Monday, June 30, 2008

Chervil is back

June 30

The herb that looks like parsley, but more delicate, and tastes like tarragon, but more shy, is back.
Chervil is a member of the classic French quartet known as fines herbes (along with chives, tarragon and parsley) and in 1999 and 2000 I saw sprigs of it on top of dozens and dozens of center-of-the-plate proteins. Then, like the herb itself, notoriously tricky to grow and fast to wither, it mostly faded from my sight. Maybe it was still around and I just stopped noticing after I wrote an 1,100-word feature on it.
Once an article’s written, I pretty much stop thinking about it.
But I’ve been noticing it again lately. It garnished a bunch of the things I ate the other night at Bobo, and it’s showing up elsewhere, too. I wonder why.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Glaring lack of nudity

June 26

The last time I went to the opening of a The Pump Energy Food — in an office-building food court in Midtown East — beautiful people wearing, for all practical purposes, nothing but silver body paint were on display. Others, dressed in gym clothes and sprayed with silver glitter, were placed on various pieces of exercise equipment, half-working out and half just looking great. Young men with intimidatingly good bodies in strategically ripped sleeveless t-shirts were pouring frozen Margaritas.
Because, you see, The Pump billed itself as serving “physical fitness cuisine” and bragged about not having added salt, sugar or oil. That marketing technique has proven time and again to be disastrous for sales in restaurants. So often has food that’s supposed to be good for us tasted like it was made by sadists that we’ve learned to shun it. Put one of those heart-healthy symbols by a menu item, and sales of it will likely go down. Really, they will.
Attitudes have changed a bit recently, however, and this current wave of good-for-you menu items looks like it has more staying power than previous ones (remember the McLean Deluxe?).
I think a big reason for that is that the health food itself has changed. A lot of it tastes good now. And the marketing has changed, too — it’s not called health food anymore.
The food at The Pump has actually always been good, which is why it has managed to stay open in New York all these years despite signage that shouts at customers about how its food has no added oil. In fact, The Pump has quite a few devotees in New York — you can tell them by their muscle definition and by your ability to bounce quarters off their butts.
The little chain’s founder, Steve Kapelonis, and his wife Elena recently took on business partners and moved to Tampa. The new management, under CEO Adam Eskin, has decided to re-image the place: Change its décor from haimische to sleek; de-emphasize the low-fat aspect of the food and focus on its energy — a buzzword that sells food, especially if the people buying it are younger than 30.
“Last time there were naked people in body paint,” I complained to Steve, who was at the party with Elena. Because I'm not ashamed to say that I like naked people in body paint.
Steve introduced me to Adam, who introduced me to his consigliere Dan Fogarty (really, Dan’s business card says he’s the chain’s consigliere, and he took the picture that illustrates this blog entry).
Not long ago Dan was the marketing guy for Chipotle, where his title was brand leader and keeper of the faith. No fooling.
Adam looks simultaneously wonkish and like a guy who eats at The Pump. I also met operations manager Danny Lachs. People say he and Adam look like they’re related, but they don’t really. I think they just kind of occupy a similar space.
The guy who designed the new restaurant is Garrett Singer, whom I met back in 2001 when he was designing Tiger Blossom, the brainchild of Chris Cheung, who is now the chef at Monkey Bar.
Tiger Blossom failed to thrive — its opening in the summer of 2001 didn’t help — but the space was cool, with lots of found objects and a desire to combine elegance and an awareness that the restaurant was on the same block as the Hells Angels headquarters. Since then Garrett, who earned his chops working for Larry Bogdanow, has designed Klee and Hill Country as well as the new The Pump Energy Food.
Garret and I chatted about the food scene. We reminisced about Sono, a restaurant he helped design with Bogdanow where Tadashi Ono was chef. It closed right before 9/11 — I remember, because my colleague Paul Frumkin was going to write a little column about how it was too bad it closed, but then the towers fell and you couldn’t write anything about anything else in New York for the next year.
Despite the glaring lack of near-nudity, the party was packed, but it was time for me to go. My friend Kenyon’s band, Unisex Salon, was performing at the Bowery Ballroom.
Kenyon is a good-natured yet dark-humored guy with a gift for conversation and a voice reminiscent of David Bowie’s. Adding to his fan base, I think, is the fact that he looks like Jared Leto and often performs shirtless.
It was a good show, and it reminded me of how bad the sound can be at The Mercury Lounge, where Kenyon also performs from time to time. I think everyone else in the band, except for his drummer, of course, was new. He’d even added another singer. On keyboards was Brian Gumbel, a guy who, as far as I’m concerned, has revolutionized the tuxedo. He was jacketless, but the cummerbund was in place. The collar was open, and the bow-tie was tied instead around his neck, Chippendale-style. Kenyon, who was, in fact, shirtless, called it the“coitus interruptus James Bond look.”
So if that’s how I’m dressed at the next black tie event, you’ll know where I got the idea. But I have a feeling that it really only works if you’re on stage and have the looks of an Italian prince.


June 25

My boss, Pam Parseghian, calls stupid people “bobo,” and that’s not the only reason I think it’s a silly word. It also means “bourgeois bohemian,” which to me translates as an overeducated self-important idiot who likes to pretend to slum but wouldn’t know real grime if he fell in it. And I should know, since as a middle class guy who writes, I am a bourgeois bohemian. There’s no getting around it.
And of course the West Village is the land of the over-privileged artist. The cradle of the gay rights movement, former crucible of many artists of all stripes, and now a neighborhood of the pampered rich.
Morningwood bassist Peter Yanowitz lives there, and he told me his neighbors hate him because he plays loud music. But why do people choose to live in the Village if they don’t want to bask in the glory of artists? Don’t you want your neighbors to be musicians? Isn’t that the whole point?
It’s like all those haters on the community board in the East Village who don’t want to give anyone a liquor license. Shouldn’t they just move to Great Neck?
And Bobo is also a restaurant in the West Village— the exclusive kind without a sign, so you just have to know where it is (181 W. 10th St., just West of Seventh Avenue, on the north side of the street, down the stairs). And publicist Katherine Bryant, my friend from back when she worked at Restaurant Business, wanted to have dinner with me there. So I went there with her last night.
I’m a food writer, so I don’t know about space, but it’s a cool space, or rather three, or really four, cool spaces — dark, stylish bar, cute ramshackle-apartment-like dining room, charming garden, and, um, stools by the walk-in.
I’ve never seen that design feature before: a glass-enclosed walk-in refrigerator jutting out into public space, with a bar and stools so people can eat while looking at it.
It’s certainly motivation to keep the fridge clean.
Actually, there might be a fifth dining area somewhere, hidden, where they put their ugly diners, because I didn’t see any of them last night.
I didn’t get a chance to meet the chef, Jared Stafford-Hill, who’s been there since January, because it was dinnertime and he was cooking, which you’ve gotta respect. But the restaurant’s owner, BR Guest veteran Carlos Suarez, was sitting at the bar, manning the turntable.
What we ate:

diver scallop crudo, with beets and wild asparagus
asparagus and morel risotto
white salmon with spicy fennel, pistachio and blood orange
lamb saddle with roasted asparagus and smoked paprika
a side of buttered garden peas
a sort of rhubarb crumble for dessert, along with citrus segments and lemon curd ice cream

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The first Jägermeister and, I’m totally serious, sea urchin ceviche

June 24

Lots of interesting parties last night. I went to two of them, skipping the Donald Trump-Dubai event, which was probably off the hook, as the kids say, but not very much related to my world.
So instead I went to a party celebrating or launching or doing something with La Fée Absinthe.
If you follow the booze world at all, you’ll know that absinthe is a newly re-legalized, hot little spirit (and potent at 136 proof) that had been outlawed, ostensibly because the use of wormwood in it led to the presence of thujone, which may or may not produce psychedelic effects in those who consume it.
From what I can gather, a great mystique developed around absinthe in 19th Century Paris, when people hung around and drank it and reportedly hallucinated and did art and otherwise behaved like bohemians.
George Rowley, La Fée’s managing director, visited our offices on Friday and blamed the French wine lobby, which at the time had fairly recently covered from a phylloxera plague that had wiped out its vineyards, for getting Absinthe outlawed (in 1915). I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s a good story.
Indeed, absinthe is a good story, and like French wine (I mean, with all due respect, it’s fermented grape juice), it's a marketing story.
Because in absinthe’s heydey, George says Paris' bars had special absinthe fountains for gently watering down and sweetening the liquor (such fountains were on display at the party). Statuettes spewing cool water were installed at bar posts for the same purpose.
Just like those Jägermeister chilling machines found in bars that are conducive to doing Jäger shots.
Drinking is very, very much about marketing and has been for a long time. At turn-of-the-century American Taverns, local breweries sponsored free lunch for anyone who bought a $0.05 beer.
If marketing weren't important, vodka wouldn't come in all those fancy bottles.
Neither would grappa.
But it seemed like a pretty good party. I caught up with food writer Jay Cheshes and editor (at Gourmet) James Rodewald. And I ran into Paul Tanguay, former beverage director of the SushiSamba world, who now has teamed up with cocktail maker Tad Carducci to form their own consulting company. So good for them.
Meanwhile, I learned today, the new beverage director for Simon Oren et al in SushiSamba land is Arik Torren. I’ll be learning more about that soon.
Okay, so that was enough of that party, which was held at Openhouse Gallery in SoHo. I walked a few blocks to Moss, a fancy design store which had been rented out by people celebrating the launch of SLS Hotels, the first of which opened in Los Angeles and where José Andrés is doing the food.
It was a cool party, with a mixture of designers and journalists and kool katz. My new friend Allison Held, who works for David Rockwell and whom I just met in Aspen, was there, much to my delight. So were the always excellent Greg Lindsay and wife Sophie Donelson, who were on their way to that Trump party.
Greg noted that that Philippe Starck was at the other end of the bar, surrounded by groupies, which is why it was so crowded down there. He was also the second person that evening to tell me about the invitation to that party, which I didn't get (although an e-mail invitation was forwarded to me; it's okay — I don't have to be on everyone’s A-list), and the second person to quote the cost of the postage, which was, I believe, just over $7. It was a lacquer box containing a little metal (possible brass) invitation to the gala. The blogs are now reporting on the event with some vigor, in case you’re curious.
Instead, I ended up talking with one of Allison’s colleagues about design things, as José swung by and stuck in my mouth a morsel of serrano ham wrapped in a cone that was filled with caviar.
Mmm, salty.
Cones topped with salmon roe were also being served and, much to my delight, sea urchin ceviche.
This is why I was so psyched to see sea urchin ceviche.
Oh, I also had a really nice chat with Will Blunt from Star Chefs. I hadn’t had one of those with him before, so that was nice.

Monday, June 23, 2008

If you don’t have anything nice to say...

June 20

Believe it or not, as often as I eat out with diners not of my choosing I usually find myself with people who are intelligent, engaging, charming, good-natured, interesting or if nothing else nice to look at.
But on Friday at the Beard House I sat next to the most unpleasant, self-pitying windbag of a freelance writer I have ever met.
Well, okay, maybe not the most unpleasant ever. But she was certainly the worst person I've had to sit next to for an entire evening in the past year.
I didn’t catch her name (and wouldn’t be so uncouth as to mention it if I did) but she had that rare ability to make interesting places sound boring, benign observances seem irritating, a pleasant meal in a nice setting with good wine tedious.
And she would repeat herself, too, and have strong opinions about things of which she was ignorant (she hates Las Vegas, but hasn't been there).
Two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
Nice hosts, though, from Cero at the St. Regis Resort in Fort Lauderdale. Chef Toby Joseph, his first lieutenant Samuel Childers and pastry chef Jordi Panisello.

What I ate and drank:

Hors d'oeuvre:
Rabbit rillette with morel and stewed dates
Brandade croquettes with citrus caviar rémoulade
(oysters with sour apple granité and Chambord mignonette also were served, along with Napa cabbage and vegetable lobster rolls, but I didn’t get chance to try them)
NV Veuve Cliquot

Seared salmon with fennel and onion confit and black radish with mustard cream
2005 Pieropan Soave Classico

Peekytoe crab crêpe with English pea coulis
2005 Louis Mareau “Vaillons” Chardonnay, Chablis 1er Cru

Pineapple glazed Pacific pink snapper, hearts of palm purée and Asian spiced microgreens
2005 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Gris “Les Princes Abbés”

Braised oxtail, sautéed diver scallop, porcini and fine carrot salad
2006 Bruno Giacosa Barbera d’Alba

Passion fruit raspberry chocolate fondant with lemon mango raviioli and hibiscus ice cream
NV Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Tokay

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mashups at San Domenico, skiers at Fireside

June 20

I’m not sure how to describe San Domenico’s swan song party. I got there at around 11 p.m. after an unusually fun press dinner that I’ll get to in a moment.
San Domenico closed last night, you see, after 20 years on Central Park South. But don’t worry, they’re reopening, probably in late spring of next year, on the north end of Madison Square Park in a bigger space capable of generating more income.
In the meantime, they'll be doing off-site catering starting on July 1.
I wandered past the velvet rope, skirted the bar and went down the stairs to what for years had been the main dining room but tonight was the dance floor.
“Grab a drink!” said Marisa May, founder Tony May’s daughter. She motioned to a table that, I’m not kidding, was covered with random glasses and had bottles of vodka and cranberry juice.
“Hi sweetie!” said a statuesque African-American woman manning the impromptu bar who leaned down to give me a peck on the cheek. I noticed open wine bottles and so asked for a glass of red. She asked if it would be okay if she poured it into a highball glass as that was all she had. I said that would be fine.
She asked if maybe I wanted some seltzer in it. I said no thanks.
It was so awesome.
The DJ was doing an I Love Rock ’n’ Roll (Joan Jett version) mashup with something else I didn’t recognize and people I’d never seen before were dancing with great vigor. To me, it looked like Marisa’s friends were dancing and Tony’s friends were (mostly) sitting around the dance floor on the banquettes, but I’m sure a lot more was going on than that. The only people I knew there, apart from the hosts, were two of their publicists and chef Bill Telepan, who was there to give his regards to San Domenico’s chef, Odette Fada.
The regular bar was up and running and serving regular drinks. Vodka and cranberry was popular there, too, but I stuck with red wine, switching to a red wine glass, until my last drink, when I saw the bartender pouring limoncello and had some of that.
A buffet had been set up in one of the side rooms, and beside it was a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano that had been busted open. I nibbled on that and continued to watch people dance.
Good times.

Before that I was at Fireside, at the Omni Berkshire hotel, for a press dinner introducing chef Sam DeMarco’s Tiny 'Tini menu (mini-martinis, little lobster rolls, cheesesteak dumplings, pulled pork spring rolls) and some of his early-summer menu items. Served with Rosé for some reason.
When I got there it looked kind of bleak: A table of mostly travel writers. And you know how tedious travel writers can be.
But at the last minute young publicist Blain Howard sat across from me, and next to me sat my friend Sara Bonisteel, who works for Fox News these days, and across from her was her friend, freelancer Michael Park.
What a relief!
I hadn’t met Blain before, but he’s a fellow Coloradan, mostly raised in Colorado Springs with a degree in philosophy (minor in psych) from CU Boulder with interests ranging from mixed martial arts (see how he’s boxing with the camera?) to graphic novels to science fiction.
He, Michael and I assessed Battlestar Galactica and wondered why fans of science fiction also were drawn to vampires, while Sara sat quietly. She participated in later stages of the conversation, which ended up being quite varied and lively. In fact, the travel writer sitting on the other side of Blain turned out to be Edwin Fancher, who quite apart from being a founder of The Village Voice was also in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II — the ones who skied — and so he got his training in Colorado (near present day Vail, which wasn’t there yet) before seeing action in Northern Italy.
You just never know who you’re going to be eating with.

What we ate and drank at Fireside, after those things from the Tiny ’Tini menu:

Prosciutto di San Daniele, arugula, marcona almonds and white fig vinaigrette
Cleto Chiarli NV Brut Rosé, (Emilia Romagna of all places)

Sautéed soft shell crab with chanterelles, fava bean ragoût and corn butter
2007 La Scolca Rosé Chiara, (Piedmont)

Braised American red snapper with saffron, fennel and tomato
2007 Domaine de Nizas Rosé (Coteaux de Languedoc)

Roasted Colorado Lamb T-Bone, crispy feta, watermelon and cucumber water
2007 Charles Melton, Rosé of Virginia, (Barossa Valley)

Bay leaf-laced pannacotta with orange suprèmes
Taltarni Brut Tache (Tasmania believe it or not)


June 19

Last night I was having Thai food at Rhong-Tiam with my history professor friend Jonathan Ray, who was visiting from DC. We were talking about his kids and romance and the prevailing political mood among Mediterranean medievalists when we were interrupted, very politely, by a photographer who said she was from The New York Times and wanted to photograph us eating.
Apparently Julia Moskin will be writing about Rhong-Tiam soon.
As we were leaving, we ran into my friend Yishane’s friend Emily, and Emily’s sister, who were heading to the restaurant for dinner. I told her about the upcoming Times piece.
“Oh no!” she said, because if the Times wrote about Rhong-Tiam, we would have trouble getting in.
That’s probably true, but it will be good for business.
Speaking of which, Rhong-Tiam chef-owner Andy Yang’s next venture, a fusiony place in the East village called Kurve, is slated to open on July 1.

What we ate:

roasted pork neck with chile-ginger sauce
fluffy catfish salad
(Thai) southern style chicken
pat pak boong fai daeng (“watercress greens on fire”)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chefs needed to feed flood victims

June 19

The Salvation Army in Iowa is looking for chefs to take the lead in preparing food for flood victims. They will be feeding about 1,000 people per day over the next 30 days. The American Culinary Federation’s Iowa chapter is organizing the effort and can be reached at or at 641-629-0225.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Good-bye San Domenico, hello SD26

June 18

Tony and Marisa May did a pretty good job of not revealing much about the new location of San Domenico. The old one closes today, except for a blowout party tomorrow. Its new location was supposed to be revealed at lunch today, but somebody let the cat out of the bag this morning. (I'm told that Grub Street had that information, too, but waited until lunchtime to post it).
Tony and Marisa are lovely, conversational people, so the fact that they didn’t let out any more was pretty good.
Well, okay, Marisa did mention to me a few weeks ago that Massimo Vignelli would be the designer. And I’m sure a few other bits of information got out, too, because I bet Marisa talks to a lot of people. She’s a restaurateur, after all, and one who’s not afraid to joke about getting people drunk.
Still, the release of the information was handled well, and maybe a little leak here and there helps keep people excited, so there can be big coverage like here and also here and even with pictures here.
So what's left to say?
Well, the announcement was made at San Domenico’s farewell luncheon, so here's what we ate:

zuppa di pomodoro con medaglione di aragosta (baked heirloom tomato soup with lobster medallions)
uovo in raviolo al burro nocciola tartufato (this is San Domenico’s signature item of egg yolk-filled raviolo — that’s the singular of ravioli — with truffled brown butter)
filetto di vitello con carciofi, fave, cipolle di primavera con salsa di vino bianco, burro e pancetta (prepared by San Domenico alumnus Marc Bianchini of Osteria del Mundo, Cubanitas and Indulge, all in Milwaukee — veal tenderloin with baby artichokes, fava beans, cipollini onions and a sauce of white wine, basil, pancetta and butter)
Baba al rum con salsa all'arancia (Rum-soaked cake with orange sauce, and whipped cream)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Champagne, chefs and Seamus

June 16

On Saturday afternoon, with the trade seminars done, the Cognac drunk, the blog updated, I headed to a restaurant called Dish, where I sipped iced coffee and met chef Jason Rogers of the St. Julien in Boulder. He was in town to cook a special dinner that evening. He had worked in Aspen for awhile, but he said he was enjoying the year-round business of the Front Range (that’s the mostly flat eastern slice of Colorado that includes all of the state’s major population centers, unless you count Grand Junction, which only people in Grand Junction do).
Incidentally, on Thursday I also met with Best New Chef Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu in Napa, a very soft-spoken young man, as many chefs are. In fact, shyness and/or hatred of people are two common personality traits in chefs, which is why they’ve chosen lives in the kitchen and why the kitchen is called a restaurant’s back-of-the-house.
Anyway, I skeedaddled from the interview to head up to the St. Regis, where a van was taking me to a tasting of Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare line of Champagne. Christian Holthausen, who’s that Champagne’s international communications director or something, and I go way back and it was good to see him. He clearly loves his job.
Even wine tastings sometimes have a little informal chatting period, like a cocktail hour except with wine, and I spent it mostly finding philosophical common ground with a right-wing journalist from Texas (we both favor free trade) and then settled in to sampling the 1999, 1998 (bottled only in Magnums) and the 1988 Rares. I sat next to former Nation’s Restaurant News columnist Ed McCarthy (whom Christian introduced as one of the world’s foremost Champagne experts, which he might be), who took copious notes with the gold pens we were given (it made sense, the tasting sheets they’d handed us were made of black paper).
Soon our car was ready to take us to the next stop of the evening, the Best New Chefs party. Our driver, who took us to the Piper-Heidsieck party as well as from it, was not your typical driver. She had a second home in the area and was driving to help out her friend who owned the company. Aspen’s a strange place. I suppose I should have tipped her anyway. It’s only fair.
Media — and I suppose VIPs; there are always VIPs — get into the Best New Chefs party early, and so I walked right past the long line of people waiting to get in (including former Best New Chef Randy Lewis — a great guy; I would have liked to have spent more time with him at the classic) and ducked inside. It’s awkward to walk to the front of a line like it’s your right to do so. It just is. But I did it all the same.
I caught up with other journalists, chatted with Jeremy Fox about his dish of peas on a spoon (it was much more complex than that, obviously, and delicious) and hit as many tables as I could before the hordes were let in.
Thomas John was at the party. He owned critically acclaimed Indian-accented restaurants in Boston before he became the corporate chef for the Au Bon Pain chain. We exchanged notes on the food at the party and generally caught up. He seemed well.
Soon after I bumped into Steve Dolinsky. I’d seen a lot of Steve because he was moderating the trade panels at the Classic. I’d met him years before at the Beard Awards, for which he is perennially nominated for a broadcasting award — he’s won 12 of them, yes 12. Steve’s an extremely nice guy, exemplified by the fact that he remembers a shrimp like me. He hasn’t been nominated for a Beard Award in, like, two years, but I’m sure that drought will end soon.
He suggested we hop on the bus to the next event, a pig roast and crab-and-beer fest at The Hickory House, where David Chang and Wylie Dufresne were dishing up pork products. I settled in at a table with Steve and his wife Amy, as well as Seamus Mullen, the chef of Boqueria in New York. I’d met Seamus once or twice, but not really, and so it was a pleasure to finally get to know him.
He’s a charming, laid-back raconteur who told me the tale of how he came to truly understand ripe, seasonal fruit when he was in Mexico (if I remember correctly this was during a bike trip he took to Panama; he took a bike trip to Panama). He was visiting a strange and remote island built by Aztecs that looked exactly like the Aztec calendar. His father had visited it years before and had encouraged him to go.
That’s how Seamus seems to tell anecdotes — long and rich in detail, but in a good way that keeps the story going.
Anyway, there was a mango tree, burdened with fruit. One dislodged itself as Seamus touched it, because it was that ripe. We also talked about Southeast Asia and how good the food is in Thailand, so naturally I recommended he eat at Rhong-Tiam in New York, where a lot of the food tastes like it does in Bangkok (Rhong-tiam recently changed its menu, removing the Thai writing in what looks like an attempt to make it appeal to white people; we’ll see how that works).
I chatted with assorted other people until the party was dead, which meant it was tricky getting cars back into downtown Aspen (Lexus was providing that service for free, but none of us had the phone number with us). But before too long I managed to get into a car that was going to the 212 House, Chef agent Scott Feldman’s annual after-hours party (his company’s named for the boiling point of water, not New York City’s area code, in case you were wondering), which was close enough to the middle of town. I figured I’d pop into the party, but the bouncer was disinclined to let me in and I wasn’t about to ask him “don’t you know who I am?” because I’m not that guy. Besides I was tired and, as I’d realized last year, disinclined to hang out with celebrity chefs and their groupies.
So I headed back to my hotel. Or tried to. At first I went the wrong way, so I doubled back, and as I walked past the 212 House again, Steve Dolinsky and Amy walked out, so we chatted about the trade seminars as we headed back into town.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

not killing myself in Aspen

June 14

I might be writing too soon, as I sit here having drunk probably the equivalent of a quintuple of a rare Rémy Martin single vintage cognac (I don't think the people at the Aspen Historical Society are accustomed to serving Cognac, hence the incredibly heavy pour). Rémy Martin Cognacs are almost always blends, but at the end of the summer the 1989 single vintage will be available in the United States, the only market where it will be distributed, and so they decided to preview it here in Aspen.
Today I also tried Macallan’s 55-year-old scotch, which is currently being launched. In Las Vegas it’s available for $2,500 a dram.
As I was walking from one of the trade seminars — which is what I'm actually supposed to be covering here, to sample the Macallan, I got a call from my excellent friend Jonathan Ray, a Georgetown professor and big fan of Macallan 12-year, which since he’s a college professor with two small children he doesn’t get a chance to drink very often.
So of course I said to him, “Oh, hi. Yeah, I’m in Aspen, on my way to try some 55-year-old Macallan. How are you?”
“Don’t do this to me,” he said.
But really, for the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, I’ve lived a pretty healthy life. I arrived two days ago, a little after noon, and had lunch at Lulu Wilson with various fascinating writers, as well as publicists and nice people from Food & Wine. I met the editor of the new Denver magazine, which is about to go monthly and hopes to be, from what I could gather, a more cosmopolitan version of 5280. So that’s exciting for Denver.
That evening I did go to three parties. The first was thrown by Gallo, at which I ran into Mimi’s Cafe's marketing guy Lowell Petrie, and we reminisced about me interviewing him about fried pickles for an article on regionalization of chain menus. So that was a treat.
Then I went to the Food & Wine Classic kick-off reception at the St. Regis, where I did a sort of whirlwind “hi, hi” with everyone until I settled into a chat about blog commenters with Ben Leventhal of Eater. We ended up sharing a van with a bunch of students from the Culinary Institute of America — here as chef helpers — to the blowout Wines from Spain party.
That’s the party you’re supposed to go to on Thursday night in Aspen. So the celebrity chefs were there, as well as this year’s Food & Wine Best New Chefs, and of course the strikingly beautiful and healthy-looking Aspen socialites who find their way into such events.
“Where do you suppose the unattractive people are partying tonight?” I asked New York-based Michael Psilakis, one of the Best New Chefs.
“It’s Aspen,” he said, or something to that effect (I wasn’t taking notes), with a shrug. One such beautiful person sauntered up to Michael and said that he was originally from Shaker Heights and was glad to see that Cleveland was getting a food name for itself.
“I’m not that Michael,” he said as sweetly as possible, because he’s used to being mistaken for Cleveland-based Michael Symon, who also is a celebrity chef making Greekish food, and also is bald with facial hair on his chin (although Michael Symon has a rounder face and a soul patch; Michael Psilakis's face is more narrow, and his facial hair sprouts from under his chin).
There was partying to be done until nearly dawn, but I went to my hotel and was in bed before midnight, so that I would be all refreshed for the trade seminars, which started at 8:15, and which you will be able to read about soon in Nation’s Restaurant News.
Yesterday I mostly went to trade seminars, and between them I met chefs, namely Bryan Ogden, Giuseppe Tentori and Kelly Liken, whom I interviewed in quick succession in the lobby of the Little Nell. And I also caught up with Jennifer Jasinski, because why not?
Then I went to the annual Texas Outlaw party at Kenichi, where I met, among other people, local wellness educator and personal trainer Dirk Schulz, who suggested that later that evening we meet at Wine Spot in the Grand Hyatt.
As I was preparing to leave, I met Allison Bend, who works for David Rockwell, who designs many things but in my world he’s famous for designing restaurants. Her husband, Grant, went to Tufts and graduated a year before I did. So we chatted as we left and ended up eating at Cantina, where we had margaritas and nachos and then Grant and I split some skirt steak fajitas. About midway through the meal we were met by Allison’s aunt and uncle Debbie and Murray (Murray’s a conductor for the Aspen orchestra, whose season begins any moment now).
After that I took a brief nap before heading to Wine Spot. I got there before Dirk and his friends, so I met other locals, including many of the members of the local ballet troupe, including Sam Chittenden, who from the way everyone was talking about him was something of a local hero — rock climber, graphic designer, great dancer and really, really nice guy.
He was hanging out with dancer Nolan McGahan on the outside patio. At the back of the patio was quite a large bonfire, and Sam and Nolan were speculating that the people sitting around the fire were probably really cliquish and would not welcome them. Considering the local star that Sam is (as I would find out through the course of the evening), his observations were particularly funny, or maybe poignant.
I told him he was probably projecting, or watching too many 1960s beach movies, and once they found out that I was a food writer we spoke a bit about food, including Top Chef. Nolan wondered if anyone really was making bacon ice cream.
I don’t watch Top Chef, so I don’t know who he was referring too, but I said bacon ice cream was really kind of passé. I mean, Paul Liebrandt was making it in, like, 2000.
I later ended up by the fire and chatted with ranch hand Ryan Slack, who lives in nearby Basalt and works on a ranch near the second or third homes of super-rich people. I asked if he worked with cattle.
“No, I move rich people’s shit,” he said. He’d gotten a day pass to the Classic, and was now relaxing with a Budweiser. He wasn’t very cliquish.
I closed out the night in typical late-night fashion, heading to New York Pizza in Aspen with mostly locals, including ballet dancer Stephen Straub. A slice was $3.75, which is crazy, but that’s life.
I got home by around 2 a.m., which is quite early for Aspen, and was able to awake refreshed and made it on time to the 9 a.m. trade seminar this morning.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gray Kunz and Oceana

June 12

The strange thing about Aspen is that it’s really more a part of the international resort circuit than it is part of Colorado. That means that even here in the mountains I’m plugged in to what’s going on in New York.
So here’s what I’ve learned, and I’m pretty sure you can take it to the bank:
As rumors indicate, Gray Kunz is, indeed, scouting out the space on 54th Street currently occupied by Oceana, whose lease expires in July of 2009, but fans of Oceana don’t need to worry. Its owner, Nick Livanos, has signed a lease for a new, larger space, closer to the heart of Midtown, where it plans to move when its current lease expires. The ink is dry, but they won’t reveal the exact location yet.
At any rate, the new Oceana will have much of the high-concept fine-dining food chef Ben Pollinger is making now, but it also will have a full-on raw bar, outdoor seating, private banquet space and a slightly less formal atmosphere than it does now. It will also have a proper bar intended to attract a drinking crowd, with ceviche and such being served there.
Should be fun.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

pre-Aspen conditioning

June 11

Steven Holt had been after me to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch since before it opened.
Bachelor Gulch is part of Beaver Creek, in the greater Vail area, conveniently located midway between Denver and Aspen, so it made sense to stop in on the way to the Food & Wine Classic.
So after a brief stay with family — a highlight was hanging out in a mall (The posh Cherry Creek Shopping Center) with my 12-year-old niece, talking about boys — I picked up my rental car and headed down I-70.
I have known Steven for a long time. New York publicist Shelley Clark instructed him to look after me the first time I went to Aspen for the classic. He was in charge of PR at the Jerome hotel at the time, and he took me to good parties and generally made me feel welcome. Since many of the people in Aspen during Food & Wine weekend are based in New York, they already knew me, and Steven wondered aloud why exactly I needed to be taken under his wing, but it was nice of him anyway.
Here at Bachelor Gulch I’m in a corner suite with one-and-a-half baths, two plasma screen TV's and an automatic fireplace. It’s not a bad place to adjust to the 8,000-foot altitude that Vail and Aspen share.
I was hoping to have a couple of days of relatively clean living in the prelude to Aspen, which is a bacchanalia if ever there was one, but I'm staying on the club floor, which means I can hang out in the lounge that has five food-and-beverage presentations a day (continental breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., a mid-day snack from noon to 2 p.m., “Aprés Tea” from 3 to 4:30, hors d'oeuvres from 5:30 to 7 and dessert from 8 to 9:30) not to mention wine and cheese that are available starting at 11 a.m.
Oh well, at least I’ll get plenty of sleep.
Steven has left for Aspen now, but last night we had dinner at Spago, prepared by chef Mark Ferguson, who was born and raised in the Denver suburb of Littleton, where he graduated from Littleton High School (although his older brother went to Arapahoe), before becoming a chef. He cut his teeth cooking under Jeremiah Tower at Stars, in San Francisco — which means he’s older than he looks. He’s been working for Wolfgang Puck for more than a decade.
Now, I'm going to tell you what we ate and drank for dinner, but first I'd like to point out that it has been snowing on and off here in Beaver Creek for much of the day. Just a few flakes, but it’s snowing. If you happen to be going to Aspen, don’t let that scare you; 32 degrees in the dry, crisp Colorado mountain air is not like 32 degrees in humid coastal areas or on the plains. It's light-jacket weather. You’ll be fine.

What we ate and drank:
Spicy tuna tartare cones
Henriot Champagne

Mini crab cake
Rudi Weist Riesling (a crisp little guy from Austria)

Spring Asparagus soup with Maine lobster, ramps and Provençal olive oil
Hand-made pea agnolotti with seven-year “Boni” Parmigiano-Reggiano
Boxler Pinot Blanc (also Austrian, which a rich lusciousness that reminded me of Martinborough Pinot Noirs

Pan-roasted Alaskan halibut “aqua pazza” with garlic potato purée, ramps, crab, sweet shrimp and lobster
Château de Puligny-Montrachet

“Chinois [presumably on Main] Style” Colorado lamb chops with Hunan eggplant, snow peas and cilantro-mint vinaigrette
Syrah Copain “L’hiver” from Mendocino County, California

Kracker Beerenauslese Cuvée

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Almost forgot...

June 10

You might remember that I made some predictions about who would win the Beard Awards.
I didn’t do that well, but I didn’t do that badly, either. I got seven out of 19, which is exactly how well I did last year.
For a full list of winners click here.
Below, are the ones I got right:

Outstanding chef: Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago
Outstanding restaurant:Gramercy Tavern in New York
Best chef in the Mid-Atlantic: Eric Ziebold of CityZen in Washington, D.C.
Best chef in the Midwest:Adam Siegal of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee
Best chef in New York City: David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants
Best chef in the Northwest: Holly Smith of Café Juanita in Kirkland, Wash.
Best chef in the Southwest: Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo.

James Beard Awards ’08

Denver, June 10, 1:12 a.m. Mountain Daylight time,

I hope I haven't kept you waiting with bated breath to see what I did during the Beard Awards this year. I hope your life is more interesting than that. I’m afraid I had stories about the Beard Awards to write up, and a column to write, and a plane to catch as I try to squeeze in family time and some R&R before the lalapalooza that is the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, which starts on Friday, but really on Thursday.
But first, the lalapalooza that is the James Beard Foundation Awards:
I was tense when I got to Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday, and kind of irritable. It might have been because I was wearing a wool tuxedo (as tuxedos tend to be) and it was 95° out, and I'd had to walk all the way around the building because the car service I took from my home in Brooklyn specifically because it’s uncouth to show up at black tie events drenched in your own sweat (or anyone’s sweat, come to think of it) had dropped me off at the back door. I don't know why.
I nodded to people I knew as I walked down the red carpet, past paparazzi who did not snap my picture. Both Bobby Flay and I were wearing straight silver ties with our tuxes, but apparently the photographers had no trouble distinguishing between us anyway.
This was the second year of a red-carpet entry to the Beard Awards. Seems a bit much to me, but maybe I'm missing something.
Dave Wondrich was there, and he had the good sense to bring a hip flask of whisky with him. He offered me a swig, which I took, and gradually made my way to the concert hall, where the awards were to be presented.
I had a pretty good seat — Row Z, which sounds bad, but it's about the middle of the hall. I sat next to a young food writer from Minneapolis, who was a judge for her region. These were her first Beard Awards. They were my 10th, so I hope I wasn't too snide when commenting on the proceedings.
I actually stayed in my seat for the first half of the awards — at which the Rising Star Chef (Gavin Kaysen), regional chef awards and some others were given out — along with the showing of some thematic videos, honoring of America's Classic restaurant etc.
This year the broadcast awards were moved to the previous Friday night, combining with the journalism awards to be the Media Awards. so apart from the restaurant awards only book awards were handed out during the gala (mostly cookbooks, but Dave Wondrich's booze book, Imbibe, also won an award). I slipped out once the book awards were being given to see what was afoot in the press room.
It wasn’t the scrum that it had been last year. The photographers had been moved to a separate room, where they could scramble to take pictures of the winners as they came offstage, and we didn’t have to feel the tension of it all. It made it all less crowded, although one did have to be wary of people walking around, one hand balancing a laptop, the other typing into it, because quite a few people were blogging live, which I guess is cool.
I knew a bunch of the people in the room, but others I didn’t, and some of them were so very young, and made facile observations, like that there were a lot of nominees from Chicago.
Not that I'm one to talk. At my first Beard Awards I was captioning as my colleague Milford took pictures and I had to ask Danny Meyer who he was. He looked stunned, possibly insulted, which, honestly, is fair.
Then again, I had just asked Johnny Apple who he was.
Ah memories.
I think the press room has changed over the past four years in that, before then, people sat in the press room, sipped Champagne or espresso or both, and watched the awards, or at least sat quietly while others watched it, pausing to interview winners as they rotated in.
But now it's really just a social scene, and if you want to see what's going on you really have to hover near the video screen.
During the post-awards reception I started taking pictures and the company camera promptly broke, making impotent, panicky whirring noises, lens fully extended but useless. It wouldn't fit in its camera case, so I stuck it awkwardly in my pocket, that lens rudely protruding.
It was a drag that the camera broke, but it also meant I didn’t have to take any more pictures. It’s possible that my photo of Gavin and his family, and of Bobby Flay and his famous wife Stephanie March, among others, are lost to the ether, but life goes on.
Beverage sponsors were on the veranda, so I drank with them and chatted with Jim Meehan among others as I sipped a perfect Manhattan (made with both sweet and dry vermouth).
I closed out that reception catching up with Ivy Stark and then we all sort of walked across the street to Bar Boulud.
Award winner Carrie Nahabedian was sitting at a table upstairs, having a celebratory meal with her entourage. I was going to introduce myself and say hello, but I was politely but firmly ushered downstairs, where the party was, after the host informed me that this was a restaurant and that people were dining.
Oh, my.
But good for them that people were dining there at 11:30 on a Sunday night. The place looked full.
Downstairs was full, too, and the air conditioning was not up to the task. It's a tribute to Daniel Boulud, and probably to Gavin, that the place was so full — and with powerful restaurant movers and shakers — when climate control could easily have been had somewhere else.
Like at PJ Clarke's just a few steps away, which is where I soon went.
There, I found myself with cocktail people again. Dave Wondrich was talking to Dale DeGroff. Dave said they’d just stopped by to grab a quick, low-key drink and only then realized that they had stumbled onto one of the official after-parties. Dale was wearing the bow-tie he’d worn for 13 years while bartender at The Rainbow Room. Dave and other’s insisted that it should be given to a museum, and I agreed. I mean, it was a nice tie, still suitable for wearing, but it also was a part of cocktail history.
Dave is a historian of many things, and in fact his education is in the classics. And so I learned from him how to say “je ne sais quoi” in Latin: Nescio quid.
Someday that will come in handy.
Honestly, I was tired and knew that I had a busy day ahead of me, but I was cajoled into one last stop: Eleven Madison Park.
Many of the party hoppers seemed to have funneled to that particular restaurant, and as I exchanged philosophies with Michael Psilakis, edged my way past shouting women at the bar who didn’t know how to hold their alcohol with dignity (someone's groupies I guess, because industry people know better) and drank rosé with Sean Brock, I was reminded why I liked the Beard Awards and that I shouldn’t find all that red carpet and paparazzi crap (or even the uncouth groupies) so troubling. Many of the greatest chefs in the country get together and they celebrate. That’s all. The future great chefs come too (and some who are great already even if no one has noticed yet) along with other people in the food world — owners, authors, beverage masters, even journalists like me — and we’re all very glad about it. We’re all part of a dynamic, exciting world during an era of gastronomic renaissance.
What, really, is there to complain about?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Chefs’ Night Out, 2008

June 7

I really wasn’t in the mood for Chefs’ Night Out on Friday. I’m down on the whole celebrity chef thing these days. The hype, the superstarification of them, the fact that their fame no longer seems to stem from their food … A few years ago I thought the celebrity chef phenomenon was good for the industry, but these days I just think it’s all a bit much. As I wrote in a recent column in Nation’s Restaurant News, Gordon Ramsay, who once had a reputation as a great chef, is now best known because he yells at people (although, to be fair, he has long had a reputation for doing that, too).
Still, I feel like it’s important to go to such things, maybe because I’m afraid I’ll miss something good.
Chefs’ Night Out is the traditional pre-Beard Awards Party, thrown by Bon Appétit magazine. It used to be a see-and-be-seen event. Over the past couple of years it’s been relatively low-key (I didn’t even hear about it last year until the night it was happening, and I ended up going to a party at 60 Thompson instead).
But the formal invitations went out this year, and everyone, everyone was invited. I think I might have gotten two invitations, in fact.
I’d had enough of my office by 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and the party didn’t start until 9, so I wandered in the party’s general direction trying to find away to amuse myself for an hour and a half.
I ended up at Grayz, where I thought I’d stop in for a drink and a snack and ended up with a tasting menu that kept me there until after 10, giving me anxiety that I was missing something, even though I wasn’t in the mood for a party with a bunch of celebrity chefs.
But the thing is, I like celebrity chefs, and even more so I like almost-celebrity chefs and sous chefs and chefs with no fame at all and restaurateurs and cooking instructors and my fellow food writers.
And those were the people with whom I spent most of the evening, except for John Besh and Harold Dieterle, who have both been on TV competition shows, so I guess they’re full-blown celebrity chefs
One of the first people I saw was restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who expressed outrage that he hadn’t seen me at the National Restaurant Show Chicago, when his Tribeca Grill was inducted into NRN’s Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
“Was that when you were going to tell me about your new restaurant?” I asked, because you see he gave that scoop to The New York Times.
He didn’t hear me, though. It was that kind of party. Lots of shouting, lots of polite nods, lots of slaps on the back. But as the party ebbed I met a couple of sous chefs named Matt – one at Oceana and the other at The Oak Room, which reopens this fall. Actually I guess Matt from The Oak Room is chef de cuisine. Nice guy, from Philadelphia. Sleeping on the executive chef’s floor for now, but that will work itself out, I’m sure. I also had a good chat with Ben Pollinger and Jansen Chan, chef and pastry chef of Oceana. Jansen said someone had confused him with Pichet Ong earlier in the evening. They are both ethnic Asian pastry chefs who studied architecture, but they look nothing alike.
Pichet was there, too, and he said he might end up working on a project with Andy Yang, the chef-owner of my favorite Thai restaurant, Rhong-Tiam (541 LaGuardia Pl., between Bleecker and W. 3rd). Interesting.
And I met Brian Canlis, scion of the Canlis family, which owns the restaurant of that name in Seattle. He had been in the Air Force, doing sorties over Afghanistan, but he decided to come home and run the family business. He was hanging out with Will Guidara, general manager of Eleven Madison Park, which I guess the in crowd is calling E.M.P. these days. We talked about the Big Apple Barbecue, which happened today. I said I wasn’t going, because it was going to be in the mid-90s today, and the Beard Awards are on Sunday, and I’m leaving for Colorado on Monday, so I wanted some me-time.
Who else? Oh, Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit’s restaurant editor (and a bit of a celebrity, since he was a judge on the TV show The Next Iron Chef). It’s been such a long time since I’d spoken with him that I think his voice has gotten deeper since then. Or maybe he had a cold. He pointed to his wife Christina’s ever-so-slightly poochy abdomen. So I complimented Andrew on his virility and he talked about their looking for a bigger place to live.
Mina Neuman’s expecting a baby too. She’s the chef at the Edison Hotel, where the party was held, but she’s been a chef all over New York. I probably hadn’t seen her in five years, though. She looked well. She expressed some sadness that she couldn’t have a drink at the party.
Lee Jones, baby-vegetable and mini-herb supplier to the celebrity chefs, was there in his trademark outfit (literally, he trademarked it) of a white Oxford shirt, red bow-tie and denim overalls. He talked about the cocktail phenomenon, and I suggested that the one I was drinking – a Margarita derivative, with elderflower liqueur – would benefit from some of his micro-shiso.
Finally I chatted with Sean Brock, whom I didn’t recognize because he was clean-shaven and baby-faced last time I saw him, and now he has a beard (although, come to think of it, so do I, and he knew exactly who I was).
Sean was a bit of a pioneer in molecular gastronomy, and he was doing it in Nashville. Now he’s in Charleston and more into farming, although he still finds a place for methylcellulose from time to time.
I have no idea how the food was at the party, because I was all full from Grayz.

What I ate there:
Mini pork-belly sandwich with guacamole and chipotle
Grilled prawn with kaffir lime rémoulade, served on a heated salt block
Sumac-crusted tuna loin with red pepper paste and micro-cilantro
Weisswurst, a pretzel and a cheese spread whose name I didn’t catch
Oyster Rockefeller, salmon tartare and scallop ceviche
Tapioca-crusted lobster on peaky toe crab with chilled honeydew-cucumber gazpacho
Cheese spaetzel, truffled foie gras and a mache and beet salad with hazelnut-truffle vinaigrette and bacon bits
Soft-shell crab in artichoke-tomato broth with saffron-orange emulsion, topped with artichoke heart chips, olives and capers
Thai bouillabaisse in lobster-coconut milk broth
Duck breast with succotash and tamarind glaze
Fruit salad under a little lychee granite, a mini fruit parfait and two chocolate-covered ice cream balls served over dry ice.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

An Ogden in LA

June 4

I just got word that young Bryan Ogden, chef of his dad’s eponymous restaurant in Las Vegas, Bradley Ogden, is leaving town to strike out on his own
He’s teaming up with Allison Melnick and Robin Antin to open a triple-concept restaurant and lounge on Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Apple Restaurant & Lounge and Pussycat Dolls Lounge will all be under one roof, with three entrances.
Bryan’s dad built his name in the Bay Area, and it looks like Bryan’s food — which he’s doing for all three venues — will reflect that, with a focus on local, sustainable, organic ingredients. Mark Hefter, who Google tells me worked at Bellagio in Las Vegas, will be the sommelier.
The Apple Lounge, beneath the restaurant, is intended as “an exclusive VIP nightlife destination ... designed to subtly evoke a sense of being in ‘The Big Apple’,” according to the chef’s publicists
The Pussycat Dolls Lounge will be next to the restaurant and have four performances per week. On other nights live jazz will be played there.
It’s scheduled to open sometime this summer.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Drew and Paul sitting in a tree

June 4

All the rumors turned out to be true. Drew Nieporent is going to reopen the space that once was Montrachet with Paul Liebrandt doing the food.
Of course Drew gave an exclusive about the restaurant to The New York Times for its Wednesday food section, and the release landed in my own e-mail box at 9:33 this morning.
But in case you don’t want to read the Times, here are the basics: The restaurant will be called Corton, and they expect to open it at the end of Summer. If memory serves correctly, Mr. Nieporent tends to open his restaurants more-or-less on time, and I know that Mr. Liebrandt was ordering sous-vide equipment as early as last April.
According to the press release, Corton’s food will be “modern French.”
The name, like “Montrachet,” is a wine region in Burgundy. Cute.
It will feature a tasting menu and a three-course prix-fixe menu.
It will have 70-seats and be designed by Stephanie Goto, who also “collaborated” on Morimoto and Monkey Bar in New York, the release said.
For back story on all of this, please click here.

And just a bit more background on Mr. Liebrandt: The 32-year-old cut his teeth early on in London, working for British bad-boy chef Marco Pierre-White, now 47, who inspired a generation of genius-jerk chefs in the UK, the most famous of whom is 41-year-old Gordon Ramsay.
In New York Mr. Liebrandt worked as David Bouley’s sous chef at Bouley Bakery when it got a four-star review in The New York Times, and soon after that he left to work at Atlas.
When I first interviewed Mr. Liebrandt he invoked the name of molecular gastronomer Pierre Gagnaire as his inspiration (he didn’t use that term, which had not yet come in and then fallen out of vogue). In today’s Times story he tells Florence Fabricant that the chef he currently admires is Michel Bras. I don’t think I would be over-interpreting to say that he’s trying to get away from his reputation as a kooky chef whose food shocks more than it delights. (I’m not saying he deserves that reputation, I’ve always liked his food).
Mr. Liebrandt also has a reputation of being, well, cut from the same cloth as Ramsay and Pierre-White in terms of temperament. It will be interesting to see how he and Drew get along.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Food by which to butcher people

June 3

This past weekend I rewatched American Psycho, starring Christian Bale as a Wall Street hotshot with bloodlust. It’s supposed to take place in the 1980s, but the movie was made in 2000, and I think that’s reflected in what the people eat.
Oh, food and drink have a big role to play in American Psycho, and I’ll detail it for you now.
The movie opens in a restaurant, and the servers announce the day’s specials, which to me seem very 1999-2000, except that nothing is garnished with chervil, and nearly everything in New York was garnished with chervil in 1999-2000:
The specials were:
Squid ravioli in a lemon grass broth with goat cheese profiteroles
Arugula Caesar salad
Swordfish meat loaf with onion marmalade
Rare roasted partridge breast in raspberry coulis with a sorrel timbale
Grilled free-range rabbit with herb french fries
Now, I don’t think goat cheese profiteroles would go particularly well with squid, but I’ve seen worse combinations. I’ve got no problem with the salad. Swordfish meat loaf is pretentious, but it would probably taste good.
The partridge dish, I must admit, just sounds completely disgusting, but I think sorrel is a particularly challenging herb to work with, and I’d like my partridge at least medium-rare.
If free-range rabbit existed, and I suppose it might somewhere, I think herb french fries would be a terrific accompaniment for it.
Later, in a club, the Bale character, Patrick Bateman, orders a Stoly on the rocks and the bartender charges him $25 for it. He says, although she can’t hear it because she’s at the other end of the bar: “You’re a f***ing ugly b**ch. I want to stab you to death, then play around with your blood,” which is a bit harsh, but $25 for Stoly on the rocks?
Later he takes his drugged-out date to what he claims is D'Orsia, a mythical restaurant that is the hottest ticket in town in American Psycho world, and she can’t tell the difference because of the drugs.
He orders for her: Peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash (“New York Matinee called it a ‘playful but mysterious little dish.’ You’ll love it,” he says) followed by red snapper with violets and pine nuts.
The soup actually sounds like a variation on Ghana’s national dish, Nkatenkwan, although that’s made with chicken. I personally don’t particularly want violets with my snapper, but I don't think they’d get in the way, and pine nuts would be good with snapper.
The next day, at some sort of meeting, a character by the name of Paul Allen (played by Jared Leto) says d’Orsia has “great sea urchin ceviche.”
To me, turning sea urchin into ceviche is a crime, and in fact Patrick Bateman later hacks Paul Allen to death with an axe, but I believe it’s because Paul has much nicer business cards than Patrick does. And because Patrick’s a howling-crazy psychopath.
Before murdering Paul, Patrick and he have dinner at a fake place called Texarkana.
Paul is an obnoxious diner, and is outraged that the restaurant is out of its cilantro crawfish gumbo, which Paul says is “the only excuse one could have for being in this restaurant, which is, by the way, almost completely empty.”
What a bastard. But cilantro crawfish gumbo could be good.
Patrick orders a J&B straight and a Corona, together.
Paul orders a double Absolut Martini.
To soothe Paul, Patrick says the mud soup and charcoal arugula are “outrageous here,” and he means it in a good way. Looking at the menu, he says, “I see they’ve omitted the pork loin with lime jell-o.”
Mud soup, well, no, there's nothing good to say about that, or charcoal arugula. But pork loin is often served with a sweet component, the added acid of lime jell-o could be tasty, if executed well.
The next day, or maybe two days later, while Patrick is doing his morning crunches and a snuff video The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [see comment #8 below] is playing on his TV (a woman is screaming pretty much constantly), there’s a closeup of a plate of sliced kiwifruit and I’m pretty sure red currants and maybe a fig half, although it might be an orchid garnish, next to a glass of sparkling water.
He provides a “very fine Chardonnay” for his prostitutes to drink — and offers them what sounds like Garda truffles, which might be actual fungi, not chocolates, since Garda is a town in Italy’s Veneto region where truffles do, in fact, grow — before brutalizing them.
He offers his assistant pre-dinner sorbet in his apartment before deciding not to kill her. She eats it out of the carton and he has her put the spoon back in the carton, rather than on his glass coffee table.
He has lunch with a detective, played by Willem Dafoe, at Smith & Wollensky, which his assistant calls Smith & Wollensky’s.
They eat steak, over which Patrick dumps way too much salt, attempting to mimic the cop I think, and drink water, although Patrick also drinks clear liquid from a rocks glass. Probably vodka.
Next, after murdering a friend and a prostitute, we see Bateman having dessert with his fiancée in a large but nice restaurant, but with paper tablecloths on which he draws, with crayons provided by the restaurant, a picture of the murdered prostitute, a chainsaw in her back. On his plate is an untouched, overgarnished chocolate dessert (shards of fruit — pear maybe — a dab of whipped cream, topped with raspberry and a mint sprig), the plate is dusted with powdered sugar, except for an outline of a knife and fork.
I’m not sure what it all means, but whoever picked the food — either Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the book, or Mary Harron, who wrote the screenplay — definitely put some thought into it.


June 3

I was dis-invited to dinner last night. A publicist had invited me to a tasting event at a private club with a couple of new chefs, and then took it back.
“Hello Bret,” she e-mailed me. “Thank you for your RSVP, unfortunately we are unable to provide you a seat for tonight's dinner. We would like to make it up to you by inviting to a dinner at the club this month. Please call me to find out more details.”
No, sorry. Even if she had managed to write a grammatically correct message, she had lost her chance for me to sample her client’s chefs’ food.
I’d eaten there before and was pretty sure it wasn’t my loss, food-wise, even with new chefs, although it probably would have been an amusing evening. I had work to do in the office anyway, and being snubbed gave me extra time to do that work. So in practice I didn’t mind, but in principle, it’s obnoxious to dis-invite people. The very height of rudeness.
But I suppose these are obnoxious times in the New York food world. seems to have traded in the first E in its name for an H for the week and is singling out restaurants at which to vent some extra spleen. It all strikes me as unusually mean, so much so that since my dinner plans had been canceled anyway I decided to visit one of the targets of its hostility, Merkato 55.
It’s the latest venture of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and restaurateur Håken Swahn, who also own Aquavit and Riingo, and is part of Marcus’ journey to seek his African roots.
In case you have other things to do with your brain than fill it with the life histories of celebrity chefs, Marcus was born in Ethiopia and adopted by Swedish parents at age 3. He recently came out with a cookbook resulting from his experiences in recent visits to Africa.
Merkato 55 opened about four months ago and reviews have been mixed, but I mean, it’s just four months old.
So I popped in, sat at the bar and ordered some infused rums.
Aquavit the restaurant has a bunch of house-made aquavit, which is basically infused vodka. Håken explained to me once that Swedish law requires that aquavit be flavored with caraway seeds, but he’s not in Sweden so he infuses it with whatever he likes.
I forget which infused rums I ordered, because the bartender said I had ordered the worst ones and picked three different ones for me — hibiscus-blood orange, banana and date. Hey, I’m happy to take guidance.
Then I had the arugula tabbouleh and jerk pork belly with green mango salad — neither particularly African, but that’s all right.
I chatted a bit with the bartender, who said business had been really busy but was slowing down now that it was summer (in New York we pay no attention to the summer solstice or autumnal equinox — summer is between Memorial Day and Labor Day). But she said the restaurant would be offering sidewalk seating starting June 12. So that’s something.