A delicate cheesecake is baked on top of a blueberry pie filling. It is topped with a crumbly sugary streusel. The buttery pie crust keeps everything together. Four key variables, endless opportunities.
A delicate cheesecake is baked on top of a blueberry pie filling. It is topped with a crumbly sugary streusel. The buttery pie crust keeps everything together. Four key variables, endless opportunities.
I have a new favorite app for my phone. It's KitCam. I'm always looking for ways to improve the pictures I can take with my iphone and my biggest gripe has always been lack of white balance. In my search for adjustable white balance I also stumbled across an app that can increase and decrease the level of exposure, which is a beautiful thing. The photograph below was taken in dim lighting at a restaurant and you'd never know it. It can be a little slow to load and the white balance settings aren't perfect but the pros far outweigh the cons and I can honestly say that KitCam is one of the best apps on my phone. So if you like to take pictures with your ipad or phone definitely go check it out. Totally worth the $2 investment.
We've decided to try an experiment. A casual dinner, centered around pasta, at least 4 courses, $50 per person, BYOB (we'll provide the glassware and the H2O). It's not a catered event, it's a communal one. We love to make pasta and our pasta machine makes much too much for us to eat on our own. So why not open up the table? There are 10 seats and some nights we may occupy a few of them ourselves. Payment will be required in advance, via PayPal, to secure your seat. Doors open at 6pm, dinner is at 7pm, there will be nibbles and prep as we get ready for supper. You are welcome to roll up your sleeves or sit back and relax as the mood strikes you. Attendees to the first night will get 24-hour advance notice for the next shindig before we open it up to the public at large. Your seat will be yours for as long as you continue to reserve it. These meals will be about good food and good company. First dinner this Friday, April 13, as it happens. Reservations will be taken on a first come, first serve basis and the house is in Levittown, PA reachable via Septa's West Trenton line from Philly. Email us through Ideas in Food and we'll let you know if there's a seat at the table.
This friday we are cooking dinner with the team at elements in Princeton, NJ. In order to "plan" the meal we met several weeks ago to go over dishes and ideas. We started with a blank piece of paper and filled in the voids quickly. What came out of that meeting was a reflection on dishes we were working on and dishes we felt would work well for the dinner. Fast forward to today. It was now crunch time to get in ingredients and really refine what we would cook. Scott pulled out the sheet of paper with the menu script and we started talking about the dishes. In the time which had passed we had cooked, eaten, refined and put those original dishes to rest. I looked at him and said, "that was last week." Everyone at the table rolled there eyes and pushed through my ADD. So we begin again, with some evolutions from our notes, plenty of inspiration from the ingredients and excitement with the refinement and necessary focus on the dinner, October 14, 2011. See you there to eat these 7ish courses.
(subjet to change)
abalone, oyster, scallop
Radish Parts and Pieces
black garlic, weakfish, sour honey
Shaved Bonito Puttanesca
broccoli rabe salsa verde, macadamia nuts
consomme, yogurt, cobia
Lobster mushroom Curry
red pepper-crustacean broth, pandan leaf, bamboo rice
Big wagon Wheel
cuttlefish, onion juice, aged pecorino
glass of wine, dry aged jus, crispy carrots
Leg of Pork
smoked oyster vinaigrette, paw paw, charred allium
Sunchoke & Asian Pear
glazed, roasted, ice cream
There are afternoons when I simply crave chocolate covered pretzels. This is not a recipe post. I buy my pretzels, thank you very much, because on the days when I crave chocolate covered pretzels I am definitely not in the right state of mind to deal with tempering chocolate. I don't even care if the pretzels I buy are no longer perfectly tempered because it was 90+ degrees in the car on the ride home and they melted a little and stuck together. What matters is that the pretzels are fresh, salted and thickly coated in quality milk chocolate.
It's important to find a moment alone to enjoy them. My husband and daughter are the lights of my life but I am one of those people who appreciates a little bit of solitude, and not just when I'm working. I find that a little time to myself recharges the batteries. It's hard to come by these days and I've adjusted to embracing those moments wherever I can find them, usually when the two of them are playing in the backyard. Hearing them enjoy themselves frees me to do the same. Although there is a laundry list of work projects, emails and other miscellanea that require my attention I ignore them. It's not easy, as my conscience nags quietly in the background. but I persevere. Arranging a couple of pretzels on a pretty plate and taking them off to a quiet spot to enjoy, I consciously force myself to relax.
Why do I love chocolate covered pretzels? That first bite explains everything. Teeth sinking through the creamy chocolate and encountering the sudden salty crunch of pretzel. It shatters against my teeth, crunchy and crumbly before melting into a velvet wash of chocolate bliss. Because of the shape of the pretzels and the random scattering of salt, every bite is different. It lets you focus on the experience and enjoy each different, fleeting sensation. And before you know it the pretzel is gone. I rarely get to finish two, there are interruptions, I get full or distracted. But that first pretzel is delicious. It's a few moments stolen in time that are all about me. A small luxury that is easily attainable when I really need it to be.
When we were in Cambridge, Tony prepared half a pig's head for us as the incredible conclusion of our dinner at Craigie on Main. We had seen these heads prepared during the day and strongly hinted that it would be nice to taste one if we were to sit down for dinner. Tony obliged us and the concept of the pig's head has been a daily topic of conversation since our time in his kitchen. Tony shared his Peking Pig's Head story, (damn him for grabbing that brilliant idea, and Cambridge locals should stay tuned for his evolutions at Craigie.) His juxtaposition inspired a rush of ideas and when we returned home we started cooking.
Joe at Elements was able to source a medium sized head for us. We cut it in half and brined it in our onion soup brine for a few days. After that we cooked it sous vide for 18 hours at 83°C and then cooled it down. Once is was cold we roasted it at 425°F for an hour and half. Tony uses slightly smaller heads so his numbers may be slightly different from ours. Our head was deliciously crispy and crackling with meltingly tender meat that we foraged happily from the nooks and crannies of the skull. We served it Greek-style with a spicy tzatziki sauce, sliced tomatoes, Greek style chopped kimchi, and warm pita bread. Next time it could be Ssam style a la David Chang, taco style with corn tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole, or in the style of VIetnamese egg rolls with sweet fish sauce, cold noodles and lettuce wraps. We are only limited by our imaginations.
Craigie on Main
Ideas in Food
Celebrity Chefs Tour Dinner
Thursday, July 29, 2010
house-made sobrasada, creamy eggplant purèe
rillettes of house-smoked bluefish, paddlefish caviar
truffled potato fritter, cubanelle pepper crème
mozzarella noodles, tomato, basil, smoked capers
Sashimi of Dayboat Sea Scallop
“Bulles” Touraine Brut Jean-François Merieau
Fifteen-Herb Cured Striped Bass
lardo, zucchini, red turnips
2008 Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit Nigl
Miso and Sake-Lees Marinated Line-Caught Swordfish
summer lobster succotash
2008 Jasnières “Prémices” Domaine de Bellivière
foie gras, nectarines, chanterelles
2009 Bandol Rosé Domaine de Terrebrune
Slow-Roasted Elysian Fields Lamb Neck
cucumber-cherry-poblano salsa, torpedo onion, sheep’s milk ricotta dumpling
2006 Barbaresco “Torre” Produttori del Barbaresco
Spice-Crusted Skirt Steak
hon shimeji mushrooms, pea tendrils, snail-farro ravioli
2007 Vin de Pays de Gard “Cuvée Counoise” Domaine Monpertuis
Leonora Goat’s Milk Cheese (León, Spain)
fennel, Maine blueberries, pine nuts
Local Corn Tart
blackberries, lemon-verbena ice cream
2008 Muscat Mas Amiel
*not enough time to get pictures of all the dishes, if anyone else has some we would be happy to share them.
We are cooking two dinners this week in our workshop space. They will feature summers bounty using a few of our favorite ideas to shape the dishes. Each dinner has 10 seats because that's the size of our table. The dinners are going to be this Thursday July 15, and Friday July 16. The dinners begin at 7 PM. To book a reservation please email us through the website, requesting which day is desired and the number of seats requested. If you have any allergies or food aversions please put these let us know at the time of reservation so we may make arrangements. We will then send you a link to the reservation page where you will be able to book your prepaid reservation. As our space is small dinner reservations are non-refundable.
The menu will be be finalized each day, some variations may exist based on what we find, want to cook and are inspired by. The cost per person is $125. The menu will be at least 7 courses. This is a BYOB event. Guests bring what they want to drink and share amongst each other. This way great wines and great people get to experience more.
a few guarantees for the night:
Malloredus Pasta, Shrimp Sausage
Raw and Cooked Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh Creamed Corn, Black Truffle Butter
Hope to meet you there...
*Reservations for these dinners are now closed.
Our upcoming James Beard dinner at Craigie on Main is sold out, but we are holding a few workshops there early in the week. Each class has 40 seats. Reservations can be made via Craigie on Main and a credit card number is required to secure a spot. Here's what we're offering, hope to see you there...
Ideas in Food at Craigie on Main Cooking Classes
An Introduction to Hydrocolloids
Monday, July 26, 2010 9:00am-12:00pm
$100 per person
For culinary purposes hydrocolloids are important because at very small concentrations they act as thickeners and stabilizers, which can positively affect the textures, flavors and presentation of food. We use them to enhance great ingredients and create better dishes. In order to make them work for you, a little understanding goes a long way to creating great food in your own kitchens. This class will explore the use and understanding of xanthan gum, agar, locust bean gum and carrageenan for thickening liquids, making consommés and creating custard-like textures that taste great and look beautiful.
Monday, July 26, 2010 1:00pm-4:00pm
$100 per person
Liquid nitrogen is fast becoming a staple in restaurant kitchens. This class will discuss the functionality of using it as a tool in your kitchen, covering safety issues and demonstrating the following techniques to get you started:
Olive Membrillo Crumbs
Finely Ground Spice Blends
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 9:00am-12:00pm
$100 per person
Activa is a proprietary brand of transglutaminase, an enzyme which allows for the cross linking of proteins. We will be discussing and demonstrating the use of Activa RM, Activa Y-G, Activa TI and Activa GS and how they can improve texture and flavor while increasing efficiency in a restaurant setting. Each one has different properties and understanding how they work will help you use them to your best advantage, whether you use them as a binder in low fat or other non-traditional charcuterie, to make noodles or pasta sheets out of cheese, shrimp or tofu, or simply for beautiful, twine-free meat and fish fabrication.
I had a great time working with Chris and his team in the kitchen at noca the other evening. We were able to put out some fun dishes which worked really well with the cocktails of Jim Romdall of Vessel in Seattle. Jim and I have been teaching a class together marrying cocktails with modern cooking techniques applied to desserts and so it was fun to change things up and do it on the savory front. These are the dishes, and yes there is one dessert a take on my summertime breakfast, cornflakes and berries.
Chef’s Bar Bites
with Ideas in Food
Thursday July 1, 2010
Hot Spring Egg
Crispy Potato Gnocchi, noca Guanciale
Confit Chicken Wings
Indian Spiced Watermelon, Pickled Rind, BBQ Sauce
Clams Casino Agnolotti
Arugula, Lemon, Vermouth
Miso Marinated Rib Eye Cap
Dr. Pepper Carrots, Charred Scallions
Cornflakes and Berries
Cocktails by Jim Romdall $12
Kiss Me Kate
Bourbon, Ramazzotti Amaro, Cinnamon, Flamed Orange Garnish
Cucumber Lime Swizzle
Martin Millers Gin , Lillet Blanc, St. Germain, Lime, Cucumber, Soda
Partida Blanco Tequila, Lime, Grapefruit, Rosemary, Soda
Rye 1 Whiskey, Bitters, Absinthe
Corpse Reviver #2
Martin Millers Gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, Lemon, Absinthe
We are really excited to be cooking with our friend Tony Maws again. On July 29, 2010 we will be cooking a collaborative dinner at his restaurant Craigie on Main, in Cambridge Massachusetts. We will also be arriving to Cambridge that Sunday July 25 to begin preparing for the dinner and teaching four workshops (to be detailed later) which will be held at Craigie on Main on Monday the 26th and Tuesday the 27th during the day.
Here's the info from COM's press release:
Save The Date!
Craigie On Main’s Chef Tony Maws—Together with Ideas in Food’s Chefs Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot—To Host
Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner Benefiting the James Beard Foundation
The Celebrity Chef Tour benefiting the James Beard Foundation is coming to Cambridge on Thursday, July 29, 2010, for a night of culinary celebration. Two-time James Beard Nominee for Best Chef Northeast (2009, 2010) Tony Maws of Craigie On Main will cook an eight-course meal with IdeasInFood.com husband-and-wife dynamos Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot.
Chef Maws’ signature “refined rusticity” will be paired with the modern culinary prowess of Chefs Kamozawa and Talbot in a fun and spectacular dining event. The full menu is currently being developed, but you can be sure of courses by the Craigie On Main team and the Ideas In Food team individually, as well as special courses concocted by Tony, Alex and Aki together. The night’s dinner will be paired with a variety of libations from Maws’ hand-selected wines to Craigie’s infamous cocktails and local brews.
A portion of the evening’s proceeds will go to the James Beard Foundation educational programs, which include continuing education classes, guided tastings, readings, conferences, children's programs, scholarship opportunities for aspiring culinary students, and volunteer opportunities for current culinary students. To date the celebrity chef tour has raised of 850k for the James Beard Foundation.
Craigie On Main is located at 853 Main St., in Cambridge, MA. The Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, 2010. Tickets are $150 per person, (inclusive of wine pairings, tax, and gratuity) and can be reserved by calling Jeff Black at 720.201.1853 or by visiting http://www.celebritycheftour.com.
We were given two beautiful halibut collars by our local fish guy. Our marinade is a hybrid blending yogurt with miso with siracha with honey. The collars are grilled on the skin side and then served with leaves of chervil and a puree of basil. The flavors flirt with seasons and styles not really present: summer and India. That is alright. The meat is dense, rich, smooth and unctuous. The herbs are bright, aromatic, refreshing, clean and inviting. The dish requires involvement. This is hands on eating, a great way to spend an evening.
We are extremely excited to be cooking a guest chef dinner on November 2, at Blackfish Restaurant with Chip Roman and his team. The dinner will be roughly seven courses long. The price is $85 per person. To further challenge our norm, Aki and I have already designed the menu and are excited to bring these dishes to welcoming palates. That is not to say a change or two may not happen. We hope to see you there.
Smoked Pumpkin Ice Cream
wild char roe, cranberry, brittle walnuts
Potato Chip Soup
black fish tempura, tartar sauce
Bacon and Bay Scallop Risotto
gala apples, cheddar, jalapeno
Grouper en Brodo
sausage and chestnut tortellini, buttermilk biscuit broth
Veal Cheek Bourguignon
onion soup mashed potatoes
Powdered Brie de Meaux
white chocolate sheets, bourbon cherries, pistachio gremolata
Dinner will be served at 7:00 pm. The meal will be held in our workshop space in Levittown, PA. Guests are welcome to arrive a bit early to check out the space and the preparations. There are twelve seats available. The cost of the dinner is $150 per person, BYOB. Any dietary issues must be noted at the time of your reservation. Email us via the blog or the website if you would like to reserve space.
It is with great pleasure that we can announce the third dinner in our series of collaborations with Shola. It, being the third, brings even more substance because it will be held in our workshop space. What this means is that Aki will not just be consulting or sending along components from our kitchen, she will bring a hands on approach to the menu, the food and the execution of the dishes. It is only appropriate that the third dinner has all three of us.
Friday October 2nd
Saturday October 3rd
The location will be our workshop in Levittown, PA.
30 minutes from Downtown Philadelphia.
Cost is $150 per person. BYOB
Dinner begins promptly at 7:30. Guests are welcome to arrive earlier.
Email your requested interest in reserving a seat(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing beats eating in the kitchen. The folks at Elements know this and have made the kitchen table available for the Mangalista dinner for ten lucky diners. Since the entire restaurant is communal seating for this event, this table will allow a group to wallow in all good things pig while watching the action behind the scenes. You never know what will happen when the fat hits the fire.
Which is good to know because we are cooking an incredible dinner with the team at restaurant Elements, in Princeton, NJ on August 10, 2009. The dinner will feature both cured and fresh Mangalista pig. The dinner will also blend communal dining and family style dishes with a tasting menu and an exploration of be all that it can be can be pig. The Mangalista is renowned for its fat. We will certainly play to its strength while looking at what is possible beyond the rich decadence which is its main attraction. A number of cured preparations are already in development, interpret that as aging, a necessary step for maximum flavor.
Some ideas in the works at our end: blood sausage and corn soup, sweet and sour pork consomme en gelee with lardo and raw fish, pork and clams (duh!), sausage and peppers (again duh!), pasta...of course, powdered lardo, bacon oh bacon, prosciutto ice cream with Sardinian chestnut honey and a fig financier, pig ear confit with gremolata, green eggs and ham, cracklings in the style of Cracker Jacks (a la Aki), and who knows what Scott and Joe are bringing to the table...it will be a night to remember, for us and the pigs.
The dates have been selected. With them being etched in stone the process begins again. We are now in the creative planning stages for the second installment of creativity in the kitchen with Shola, on July 10 and 11. The details are eloquently described here. As the ingredients continue to flourish in the farms and gardens around us, the ideas are being tested and tweaked.
From last night's dinner. Picture by Shola.
and palates. Shola sums things up nicely, if you're going to be in the Philadelphia area and you'd like to join us for dinner, drop him a line. We'd love to have you.
Think of it as an opportunity, the Kindai dinner at Elements Restaurant is almost full. Because of this they have opened up the communal table, fourteen seats, on the second floor of the restaurant. It's a chance to try some amazing seafood and meet some new, like-minded people at the same time. Communal tables are interesting in that their atmosphere is characterized by the patrons dining there. If everyone is lively and open to conversation it can become an inpromptu dinner party. The dinner opens with a casual cocktail hour with passed hors d'oevres and then everyone dines at the same time. This is conducive to the fostering of relationships at the table and the opportunity to chat with your neighbor about the food and anything else that comes to mind. If you're the adventurous sort this type of dining could make for an evening to remember. Of course we'll all do our best to make sure that the dining experience will be something to remember all by itself, and if you're willing to try something new you may end up with some new friends as well.
On November first we are doing a collaborative dinner with Mike and Daniel from A Razor, a Shiny Knife. What we know: the venue is in Brooklyn, there are some hands on learning opportunities (no not dish washing), we are cooking, food will be served, wine is included, the cost is $200 per person all in. For more information about the specifics please email Michael: email@example.com to get the in depth specifics if you are interested in attending and please put Ideas in Food in the subject line.
See you there.
For an eight year old I was tiny. Walking in the front door of the Palm, at the time a venerable New York institution, I was immediately struck by the tight space and the casual atmosphere. The dusty wooden floor, dim lighting and cacophonous conversations immediately transported me to another world. I leaned into my aunt’s coat for protection as servers brusquely marched by with platters of food and trays of beverages while my uncle negotiated for a table. We followed the host down a narrow aisle to a table set for three in the downstairs seating area. I settled into my chair, taking in the various strange cartoons on the walls and the myriad display of glamorous and important looking patrons seated at the other tables.
I had waited a long time to go to the Palm. It was a family favorite, the restaurant that the adults went to with out of town guests and to celebrate special occasions. Growing up I was regaled with tales of raucous evenings spent over enormous lobsters and thick steaks. It was promised to me that one day, when I was old enough, I’d be allowed to experience it for myself. It was decided that I would go there for my eighth birthday. This was the beginning of a tradition that lasted well into my teenage years. In those days the Palm was still an icon of the New York restaurant scene. It was known for its clubby atmosphere, caricatured walls, and the generous coating of sawdust on the floors. The noise levels were tremendous and the waiters were older, crusty, career men, with no time for chit-chat and no patience for pretension. The owners had recently opened a second location, the Palm Too, across the street to handle the overflow. Unlike the original, the Palm Too took reservations. This was supposed to make it easier for people to get in. In spite of their reservation policy, or perhaps because of it, it was clearly preferable to eat in the original location.
At the table, martinis were the order of the day, preferably dry and straight up, made with vodka and olives. In those days bottled water meant Perrier, wine lists were mostly French, and Heineken was considered a fancy beer, That particular evening a Shirley Temple was my libation of choice. It’s layered effect and cherry garnish always made me feel elegant and grown up in ways that plain Coca Cola never could. I felt stylish and sophisticated as I slowly sipped my drink, absently listening to my Aunt and Uncle discussing their dinner choices as I contemplated the room.
I already knew that there were no menus at the Palm. This made it easy to pick out the tourists, as they were only ones to ask for them. Those who belonged were aware of this quirk and casually discussed their selections with the waiters. In my case there was no need for discussion. I couldn’t wait to order my very first lobster, a specialty of the house. The Palm was known for extra large lobsters ranging in size from three pounds to six or seven pounds each. At that time it was much easier to get large lobsters than it is now. Some people would argue that the big ones are tougher and less delicious than the smaller specimens. Those people would be wrong. Properly cooked, large lobsters are delectable and much less work for far more meat than the little ones. They are dramatic in presentation and in my opinion, much more fun to eat. As my Aunt and Uncle discussed our choices with the waiter, the man looked skeptical at my choice. The smallest lobster that evening was three pounds and he felt strongly that it would be far too much for such a small child. I bounced slightly in my seat in an agony of apprehension. Was I going to miss out on my lobster? It was with a sigh of relief that I heard my Aunt gently but firmly disagree with him and insist that I be given the smallest lobster they had. The waiter huffed a bit at her tenacity and then grumpily withdrew.
It wasn’t long before my shrimp cocktail arrived. The fat, chilled shrimp with their tangy, spicy sauce were a special treat. I loved squeezing on the lemon and delicately dipping each bite in just the right amount of cocktail sauce. I tasted my Uncle’s tomato salad, which seemed more beautiful than flavorful. My Aunt offered me a taste of her salad with blue cheese dressing. There were cool, crisp leaves of lettuce, creamy, salty dressing, and sharp onions. I was instantly converted. Blue cheese dressing was my new favorite flavor.
There is a certain amount of pomp and circumstance that goes along with eating lobster. After the first course was cleared the waiter arrived with crackers, shellfish forks, lemon halves tied in yellow, porous wrapping with a little green bow, and small wooden bowls to catch the empty shells. He presented my aunt and me with white bibs emblazoned with large red lobsters, solemnly tying them on behind our necks. After he left we arranged our equipment and my Uncle explained how to use the crackers and forks.
Next the cottage fries and onion rings were brought to the table on a large platter. The onions were crisp and light, with a deep golden brown coating. They seemed to melt in my mouth leaving behind a sweet onion flavor. The cottage fries were a revelation. They looked like super thick potato chips and somehow managed to be crunchy, chewy and tender all at once. Each salty bite had me reaching for another. My Uncle warned me not to eat too many. My lobster was coming and it was going to be a big one.
Fortunately our entrees soon appeared. To my eyes the lobsters were utterly beautiful, enormous, bright red crustaceans. The edges of the shells were slightly singed from the broiler, with snowy white interiors, huge dangerous looking claws, small side legs, long tails which were split down the middle with three little flaps fanned out at their ends, and various nooks and crannies to play with. My eyes were like saucers as I admired the exotic looking creature. Then I picked up my tools and dove right in.
I began with the claws. The cartilage in the smaller piece and at the tip near the pincers was soft, silky and very salty. I quickly moved to the plump portion that makes up the majority of the claw. The meat was finely textured and juicy, shredding easily beneath my fingers. It tasted of the essence of the ocean, sweet and briny with a little chew to it. I was encouraged to dip the white flesh into the small bowl of melted butter that had arrived with the platter. I tried it once and then scoffed at its needless embellishment. I firmly placed the ramekin of butter to the side and got back to business. It was serious work tearing the beast apart and nudging out each succulent bite. The tail had a completely different texture from the claws. It was meatier and less salty. Once removed from the shell it required a fork and knife to cut it into manageable pieces. For quite some time I was focused on the challenge of taking apart my lobster. Watching the meat pull gently free of its hiding place was indescribable. Every bite tasted sweeter for the effort that had gone into extracting it. The table was an oasis of quiet as we all enjoyed our dinners. The only part of the beast that I didn’t appreciate was the innards. My Aunt easily ignored hers and I followed suit, leaving them untouched in the shell. I ate as much of the succulent lobster meat as I could, savoring every bite. Once I was done, my uncle happily consumed what was left, having cannily ordered a steak for his own entree.
After clearing away the carnage, the waiter offered us dessert. At that age I was famous for always keeping a separate compartment in my stomach for sweets. That night was no exception and I carefully pondered my choices. I finally settled upon the fresh strawberries with whipped cream, since I knew that I could count on my Aunt to order the chocolate cake and to give me a taste. When my berries arrived they were garnished with real whipped cream. It was like eating clouds. Every delicately sweetened bite was impossibly thick and still light against my tongue. It was nothing like the stuff from an aerosol can that garnished my hot chocolate at home. It being winter, the strawberries were a bit tough and flavorless. I still happily scarfed them down as a vehicle for the whipped cream. The memory of the chocolate cake escapes me, happily eclipsed by the sweet cream.
The story of my first lobster has grown into legend, told and retold at the various family tables, usually at summer gatherings where we indulge in the delectable crustaceans. Personally I still prefer to eat my lobster unadorned, in order to focus on it's inherent sweet flavor, redolent of sharp, salty ocean breezes. These days I know that lobster is at its best when shared with people who love it as much as I do. As we excavate the shells and crack the claws, the camaraderie of the experience always evokes images of days gone by and tales of lobsters consumed.
You may recall that we cooked a private dinner for New Years eve. An in depth recount and pictorial of the evening can be found at Opinionated About Dining. Cooking dinners like these is truly a pleasure. Getting honest feedback on the evening is even more important for it allows us tweak, adjust and fine tune to specific wants, needs and desires. It allows us to be able to come closer to our vision of bespoke dining. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, though along the way great discoveries and improvements may be made.
For those who are wondering how the food actually tastes, John wrote up last weekend's experience from a diner's perspective over on eGullet. He's a very honest and engaging writer and we appreciate both the feedback and the perspective. Now that we are better acquainted with his palate, the next dinner, whenever it may be, will be even better. Part of the fun is building relationships with your diners. Knowing who you're cooking for makes everything that much better.
to join us for a small dinner party on Friday, September 21. As a thank you to the readers of our blog we'd like to invite three of you to bring a guest to dinner at our home in Queens that evening. Unfortunately this limits us to people who will actually be in the New York area and be able to attend on that date. We'll be serving a five course menu of our latest creations and we'd love the opportunity to meet some of you in person. In order to be eligible for this dinner, please send us an email with the subject line "dinner party" or leave a comment below with a link to or description of your favorite under the radar food website, restaurant or cookbook. The contest will close at midnight EST on Thursday, September 13, 2007. Three people will be chosen randomly from the entrants received and will be invited to join us for an evening of food, wine and ideas in food.
The winners will be contacted on Friday, September 14, 2007.
This contest is now closed. Our invitees are Sokie Lee, Arun Gupta, and Christopher Scott. Thank you so much to everyone that entered the drawing! The response was wonderful and we really appreciate all of the warm notes that we received. Thanks to your generosity we discovered many new websites and hidden gems from your responses. We'll you know how the party turns out & we'll definitely do this again one day.
Here is a link to Chuck's new website chuckeats.com . Chuck managed to make the trek out to Keyah Grande twice during our last months there. He has also traveled to a few other restaurants and shared his opinion on his new website. Anyway, if you want to see our last long menu cooked or see the food of a number of other chefs, check it out.
There are a lot of restaurants in New York that treat all wine purchases in the same manner. Whether you buy it by the bottle or by the glass, you are presented with the bottle, offered a taste and then poured a glass. It's a wonderful thing to know that you are being served what you asked for and to be able to check the quality of your libation before making a commitment. I am rarely presented a bottle that is less than half-full. It's something that struck me as we struggled with the wine service in Colorado. The reason for our struggle is that it's illegal to marry bottles of liquor in that state. What that means is that you cannot pour from one open bottle into another open bottle regardless of whether or not the contents are the same. So either you present a miserly looking bottle and run the risk of occasionally running out of wine before the glass is full, or you must find a use for all of that perfectly good wine that is left in the bottles that are not full enough to take to the tables. Apparently this is not in the case in New York. In a very high end restaurant in the city, bottles were married in the service station in plain view of the diners, if they chose to look. Oddly the same funnel was used for all bottles with no pretense of rinsing it between different wines. Now this may seem like a small omission, how much contamination would actually occur? But if you consider the fact that they go to the trouble of presenting each bottle of wine, how much more difficult would it be to rinse the funnel between wines or even have separate funnels for each varietal? It's always interesting to see where people draw their lines in the sand and what constitutes an acceptable practice in any given restaurant.
The question we often get is what does it taste like. Here is a discussion of the extended menu we served this past Saturday. It is in the discussion forums of Opinionated About Dining. Here is the link to the discussion with pictures of Keyah Grande, the food and those darn Versace plates. (note, a registration to the forums is necessary to enter.)
Chuck called ahead and requested a tasting menu. We knew he was coming and knew he enjoyed food. What you see is what we cooked.
Well, I continue to struggle with the issue of steak. Here we prepared the steak poached in butter and then grilled served with bagna cauda artichokes, (artichokes braised in a roasted chicken broth flavored with garlic and anchovies) roasted morel mushrooms and young broccoli rabe. The dish is absolutely delicious and our guests said it was the most flavorful piece of meat they have had in they could not remember when. (Hello, slow cooked in butter then charred on a grill) So, the guests were happy, the dish was tasty and I am just not able to get a grip. Hmm. We shall see what comes and how we are, no I, am able to get out of this bit of culinary quicksand. Perhaps I should just relax a bit and see what is underneath.
After writing about the experience of wd-50 in "three services" I wanted to share the menu Wylie and his team put together for us.
habanero infused cider, smoked maple syrup, rum
sparkling wine, vodka, cherry puree
Condrieu, Philippe Faurey 2002
tuna, powdered coconut, green mango, peppers
café con leche, liquid milk, coffee jelly, crumbs
false egg, coconut white, carrot-smoked maple yolk
octopus, duck skin, orange soil, chamomile yogurt
roasted foie gras, watermelon, gingered basil seeds, lovage
poached oysters, caramel foam, peanuts, kaffir lime
rabbit confit, pickled rack, english peas, preserved lemon granola
huevos rancheros, slow cooked yolk, egg white skin, salsa paper
Rioja, Campillo Gran Reserva 1994
miso soup, shiitake mushrooms, instant sesame-tofu noodles
ocean trout, cucumber noodles, pita puree, falafel spices
chicken, chopped liver parcels, sake soubise, green apple and olive
sirloin, smoked pepper tart, water spinach, whipped horseradish
Riesling, “Ultima” Elk Cove Vineyards, 2002
carrot cake, coconut-cream cheese ice cream, carrot foam and cake crumbs
tonka bean crème brulee, marcona almonds, dried cherries and puree
cocoa-banana ravioli, coffee soil, mustard ice cream and greens
I was reminded of something very important while dining at Cru. When you give the chef freedom to fly you will visit many places you never expected, some good, some great and some not worth visiting again. In our own kitchen we change the menu daily though our freedom is influenced or corralled--depends whom you talk to--by the guests who visit with us. We are definitely exploring food though it still must remain grounded. I have difficulty with that at times, though Aki is able to help filter and edit my adventurous side.
The menu at Cru reads well with the ingredients coming from near and far though with distinct leanings toward Japan in the selections and seasonings of the crudo, and more firmly towards Italy with the homemade pastas. Though there is more to offer than what you see on the menu. Ask for the kitchen to cook for you. Be willing and open to taste and see what the chef, Shea Gallante, and his team has to offer. We arrived at dinner with a couple of tastes for the kitchen as well. Last year we ran into Shea in Aspen and gave him some vanilla salt. We felt it only fitting to bring some chocolate salt this time around. We also brought a bottle of tequila vinegar, with his affinity for raw fish we felt the vinegar would be a fun ingredient to work with.
After we were seated and had perused the menu we were given the opportunity to have the kitchen cook for us. Just say yes. If the opportunity arises just nod, explain any allergies or food dislikes and perhaps a culinary spark from the menu at hand and let the kitchen cook. We did and that was key to a wonderful evening. Oh, and they also offered to pair wines with appropriate courses. That meant we had absolutely nothing to do but eat, drink and enjoy an evening with Reiko.
The first course, in this case bite, came after an array of canapés. I do not have a written menu in hand and even if I did, not much that we were served came from the printed menu. I am thus recreating the meal from memory so there may be a few slips, though as can be shown from my recall that the menu was memorable.
Carrot cone with goat cheese and tarragon
Miniature Cuban sandwich
Arancini with cocoa nibs and butternut squash
Whipped Robiola tartlet with pine nut and olive oil
Chilled oyster with pearls of tequila vinegar, soy and chocolate salt (The re-gift: Shea was the first to use what we brought as a present in the meal for us.)
Miniature Bocconcini with tomato concentrate and jelly
Crudo: Kampachi with radish, needlefish with red and yellow peppers, langoustine with grated black truffle
Dungeness crabmeat with whipped green apple and sesame oil powder
Black sesame seed crusted blue marlin belly with ginger and tamarind
Warm terrine of sweet Maine shrimp with horseradish, sea urchin and micro shiso
Hamachi tartare with wasabi ice cream
Truffle crusted Turbot with cauliflower puree and caramelized cauliflower crust
Fideos of Farro spaghetti with chestnuts and calamari and Papardelle with fennel and duck sausage
Squab breast with curry bubbles, tahini and black trumpet mushrooms
Lamb loin with wild rice and mole
Short Ribs with potato puree, young beets and parsnip batons
Yogurt sorbet with yuzu grapefruit consommé
Amaretto ice cream with pineapple and cake
Chocolate ice cream, pudding pop and cake with aerated caramel
The dishes were fun and exciting. The only real mis-steps came during dessert. They just did not mesh with the rest of the menu. Something is out of sync and that is unfortunate for if the desserts could become part of the whole Cru would be truly spectacular. Sure there were a few other small stumbles in the menu, in spite of these we can honestly say that as an overall experience Cru was well worth the journey. We can add Cru to the list of places that we'd return to and that list is not a long one this year.
We finished the last of our events here in New York last evening and we decided to go out for a bit of culinary relaxation for lunch today. We ended up at Aqua Grill. The menu was simple, really I was there for the oysters. As we looked at the menu we ordered some french fries to take the edge off. OK, finding parking took longer than anticipated and we were ravenous. The fries came and went and somewhere amidst our eating we ordered a dozen oysters and a bottle of wine. Midway through the fries our waiter returned saying the wine we had chosen was not in stock, did we have another choice. We chose a Marcel Deiss 2003 Beblenheim Riesling. Before I put the menu down I noticed an oyster sampler on the menu. Try one of each oyster for a base price. In actuality I think they just added the price of the individual oysters, but so what. The opportunity to taste 25 oysters at once is rare and the fact that the oysters are arranged so that the diner can put a name to a taste and an oyster is truly remarkable. As we waited for the oysters the wine arrived and we decompressed reminiscing on the past weeks events and sipping the refreshing wine.
When the oysters arrived--two giant platters--a second plate of fries showed up, I guess I ordered them, and we began a truly special tasting, working our way along the nautilus like arrangement of oysters. Each bite brought us flavors, textures, tastes and ideas from all over North America. If you truly enjoy oysters I recommend taking the journey we traveled today.
(From the oyster to the right of the lemon, working inwards)
Pearl Point-Washington State
Sisters Point-Washington State
Dungeness- Washington State
Piper's Point-Prince Edward Island
Imperial Eagle-British Columbia
La St. Simon-New Brunswick
Watch Hill-Rhode Island
Pacific Blue Point-Washington State
Royal Miyagi-British Columbia
As we get busier, writing about our dining experiences in New York seems to fall by the wayside. Not because there isn't anything to write about but because there isn't time to do it justice. So, here are a few quick bites. memorable moments from the first half of this journey.
The Corner Bistro was the perfect spot for a quick lunch last week. I have been meaning to bring Alex here for years as it is a place that is entwined with my past. I began visiting the corner bistro in high school and have returned periodically over the years. The place never seems to change and the burgers are always greasy and delicious.
After the Herve This lecture we stopped by Five Points on the way back to the car. It was early and we were starving so were happy to discover that between 5-6pm they have $2 oysters and $5 martinis. We stayed for dinner and I have to say that our experience that evening would lead one to believe that appetizers and pastas are definitely the things to order. Alex has been on a quest for the perfect short ribs and we'll just say that he's still searching and leave it at that. The special that night was a Fritto Misto with shrimp, calamari, sea bass and skate. It was a beautiful dish, we could have just eaten oysters and the Misto and been perfectly happy. Knowing when to stop is a gift we don't always posses.
Steak Tartare at the bar at Artisanal while waiting for the packages to wrapped next door was a winner. They have a really nice rendition of that classic bistro dish.
Another bar, this time at Balthazar , was the scene of a great plateau de mer. We got the Balthazar to share between us and although the crab claws were Jonah and tasteless and there were more periwinkles than six of us could have eaten, we had a ball because everything else was utterly pristine. The oysters were fresh and briny, the shrimp fat and succulent, marinated Taylor bay scallops, seviches, huge mussels, lobster and a variety of condiments. We shared the remainder with the two charming ladies beside us and finished up with onion soup (me) and a so-so financier (him).
Couldn't resist visiting David Burke at Bloomingdales after all the talk about the sliders. Not a great experience, the space is cramped, the butter was dirty (as in dropped on the floor and put back on the plate dirty) and the food was simply not good. The sliders were edible and nicely pink inside, they were just too tall and with too many things going on for such a small package. The fries were incredibly salty, the meatloaf was tender and tasteless and the lobster mashed potatoes were cold, grainy and vegetarian. The short ribs were just a mess, tough as shoe leather and accompanied by a jumble of overcooked and under seasoned pasta. It was disappointing.
Another disappointing experience would be lunch at the Bar Room at the Modern. The food itself wasn't bad but the service was horrendous. It's as though the Bar and the Dining Room are different worlds within the same restaurant. Almost two hours for three courses and when we were finally able to make our escape, a back waiter who we hadn't seen all afternoon suddenly materialized, brushing by us, glaring at our coats and stepping over our chairs in his haste to clear away the dishes as we began to vacate the table. It was kind of amazing, after slowly dehydrating through the course of the meal because we could never find anyone to pour us some water, he couldn't wait ten seconds for us to actually step away from the table before clearing away all evidence of us. But the museum was fabulous, we went in for the Munch exhibit and stayed to absorb everything else. There is a lot of inspiration to be found within those walls.
So let's wrap this up on a positive note. Thankfully our old standby the 5 Burro Cafe in Forest Hills still makes good nachos, quesadillas, tacos al pastor and one of my favorite Cadillac margaritas. It's not fancy but the food is tasty and the same staff has worked there for years, which is a wonderful thing in this ever-changing business of ours.
Fried chicken is almost as controversial as politics and petanque, both of which I avoid at most costs. Anyway, we were in need of a fried chicken fix. If you do not know what a fried chicken fix is, do not keep reading and definitely avoid the M&G diner.
Good, you are still with me. This place is a shrine to fried chicken. Yes they serve breakfast, waffles and fried chicken, but we go for the chicken. Actually, the whole meal is worth it. You get a fried chicken leg and thigh, two sides, in our case baked macaroni and cheese and braised collard greens--though when we went this most recent time they had cabbage which was amazingly tender and flavorful-- as well as two split and griddled corn muffins. Ask for a cola and your day is now complete. The skin on the chicken is crispy but not over spiced and complicated. It is after all fried chicken. The macaroni and cheese is custard like in tenderness, with bits of caramelized goodness here and there.
With regards to the rest of the menu I have no concrete evidence on quality, though people order the other stuff as well. We go for the fried chicken fix.
Well, we are somewhat behind on writing up our restaurant experiences here in NYC. We're waiting on a menu from Per Se , detailing our particular tasting. They promised to mail it to us a week ago and we're still waiting. WD-50 where we unwittingly witnessed the chaos of the night before Valentine's Day will (hopefully) be posted soon, along with several other places where we have nibbled along the way.
Last Saturday we had lunch at Five Points . We arrived early, as seems to be our weekend habit and after a slight scuffle over a parking space, Alex got caught trying to lift up the back of a vintage VW Bug and move it forward a few inches so he could fit into the space behind, we walked into the bustling restaurant. Although they understandably couldn't seat us until closer to our reservation time we were lucky enough to find three stools at the bar. While my aunt and I sipped variations on the classic Bellini made with ginger and orange rind, and passion fruit respectively, Alex had a surprisingly small but good cappuccino. I say surprisingly simply because the cozy feel of the place at brunch makes you think of big, steaming bowls of coffee as opposed to a regular cup.
When we arrived at the table we were offered a round of drinks on the house. Auntie opted for a Virgin Mary while Alex and I decided to try their version of Planter's Punch. We are both quite picky about our punch and this one was excellent. We took the opportunity to order some churros and hot chocolate while we perused the menu. The churros were gorgeous, long and crispy, incredibly light and almost creamy in the center, freshly fried and dusted with sugar crystals. We played with them like children, dipping them into the hot chocolate and pulling them apart with our fingers. They were fun and delicious and no one should go to brunch there without ordering them.
For her first course my aunt had cauliflower soup. Cauliflower is one of her new favorites as a puree and she was very happy to see the soup listed as a special. It was very flavorful, creamy and redolent of cauliflower without being heavy or cloying. I had the market salad with warm goat cheese which was exactly as it should have been. Alex began with a grilled hangar steak salad with buttermilk blue cheese dressing. His steak was perfectly cooked and the salad was simple and tasty.
For our entrees, my Aunt had a fritatta made with wild mushrooms and cheese. The fritatta itself was surprisingly thin as we are used to seeing the thicker, Italian style and Auntie enjoyed it very much. Alex had the baked eggs with brioche, spinach and smoked salmon. His feeling was that the casserole was too large, allowing the eggs to spread out and overcook. The brioche, which was also resting in the casserole dish was soggy and to his mind a smaller casserole dish would allow the eggs to set perfectly with the (still crispy) toast served on the side. Aside from these minor observations, he enjoyed the dish. The saltiness of the salmon was a nice contrast to the buttery spinach and eggs. I had the turkey pot pie, down home comfort food for the day before a storm. The crust was controversial at our table. It was a thin layer of what I think was lemon pepper biscuit dough. It was flavorful and a bit sandy in texture. I thought it worked, but I would have preferred something with less seasoning and a lighter texture to let the filling shine through more. Alex didn't think it worked at all. The filling was scrumptious, chunks of turkey and vegetables in a lightly thickened gravy. There appeared to be a touch of cream in the filling but it was definitely not a cream sauce. Unfortunately, by the time entrees arrived I was getting full so I wasn't able to do it justice.
We skipped dessert, as no one had any room left. The room was still crowded when we left but it was a well handled busyness. The staff was very gracious and accommodating and the atmosphere in the restaurant was definitely a positive one. The food was toothsome, well presented and very reasonably price. There's a reason why this place is a New York staple and I'm sure that we will be back there again.
*If you want to attempt the churros at home, Marc Meyer, the chef at Five Points has a cookbook, Brunch, 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant. It's a fun book and there are some interesting recipes in it, especially if you like a leisurely breakfast.
Yesterday we had lunch at Five Ninth with Alex's sister and her boyfriend. It was the first time that we were meeting him and so we picked a place that was casual and funky, where we thought we could get a good bite to eat. As it turns out, the food was pretty good but the service was some of the most entertaining ever. Thankfully, as a group we were all pretty mellow and so we spent most of the meal laughing, although I can see how with the wrong group it could easily have gone the other way.
Alex and I made incredible time driving into the city and parking magically appeared around the corner from the restaurant. It was about a half an hour before our reservation so we considered a coffee at Pastis but it was a madhouse inside and outside it was bitter cold, so we decided to have our coffee at Five Ninth. We were pleased to discover that the restaurant actually has a sign outside now--you practically used to have to be psychic to find the place. The hostess at the door was incredibly gracious, an attribute that has been lacking here in NYC. We offered to have our coffee at the bar, but after checking to make sure that it was set up, she led us upstairs to a table for four. She left us with menus and advised us that our server would be with us shortly. That's where the adventure began.
Since it was so cold, I decided to have some tea while we waited. There were two oolongs on the list and when our slightly disheveled server arrived, let's call him Bill (I never did catch his actual name), I asked him what the difference was.
"Well, one, the --- is a bit more floral and the other is slightly more bitter. Or is it --- that's more floral? Anyway, um, I think we only have one of them, hang on and I'll go check." He disappears for a a few seconds. "Actually, we don't have either of them. What we do have is one which is really tannic and kind of bitter, a mint and a chammomile."
After briefly considereing my options of bitter and tannic or no caffeine, I responded "Okay, in that case I'll have a latte." Alex quickly ordered one as well.
Bill gave us a theatrical shrug. "Well, actually, it'll be at least twenty minutes for that. The cappucino machine wasn't working this morning so we had to bring in another one." Quick smile. "So, it'll take a while for this one to warm up." Okay then, we'll just have some coffee.
As he brought the coffee, Bill shook his head. "How do you people get up so early?" he asked wonderingly.
"Um, I think we probably went to bed way earlier than you did."
He nodded. "Probably, I woke up an hour after I was supposed to be here today. I called them to tell them I was in the car and on my way." Sigh, "But they still weren't very happy with me." Go figure.
As he went to take care of another table, we scanned the wine list and chatted. We were both starving and decided to order some doughnut holes while we waited. As Bill had disappeared, we ordered them from the back waiter. When Bill returned to the floor (literally, Five ninth is in a townhouse and we were on the second floor) he asked us if we needed anything. Alex explained that we had ordered doughnut holes from the lady who had been on the floor.
"No you didn't.", with a big smile.
"Well, yes we did, It was about five minutes ago."
"No, you didn't." Very firmly and with a shake of his head. "She doesn't speak a word of English. You may think so, but you didn't order a thing. I'll go put them in now."
Meredith and Brian arrived promptly and after a flurry of hellos, we settled down and the doughnut holes arrived. They were four cakey balls, rolled in coarse sugar and served with a bowl of hot chocolate. They were good, but nothing close to the churros with hot chocolate at Five Points. As Bill came by to take our order, his parting words were "Okay guys, I'm kind of out of it today, so if I seem a bit spacey and you need something," flashing smile, "just throw a fork at me."
I had the trout salad to start, which I enjoyed. Small bites of deep fried smoked trout tossed with baby mustard greens, trout roe, radishes, caramelized onions and a cold, slow cooked egg. The egg would have been much better served warm as the whites were barely set and disappeared into the salad and cold, runny egg yolks are not my favorite thing, but all in all the salad worked well. Meredith enjoyed her congee, Brian really enjoyed his egg with panzanella and prosciutto and Alex's cubano disappeared so fast that I didn't even get a bite.
Bill came by as we were eating. "Are we all happy campers here?" We were.
For the second course I ordered the shanghai noodles. It was supposed to be fat noodles swimming in broth with chinese broccoli, berkshire pork and a slow cooked egg. As the bowl was set before me, it smelled delicious. I slid my chopsticks through the broth and saw everything I needed, everything except...noodles. I searched the bowl again. Alex who was waching the process flagged down Bill.
"There are no noodles in her bowl."
"Really?" He peered over my shoulder, scrutinizing the bowl. "You're right, there ARE no noodles in there." A food runner tugged at his shirt and Bill turned, "HERE they are. The kitchen just sent them up." The noodles were naked in a small ceramic bowl. "Do you want to be formal about this or can I just dump them in there?" I indicated that he could, so he did, conscientously turning the bowl away from me so it would splash toward the table as opposed to my lap. "Tableside noodle service." He chirped merrily, "I used to do this kind of thing all the time when I worked at Jean Georges. Practically everything is done tableside there. But I only lasted for like six months. They take everything so seriously there. A manager caught me humping a busboy in the coffee station because I wanted to get my cappucinos and flipped out. Like, it's only food people."
As we were eating, a woman in a chef's coat came up and quietly conferred with Bill in the corner. The next time he came to the table he let us know that she had been the chef. "She was really upset about the noodles. But I told her it was okay. Tableside noodle service! We should do this all the time."
Brian and Meredith belatedly decided to order a second course. They shared a ham, egg and cheese sandwich on a baguette and Alex suggested the lardo on toast as a side. He gave them a description of lardo, the part of the pig, the process, the flavor. Bill chimed in with his agreement. "Everyone knows that meat gets it's flavor from fat. In this case there is no meat, only fat, so imagine how much flavor there is in the lardo. It's all flavor. You should definitely try it "
As they were finishing, he came over solicitously. "How was your lardo experience?" Alex cracked up again, uproariously recapping some of Bill's one liners. Bill smiled and shrugged "I know, sometimes I hear these things coming out of my mouth and I think, that wasn't the most professional thing that I've ever said. But oh well, it's already out there. I think it's because I'm in the restaurant business. Strange things happen to people in this business. I think it's because we're open to different things and we see the world differently. There was this one time when my friend and I were walking down the street and this guy asked for directions. So I gave them to him and when I finished he reached out and honked my nose." He gave us and incredulous look and demonstrated the twist and honk, setting us off into gales of laughter. "I looked at my friend and said was that me? Did I do anything to invite that? Strange things always happen to me."
Finally we asked for the check. "Are you in a hurry?" Well, no, we're just heading over to Chelsea market to do some shopping. "Well, the kitchen is sending you some desserts. Can you wait for them?" As it was presented as a fait accompli, it seemed rude not to. We waited for quite some time and finally we saw Bill approaching the table, sheepishly brandishing a plate of "Doughnuts Holes!" He placed them on the table with a flourish and shrugged, "Well, you can never have enough doughnuts right?"
The restaurant was not very busy, a stark contast the meal we had there last year. I wonder if it was because it was a Saturday or because Fatty Crab has landed so close by. We both thought that food was better than last year, with some hits and misses, but overall the meal was pretty good and we had a lot of fun. So thank you Bill, whoever you are in real life, although we might never hire you, we certainly enjoyed your company yesterday.
So, in the Cafe Gray post I mentioned that we had eaten at three different places on that particular day. I had originally intended to write about all three of them at that time but the description of Cafe Gray got a bit long and I decided to separate the lunch and dinner experiences. Besides, my writing had hit a wall. That wall was Urena.
Let me give you a bit of background on our evening. We had met up with a fellow Chef who we had corresponded with but never met. This was a new and very positive experience for us. The plan was to have dinner at Urena and dessert at Room 4 Dessert. Both restaurants were in their infancy, open for less than a month and generating lots of buzz. Basically, visiting the two places on the same evening was like viewing the opposite ends of a spectrum. The places and experiences could not have been more different.
I have to believe that we just hit Urena on a bad night. Frankly there isn't any way to describe our evening without making it sound like a farce. It was comedy of errors from beginning to end and the whole experience made me kind of sad. I'm not going to write a blow by blow account of what happened to us that particular evening, I'm just going to say that every aspect of our visit was disappointing from the decor to the service to the food. I could have forgiven the first two if the food had been fabulous but it wasn't even close. You may be able to chalk it up to growing pains but we will not be going back to find out.
Thankfully Room 4 Dessert was a totally different experience. The room is extremely long and narrow, evoking the feel of a new age soda fountain. Instead of egg creams and milkshakes there are funky and delicious cocktails, dessert wines and teas Instead of ice cream sundaes there are beautiful and thought provoking dessert presentations. The staff is extremely warm and friendly and there is a small library of cookbooks in the back. Guests can choose a book and peruse the artistry of other chefs while slowly savoring one of Will's creations. He and his wife are on hand at the bar to answer your questions and make you feel welcome. The place isn't fancy or exotic but it has a great vibe and a positive atmosphere. Although not everything on the menu was to our personal tastes, some of the standouts that we both agreed upon included a coconut pudding with a silky texture that was offset by freeze dried coconut powder, the apple sorbet and the cocoa pate bomb which managed to be ethereal and structured at the same time. (As we were eating Alex mentioned that he would have enjoyed some salt to pique the various elements in the dishes. Will was happy to offer an array of salts of which smoked was choosen to highlight various flavors from the coconut pudding to the caramel ice cream.)
Oh, and the cocktails are smashing. Alex had the mango planters punch while I sipped a concoction of gin, lychee and rosewater. I hesitated to order it because rosewater is an ingredient which can be heavy and overpowering, but I was rewarded but a drink that was delicate, frothy and refreshing.
We've been sorely lacking in photos lately and for that we apologize. So here are a couple of pictures of Herrell's in Northampton. For those who don't know it, Steve Herrell was the original founder of Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville, MA. Steve is reputed to have pioneered the renaissance of old school, rich, flavorful gourmet ice cream. Their pamphlet claims that Steve was the first to grind up Heath Bars and other brand name confections and use them to create "mixins". Herrell's features all of the original Steve recipes in an old fashioned ice cream parlor.
Steve's is a must stop whenever we get to Northampton (which isn't very often). The chocolate pudding ice cream is amazing, a million times better than Jello pudding pops any day. The hot fudge is chewy and decadent. I hate when people serve thin, runny "hot fudge" and the sundae's at Herrell's never disappoint. They also have hot penuche, a sumptous butterscotch sauce made with brown sugar and cream. They even have chocolate whipped cream and a quadruple chocolate sundae. That sounded like a bit too much chocolate for me, but with flavors like burnt sugar'n'butter, malted vanilla and cookie dough peanut butter swirl to go alongside the chocolate pudding, creating an original sundae is easy and hard all at the same time.
Today has been interesting. I was reminded of the fact that just enough is more. We had a quick bite at Casa Mono for lunch. We started off with shaved jambon and crispy, salty, bacalao croquetas with orange aioli. Our next round of plates had fried calamari with lemon and griddled dorada with dates and celery. To conclude the meal we ordered the duck egg with mojama which was served with golden brown fingerling potatoes and a shaving of black truffles, griddled artichokes with mint, and "kentucky fried" sweetbreads with fennel cooked a la plancha. The dishes progressed in texture and flavors. I enjoyed the progression of tastes, so much so that I needed to order two more dishes. Mind you we were enjoying a bottle of 2002 Pesquera and I felt a few more bites of food would help finish the bottle. I brazenly waved my hand in the air, ignoring Aki's raised eyebrows across the table, and ordered the guinea hen with cranberry mustard fruit and the skirt steak with onion mermelada. Our server suggested the pork chop with quince and granada instead of the guinea hen and I accepted his recommendation.
I should have counted my meal complete and just savored the wine and the company. Instead, two dishes came forth, unfortunately overcooked, the pork dry and sweet while the steak was just fatty and leathery. And yet, the pepper like relish which came with the skirt steak was awesome. I could eat it on a shoe, which is good because I practically did. Anyway, after a few bites I paired it with the pork and it was tasty.
In hopes of atoning for my sins of ordering too many savory courses, I ordered a single dessert as well. We had the crema catalan with bay leaf fritters. Again, I can be pretty stupid. I should have listened to my own words of wisdom and known that just enough is more. The fritter batter was tough and chewy while the crema was rich and decadent; too rich for Aki's taste, a two-biter in my world of tastes.
All things considered we had a tasty lunch. Somehow, in my hope to extend the dining experience we ended up falling a bit shorter than expected. Oh well, someone needs to pay for those orange clogs.
We had three very different dining experiences yesterday that really made me sit back and meditate on the idea of a restaurant as a total experience which should be much more than the sum of it's parts.
In the hospitality business we all do a lot of talking about guest perceptions, customer service, memorable experiences, and creating a buzz. New York is a wonderful stage for a restaurant. It has a huge dining population with a relatively large disposable income with a tendency to be more open-minded than diners in other parts of the country. There are restaurateurs seemingly willing to move heaven and hell and spend millions of dollars to create the epitome of their version of the perfect restaurant. There are countless reviewers and endless blogs devoted to reporting on the dining scene. There is access to some of the best equipment, purveyors and ingredients in the world. There is an enormous employment pool of aspiring cooks and chefs, and an equally large pool of professional servers and managers, who all want to build their careers on a strong foundation of New York experience. Yet, with all of these advantages, many restaurants in this city feel lackluster and halfhearted. It's a tough year in New York City. I know these things are cyclical, last year was a much stronger and more positive one in this business. There were openings with a lot of buzz and the feeling that there were great restaurants to be explored on the landscape. This year when we ask friends in the business where to eat, we get shrugs. People shake their heads and demur. No one has any passionate recommendations of where to go and that is disappointing. Of course we push on anyway, alighting at whatever establishment has taken our fancy on a particular day, but for the most part our experiences have been wan and watery. Very few places have made us feel passionate and of those most have inflamed with negativity rather than ecstasy. Thankfully old favorites still remain and good meals can be found in unexpected places.
We zipped into Cafe Gray yesterday for a quick lunch. We had a meeting on the upper west side and we were starving when we hit the streets. The Time Warner building loomed in the distance and we followed its invitation. We were greeted halfway to the host stand by a coat check woman and quickly led into the half empty dining room. We were seated in the only crowded area of the room at a deuce located alongside the kitchen and the windows. Strangely, whenever we eat in the Time Warner building it seems to be an overcast afternoon but that doesn't detract from the pleasure of the view. As always I was slightly taken aback by the prices at Cafe Gray. Even in a city of exorbitant menu prices, lunch at Cafe gray gives me pause. We quickly moved past it, once you have committed to a restaurant there is no point in crying over the spent money.
I began with the artichoke veloute served with a large artichoke heart, a few scattered herbs and three small, plump langoustines. The soup was poured from a teapot tableside and the teapot then rested on the other side of the long rectangular plate. The server just poured a small amount into the bowl, so as not to overwhelm the garnishes and the teapot did a nice job of keeping the rest of the brew warm until I added it to my bowl. It was presented for a right-handed eater, which I am not, so after turning the plate around I tasted the soup. It was incredibly rich and velvety, with a strong flavor of artichokes. The first sip was warm and luscious but the flavors quickly became a bit heavy and cloying. I enjoyed the soup and in general there were hefty portions to balance out the prices, unfortunately something this rich can only be eaten in small mouthfuls and too much is often too much.
Alex began with a winter special, lobster thermidor. It was half of a broiled lobster; the carapace was stuffed with lobster pieces, creamed spinach, tarragon and celery root. The dish was served with a boozy and intense lobster reduction on the plate. It was a very tasty, over the top, bread sopping plate. As with all of the dishes we experienced at Café Gray, it could have used some acid to balance out the butter and cream because a few bites were enough to satiate and overwhelm the taste buds.
I followed with the mushroom and herb risotto. It was served alongside a silver copper pot filled with mushroom ragout. The server spooned a portion of the ragout onto my risotto leaving the rest to stay warm and snug in it’s little pot until it was called for. Again, the plating was designed for a right handed person, I note this not because I expect the servers to read minds and know that I am left handed for the first course but because I don’t think that anything should be difficult to eat. The size of the silver pot and aforementioned teapot made it impossible to eat comfortably without turning the plate and with the number of staff present in the dining room and the formality of the service, I did think that for the second course they could have turned the plate the other way when the second awkward course was served. Anyway, the risotto was very pretty, steaming slightly with the requisite texture of a thick rice pudding. Several moments before, Alex, who sat facing the pass, delighted in giving me a play by play of the period while my risotto sat waiting (an inverted plate over the dish) while another cook eventually finished his guinea hen. Thankfully the only evidence of its delay was the fact that the butter was just starting to break out its emulsion. That could have been simply because there was so much of it in the rice. It had a nice layering of flavors, faint hints of garlic, shallots and parsley mixed in with the nicely chewy but not crunchy grains of rice. The mushrooms were rich and soupy, slightly crunchy and pleasingly gelatinous. They teetered threateningly on the edge of being entirely too salty to eat but were thankfully buffered by the starch and the fat that surrounded them. Many of the dishes at lunch were balanced right on the knife’s edge where salt was concerned and I believe it was the very heaviness of the dishes which saved them.
Alex finished with the guinea hen special. The breast had a beautiful crispy skin and was juicy and perfectly cooked, topped with a nicely seared piece of foie gras. The confit of dark meat was distressingly crunchy with gristle and bones accompanied by melted leeks, which had a floral spiciness, which highlighted up the meaty flavors of the dish. All in all this was a nice winter meat dish. Strangely for a chef who is celebrated for his use of herbs and spices, this was the only dish where any of these components had even a slightly assertive presence.
Desserts looked delicious but with dinner looming only four hours away and prices ranging from $14-$16, we regretfully declined. It was a fun experience, being able to watch the view inside the kitchen and outside the restaurant was an edifying experience. The dining room was not very busy and we were not the last people to be seated for lunch that day. Our appetizers came out incredibly quickly and then there was a long delay before the second courses appeared. The flax seed bread, which I forgot to mention was delicious with a nice crust. Interestingly there was a lot of leaning on counters and chatting amongst the runners and the cooks. I note this only because in my experience cooks without a sense of urgency are rarely doing their best work. The last two meals I’ve eaten at Café Gray were both good, solid food although they made me wish that I’d been able to taste Chef Kunz’s food at Lespinasse when he was still young and hungry and building his reputation.
Lunch today was a relaxing affair. Alex and I like to go our for long lunches when we have the time. Restaurants are much more mellow in the afternoons with sunlight streaming through the windowpanes. The food is usually almost as good if not better at lunch, service is more leisurely because restaurants are not trying to turn the table and we are not facing bedtime with a stomach full of food and wine when the meal is over.
So, for our first lunch in NYC this trip we decided to visit the Modern. We had eaten at the Bar Room at the Modern last year and had a lot of fun doing so. Gabriel Kreuther's menus read as much more exotic than they actually are but the food is solid with a balance of textures and flavors to please the palate. The bar menu is much more whimsical and based upon old classics. The Modern is a bit more formal, seasonal, with an approachable eclectic menu based upon commonly accepted ingredients with a bit of esoteric flare. It reads as though it were a bit edgy but in reality it is a very safe menu with tried and true flavor pairings that seeem to come together into balanced, elegant dishes.
The amuse was fun and a great expression of shrimp. It was served on a long plate with a delicate poached shrimp with wisps of herbs and a few tiny, pickled honshimeji mushrooms. At the other end of the plate was a demitasse cup with a bit of sunchoke foam. The servers poured a bit of shrimp bisque over the foam to create an intense, slightly rich shrimpy brew to pair with the miniature chilled salad. At lunch, the prix fix is basically a bargain. Four courses for $52.00. I chose this option and began with shrimp which were paired with chickweed, black olive-cornichon (tartar) sauce and rye toast soldiers griddled in butter. Alex began with the foie gras, a slice of terrine served with quince jelly (which was beautiful but had no real flavor) and walnuts. The foie itself was wrapped on one side in what appeared to be serrano ham and lined with foie fat on another. The foie itself had good flavor and was well seasoned, both dishes were solid, tasty, and mostly well executed. My fish course was lovely. It was steamed Chatham cod with spinach and an anchovy foam that was dribbled with an acidic white romesco sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, juicy and fork tender with the assertive flavors of the oil and foam and the silky, slightly bitter spinach as counterpoints to the mellow sweetness of the fish. Alex had ordered the slightly less successful mint and coriander risotto with wild Georgia shrimp which were incredibly similar to the Louisiana shrimp served with the previous course. The risotto itself was gluey and slightly too al dente and although the fresh mint chiffonade came through, the flavor of the coriander was weak and almost invisible. We were served a mid-course of olive oil poached salmon with horseradish, fennel and daikon radish. The fish was silky, meaty and nicely cooked. The fish was crusted with small flakes of crunchy salmon skin on one side and black and white sesame seeds on the other. It was served in a bowl on a bed of shaved vegetables in a horseradish broth which ended up tasting like a soupy asian slaw. The flavors were assertive and paired well with the fish but although tasty, it felt as though it were just short of everything the dish could be. For our main courses I had the short ribs served with simply steamed broccolini with garlic and a beautifully roasted marrow bone topped with gremolata. The short ribs were tender and juicy, seemingly braised the old fashioned way from a time before immersion circulators. We were slightly divided on the texture, Alex felt it was bit stringy but I enjoyed the toothsomeness of each bit. The gremolata crusted bone marrow was beautiful and inspired a flurry of ideas jotted down in a notebook and soon to be seen on this website. Alex had the roasted lobster with incredibly chewy tripe and crunchy chickpeas in a fines herb sauce. It was probably the weakest of the savory courses, the claws were overcooked and the tail had that almost crunchy texture that comes from cooking at too high a temperature.
The desserts were probably the weakest link in the meal. I ordered a caramel parfait which arrived with two types of caramelized bananas and a "ten flavor" sorbet that tasted strongly of mango and passion fruit and not much else. Alex ordered a baba served with calvados with tarte tatin apples, garnished with apple chips and a vanilla sauce which was poured table side. The desserts seemed somewhat one dimensional, sweet and somewhat cloying. The caramel parfait was prettily presented and seemed very light in comparison to the heaviness of the baba.
With the meal we drank a 2001 Conn Valley Vineyard Reserve Cabernet. It is a vineyard whose wines we enjoy and the 2001 was drinking particularly well today. It paired very well with several of our courses and was simply set to the side when we tasted courses where it did not partner quite so smoothly. We first visited the vineyard on our honeymoon and have very fond memories of our time there. The raw weather outside had us browsing for a lighter red but we were unable to resist when we saw it on the menu for a reasonable price.
All in all it was a lovely experience. There were a couple of hiccups in the service, but nothing that couldn't be rectified with a smile. We were able to catch up with an old friend who is working there now and the dining room was a prime stage for people watching. Not a bad way to spend a chilly February afternoon in New York.
We come and go from New York City and in our nomadic lifestyle I have become secure with the idea that some things don't change. We returned to 'ino for lunch today. We began with the truffled egg toast. We always begin with the truffled egg toast. The truffled egg toast is always great. Is it great for everyone, I am not sure, but for me it works out that it is delicious. Egg yolks mix with melted cheese and truffle oil held in place by the hollowed out toast and surrounded by average sliced asparagus. The asparagus is always just average, yet when it is swimming in egg yolk, cheese and truffle oil it becomes a star. We also had an assortment of panini, but that changes with our mood and the menu, the egg toast is the staple.(edited to note that my mother in law noticed and commented that the egg picture is out of focus. Unfortunately do to the small space of ino and my large hunger I quickly snapped a few shots to remember the occasion. Pardon the lack of focus. As it turns out, being corrected is another thing which does not change.)
After lunch we went to visit Bonnie Slotnick and her collection of used cookbooks. Once again, as is always the case, we found some of her hidden treasures and she said she would keep her eyes out for other books we are looking for.
Once we were done book diving I was hungry again. This happens often, just not always. We decided to take the edge off at Mary's Fish Camp . I needed a lobster roll and Aki went for fried clams. The lobster roll was good, the clams crispy but a bit overcooked (perhaps that is because they were cooked on the bottom of the fryer with baskets of potatoes on top, just a thought.) and the shoestring fries were a disaster. Potato strings are always a disaster, not just a Fish Camp thing. These suffered from being grey and soggy. No sweat though, the lobster roll was good and with a good view of the kitchen from the counter, I was expecting the funky fries.
We concluded our day at Hearth . We were looking forward to seeing an old friend Marco Canora and relaxing in the comforts of this East Village culinary touchstone. I should have called ahead to see if Marco was going to be there. As it turns out, he gets Monday nights off. When the chef is not in the house, the food, service and general restaurant suffer. I hold Marco and his work to a high standard. We have worked together and he knows that about me. I had the foie gras torchon which was a grey and oxidized end cut usually reserved for the bin, but tonight I got it. (I did not comment or send it back to the kitchen. We were entertaining very special guests and felt that to do so would be to risk disrupting the occasion). The other signs of the the chef taking some time off were over and under seasoned dishes and desserts which never came. The flavors were there, they just weren't executed to the best of their ability. Sure, mistakes happen and there are off nights. The server was very apologetic about the forgotten sweet. Yet, it is still my contention that when the chef (any chef, any restaurant) is not in the house, slippage appears to occur much more often. It takes the combination of two strong managers, one in the front and one in the back, to make a restaurant really come alive. It will still be good with half of the equation but never as good as when you have that driving passion at both ends of the operation.
These are my findings, for better or worse. Realize that some things don't change and figure out how to use that knowlege to your best advantage.
To say it is an institution is an understatement. We payed homage to, in my opinion, the greatest hot dog establishment around, Nick's Nest. Now what makes it great. The hot dogs. Steamed until hot and then rolled in oil to keep warm and glistening. The dogs are served on the perfect lobster roll bun, another story, today we are talking hot dogs. You can get the dogs with a few garnishes, I enjoy ketchup, mustard, relish and minced onions as well as cheese and chili. They serve shakes and colas, beans and potato salad, but you go to Nick's for the dogs. Oh, and as you leave the nest, with your arms full of dogs and such, they have a rope pull to magically open the door for you.
Sorry, no picture of the finished dogs, I ate too quickly.
It's an interesting phenomenon, as chefs we both feel very constrained about pulling out a camera at the table. Although we love perusing other people food photos, it just seems very strange for us to pull out a camera when we're sitting down to a meal in a restaurant. It's almost as though it pulls our focus away from dining and puts us into a photographic mode. So, although our intentions were good and we have a cute little point and shoot camera, you may be seeing more pictures from markets than you will from restaurants. We'll just have to see how this progresses.
Today we had lunch at Katz's deli and we were able to overcome our inhibitions. The place is so casual and noisy that we knew no one would notice the flash of the camera as we captured the moment. So here it is in all it's glory...the pastrami reuben at Katz's. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Perhaps I am jaded, no I am jaded, perhaps the flu still lingers in my stomach, it wants to resurface, perhaps I am in sensory overload, but New York seems underwhelming. I have played dodge the taxi driver and come screeching to a halt before befuddled pedestrians, but what I really have not enjoyed is the mediocre approach to food and dining that I continue to expose myself to. Here it is, the short rather than the long; New York just feels and tastes off. There are colors, flavors and aromas, textures and contrasts but they are just not coming together on the palate.
I do not enjoy complaining, though many think it is my strong suit, so I will just give a few examples from dinnr tonight to really prove my point. We went to the Harrison in hopes of satisfying food at a reasonable price. Go figure, on the way to dinner I get stuck in traffic and then having a misguided idea of where the restaurant is, park twenty blocks away with a smile on my face at having found parking on the street. For future reference, it is better to find the restaurant first and then the parking. In spite of our tardiness, the host was warm and welcoming. We were seated quickly and ordered oysters to take the rest of our breath away after the long hike to the restaurant. These were bright and fresh, accented with a yuzu and jalapeno flavored mignonette sauce. With the first oyster down, we ordered a 2004 Far Niente Chardonnay. We should have simply ordered more platters of oysters and drunk the wine and called the evening complete. Should have.
The menu was tempting and we jumped in. Fried clams with lemon aioli and fried oysters with grits, yellow tail with granny smith apple and crab salad with avocado, sauteed fluke and an order of risotto. Each dish appeared to be what we wanted, yet they were not. The fried clams were clam strips. If you eat fried belly clams you will know what my issue is, there is no comparison between the two and the menu did not stipulate strips in it's description. The crispy oysters were plump and juicy but the grits were just there on the plate, lacking any personality to accompany the oysters. The chilled yellowtail and the crab salad were both beautiful in appearance and flat in flavors. They appeared to have all of the necessary elements except salt to make the dishes sing leaving them flat and strangely hollow. The fluke was pan roasted and tasty, the accompaniments were as undistinguished as an inept one man band. The risotto I absolutely cannot explain. I still cannot figure out how it happened. Crunchy and gluey, rich and watery, it takes hard work to make something this bad. I'm guessing that no one tasted this one before it left the kitchen. We had for dessert the chocolate beignets and the warm chocolate cake. Tasty but without vocal chords. Both dishes were incredibly rich and lacking any acid to balance them out. Again the possibilities were present but unrealized and unexpressed, leaving just a skeleton without the flesh and blood to make it whole. And we still left the restaurant laughing and smiling, willing though perhaps not eager, to walk a cheerful twenty blocks back to our car.
What does this say? I am not sure. The restaurant was hopping, the clientele happy. The service was very goood. From all appearances it was business as usual at a distinctive and successful neighborhood restaurant. And yet when fork lifted food to the palate, the ruse was up. But then again, as we all know, a dining experience is about more than just the food.
Once again, this is not a review, merely one night's experience, for better or for worse.