Tuesday, September 30, 2008


September 30

That is the number to call to try to get the most difficult restaurant reservation in New York City. It’s for Tom: Tuesday Dinner, a 32-seat restaurant opening on October 14 in Craft’s private dining room. Chef-owner Tom Colicchio has cleared every other Tuesday for the next year and will be cooking seven- to eight-course tasting menus for $150-$250. He has only cleared every other Tuesday because those are the only days he needs to clear to cook in the restaurant: Those are the only nights it will be open. The rest of the time it will still be Craft’s private dining room.
Tom said he, like so many other chefs in New York City, wanted to get back to cooking in a cozy little restaurant, but the economics here make that very difficult — that is unless you already have a private dining room that's booked most weeks from Wednesday through Saturday, because of course private dining, catering and alcohol are where virtually all the profit in most fine dining restaurants comes from. On a relatively quiet night on Tuesday, why not make it a restaurant?
And although New York's an expensive place to do business, it’s also a place where, even with an economy that has completely fallen on its ass, you can scare up 80 people a month who are willing and able to spend a few hundred dollars on dinner.
You’re so not getting into this restaurant.
The food will be very seasonally oriented — there will be farm maker’s dinners, like winemaker’s dinners but showcasing the products of a particular farm — reflecting the food Tom cooked at Mondrian and Gramercy Tavern, plus some new things.
Three chefs apart from Tom will be working in the kitchen. He’s bringing in a rotisserie.
He’ll post each night’s menu on his web site, tomtuesdaydinner.com, once it’s ready — probably a week out. People with reservations who have dietary issues can e-mail the restaurant and they’ll adjust. An image gallery of food will go up there as well.
Every once in awhile guests chefs might pop in to join Tom and send out a course, just for fun.
So now you know.

Oh, and one small plug: You would have known slightly more than an hour before this entry was posted if you were receiving my Twitter messages. It’s something we’re experimenting with here at NRN. Check it out if you like.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quotation of the day

September 29

From University of Pennsylvania anthropology professor Janet Chrzan:

While trying to catch up on past issues of the Economist, I came across this unique reference to derivatives in last week’s mag. It seems that there is now a derivatives market for moon cakes during the Fall Festival.

Too bad that all those *other* nasty derivatives lacked something as solid as egg yolks and sugar as their asset base!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rickshaw truck on the move!

September 25

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar launched its mobile truck today. Managing partner Kenny Lao called to say they parked at 41st and Lex, but were kind of slow in arriving and so missed most the lunch rush.
Tomorrow: Wall Street, where obviously people need a reasonably priced lunch.
Daily truck locations will soon be posted at Rickshawdumplings.com and twitter.com/rickshawtruck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Glad for the E train

September 24

You’d think if you showed up at a restaurant opening and spoke to someone near the entranceway holding a clipboard and told her your name, she wouldn’t look at you dumbfounded, wondering why you were talking to her.
She might not have heard you, especially since restaurant openings are loud sometimes, but you would expect that she might have some idea that someone approaching her from the outside and uttering a few syllables might be saying his or her own name so that she could look it up on the list she was holding.
Or maybe I was already in a bad mood, having had to find my way during rush hour to the distant neighborhood that some people call Soho West, although I don’t think any name has really stuck yet. I had to let two jam-packed E trains go by before I could fit into one at the 5th Avenue stop, near my Midtown East office.
I was at the opening of Archipelago, in the space that once was Dani. The Japanese woman with the clipboard at the door seemed dumbfounded that I would speak to her. I told her my name again, but more loudly and immediately regretted it because I sounded mean.
She asked sweetly if I was with the press and motioned me to the press table, where I checked in, turned around, thanked the clueless Japanese woman (I didn't need to yell at her, but she should be able to handle an arriving guest without looking like a deer caught in headlights), took a glass of red wine from a passing tray and tried to figure out who all these people in the restaurant were.
They were mostly Japanese people. I gathered that they mostly were clients and friends of the owners. I chatted with a couple of people from the Food Network, sampled a couple of cocktails, snacked on some salmon on potato pancakes and soon decided I’d seen enough and left.
The space reminded me a lot of Dani. The food is Japanese-French fusion according to the press materials, but to me it seemed more like straight-up contemporary Japanese in New York — which is to say not necessarily authentic Japanese, but Japanese in spirit made for the audience they want to attract.
I had another opening to go to — this one near my office, also near the path of an E train. But it was a bar opening, so I popped into Ben’s on Spring and Thompson for a slice — I think it was the Pizza place in Men in Black — and then hopped back on the E train to go to Haven, a new bar where Divine Bar once was.
It’s on 51st between 2nd and 3rd avenues, and for reasons I can’t explain I walked down 2nd avenue to get there, and was struck by how very much like Murray Hill eastern Midtown East had become. It seemed so bridge-and-tunnel/fratboy. Then again, as Wall Street crumbles, I’m sure more than your average number of men in suits are filling bars to drink in them.
Haven seemed, well, very much like all the others, only on this evening it had a velvet rope and young women with clipboards doing crowd control.
They, too, had some difficulty, as you had to remember which of two women you RSVP'ed to so they could look on the correct clipboard. You'd think that could be consolidated in 2008. At any rate, I’d RSVP'ed to Jezebel, a name that can’t be forgotten.
To my delight, I was greeted by Steve Remming, the very able and good-natured general manager of Avon Bistro who now is managing Haven. He ushered me in, brought me to the bar and introduced me to the bartender, Jeff. I asked for a cocktail, he asked what I like, I told him whisky, he made me an Old Fashioned. Everybody wins when that happens.

What was served at Archipelago (food was clearly not a priority at the Haven party — the chef hails from The Four Seasons restaurant, so it might be good, but the party seemed more intended as a chance to voir la boîte, as pretentious people say):

tuna tartlet with tomato salsa
snow crab salad with cumin tuile
bonito tartlet with wasabi pickles
saikoro steak skewer
tomato, miso mozzarella and hearts of palm
smoked salmon on a potato crêpe
fluke with shrimp galette
Tahitian vanilla cheesecake

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clio, an obesity conference and prostitution

September 23

I was running late for my dinner at Clio last Friday, because I made a wrong turn walking on to Mass Av., heading away from Comm Av. instead of toward it.
Mass Av., Comm Av. That’s how Bostonians talk. Boston’s not as fast-paced a city as New York, but the drivers are meaner (when I was a student there, I was taught as a pedestrian never to show fear) and the people abbreviate more than anyone but technology geeks, financial analysts and Indians. They seem to be too busy rooting for the Sox and the Pats and hating New York to take the time to say Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.
Anyway, having turned around and phoned Clio to say I would be late, I fell in behind a pack of cavorting young men — late teens, early 20s — who were bouncing off of each other and wondering aloud where they could find prostitutes.
“I bet that dude knows,” one of them said of me. I was in a sport coat and tie and walking kind of quickly, because I was late for dinner at Clio, and I probably looked like a businessman who, it being 9 p.m. and his work being done, was ready to spend the evening in the city's seedy underbelly, which Clio, by the way, is not.
The kids speculated that I would know where to go to knock on a wooden door where an eye-level slit would open and a Chinese woman and I would utter meaningful words that would allow me to enter into her palace of treasures.
They were less lyrical than that, but you get the idea.
“They’d break both my kneecaps if I told you,” I said.
“But you know!” one of them said with enthusiasm and almost wonder, as if finding a whore in an urban setting were challenging, as if prostitutes were not interested in finding horny youths and would therefore hide from them.
I gave them the most wise-yet-mercurial look I could muster, said something cryptic — I forget what, exactly, something about finding a door and knocking on it — and they bounced off into the night.
I kept walking down Mass Av., toward Comm Av., and knew I was getting close when I saw Ken Oringer strolling toward me. He’s Clio's executive chef, and I think he did a sort of half double-take as he passed me. He knows me well enough to recognize me in context (he greeted me by name and with a fraternal pat on the shoulder at the Rising Star Revue in New York last Tuesday), but he had no reason to know I was in Boston, so we both just kept walking.
I wasn’t trying to sneak into Clio unnoticed, but I did want to have dinner without a lot of fuss while still fulfilling what I saw as an occupational obligation to eat at Ken's flagship restaurant at least once in my life.
I was in town for the fifth conference of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, whose mission is to use the law (litigation and legislation, basically) to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic that is sweeping our nation.
I have an interesting role in the conference, because NRN’s readers, being mostly owners or executives of businesses large and small, don’t want to be regulated and certainly don’t want to be sued, and so, as a general rule, they dislike everything that the PHAI stands for.
I cover the conference on their behalf.
In years past, some people at the PHAI conference have disliked me. One once even asked me how I could live with myself as a contributor to the ill health of Americans. How rude.
I could have told her that I was a journalist, not an industry stooge, but instead I pointed out that, from restaurants' perspective, they were giving customers food they wanted at prices they wanted to pay.
That really pissed her off.
People were quite a bit friendlier this year — I’m not sure why — although on Friday night, before my dinner at Clio, during the conference's opening reception, nutritionist Marion Nestle, while being perfectly friendly, did ask, basically, how a nice guy like me could be writing for the mean corporate industry rag that I work for.
Oh well. You can’t please everyone. I didn’t reciprocate later in the conference, after her presentation, by asking how a respected scientist like her could cite data from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is no such thing but rather a front for animal rights activists that pushes quarter-truths and lies (like that dairy products cause osteoporosis) in order to promote a vegan agenda.
If you want to be vegan, that’s fine with me, but don’t lie to me about why I should be vegan.
Anyway, it turned out I was only six minutes late for my 9 p.m. reservation, my misturn having caused me less of a delay than I thought.
I was unconcerned that Ken Oringer had left the building, as I was sure that chef de cuisine Andrés Julian Grundy had everything will in hand, as indeed he did.

What I ate:
60° egg with jamon broth, coffee, black truffle vinaigrette and vadouvan spices (imagine an egg as a soup, in a good way)
It was paired with a Belgian ale called Kwak
Black licorice roasted Muscovy duck with fennel bulb, rutabaga and candied pomelo
2006 Orin Swift Zinfandel/Cabernet/Syrah “The Prisoner” (Napa)
Frozen capsule of white peach and condensed milk with hibiscus, rooibos ice cream and ginger crumble

Monday, September 22, 2008

Best thing I learned so far this week

September 22

I know it’s only Monday, but still...
From Gary Allen: The ancient Romans had a deity whose function was to help in their efforts to get their children to eat "real" food. Her name was Edusa.

The work load’s a bit extreme this week, but I hope to find time to update you on my weekend adventures in Boston, which included dinners at Clio and Persephone and a conference on obesity.
Also, a sausage biscuit at BK and a poblano pesto burrito at one of Jeff Ackerman’s Qdobas.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

afterparty afterparty

September 17

Summary for news hounds:
1) Will Godfarb’s moving to Bali.
2) Windsor? What Windsor?

“If you see me at Allen & Delancey, tell me to go home,” Rick Smilow said last night.
Rick’s the head of the Institute of Culinary Education. He and I were at the first afterparty of Starchefs’ “Rising Star Review,” which in New York is held at the end of the International Chefs Congress, which has become Starchefs’ flagship event. This year the Review was at the Museum of Natural History, in the Blue Whale room.
I kept meaning to go to the congress. I heard it was great this year, but, well, I have a job to do.
“Your job and the congress mesh!” Dave Arnold half-slurred at me. He’s the director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute and one of the nicest, coolest people in the New York food scene, and he had a point. In fact, I should have gone to the congress, which is a three-day event that gathers hundreds of chefs from all over the world to watch interesting demonstrations, engage in workshops, network etc., etc.
But deadlines take precedence over interesting demonstrations and bonding time with chefs, and I guess I’ve been having time management issues lately.
The afterparty was at the Royalton Hotel, where Rising Star Review attendees regrouped and drank.
Dave introduced me to Bob Truitt, who will be the pastry chef at Corton, the Paul Liebrandt-Drew Nieporent collaboration that’s scheduled to open in the former Montrachet space in a couple of weeks.
The name Bob Truitt rang a bell, and despite the late hour and quantity of wine drunk, I thought I’d remembered why.
“Hey, are you one of the guys rumored to be involved in The Windsor?” I asked him.
He clearly had no idea what I was talking about, but looking in my archives today, I discovered I was right, which means the rumor’s almost certainly wrong.
Poor rumor.
Bob worked under Will Goldfarb at Room4Dessert for a long time and he shared another rumor, which he stated as a fact, that Mr. Goldfarb is moving to Bali.
So I e-mailed Will today to ask if it was true.
“But of course", he said.
So, best of luck to the Goldfarbs. May your lawar always be delicious and the drunk Australian surfers behave themselves.
I guess he won’t be involved in The Windsor either.
The second afterparty, at Allen & Delancey, was starting at 1:30. That’s what Rick Smilow was talking about. I laughed at him, because I had no intention of going to Allen & Delancey. I have a day job.
Then I ran into George Mendes, who kissed me on the cheek for including his upcoming restaurant, Aldea, in The fall preview I wrote for The New York Sun.
Then he forced me to go to Allen & Delancey: He got me into a headlock — he had the strength of ten men! — and dragged me into a taxi.
Okay, he didn’t really. He said “let’s go.”
So I rode downtown with him and his wife, Bonna, a Cambodian-American from Jacksonville. So we talked about Cambodia during the taxi ride (her family left in 1970, phew!). Her name is Cambodian and means "goodness" in Sanskrit, reminding us how big the family of Indo-European languages is.
I worked my way through the scrum at the Allen & Delancey bar, where Alex Day was shaking his new cocktails, into the back of the restaurant where no one was drinking Carignan or eating anti-pasti. So Bonna and I dug in and were soon joined by George and many, many others, including a couple of chefs from Charlotte who helped me assess my dinner options for when I’m there for our Culinary R&D conference (Register now! I am not kidding, do it).
My boss, Pam Parseghian, politely expressed dissatisfaction at my tardiness this morning. She has a point.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The new Daniel

September 12

When Daniel Boulud asks you to lunch, you go, even if you’re the editor-in-chief of Nation’s Restaurant News or Food & Wine.
Daniel’s flagship and eponymous restaurant has reopened after a few weeks of redecoration by Adam Tihany, and the chef has also opened a new db Bistro in Vancouver, and he bought Lumière, too. So he invited some Vancouver chefs to the restaurant and had them cook for us while we checked out the décor.
I don’t know from décor; I’m a food writer. I think Daniel’s dining room was beautiful before. It’s beautiful now.
But it was a fun lunch and I was at a particularly good table, with my bosses, NRN executive food editor Pam Parseghian and editor-in-chief Ellen Koteff, along with Cake Bible author Rose Levy Beranbaum, Food & Wine trend spotter and party animal Kate Krader, and Laurie Woolever of Wine Spectator, an astute overall observer of human nature and reliably excellent dining companion.
But everyone was there.
The last time I said that about an event Regina Schrambling commented that she, in fact, had not been there and wondered if that meant she was nobody, which of course she’s not. My mistake. But she was at lunch today, along with Jay Cheshes of Time Out and other places, Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin, Eater e-in-c Ben Leventhal, Josh Ozersky of Citysearch, the Beard Foundation’s Mitchell Davis and Susan Ungaro, Nilou Motamed of Travel + Leisure and on and on and on. Media from Vancouver was flown in, too, which explains why I didn’t recognize the tall guy with the fauxhawk.
Events like this one are a good way to catch up with people, which I didn’t do much. But they’re also a great way to assess the latest fashion trends and hairstyles.
“A lot of people are in black,” Ellen observed, and indeed they were. Non-New Yorkers might have heard that that’s all we wear here anyway, but in fact it’s not true. Black has been slipping out of style in recent years, but it’s apparently coming back.
And fauxhawks are springing forth from men’s foreheads like Athena out of Zeus.
I wonder if chervil and fauxhawks are on the same cycle.

What we ate and drank:

Sushi by Hidekuzu Tojo of Tojo’s:
Smoked Canadian West Coast sable with Japanese vinaigrette
Spicy West Coast tuna roll with daikon, chile, ginger and scallion
Golden Roll: spot prawn, salmon, dungeness crab and scallop
Northern Light Roll: shrimp, avocado, cucumber, mango and butternut squash
Tropical Roll: Dungeness crab, avocado and pineapple
Champagne Pommery Brut NV

By Pino Posteraro of Cioppino’s:
Medallions of Canadian lobster with cauliflower agrodolce, maple syrup-lemon vinaigrette and green lime marmalade
Mission Hill 2006 Select Lot Collection Sauvignong Blanc (Okanagan Valley, British Columbia)

By Daniel Boulud and his team:
King salmon baked in clay with figs, fennel and balsamic vinaigrette
Mission Hill 2005 Quatrain (Okanagan Valley, BC)

by Vikram Vij of Vij's:
Wine-marinated lamb popsicle (so-named, he said, so we white people wouldn’t be afraid to eat it with our hands), with fenugreek cream curry and fingerling potato
Million Hill 2005 Oculus (Okanagan Valley, obviously)

by Daniel's pastry chef Dominique Ansel:
Cinnamon sugared plums with maple biscuit, prune compote and Pinot Gris-mirabelle sorbet
(served to half of the luncheoners)

by Lumière pastry chef Wendy Boys:
Ras el hanout poached peach with Muscavado wafer, roasted white chocolate foam and peach sorbet
(served to the other half)

And for everyone, by Thomas Haas, formerly of Daniel but now of Thomas Haas Fine Pastries and Desserts Ltd.:
Black forest cake with crispy chocolate wafers, kirsch chantilly and marinated cherries
Mission Hill 2006 Reserve Riesling ice-wine

And of course mignardises and Daniel's famous madeleines

Le Bec-Fin

September 12

The legendary Georges Perrier of Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia was cooking at the Beard House last night, I think mostly to introduce his protégé and chef de cuisine Chris Scarduzio.
I’m not sure what to say about the evening. It was a nice evening. Here’s what we had for dinner:

Hors d’oeuvre:
Stuffed Baby Squid with Sauce Américaine
Wild Mushroom Cappuccino
Oyster Tartare
Quail Galantine
Champagne Moët & Chandon White Star NV

Sautéed Diver Sea Scallop with Sicilian Tomato Salad, Royal Osetra Caviar Vinaigrette, and Micro-Celery
Pieropan Calvarino Soave Classico 2005

Gnocchette with Braised Rabbit, White Asparagus–Fava Bean Ragoût and lemon zest
Pio Cesare Piodilei Chardonnay 2005

Potato-Crusted East Coast Halibut with Jersey Corn Succotash and Périgueux Sauce
Montirius Gigondas 2004

Roasted Squab Breast and Squab Leg Confit with Chanterelle Fricassee, Artichoke Purée, and Juniper Berry Sauce
Cain Vineyard & Winery Cain Cuvée 2005

Caramel Apple > Caramelized Apples, Milk Chocolate, Cinnamon, and Hazelnut Dacquoise
Domaine de la Bergerie Quarts de Chaume 2001

Death & Elderflower

September 11

The brothers Trummer helped popularize elderflower in cocktails here in New York, but I thought they were using St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, to do it.
Not so. They were using elderflower syrups and cordials, according to Rob Cooper, who invented St. Germain and doesn’t even know the Trummers.
Rob, whose grandfather makes cordials, spent six years developing St. Germain — three years finding a source for the flowers, which he finally did in France’s Haute-Savoie region — and three years making it taste good.
The flowers bloom in late May and early June. Rob’s people harvest them and he macerates them in alcohol, adding sugar about mid-way through the process.
Rob says his first batch tasted terrible, and so he had to wait until next year to harvest new flowers and try again, which he did.
It tasted terrible.
But he was happy with his third try, and that is what is sweeping those New York bars that take cocktails seriously.
Rob and I met in Death & Company, which is just such a bar. It’s an intense place with intense bartenders (call them mixologists or cocktailians if you must; I’ll call them bartenders).
Shaking last night were Brian Miller and Alex Day, who grimly — shirt sleeves rolled up to their biceps — made half a dozen drinks for us to try.
Rob and I drank them with gusto while exchanging tales of derring do and discussing the downfall of Lehman Brothers.
Into the middle of all this stepped an institutional investor for AIG, who lived in the neighborhood and decided it was time to check the place out.
As Rob stepped outside to make a phone call or have a cigarette or something, the investor told the bartenders he liked vodka, which he drank neat.
I said something to the effect of: “Dude,” explaining that this was a macho bar of serious, grown-up cocktails.
Brian, being a good host, objected strenuously. He wouldn’t call the place macho, and he said that people should drink what they like.
Although, Alex chimed in, they only had one kind of vodka. He pulled it from under the bar. It was an unlabeled bottle, about two-thirds full, presumably used for making various infusions that would benefit from a neutral-tasting spirit.
The two bartenders consulted and one of them went off to start mixing. I thought the need for consultation was funny, since if I’d said I wanted something that was a riff on a Margarita but more bitter and maybe with some interesting aromatics I’m sure either one of them would have tossed something delicious together for me, no sweat.
Actually, come to think of it, one of the elderflower drinks Alex made for me was just that.
Rob came back at some point and Mr. Institutional Investor told him he liked vodka because it was a pure spirit.
Rob kind of let him have it, and lectured him about different spirits in detail that you don’t need to hear.
I wondered about the desirability of consuming pure things. If your beverage of choice is odorless, flavorless vodka, would that mean that for dessert you’d have a spoonful of sugar? Would dinner be undifferentiated albumin (like egg whites) sprinkled with three parts potassium-chloride to two parts sodium-chloride and topped off with a little ascorbic acid? It seemed to me that the impurities were what made it all so much fun.
The bartenders brought him a classic Martini from the olden days, when it was equal parts gin and vermouth.
He said he loved it, and he did seem to be enjoying it, but what else was he going to say?

And New York’s fall restaurant opening season begins

September 10 (yes 10, I'm catching up)

“I’ve never had a chicken nugget.”
That’s what a high-maintenance travel and food writer told me at the first restaurant opening party of what looks to be a very busy fall season here in New York City.
The party, on Tuesday, was for Bloomingdale Road, the latest in a bunch of neighborhood restaurants on the Upper West Side by the same people who own Nonna, Firehouse, Campo etc. Bloomingdale Road’s kind of different from those other restaurants, though. It’s larger, and it has a fairly big-name chef, Ed Witt, whom you might remember from Varietal, a restaurant that failed to thrive and closed in June of 2007.
He was serving chicken nugget “pops,” which is to say they were on sticks. He also served smoked deviled eggs (once the eggs were stuffed, he stuck them in a cold smoker) and other gussied-up bar food. He set up a mac ’n’ cheese bar, too. At the actual bar, the one with drinks, there were, among other things, pisco sour brûlées. They were topped with a sweetened meringue, and then high-proof rum flavored with bitters was lit on fire as it was sprayed out of a canister to brown them.
“Have you ever had a chicken nugget?” I asked the person who came with the high-maintenance travel and food writer.
“I have a nine-year-old,” she said. So, yes.
I think this was the first party I attended that was thrown by KB/Hall, the new PR company formed by the merger of KB Network News (a PR firm despite the name) and The Hall Company.
Those two companies used to handle openings quite differently. Hall would throw great big parties with interesting crowds and plenty of booze. They were a lot of fun, but they didn’t tend to serve much food. KB didn’t generally throw parties but instead invited all of the media, each with one guest, into the restaurant for dinner over the course of two or three nights.
This party was kind of a combination of those two approaches. It was a party with booze, but also with food, but not really the eclectic and interesting crowd that often would be found at Hall openings.
So after about an hour I was done with that and hopped on the #1 train to the West Village, where Benvenuti PR was handling the opening of De Santos, an Italian restaurant owned in part by Alex González, drummer of the Mexican rock band Maná.
It apparently is a very important rock band; Benvenuti said it was “comparable to the U2 of Latin America.” Obviously, publicists do occasionally engage in puffery, but Latino media, including paparazzi, were there in force.
Maria Benvenuti introduced me to Alex González (“Hey man, thanks so much for coming”) and then ushered me downstairs to the kitchen where she grabbed a plate, filled it with canapés (Italian cold cuts, something with melted cheese, seared tuna with a ginger sauce) and handed it to me. So I snacked, drank red wine and wandered back upstairs to check out the crowd.
They seemed to be cool-looking Latin scenesters, although Jim Farber, a Daily News music critic, was there, too, and a couple of the nice people from Grub Street.
I also met the chef, Aldo Alo, who’s Italian, although he was born in Luxembourg. So I guess he’s also Luxembourgish (that’s what you call then; I asked the Luxembourg consulate).
My sense is that De Santos is intended more as a venue for music than for food, but we’ll see.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


September 11

Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C., is in town, and he visited my office. To overgeneralize, he used to be big into the molecular gastronomy, but now his focus is on using local and natural things.
He’s also breeding some pigs and raising rare varieties of vegetables in the interest of preserving their seeds as well as eating them.
Among those vegetables is Jimmy Red corn. Also known as James Island Red, Sean says it was nearly extinct, but he has raised a fair amount of it now, preserving some for seed, but cooking some, too.
He wanted to make grits, but he didn’t have a mill to grind his Jimmy Red.
Now, Sean says the key to making good grits is to have a cold mill, because if you heat the corn you damage the flavor and even run the risk of scorching it.
Sean didn’t have a mill, but he did have a tank of liquid nitrogen. Anyone who has played with nitrogen knows that things frozen to that low a temperature become brittle. So he froze the corn, pulsed it quickly in a high-powered blender and sifted it, separating the corn meal from the hominy. The latter he used to make grits.


September 11

October is both National Pizza Month and Celiac Awareness Month.
That’s all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


September 9

I’ve mentioned before that Greg Lindsay is a smart guy, and now we have documentation, as he is a Jeopardy! champion.
He’s also popular, and so despite the fact that Gawker insists on portraying him as an irredeemable dufus at every opportunity, he maintains very good standing among New York media and was able to fill the Barrow St. Alehouse (or at least the back half of it) with supporters (some, it’s true, who were not in the media) to cheer him on.
And boy did the show start out badly for him. The other two contestants were competing to answer questions (or, rather, provide questions for answers in Jeopardy!’s silly but signature gimmick) while he seemed to just stand there, finally jumping in with a guess to an answer he didn’t know, knocking him $600 in the hole.
He rallied with sports questions and a few other odd facts, but the champion was just a terrifying, vicious woman who seemed to have mastered the buzzer, and much of Double Jeopardy! was a relentless sweep by her. But Greg did manage to buzz in for an obvious question (the answer was a video one, had someone sitting in colonial-era stocks, which the contestants were supposed to identify, which was easy since Wall Street was mentioned somewhere in there).
And then came the final Double Jeopardy! answer, which was a Daily Double that Greg had all to himself. It was another video one: the interior of Virginia’s first legislature, which also was the first legislative body in the colonies, which Greg was required to identify (he had bet $6,000 of his $6,200, “to keep it sporting,” he said on the show).
The question is obvious — obvious! — if you remember your sixth grade American history, which Greg had temporarily forgotten.
The Greg on TV actually answered relatively quickly and with some confidence, but the Greg in the bar said they edited out the several seconds during which he just stood there, the answer shrouded in the deep recesses of his mind until, at the last instant, it sprang forth into his consciousness and he said "The House of Burgesses.” Right! That put him in second place.
Final Jeopardy category: The Vatican.
Commercial break, time to chat.
Greg’s bright, but his friends are no dunces either. I had spent the pre-show interval chatting mostly with his friend Dom, who used to be a physicist until he decided to go into finance. He said he didn't want to live in the small college towns where physicists live. Presumably, he also wanted to make money.
His specialty was solid-state physics. In particular, he had been working on dealing with the metal in electronic circuitry that soon would become so thin that quantum mechanics would have to be taken into account.
See, down at the quantum level, particles behave randomly — at least individual particles do. But as an aggregate, it’s possible to chart a curve as to how most of them are likely to behave. It’s also possible to change the shape of that chart based on what other materials are in contact with that metal.
Now, the metal in electronics isn’t thin enough (a few hundred angstroms, say) for us to concern ourselves with that right now, but it will be in the next couple of decades, and our scientists are getting ready. Which I think is really cool.
But now Dom is involved in debt structuring, which is of course very important these days. Among other things, he’s looking back on what assumptions were wrong that caused the current mortgage crisis — you know, like that it’s a good idea to lend money to people who don’t have a history of paying it back.
I believe one definition of insanity is believing you will get different results by repeating the same actions.
And now, Final Jeopardy!
The answer is:
I didn’t actually write down the answer, but it had something to do with a statue currently being built in the Vatican of someone who was imprisoned there in the 17th Century.
Any guesses? A good chunk of the crowd in the ale house suggested Galileo. Turns out they were right. So was Greg and, to everyone’s shock and delight, the crazy champion guessed Richelieu.
Richelieu? Really? What a bizarre guess, and of course it was wrong.
I mean, Richelieu?
And the crowd went wild!
It was a lot of fun.
People cleared out pretty fast after that, although I did have a chance to catch up with Lockhart Steele of the Curbed empire, which of course includes Eater, which was kind enough to link to this blog yesterday. That explains why yesterday’s visitors included riff raff making idiotic comments as opposed to the usually very fine visitors who stop by.
Then Greg and his wife, the excellent Sophie Donelson, were heading to Arturo’s for pizza and invited people to join them.
I was the only one who took them up on their invitation, which could have been awkward but I don’t think it was.
Among other things we discussed was pizza, and how, Greg observed, in New York we were minimalists: To us, pizza is about the sauce, the crust and the cheese. One extra topping is acceptable, or maybe two if we’re feeling a bit louche.
Greg, however, is from Illinois and wants more on his pizza, and so we had Arturo’s fiesta: sausage, mushroom, pepper and onion.

Blais’s glory

September 9

I’ve never had enough fame to know what it really does to a person. I’m not sure I’d handle it very well. Back when Rocco DiSpirito was declared “Sexiest Chef Alive” by People, and the magazine ran a picture with his shirt open and his chest oiled up, I went on the record as saying that if a magazine declared me the sexiest food writer alive I’d totally unbutton my shirt and spread on the oil.
So I can’t fault Richard Blais, who was a promising chef with a budding career, for deciding to become a contestant on Top Chef, or, after his season was over, for deciding to leave high-end dining to focus on opening a burger joint. I like burgers.
But one of my colleagues was working on a story about him as chef at Home in Atlanta, and then the story had to be scrapped when we found out last night that he has left the restaurant, or maybe that he was made to leave.
It’s a drag when you have to scrap a story.
From representatives of Home: “We wish Richard all the best on his individual endeavors, but his focus was not at Home with all his additional projects going on.”
Those include a burger joint, speaking engagements and some sort of Top Chef reunion tour.
Restaurant management continues: "We will promote Jeff Wright to be the Executive Chef from Sous Chef. Jeff has been the backbone of the kitchen since day one and we are thrilled to have him lead the kitchen and continue with the incredible food the team and him put out every day.”
So, congratulations to Jeff Wright.

Friday, September 05, 2008


August 5

Here’s a theory for creating buzz at a party: Invite one big-name guest, only one, and simply have him just kind of hang around (or her, obviously, I mean, it’s 2008).
That theory was put forward to me last night by a publicist at the opening party of Apothéke, Albert Trummer’s new medieval-medical-treatment-themed bar in the very unlikely location of Chinatown on the little-known street of Doyers, which juts off of Pell and dumps out onto Bowery.
It’s a solid four blocks away from Winnie’s, which Thrillist’s David Blend guessed was the closest bar.
Four blocks might not seem far away if you don’t live in New York, but if you do, and you’re out drinking late at night, four blocks could be another planet.
So it’s a destination bar. Good thing Albert Trummer’s a famous cocktail maker — famous as cocktail makers go, at least.
The party was reasonably well attended as far as I could tell, mostly with people I didn’t know who were younger, taller, and better looking than I, which is what you want at a bar. A bongo player was doing his thing off to one side, riffing off of the canned music that was not quite drowning out conversation.
I hope the air-conditioner was on the fritz, because the last party I’d been to that was so stifling was the Beard Awards after-party at Bar Boulud.
And that’s interesting, because the one big-name guest (or the one that I recognized — maybe there were famous supermodels or DJs, or actors that I didn’t notice) was chef Daniel Boulud.
Coincidence? Well, yes. Of course.
A very tall and stupid blond woman stepped on me as I was trying to get a drink, but those are the perils of Fashion Week, which starts today. And really it was a friendly crowd, the drinks were creative and the bouncer was British. That, Daniel and a bongo. What more could you ask for?
Air-conditioning, I suppose, but nothing’s perfect.
Besides, I was already well-fed and slightly buzzed, having dined at Felidia with the publicist from the Peanut Advisory Board. She loves the chef there, Fortunato Nicotra, and he often submits recipes to her annual contest (recently he entered a dish of penne pasta with speck, radicchio and peanut pesto). We sat at the bar and basically ate the entire bar menu, plus whatever Fortunato felt like sending out, including a sort of peanut-butter-and-jelly flatbread topped with chocolate-cured foie gras.
Chocolate and foie gras might be a trend worth looking into. Pichet Ong was doing that at P*ong when I ate there recently: Foie gras with pineapple and an almost burnt dark chocolate crisp.
Fortunato also sent out seasonal things like batter-fried squash blossoms and stuffed zucchini, and cured ham with a mustard-peach sauce — obviously a play on traditional mostarda and something Fortunato does often, changing the fruit according to season.
Apothéke had seasonal drinks, too, including a watermelon Margarita — although I had watermelon-and-vodka instead because he was making that for a wafer-thin model who said she couldn’t “do” tequila.
She was a very nice wafer-thin model, who passed on to me a cocktail that had peppers and dill and other things that she deemed simply to be weird.
That was good news for me, because the bar had just run out of ice.

Food Writer’s Diary real estate brokerage

August 5

New Yorkers might know Willis Loughhead as the recently departed chef from Country. Miamians, or Miami’s tourists, might remember him from Tantra, a South Beach restaurant featuring aphrodisiac cuisine (laugh if you want, but the restaurant’s still open) where he was chef around the turn of the century, or from the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, where, back in 2004, as part of the VIP turndown service, he would prepare five different flavored popcorns. The flavors rotated, but they included tomato, Parmesan, truffle, pistachio and chocolate.
He actually popped the truffle popcorn in a truffle oil — with white and black truffle peelings added — tossed it in butter and sprinkled it with Maldon sea salt, Parmesan cheese and julienne black truffle.
As a kid he took popcorn — tossed with M&Ms while still hot — to drive-in movies.
Anyway, now Willis is looking for a restaurant space, ideally in the West Village but anywhere south of 14th Street. He's hoping to open what is a essentially “a large local bar with good food as a perk” — 40 seats, say, in addition to a big bar. He’s thinking open kitchen, too.
So drop me a line (bthorn@nrn.com) if you have a space to rent. I’ll put you in touch.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

People love talking about food

September 4

I looked in the mirror on Monday and saw what looked like a stream of blood leaking across my right eyeball.
I thought: Darn it! I'm having a stroke.
But then I remembered reading about these blood smears on the eyeball, and that, although they are hideous and make you look like you are possessed by the Devil, they are perfectly harmless, like bruises — bruises that give children nightmares.
It didn't hurt, and it didn't affect my vision, but still, you never know, so I called my ophthalmologist and set up an appointment for today.
I waited for half an hour and then he looked at me and told me that my smear was a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
“That’s harmless,” he said. He made sure I didn’t have any excessive pressure in my eye and then we talked about eggplant.
He had recently made the best caponata in his life, the key being to cook each of the ingredients separately, and to leave just a little bit of crunch in the peppers so you get contrasting textures.
I congratulated him on his caponata and talked about how I used to bake eggplant whole until the inside was mushy and then I’d add the mush to pasta sauces for vegetarian friends. It gives it nice heft and a nutty flavor.
Then I suggested that maybe he had other patients to see and he sent me off into the world to terrorize onlookers.


September 3

Magdalena Spirydowicz made the astute observation last night that for new food writers, the focus is on the food, but that the more time you spend covering the industry, the more you end up writing about the chefs.
That was an appropriate topic for conversation as we were eating at Gusto, one of her clients, with her husband and photographer Michael Tulipan and Gina Pace, who until recently mostly wrote about crime. But now she writes about food, too. And other things.
We spoke a fair amount about the celebrity chef phenomenon, a topic that I think I’ve beaten to death on this blog, so let’s go right to what I ate and drank:

Fried Parmigiano balls with prosciutto
Zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese and basil
Carciofi alla Giudea (fried artichokes, “Jewish style,” a traditional Roman dish whose name always cracks me up).
Focaccia with robiolina, tomatoes, arugula and Parmigiano
Fava bean salad with escarole, Pecorino-Romano, mint and basil
Grilled octopus with celery and black olives
2006 Villa Sparina Gavi di Gavi

Meatballs with pine nuts and raisins
Saffron orecchiette with pork ragù and crisp prosciutto
Pan-seared scallops with braised dandelion, lardo and reduced grape must (saba)
Bucatini with sardines, pine nuts and raisins
Risotto with peas, fava beans and pancetta
2005 Antano Montefalco Rosso

Roasted peaches with mascarpone and Amaretto (almonds being a cousin of the peach, the Amaretto really brought out the peach’s flavor)
Tartufo with pistachios, vanilla and chocolate ice cream
Assorted cannoli and biscotti