Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fusia at Luxor closed

April 30

Two e-mails about restaurants closing in one day. What a drag. And unusual. Restaurants love to tell you when they’re opening, but they usually close quietly.

April 30, 2009

Listing Information

Name: Luxor

Address: 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Phone: (702) 262-4000

Toll Free: (800) 557-7428

Website Address: <>

Effective Immediately

Fusia at Luxor is permanently closed. Future plans for the space will be released at a later date. Please remove Fusia from all listings.

Atria closed

April 30

Damn it! I really liked this place:

To All Our Friends,

Thank you for all your support. We are all very proud of Atria. Unfortunately, Atria is no longer open. Please direct all questions to the following people:

Accounts Payable: Main Street Restaurant Group 212.223.6432
All Other: Adam Landsman

Kind Regards,

All of us from Atria

It was in the space that once was Aquavit, and then became Grayz, and for a short while was Atria, serving delicious sausages and assorted Asian-inflected central European fare by chef Martin Brock. Good cocktails, too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thanks for coming

April 28

Food Writer’s Diary is enjoying robust traffic today, thanks to links from the talented and I’m just going to go ahead and say good-looking people at Eater, Grub Street, Midtown Lunch, Cityfile and elsewhere, so I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome new visitors, ask one and all to participate in the poll on the right of this page, and to be as kind to strangers as is reasonable.
I’d love to write a fascinating new blog entry today, but I’m on 19 different deadlines and am about to be late for a staff meeting, so instead, and in honor of iced coffee season, here’s a link to a blog entry of yesteryear about the language of Starbucks and assorted other things. It’s not too long, and it’s an enjoyable read. I would add a coda, and that’s just a mention of the new Comedy Central show, Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, showing that the use of redundancy in language as a humorous device continues.

Monday, April 27, 2009

off the record

April 27

If someone tells you something in confidence, it’s in confidence. You have to respect that or you’re a jerk. I’ve had colleagues in the past who have insisted that we shouldn’t have off the record conversations at all, because they just get you into trouble. But sometimes interviewees let things out that you can talk about, and that’s how I learned of the tentative opening date (okay, opening week) of New York City’s first ever Baja Fresh, at 465 Lexington Ave. (between 45th and 46th streets if Google Maps is to be believed). If all goes as planned, Qdoba and Chipotle will have new competition starting the week of May 11.
Mark your calendars.

April 30 update: I guess all didn't go as planned, as is now reporting that Baja Fresh won’t be opening until the week of the 19th at the earliest. No big shocker there — the only New York restaurant I can recall opening on time was the original Tasting Room.

Marcus in the kitchen, at Aquavit, on Monday, during lunch

April 27

Marcus Samuelsson was actually in the kitchen at Aquavit, on Monday, during lunch.
That might sound a little condescending, but Marcus is the chef-owner of Aquavit, not the executive chef (that would be the able and always-gracious Johan Svensson), so he doesn't really need to be there.
But he came out, said hello and chatted a bit with me and my lunch companions, publicist Jeffrey Ward and chef Rodelio Aglibot. Jeffrey's from Rockit Ranch Productions, a restaurant company based in the Chicago area. One of its newer restaurants is Sunda, where Rodelio's the chef. He calls his food “New Asian,” which he thinks sounds less hackneyed than "pan-Asian" and less lame than "fusion," and I think he's right.
I'd interviewed Rodelio before, when he was at Yi Cuisine in Los Angeles, and he always was doing interesting things with food
(sweet avocado mousse with lychee sorbet and raspberry sauce, garnished with candied jalapeño; eggs benedict with kurobuta pork adobo, instead of Canadian bacon, in puff pastry — this was back in 2004-2005), so it was good to finally meet him.
He's about to add a lunch menu that will have ramen and his own take on such Hawaiian items as plate lunch and loco moco. He also does a great-sounding Thai fried chicken, which he marinates in coconut milk with various Thai flavors, simmers it to an internal temperature of 160, and then coats it in rice flour and deep fries it.
But today, this is what I ate:
chilled watercress soup with tuna tartare, watermelon, egg and caviar
a mid-course sent out by Marcus of braised short ribs with leeks, pumpkin seed pesto and sweet potato
Gravlax and shrimp sandwich with avocado, egg and espresso mustard sauce,
then we split an Arctic Circle (goat cheese parfait with blueberry sorbet and passionfruit curd)
and I finished it off with an expresso.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Absinthe at l’Absinthe

April 24

Fox News and a Zen Buddhist temple are both on the same street as l'Absinthe, an old-school Upper East Side French restaurant that last night had a tasting of the liqueur after which the restaurant is named, the one that once was banned, ostensibly because of the thujone in the wormwood used to make it, but that was really hip among 19th Century Parisian artists and is now hip among hipster wannabes, but among some cool people as well.
I imagine the restaurant gets more business from the network than the temple, although I couldn’t tell last night, when before the 9pm tasting I had dinner with two of L'Absinthe’s publicists.
The restaurant was about half full, which isn’t bad.
We spoke mostly of simple things, like reality television, although as more people arrived and the Absinthe tasting began the subject moved on to other things, although I’m not sure what, because I drank something like six Absinthes, administered by our able server, Steve Bucheli.
I woke miraculously without a hangover.

What I ate and drank (besides Absinthe):
2006 Newton Chardonnay
Guacamole terrine with salmon tartare and poached lobster
duck foie gras seared with mango
2005 Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
pan-seared skate with pine nuts and capers, served with seared zucchini and confit tomato skin
braised chicken paillard with white wine and truffle
Apple tarte.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First City Harvest, then narcissism

April 23

Yesterday was my birthday, so it seems like a good moment to be briefly narcissistic. I would have been narcissistic last night, but instead I attended a fundraiser for City Harvest, a very nice organization that tries to feed New York's growing ranks of hungry people. Since I am the opposite of hungry, navel-gazing was simply out of the question.
My boss, Pam Parseghian, and I were last-minute guests at the American Express table. Some people find it undignified to be invited to events at the last minute, but as American Express' restaurant liaison, the always dapper Hans Lindh, pointed out, NRN and American Express have a good relationship.
Besides, it’s not exactly a hardship to sit with good company (Hans, a couple of editors from Food & Wine — which as you might know is owned by American Express — and other good people, including perhaps the greatest publicist on earth, Daniel Boulud’s own Georgette Farkas) and be moved by speeches and videos about feeding hungry people.
In the picture above and on the right, which Pam took, are (left to right) Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin with Hans and Georgette.
New York is in the grips of the worst recession in memory, but the attendees of the dinner seemed to be doing all right. One of them bid $45,000 for a dinner for 26 people to be cooked by Eric Ripert in their home. When auctioneer George McNeely and the recently crowned Miss USA, Kristen Dalton from North Carolina, asked people to raise a hand if they wanted to give $500 to City Harvest’s Drivers Fund, for the people who deliver the food, 55 people raised their hands. That was more than 10 percent of the audience, and of course it means they raised $27,500, just like that. Those are the drivers, above and to the left. Pam took that picture, too.
here’s a link to some more pictures of the event.
Here’s another link,
and here’s a third one.

Okay, and now a little narcissism, in the form of my next poll.
Food Writer’s Diary readers were not too excited about my last poll, asking them what the biggest trend was in Spanish cuisine in the United States, but the results were conclusive:

Ingredients from Spain 0 (0%)
Peasant cooking 1 (9%)
Molecular gastronomy (Ferran Adrià and others) 0 (0%)
Tapas 9 (81%)
Traditional dishes 1 (9%

So let’s talk about me, or more accurately, my blog. My next question is, which type of Food Writer’s Diary entries do you prefer most?
Obviously, comments are welcome below as well.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Smiling at tragedy

April 17

We Jews are well known for our sense of humor — wry, ironic, self-deprecating. Except for when it comes to the Holocaust. The Holocaust isn’t funny, and we know very well to be somber when it’s mentioned. Once someone says “Treblinka,” you can’t joke anymore.
In the West that seems obvious and self-evident, but many people do laugh at tragedy. Go to China and watch movies that have scenes from the Cultural Revolution, the period from 1966 to around 1972 when chaos reigned. Schools were closed, precious artifacts were destroyed, people were tortured, humiliated, exiled to the countryside, driven to suicide, and society in general was in the grip of a combination of personality worship, paranoia, mass hysteria and other things that I don't understand.
But watch those movies with a Chinese audience, and they will laugh uproariously.
When I was a student in China, I asked one of my professors about that and she said that it just all seemed so absurd and ridiculous. Even though she was there and remembers it well, she laughed about it.
“Oh, silly, silly us, torturing and humiliating each other. Ha ha ha ha ha."
I was reminded of that last night at the 2nd Annual Taste of Southeast Asia, a celebration of the Therevada Buddhist New Year (celebrated in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar — and presumably in the Xishaungbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Yunnan province) and a fundraiser for Khmer Legacies, an organization whose mission is to remember the 1975-79 genocide in Cambodia, when it was estimated that between one million and two million people were killed.
That was in a country of around eight million people.
Khmer Legacies is doing that by videotaping the younger generation of Cambodians interviewing their parents about the genocide, with the goal of collecting thousands of stories that bear witness to the atrocities of that period.
It was a fun party. Cedric Tovar, former chef of Peacock Alley, was there helping out. He says he’s negotiating a lease for his own restaurant and hopes the ink will be dry in a few weeks. If all goes as planned, it will be a relatively small, neighborhood place featuring the sort of French-influenced modern American cuisine de chef that you’d expect from him. Singha beer from Thailand (it’s pronounced “Sing”; the “ha” is silent — just trust me on this) was being poured on the ground flour while Beer Lao was available in the basement, along with really hard-core authentic Southeast Asian food, including a sort of Thai/Lao beef jerky called neua taet tio (which basically means sun-dried beef), a chile-and-lime marinated shrimp, green curry with tofu (tofu is not a traditional protein in green curry, but you have to give the vegetarians something to eat, and one of the sponsors sells a lot of tofu), curry puffs and assorted steamed and pan-fried dumplings, as well as a pre-packaged dessert that was simply unsweetened coconut and coconut jelly frozen and served in coconut shells.
Upstairs with the Singha were Vietnamese spring rolls, a hamburger served with hoisin sauce and mango, and assorted other goodies. I also sampled the first carbonated green tea I’d ever seen. It was flavored with jasmine and sweetened with sugar cane syrup. It was tasty and refreshing.
I met American film makers who had lived in Cambodia for four years, talked about opium with a young Jewish lawyer, and otherwise mingled with an interesting cosmopolitan crowd.
The emcee for the evening was my friend Jamie Tiampo, who you’d probably like, because he’s a sweet guy.
When it was time for the evening’s presentation, he bounded on-stage, all smiles, welcomed everyone and talked cheerily about Khmer Legacies and how it was appropriate to have a fundraiser for it during the Buddhist New Year because it was during that period that the Khmer Rouge marched into Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Pehn, in 1975, completing its takeover of the country and (he didn’t say this) beginning its ruthless extermination of intellectuals, people who wore glasses, anyone who spoke a foreign language and basically anyone who they felt like killing.
I thought his ebullient, good-natured approach to the whole thing was a tad inappropriate until he introduced Khmer Legacies founder Socheata Poeuv, who showed a video of one of the interviews she was collecting.
A woman spoke of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh and its inhabitants' forced march into the countryside. She said even the hospitals were emptied, and invalids were crawling on the ground until they couldn’t go on. She said everyone just expected to die.
Then the video switched to the daughter of the woman who had been interviewed, who was all smiles and just delighted that she’d had a chance to learn about all of those things from her mother.
What can I say? People deal with tragedy differently.
I went downstairs for more Beer Lao and met a young Thai-American NYU student who had formed an organization to encourage Asian women to be more expressive — to speak their minds more and stop second-guessing themselves.
That’s a worthy cause. I’ve met plenty of East Asian women both in North America and in East Asia who are whip-smart but who hesitate to express their opinions in public. It’s a cultural thing, but I think it can be a hindrance in these women achieving their full potential. She wanted to meet Jamie, so I took her upstairs to introduce them, and we both met a young Sino-Indonesian who worked for an advertising agency but who also was an independent film maker.
I asked if he were Hokkien, and he acted impressed that I knew that most of the Chinese in Indonesia (and Malaysia and the Philippines, for that matter) were Hokkien. It turns out that he’s half Hokkien and half Taechiew. The latter make up the bulk of the Chinese population in Thailand’s central plains, while the Hokkien are the dominant group in southern Thailand. That country also has plenty of Hainanese and Hakkas.
Anyway, one thing led to another and for some reason I talked about the cultural divide that splits Southeast Asia into two regions, the Buddhist north and the Muslim south. The border actually runs through Thailand, which has a population that’s something like 95 percent Buddhist, but its five southernmost provinces are majority-Muslim.
The young Thai-American woman was about to say something but then stopped. I chastised her and asked if her entire organization wasn’t about getting Asian women to speak their mind, so she said she was going to joke that that cultural divide was why everyone in Muslim Southeast Asia should be killed.
“Nice,” I said (sarcastically, obviously). “Nice joke at a genocide party.”
Sometimes self-censorship is a good thing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A very Top Chef Passover

April 13

Regular readers of this blog will know Top Chef and other shows that have created legions of fans that seem more interested in celebrity than food. My cousins don’t care much what I think of the broader effects of the celebrity phenomenon on food in America, but they sure like Top Chef.
Cousin Nancy Brodovsky (née Lackner) can’t get enough of it, nor can young Yael Kornfeld.
We were all in Denver at the home of Yael’s uncle Richard (my first cousin, and Nancy’s but from opposite sides of the family tree) for Passover.
It’s the custom in many Jewish families to discuss the Haggadah, the book from which we read the Passover story, at length, interrupting whenever a question arises. For the entire Passover seder is intended to be a learning experience.
That’s definitely the custom in my family. In fact, we discuss everything, whether it’s during a seder or not, at length, interrupting whenever a question arises. For life is intended to be a learning experience (and because we all tend to have strong opinions and were never encouraged to keep them to ourselves).
So some of us also debated Top Chef.
I don’t watch the show, but I’m rather familiar with it because I’m in the food world, just like I don’t ski but, being from Colorado, I know how to say things like, “that was some sweet powder.”
I think the fact that I know who many of the chefs are on the show but have no idea what kind of food they cook illustrates my problem with it — that it stresses personality over food.
Ah, cousin Joe Levi said, but when eating in a restaurant the ambience is important, right?
Joe’s an architect, so he thinks about things like that.
And the presentation of the food, and the lighting and the music? Can’t the personality of the chef also be a factor in the enjoyment of the meal?
He has a point.
Yael is the third daughter of Tom Kornfeld and his wife Sarah. He is Richard’s older brother. Their oldest brother is artist Doug Kornfeld, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and would have been at the seder, but he hurt his back. So Yael’s little brother, 10-year-old David, brought his laptop and set up a video link, allowing Doug and his wife Susan to enjoy the festivities.
Richard, who has hosted a family seder for years now, insisted that this was not intended as a new tradition.

What are you doing with Spanish food?

April 13

In my latest poll, I’d like to help out my boss, Pamela Parseghian, who's working on an article about Spanish cuisine and how it’s being interpreted in professional American kitchens.
So, if you’re a chef who's doing something interesting with Spanish food, e-mail her by Wednesday, April 15.
Whether you’re a chef or not, feel free to respond to this week’s poll about Spanish food.

Below are the results of last week’s poll. You might notice that there are 17 responses from just 16 people. That’s because I let peole vote more than once.


A totally different foodservice landscape: 3 (18%)

A return to the modest growth patterns of the recent past: 7 (43%)

Consumers trading up: 4 (25%)

A resurgence in menu innovation: 3 (18%)

Total Votes: 16

A new, proper blog entry is on its way soon. My apologies for my reticence of late.

Friday, April 03, 2009

York Grill

March 4

One of the benefits of this crappy economy is that it’s easier to get high-powered food writers like me to show up at events.
Okay, maybe not food writers like me, because it has never been hard to get me to show up at events, but you didn’t used to see people like Jane Sigal and Lettie Teague at Susan Rike’s dinners.
Susan’s way of introducing food writers to her clients is to invite a handful of them to sit around at a table at one of her client’s restaurants, eat a meal and meet the chef.
I have met many interesting people at these dinners over the years, including big-time players like Amanda Hesser and James Oliver Cury.
But usually my fellow guests are an eclectic mix of not-so-big names from across the board, quite often including one or more of the young women newly arrived at the revolving door that is Star Chefs (not to say that it can't be a fine jumping off point).
It is rare, indeed, to see two people of Jane’s and Lettie’s caliber at such a dinner, especially if the restaurant that Susan is showcasing is an old neighborhood place like York Grill.
There’s nothing wrong with old neighborhood places like York Grill, but it can be challenging to get big-name writers to cross their thresholds
So after the departure of Jane and Lettie and that evening’s other guest, food writer, cookbook author and Bay Ridge dining scene expert Marian Betancourt (she says Gino’s in that neighborhood is the best Italian restaurant in Brooklyn), I asked Susan if it was easier to get the A-list writers to come to her dinner parties these days, and she said emphatically that it was.
I’m not exactly sure why that is. Lettie’s status recently changed from staff member to freelancer (her wine blog is about to debut on Robert Parker’s web site, by the way), but Jane has been a freelancer for years now.
You might surmise that we were being invited to fewer events these days, but if my e-mail inbox and calendar are any indication, that’s not the case.
Maybe it's the new generosity of spirit in the air that I wrote about awhile back that makes us feel like if we’ve been invited out the only decent thing to do is to accept.
I don't have the answer, but it’s a phenomenon worth noting.

What we ate:
House-made gorgonzola-potato gnocchi tossed with blistered grape tomatoes and baby spinach in light Chardonnay broth topped with crumbled gorgonzola

Grilled Atlantic salmon over crispy Idaho potato-bacon-arugula cake topped with shaved carrot salad, with a drizzle of arugula emulsion

Pan roasted diver sea scallops over sautéed baby candy cane beets, shiitake mushrooms, dandelion greens and fingerling potatoes, and a verjus reduction

Sweet serrano chile glazed grilled pork loin with saffron jasmine rice and sour tomatillo compote

Grilled marinated skirt steak with caramelized onions, baby carrots and garlic mashed potatoes

Mini panna cotta, molten chocolate cake and crème brûlée.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


April 2

Montenapo, a restaurant planned for the the New York Times building that mentioned more than a year ago, now has an opening date: April 29 (according to its publicists). The chef is German Lucarelli, formerly of Bice. The food is “authentic modern and traditional Italian.” The name comes from Via Montenapoleone in Milan.
What else? 200 seats, 5,200 square feet. That's about it. Oh, except for the web site.

Anyone looking for a chef in Sioux Falls?

April 2

Tre Restaurant & Lounge in Sioux Falls, S.D., has cut some of its staff, which of course is what companies do these days. In this case it means that a talented young chef by the name of Tyler Honke (pronounced Honkey) is on the job market.
I met Tyler at last year’s Taste of Elegance, a competition sponsored by the American Pork Board, and he cooked a whole freakin’ pig's head, dusting the temples with fennel,
rubbing the cheeks with garlic, coating the neck (a cut very much appreciated in Latin America and Southeast Asia) with Piave cheese. He was Tre’s executive chef, so one would assume he knows how to run a kitchen.
Let me know if you’d like to reach him.
Update, July 1: In case you were wondering, Tyler recently landed a job at the Minnehaha Country Club.

And now, a more serious poll

April 2

April Fool's Day is no time to ask serious questions, so I just asked you what you thought of the day. Now I'm asking you to prognosticate about what the foodservice landscape will look like at the end of this recession. You may choose more than one answer. As always, feel free to add further comments below, or e-mail me if you like.

Not many people participated in yesterday’s poll, but it was only up for about 12 hours.

The results:

How do you feel about April Fool’s Day?

It’s a time-honored tradition that reminds people to lighten up: 3 (75%)
It's a dangerous custom that can cause misunderstanding and tragedy: 0 (0%)
It's a great opportunity for me to get back at my enemies: 0 (0%)
I hadn’t really thought about it: 1 (25%)
I don't click buttons on April 1st: 0 (0%)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Names, Thai factions, cocktails and other Tuesday things

April 1 (but there’s no foolseys in this post)

Doni (pronounced like “Donny”), was our waiter at Delicatessen last night.
“It’s short for Adonai!” he said. “And I’m not even Jewish.”
Well, of course he wasn’t Jewish. A strictly observant Jew wouldn’t even pronounce “Adonai” except during prayer, let alone give it to someone as a name. A strictly observant Jew definitely wouldn’t write it in a blog.
It’s God’s name, or as close as we can get to God’s name, which is actually unknown according to Jewish custom. Naming your kid “Adonai” isn’t like naming him “Jesus.” It’s like naming him “the all-knowing, unknowable Source, the creator of all.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid.
“They didn’t put it on him, you did,” said Andy Battaglia, my dinner guest for the evening.
Andy’s a genius, a hell of a nice guy and an editor at The Onion; he’s in charge of its New York Decider section. We met back when he, too, worked at NRN, and have now been friends for 10 years, a fact that blows our minds.
And he’s right about Doni’s name, of course. It’s just six letters. The meaning of the name is what we give it. If parents want to name their kid Adonai, that’s up to them.
My parents have a German shepherd mutt named Cassandra. I still don’t understand why they named the poor girl after the Greek prophetess of doom, but she is awfully skittish. I think maybe she knows something is amiss. She’s the beta dog to the house alpha, Mikhaila, a robust Australian shepherd mutt who goes by ”Mike.“
Anyway, Doni seemed nice enough. He recommended food to us and brought us whatever we ordered. He never once tried to be omnipotent.

Andy was not, in fact, the first or oldest friend I hung out with that evening. I came to Delicatessen from Atria, where I had drinks with Craig Stuart, who has been a good friend since, like, 1992. Maybe 1993. We worked together at a bizarre but truly hilarious magazine in Bangkok called Manager, the English-language version of a Thai business magazine called Phoojadkan, which is the Thai word for “manager.”
The English version started out running translations from the Thai magazine, but by the time Craig got there — I think a year or so after I did — the magazine had been handed over as a plaything to a then-once and future senior government advisor by the name of Pansak Vinyaratn, which I only point out because the magazine was owned by Sondhi Limthongkul, who would go on to become the monarchist rabble-rouser who has helped screw up Thailand while opposing former (and dare I suspect future) prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose senior advisor was our friend Pansak.
Pansak transformed Manager into a mercurial, opinionated magazine that commented on the politics, economics and social movements of Thailand in general and Bangkok in particular. I was, among other things, its restaurant critic. I also remember writing an eight-page article on Japanese banks' activities in Thailand. I used to know the Thai word for “derivative.”
Craig’s activities included writing a media column and reviewing cars (it was a brilliant and in no way veiled excuse to test-drive extremely expensive vehicles on the Bangkok roadways — I assume in the less-congested suburbs, but I wasn’t really paying attention).
Craig is now a banking vice president for Wells Fargo and was in town for a conference on money transfer regulation or some such thing.
I think he and Andy would get along well.
Andy and I weren’t finished having fun when dinner was over at Delicatessen, so we went on to Tailor, where we met his girlfriend Jennifer, who does documentary film work and wears excellent glasses.

What I drank and ate (mostly drank):

At Atria:
Lion’s Tail: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Allspice Dram, Angostura bitters and lime juice
The Brunette: An infusion of orange and espresso beans in rum

At Delicatessen:
Cardamom GreyHound: Gin, ruby red grapefruit, cardamom syrup and grapefruit bitters
Grilled fish tacos with cabbage, tomato salsa and chipotle crema
“Sticky” ribs with hoisin glaze and pickled slaw
2006 Columbia Crest Two Vines Riesling
Chatham Cod with lentils, chorizo and pearl onions
Fried chicken in a bucket with coleslaw, corn biscuit & ranch dressing
"The Candy Bar": Milk chocolate, salted peanuts and milk gelato and (at Doni’s suggestion)
"Slice of Birthday Cake": Chocolate layer cake and vanilla ice cream

At Tailor:
Bohemio: Tequila, Becherovka and blood orange
Cedar White Russian: Cedar milk, shochu, malt syrup