Last night
was the first time I can recall seeing food provided by campaign
workers, but I am admittedly usually so busy checking out the political
loyalties of my more discreet neighbors that I might simply not have

Last night, though, food was definitely being used as bait by at least
some of the campaigns, which when I realized it had the effect of
reinforcing my decision to at least begin the evening as an "undecided."
Accordingly, I spent the first few minutes chatting with various friends
sporting Kucinich, Obama, and/or Richardson buttons who offered solely
food for thought. I complimented them on their idealism and dropped
hints that I might return later before following my eyes (there was,
alas, no "real food" smell associated with the things I am about to
describe) to more gastronomically interesting parts of the room--the
Clinton and Edwards tables, in particular. Visibly unmarked by my lack
of lapel paraphernalia, I was almost immediately cornered by a
Bundt-cake wielding woman sporting an Edwards sticker. Lemon or vanilla
pound cake with high-fructose corn syrup glaze, if I had to guess--very
possibly from the local employee-owned Hy-Vee. I'll probably be fueling
my car with the leftovers in a few days. As the evening progressed, I
continued to see Edwards workers distributing similarly
quasi-Southern/populist sweets--more Bundt-cakes sliced into (reasonably
thin) single serving wedges, pans of brownies, chocolate chip cookies in
plastic packaging of the sort one finds inside, say, a Chips Ahoy bag.
Before I had time to decide whether accepting the Bundt cake was
tantamount to promising to caucus for Edwards, a Clinton precinct chair
tried to tempt me over with an entire bagged dinner--roast beef or
turkey sandwich, chips, cookie, soda. I graciously explained, using my
strongest lingering rural Kentucky accent, that I eat fish but not meat
or chicken. The chair's facial expression started to plummet, and his
eyes flitted forlornly over my plaid flannel shirt. He quickly
recovered, however, having perhaps recognized the tell-tale fleece
lining of costly winter-weight LL Bean jeans, by abandoning the food
lure, gesturing toward the Clinton crowd, and shamelessly reminding me
of key elements of my demographic profile: middle-aged, middle class
white female. "But one who has spent much of the past 15 years teaching
African American literature and culture," I added, having not
coincidentally just noticed that pizza was now being dished out at the
Obama tables. Over I scurried, but with 700 plus people (a record
number) packed into a room designed for about 350, over half of whom
were supporting Obama, I failed in my quest and therefore am unable to
report with any accuracy the brand of pizza or types of toppings--though
it did appear to be regular rather than thin or thick crust, and I think
at least some of the toppings were intended to pass as vegetables.
Perhaps not surprisingly, no tempting smell emanated from the pizza
either. (One wonders whether in 2012 the Kucinich camp will seize the
opening by recruiting CSA affiliates to serve up freshly baked whole
grain bread filled with locally-grown organic sprouts and locally
produced goat cheese.) But by that point the Edwards and Clinton
supporters, who were sitting on the side of the unbearably stuffy room
nearest the windows, had decided to open them in a largely fruitless
effort to lure more supporters ("Come on over and join the cool
campaigns"), so it might just have been that my nasal passages were
rendered useless by the sudden blast of sub-zero air.

As for Dodd and Biden, by the way, it is possible that food was
circulating among their small numbers of supporters, but, alas, neither
campaign even managed to garner seats at any of the cafeteria tables,
and so if they did eat it had to have been while standing up. During
the realignment portion of the evening (in our precinct, candidates
needed a minimum of 108 supporters by the end of the two alignments to
win any delegates), the Richardson supporters mostly went over to Obama,
and the Dodd and Biden supporters redistributed themselves among the
Obama, Edwards, and Clinton camps. Not being ethnographically inclined,
I cannot report with any accuracy as to whether the culinary offerings
had anything to do with their choices. One suspects that exit poll data
on this very issue will be available next time out, though.

I myself left the caucus at the end of the evening without having
partaken of any of the (pseudo-)food offerings. As for what that means
with respect to my choice of presidential candidate, only my 700 plus
neighbors know for sure . . . .

Signing off until November 2011,

January 7: Word from the Republicans

From the ever-intrepid Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

I spoke to a Republican friend over the weekend. It seems a representative
from each candidate gave a 10 to 15 minute speech. Asked about food, she
replied that after half an hour they switched the meeting rooms (Democrats &
Republicans were both in same building) as the Dems needed a bigger space.
Apparently they left their food behind, so the Republicans happily chowed
down on Hillary's sandwiches, chips, cookies and water, Obama's logo-ed
cookies, and Edward's home-made brownies and fudge!

And a point of clarification from Joseph Mutz, RD

Perhaps we haven't heard much of Republican Iowa Caucus food because of the nature of their caucus. The Republican process is much simpler than that of the Democrats. The Republicans vote via private ballot and have "no second round/15% viability rule." There is no "standing" with a certain candidate or repeated head counts for the republicans. Thus, most republican caucus go-ers, vote via private ballot and then return home, while the Democrats' event can go on for several hours. 

I have an aunt in Iowa who caucused with the republicans and she said she was in and out in well under a half an hour, leaving little time or necessitation for sustenance in the form of rivaling Giuliani sandwiches, Huckabee cookies, or McCain muffins.

Soba Totto two

January 3, 2008

Freezing night, just freezing, so I popped back into Soba Totto for warming soba before hopping on the subway. I noticed a couple of things I hadn't seen before. Actually, now that I think about it, I noticed just one new thing: In back of the line where all the yakitori chefs are grilling their meats there are a bunch of crocks of shochu with little spigots for dispensing.
As I finished slurping my noodles and was relaxing with my tea (toasty hojicha — very classy), Bobby, the owner (Ryuichi Munekata, actually, but he goes by Bobby) noticed me and immediately apologized that the menu was so limited. He said the soba chef was from Japan and was still working out the kinks of New York water. He said a bigger menu would be in place in the next two to four weeks, and then he apologized again.
Not that there was anything to apologize about. I was just having plain old $10 hot kake soba.
And the menu's not exactly limited. There are four other hot soba options (with (1) egg, (2) chicken breast, (3) "Japanese yam" — which I'm guessing is nagaimo — and egg, and (4) tempura) as well as six cold soba options, plus all sorts of pickles, three salads, cheese-stuffed deep-fried wontons, Japanese-style fried chicken and a couple of dozen types of yakitori.
He also has seven appetizers with either soba or "soba seed," by which I think he means buckwheat groats, which we Jews call kasha.