ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - APRIL 2006
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you:
I came to live out loud."
—Critic and novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902)
Bikky Sharma serving our 2002 Alsatian Riesling at Amma
The Riesling was so good it had us seeing stars at Amma...
...especially with Amma's crab cakes with mango chutney
Amma's Goan shrimp with spiced tomato chutney
Amma's Lamb Ke Parchae in an onion basket
The 2002 Beckmen Cabernet Sauvignon at Amma
Amma's sea bass entree with spiced rice
The lamb loin entree with stuffed pepper at Amma
Our Sambuca drinks are served aflame with "flies" at Amma
Sunday, April 30, 2006 — Welcome to our end-of-the-month catch-up Blog, necessitated by having our heads down so long trying to get WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT off to the printer this coming week!
"There is magic in that distance between the food and the wine.
The ideal match fills that space."
—Derek Todd, sommelier, Blue Hill at Stone Barns,
in our forthcoming book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT
On a number of occasions, we've followed chefs from one restaurant to another in order to continue enjoying their food — including Andrew Carmellini (from Cafe Boulud to A Voce), Rebecca Charles (from Cascabel to Pearl Oyster Bar), Linda Japngie (from Jimmy's Downtown to Ixta), Eric Korsh (from Patio to Jerry's), and Suvir Saran (from Amma to Devi). Last night, we followed a sommelier to enjoy his wine pairings.
Nearly a year ago, Bikky Sharma was responsible for one of our peak food and wine experiences of 2005 — hell, of our lives. As we'd reported then (in our 6/10/05 Blog), we'd walked past the Indian restaurant where he was working, and found him out on the sidewalk, beckoning us in for dinner. Said peak experience followed. A few weeks ago, we'd received an email from Bikky letting us know he was now at Amma, and encouraging us to visit. So last night, we did.
When Amma first opened with co-chefs Hemant Mathur and Suvir Saran, we'd had one of the best Indian meals of our lives there. Now that the duo moved on to open Devi, we can't report that Amma's food is as extraordinary as it once was. However, it is still very impressive. Amma still boasts the same beautful, comforting dining room with mustard-colored walls and saffron-hued banquettes, brought alive by the vibrancy of modern Indian music. And, best of all, it has a dedicated, welcoming staff who all give the impression of being as happy to be there as they hope to make you.
Manhattan is filled with good Indian restaurants. What made Amma a great Indian restaurant last night is the magic of Bikky Sharma's wine pairings. They immediately brought to mind something sommelier Derek Todd of Blue Hill at Stone Barns had told us when we'd interviewed him for WHAT TO DRINK: that the right pairing can "fill the space" between the food and the wine. That's exactly what happened when we tasted our Alsatian Riesling with Amma's crab cakes with mango chutney, and the flavors became one.
But the even bigger surprise was when Bikky brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to our table to pour for our courses of sea bass and lamb. After all our research on food and wine pairing, we suspected it would be an awful match. Karen had to bite her tongue not to beg him to simply bring us a glass of Zinfandel instead. But again Bikky got it right in spades: the Cab was light- to medium-bodied and fruit forward (as opposed to tannic), so it didn't overwhelm the bass and yet could still stand up to the lamb — not to mention all the spice.
Only a sommelier who knows his wines as well as he knows Indian cuisine could ever pull off pairings like those. This is the magic that Bikky and other top sommeliers can make for diners every night of the week: they help ensure an ideal match, and a peak experience. We love Indian food and we love wine, yet we never could have made that match on our own.
Bikky still had one last surprise for us: serving us two flaming glasses of Sambuca, each filled with the traditional three coffee beans (which are known as "flies"). It was quite a fun show, but once our drinks cooled enough for us to sip them, we realized that their flavor was also a sommelier's take on the little candied anise seeds that one often finds when leaving an Indian restaurant.
Bikky did us a much bigger favor last night than that of creating an exceptional dinner at Amma with his expert wine pairings. He proved to us the validity of our own forthcoming book: that the glass is as mighty as the fork, and that the right pairing can elevate good food and wine into an extraordinary experience.
Amma is at 246 E. 51st Street (bet. Third & Second Aves.), New York. (212) 644-8330. Web: www.ammanyc.com
Nectar's fried egg sandwich with bacon and tomato
Enjoying the parade of hats in Central Park post-breakfast
The single most important thing to know about Nectar Coffee Shop is that there are at least two of them. The cozy one at the corner of 79th St. and Madison Ave. is not where you want to be having your 9 am cup of coffee and tea for 15 minutes before realizing that your friends who are unfailingly prompt and conscientious are definitely somewhere else. "Somewhere else" turned out to be the other Nectar, which is more than twice the size and three blocks north on Madison Ave.
We'd been hearing about the fried egg sandwiches ($4 with the works) at Nectar for a while now, and our first experience of one did not disappoint. Loved the home fries, too — not to mention all the sun pouring in through the corner restaurant's windows. Since we run so often in Central Park, we're always looking for nearby alternatives (besides one of the the reliable Three Guys coffee shops) where we can grab a bite, and we're immediately adding Nectar to our short list. (We'll pass on E.A.T., where an egg salad sandwich will set you back $16.)
P.S. It's not every day that a handsome man dressed in a designer suit stops by our breakfast table to salute one of our breakfast dates, but today Lou Moneta did. We learned that he's been on the NYPD force for nearly two decades, and doubles as a professional singer on his days off (and even has his own CD out). We're looking forward to checking out Lou and his singing partner Gayle Scott's "Sounds of Swing & Sinatra" show at Baldoria restaurant in the weeks to come!
Nectar is at 1090 Madison Ave. (at 82nd St.), New York. (212) 772-0916. Web: www.ammanyc.com
Enjoying the view at the Reservoir in Central Park
Andrew's and Karen's shadows on the Reservoir track
How many adults does it take to make the Birthday Girl smile?
The vegetarian plate with plantains at Rice 'n' Beans
The feijoada at Rice 'n' Beans
Rice 'n' Beans is the last place we ever saw John Kennedy. It was Super Bowl Sunday, just months before his plane went down with his wife and her sister. After an introduction from a mutual friend, Karen had met with him and his partner Michael when they were launching George magazine, and had served on the board of Naked Angels theater company with them. But that day, John rushed in to pick up his to-go order and then rushed out again so quickly that she never had a chance to say hello. As the door closed as he was leaving, we saw the jaw of the the 20-something woman seated next to us drop. "Was that....?" she asked. We nodded. "Oh my God, I have to call my mom...." were her last words before she whipped out her cellphone to report the sighting.
We've visited Rice 'n' Beans a handful of times since then, and are still as impressed with its simple, delicious Brazilian specialties as we were when we first started going there about a decade ago. Two can split the feijoada (casserole of black beans, pork loin, sausage, bacon, spare ribs and cubed beef), served with farofa (roasted yucca flour), hot sauce, rice, collard greens and oranges for $16.95 plus a $6 sharing charge, netting a can't-beat price for a tasty and filling dinner in the Theater District. The caring staff even warms your rolls before serving them.
If you're looking for a good glass of wine by the glass, you're likely to be disappointed (as we were). But for all the money you'll save on dinner, you can buy a nice bottle to enjoy at home (as we did).
With only 19 seats and a loyal following of devoted patrons, it's sometimes tough to land a table at this tiny restaurant. But as Rice 'n' Beans fans have learned, it's also literally "good to go."
Rice 'n' Beans is at 744 Ninth Ave. (at 50th St.), in New York City. (212) 265-4444. Web: www.ricenbeansrestaurant.com
Enjoying our aspargus and salmon appetizers at A Voce
Marilynn reacts with mock horror to the flood of desserts,
which included Karen's new favorite bombolini
April Robinson's tiramisu is a delightful take on the classic
Readers of our Blog know A Voce to be our new favorite restaurant. So you can also guess that it takes only the smallest of arm twists to put us in the mood for a visit. Last week, Karen's excuse was the visit of her fellow Council of 100 member, Chicago-based health and fitness columnist Marilynn Preston, who wanted to thank her for the introduction to a friend of ours who's a theatrical agent and agreed to represent her next play. Afterwards, Marilynn wrote:
Lunch was delicious, in every respect. Thanks for taking the time. And offering up the bombolini. They were a huge hit at home.
Do put North Pond on your list of places to eat & marvel at when you next come to Chicago (2610 Cannon Drive; 773/477-5846). I just read a glowing review of it in Town & Country Summer 2006 and it reminded me what a special place it is. It sits in the park, next to a pond, with an amazing view of the skyline, and the chef (Bruce Sherman) is totally committed to the best, freshest, most local food. I found fault with the editorial style of his menu and that is a silly thing to complain about. We writers.
A Voce is at 41 Madison Ave. (at 26th Street), New York. (212) 545-8555. Web site: www.avocerestaurant.com.
Flowering kale, across the street from the United Nations
Continuing our UN area walk, admiring the waterfalls
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza's fountain
The Chrysler Building, as the sun sets
Keep your eyes peeled as soon as you exit the highway, as
sculptures in unexpected places (like this one!) abound
Sculptures line the mile leading to Grounds for Sculpture...
...as well as to its adjoining restaurant, Rat's
The entrance to Rat's restaurant in Hamilton, New Jersey
Rat's rats are not health code violations, but sculptures
Salad with morel mushrooms stands up to red Burgundy
Rabbit terrine with mustard paired with Bandol Rose
Canadian ice wine was beautiful with pave of foie gras...
...as well as the housemade cheese with fresh herbs
Rat's seared scallops with polenta, asparagus and pan jus
Rat's grilled duck breast with creamy farro, sour cherry jus
Andrew chats with Rat's maitre d' / sommelier Jeff Carlson
Jeff shares a taste of the restaurant's Artist Series wines
Rat's elderberry sorbet course with fresh raspberries
(or, "Waiter, there's a butterfly on my sorbet!")
Pineapple sous vide with coconut granite and sorbet trio
Chef Peter Nowakoski gives us a tour of the restaurant
The view from the restaurant's outdoor patio
"[Poets] and lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends."
—William Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Saturday, April 22, 2006 — Our "cool reason" was prejudiced enough to have us believe we couldn't possibly have a peak experience yesterday while seeking to make the most of our one-day car rental in New Jersey, prompted by our friends Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn's invitation to join them for the opening night of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (for which they composed and performed the music) at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
Luckily, our "seething brains" got the better of us.
Karen seemed to recall that three different people over the past few years had mentioned to her that they'd thought she'd/we'd enjoy a visit to a sculpture garden based in New Jersey — as well as its adjacent restaurant that Karen remembered only as having the single most distasteful name she'd ever heard: Rats.
At least its name made it memorable enough to track down [as, in fact, Rat's], along with Grounds for Sculpture, which is characterized on its Web site as:
[A] 35-acre sculpture park and museum, [which] has captivated visitors since 1992, and has only gained in popularity as more of the public discovers its tranquil setting and engaging sculpture.
With summer approaching, we give Grounds for Sculpture — and its sister restaurant, Rat's — our highest possible recommendation as an excuse for a day trip from Manhattan, Philadelphia, or the surrounding environs.
While still a mile or two away from the grounds' entrance, we entered into our own "Midspring Day's Dream," as the father we passed who was teaching his child to ride a bike on the sidewalk and the white knight on horseback both turned out to be sculptures readying approaching visitors for the transition into another world.
Our first stop: Lunch at Rat's, where learning the origins of its moniker helped make our lunch much more palatable:
Why the name Rat's? In Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind In The Willows, one of J. Seward Johnson, Jr.'s favorite books, the character Ratty represented everything a host should be. As founder of Rat's and Grounds For Sculpture, Johnson likens himself to Ratty who threw the best parties with the best wine. Likewise, the two share delightful imaginations and far-reaching dreams.
When visiting restaurants outside Manhattan, we automatically lower our expectations to guard ourselves against frequent disappointment. This was thankfully not necessary at Rat's, which held its own as one of the most delight-filled non-urban restaurant destinations we've ever visited.
We were welcomed to the restaurant by catering manager Christopher Carrell. While we didn't intend to have more than a single glass of wine, maitre d' and sommelier Jeff Carlson was on fire yesterday, finding himself inspired to share tastes of various wines to accompany the courses chef Peter Nowakoski (a Princeton alum with a penchant for collecting degrees who served a three-month stage at Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan) selected for us after we told our wonderful waiter Matt that we'd like the kitchen to choose an appetizer and entree for each of us.
Red wine with salad? Jeff boldly served Karen a red Burgundy (Savigny-Les-Beaune, "Les Serpentieres," 1er Cru, Patrick Jauillier-Guyot, 2001) with her salad (which ended up playing off its morel mushrooms beautifully), while pouring Andrew a 2004 Bandol Rose (Domaine Tempier) with his rabbit terrine with field mache and mustard vinaigrette.
A 2003 Vidal Ice Wine (Pilliteri Estates, Niagara Peninsula) provided a sweet contrast to middle courses of housemade fresh cheese with herbs from the restaurant's garden and a rocking, technically impressive pave of foie gras, duck prosciutto and confit with rhubarb and aged balsamic.
But the entrees were true stars: Andrew was served the seared scallops with polenta, asparagus and pan jus with a glass of dry Moscato Azul (La Sirena, Napa, 2005) with the most amazing finish that went on forever, with each of us arriving at a count of 13. Karen's wonderous grilled duck breast with creamy farro, spring onions and sour cherry jus was beautifully accompanied by a 1999 Shiraz (Cape d'Estaing, Kangaroo Island) that was as fruit forward as its finish was peppery.
We were relieved that pastry chef Peter Max Dierkes never let his distinctive talent for presentation get in the way of the flavor of his desserts. His butterfly cookie landed on an elderberry sorbet that could have been too sweet on its own but ended up being just right paired with fresh, tart raspberries.
And his pineapple sous vide with coconut granite and a trio of sorbets featured so many elements that any one of them could have spoiled the dish. Instead, each was as it should be: perfectly thin slices of dried pineapple echoed the dessert's fresh pineapple and was accented by not only a luscious coconut cream but also a toasted coconut pastry. Jeff adeptly accented it with glasses of demi-sec Champagne (A. Margaine).
As our single intended glass of wine had turned into several, we shuddered when Jeff brought one last wine glass to our table — but we're glad we did. He shared a taste of the restaurant's housemade digestif, which comprised kumquat, ginger, green tea and honey. It was a most hospitable ending to our unforgettable lunch at Rat's.
We no longer remember exactly who had recommended this experience to us, but we owe them our thanks. Those of us who write about food are always hoping to discover some place that hasn't yet received its due to be able to celebrate. Despite an "excellent" rating from the New Jersey edition of The New York Times, Rat's is such a restaurant. We invite our professional food writer colleagues to join us in learning what they've been missing. If you can remember that you read about it here (in the report of the results of our "shaping fantasies"), we promise you'll thank us later.
Rat's is at
16 Fairgrounds Road, in
Hamilton, New Jersey. (609)
584-7800. Web: www.ratsrestaurant.org. Count on a 90-minute to two-hour drive from Manhattan, and don't forget to give yourself time to stroll Grounds for Sculpture beforehand and/or afterward.
Strolling the grounds of Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey
The artist drawing on the ground is a sculpture, too...truly!
The bird to the left of the sculpture (which echoes it) is real
Karen Page sitting down to a dinner table sculpture
Karen using a reflective sculpture to create a self-portrait
"The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection."
We're not sure which is the truer work of art: Grounds for Scupture itself, or the sculptures that pervade it. After lunch at Rat's, we welcomed the opportunity to stroll the idyllic grounds and to view some of the more than 200 sculptures on display. As moved as each of us were by our encounters with many of the individual art works, the overarching fact that they had been collected and exhibited for public enjoyment provided us with an enormous sense of gratitude for this eden.
Grounds for Sculpture is at 18 Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, New Jersey. (609) 586-0616. Admission: $1-$12, depending on your age and the day of the week; free when dining at Rat's restaurant. Web: www.groundsforsculpture.org
A New York Times ad trumpets the New Jersey production,
featuring Valerie Vigoda on electric violin
Arriving at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey
Andrew with Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn post-show
"'Midsummer' is seducing audiences...Brilliant and enchanting."
—The New York Times, of the show now at the Paper Mill Playhouse
"'If music be the food of love, play on..."
Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn are two of the most talented human beings we know (recently recognized with a 2006 award from the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation), so we knew that if they were writing the music for a Shakespearean production, it would be something to behold.
Indeed, we are confident that New Jerseyeans have never seen anything quite like the version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that first rocked Princeton and is now playing Millburn for the coming month. The casting director had fun with some "Hedwig"ean twists, including having the scene-stealing (Ms.) Lea DeLaria portray Bottom. And the set designer went to town with an enchanting stage that had fairies "flying" through the air on everything from telephone poles to bungee cords.
Valerie, Brendan and their GrooveLily bandmate drummer Gene Lewin were in fine form last night, stretching beyond performing music into comedic acting as they alternated seamlessly on stage between being the "orchestra" and part of the cast. Our zippy dinner at the nearby Thai restaurant Khun Thai before the show obviously didn't slow them down in the least!
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. Through May 21st. Web: www.papermill.org
Maremma is at 228 West 10th Street, near Hudson
Maremma chef Cesare Casella with his pocketful of herbs
Maremma's Pontormo: Cesare's signature salad of pancetta,
lettuce and soft scrambled egg
First of the season squash blossoms at Maremma
Maremma's "Moonshine" pasta with tomato and bourbon
Maremma's deliciously earthy Farrotto with mushrooms
Cesare Casella's extraordinary Chianina beef at Maremma
When the owner of a restaurant where you've enjoyed some of the best steak dishes ever [outside Peter Luger's] emails you that he's got a steak you must try, you don't waste a minute in making a reservation. This is especially true if the owner is Tuscan chef Cesare Casella of Maremma, his West Village restaurant named after Tuscany's cattle country.
After opening nine months ago, Maremma is hitting a whole new stride. The menu has tightened, and the kitchen is elevating its ambitions — to delicious effect.
Of course, you can still find the same delightful sense of humor with which Maremma won our hearts nine months ago, with new dishes such as "Moonshine" pasta: fusilli with tomato, bourbon and Grana Padano. The dish was a favorite of the night. What made it even better was the beverage pairing suggested by Maremma's David Richter (whom Karen was shocked to learn hailed from her Michigan hometown of Sterling Heights, just five miles down the road!) as he dropped off tiny glasses of light and dark beers for us to sample with it. The beers connected with the bourbon in the sauce, creating a +2 pairing (our highest rating).
Another new hit on the menu is Farrotto, which is the Lucchese grain farro cooked risotto style with mushrooms. This is an earthy, lusty dish that could make a farro lover out of anyone. The Strozzapretti — Swiss chard and bread dumplings with guanciale, onions and San Marzano tomoatoes — were incredibly light and, like several other dishes, had us reaching for bread to mop up the sauce.
While we love steak, we don't eat it often — so when we do, we are picky and passionate about our choice. Making good on his emailed promise, Cesare introduced us to Chianina beef, which is a grass-fed breed originally from the Chiana Valley in Tuscany. Cesare had discovered a rancher who raises them in Texas, bought 15 of his own to raise in upstate New York [in conjunction with Thanksgiving Farm and the Center for Discovery], and is obviously excited to share the discovery with his customers. The steak is sliced thin and served seared but very rare, giving it an almost sashimi-like quality. Cesare adorns it simply with a pinch of oil, salt and pepper, which is all it needs. Cesare Casella's Chianina beef is one of the very finest beef dishes we've ever tasted — Peter Luger's steaks included. But we're not choosing one over the other: Both are worth celebrating.
This menu item has limited supply and thus limited availability on Maremma's menu, so do inquire when you dine here if there's any in the house.
Nine months after opening its doors, some things at Maremma are exactly the same: the welcoming service, the wonderful selection of Italian wines, and Cesare Casella himself greeting customers with his exhuberent Tuscan hospitality and his pocketful of fresh herbs.
But it's the restaurant's recent changes that have us excited anew about Maremma, including several great new dishes (the extraordinary Chianina beef included), a whimsical chocolate grappa digestif, and a promised shipment of Cesare's signature fresh beans said to be arriving any day now — and that add up to our plans to return to Maremma very, very soon.
Maremma is at 228 W. 10th St. (bet. Bleecker and Hudson), New York. (212) 645-0200. Web: www.maremmanyc.com
*May 3rd Addendum: We had the pleasure of bumping into Maremma chef-owner Cesare Casella at Gael Greene's book party for INSATIABLE on Monday night (May 1st), and he explained that we hadn't gotten the facts entirely right about the source of the Chianina we went ape about entirely in our Blog above. Our apologies. Cesare further clarified via email:
I purchased my first 15 cows from a rancher in Texas and brought them to upstate New York to live. It was then that I began my collaboration with Thanksgiving Farm and The Center For Discovery. My Chianina live at Thanksgiving Farm and there are now about 70 in total....I collaborate with the farm on the raising of the Chianina, pigs and certified organic produce. The site has a lot of pictures and some great information: www.thanksgivingfarm.org
Urban playground as colorful sculpture on Second Avenue
Window table at Sahara's overlooking Second Avenue
Hot-from-the-oven bread with olives at Sahara's
Mediterranean salad under a cloud of cheese at Sahara's
Cigar-shaped feta cheese pastries at Sahara's
Chicken kebab served with rice and vegetables at Sahara's
With the Doner kebab served at Sahara's, ask for sauces!
Sahara's flaky baklava come three to an order ($4.95)
Thursday, April 20, 2006 — Who isn't always looking for a new place to eat around their local movie theater?
For us, that's the Kips Bay Cineplex located on Second Avenue near 32nd Street. And our usual favorite pre- or post-movie restaurant is our beloved El Parador (325 E. 34th St., bet. First and Second Aves.; 212/679-6812), New York City's oldest Mexican restaurant.
But yesterday we found our way to the Turkish restaurant Sahara's, which offers an incredible mid-day bargain: a $9.95 lunch special that includes soup, salad or an appetizer; an entree; plus a soft drink (we opted for ginger ale).
We lucked into one of the two open-air tables right off the Second Avenue sidewalk, where we ate off a gilded platter with our backs cushioned by pillows. Things were looking even better the minute a loaf of bread hot from the oven was placed on our table along with a bowl of olives marinating in olive oil, which proved a nice accompaniment to the bread.
We started with a Mediterranean salad which was better than advertised: Featuring none of the shredded carrots, tomato or cucumber listed on the menu, the romaine salad with shredded red cabbage and cheese with lemon oil dressing was even better than we imagined the advertised version would be. And the crispy feta cheese-filled cigar-shaped pastries were much better than their haphazard placement on a bed of greens suggested.
The chicken and doner kebabs we ordered were served unadorned with white rice and vegetables. When asked if we'd like sauce, we immediately asked for tzaziki (yogurt sauce) for the meats. When that was dropped off, we inquired whether there might be some tomato sauce to adorn our rice. Both sauces improved the entrees dramatically.
We capped off our lunch with an order of flaky baklava that came three for $4.95. It didn't surpass our favorite neighborhood baklava (that title is held by Ali Bab on 34th Street between Second and Third Avenues), but we still enjoyed it.
While Sahara may lack finesse (we picked a few browning leaves off our plate that the kitchen should never have used to garnish our entrees), it definitely doesn't lack warmth. As first-time diners, we felt welcomed and well cared for. And as an elderly gentleman shuffled in for lunch as we were leaving, we saw a waiter greet him with a big smile and a gentle touch on the elbow as he guided the man to his table.
On all counts, Sahara's strikes us as a restaurant whose heart is definitely in the right place. And just a few blocks from the Kips Bay Cineplex, its location is, too.
Sahara's is at 513 Second Ave. (bet. 28th & 29th Sts.), New York. (212) 532-7589. Web: www.saharas.net
Our congratulations to Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his entire team at Jean Georges on the restaurant's four-star rave from Frank Bruni in yesterday's New York Times.
We emailed our kudos and hopes that a four-star review feels just as wonderful the second time around, and just heard back from one of the world's busiest jet-setting chefs, "It feels amazing....Best from Beijing."
Spring comes to Madison Square Park near 26th Street
The amazing beet salad at A Voce
The pasta with speck and spring ramps at A Voce
Does gnocchi get any better than AC's at A Voce?
A Voce pastry chef April's panna cotta with raspberries
Run, don't walk, to sample these bombolini at A Voce...
...which are filled with a luscious Bavarian-style cream
Wednesday, April 19, 2006 — An open letter to Andrea Strong:
We're just writing to say 'thank you.'
We just read your raves for A Voce after clicking through this morning's ManhattanUsersGuide.com (our mandatory daily read, and that of other New Yorkers in the know) to your review.
Having worked like mad the past week-plus to turn in the front matter for our next book (virtually round-the-clock last Wednesday through Friday), not to mention to get Karen ready to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers' two-day introductory course (not that she's planning to pursue it further — she just thought it would be a good way to learn a lot about wine in two days, and indeed it was), we are exhausted...and most ready for a day off today.
But we didn't want to start it before blogging about our extraordinary lunch yesterday with Lane Jantzen (a long-time professional champion of our sleeper bestseller CULINARY ARTISTRY, whose birthday is today — Happy Birthday, Lane!) at A Voce, and to share our conviction that A Voce is exactly the kind of restaurant where we'd hope to eat every single day.
However, we see you've already done it for us! So, we'll simply direct our readers to your Web site, and head out for the day a lot earlier than we thought.
Andrew & Karen
P.S. They just debuted the other day, so you've got to try A Voce pastry chef April Robinson's bombolini. These perfect sugar-rolled doughnut holes filled with Bavarian-style cream and served with a little bowl of chocolate sauce for dipping are simply phenomenal. April's new panna cotta with a balsamic-esque reduction and raspberries is also not-to-be-missed. (As if you needed two more reasons to rush back, right? Enjoy!)
A Voce is at
41 Madison Ave. (at 26th Street), New York. (212) 545-8555. Web site: www.avocerestaurant.com. Chef Andrew Carmellini, the 2005 James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: New York, serves some of the best pasta in New York, while maitre d' Dante
Camara makes this one of the city's most gracious rooms in which to dine.
Andrea Strong is at www.andreastrong.com.
Manhattan User's Guide is at www.manhattanusersguide.com.
Our view out the front door in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Spying the cheese plate from the second floor balcony
Murray's Cheese was the source of the Cabrales and fig cake
Andrew, Trey and Chris hang out on the porch...
...with Jacqueline, Otho and Karen (behind the camera!)
Pitting fancy egg dyes against classic, good ol' PAAS won!
Sitting down to two versions of lamb — and a grateful table
the leaders of nations and of international organizations be strengthened in their will to achieve peaceful coexistence among different races, cultures and religions....Let the people of the third millennium not be afraid to open their hearts to him. His gospel totally quenches the thirst for peace and happiness that is found in every human heart. Christ is now alive and he walks with us. What an immense mystery of love!"
— Pope Benedict XVI, in his Easter message delivered yesterday
Monday, April 17, 2006 — We were married nearly 16 years ago by an African Methodist Episcopal minister (conducting her first wedding ceremony upon her graduation from Harvard Divinity School). We count among our personal friends people who consider themselves to be (among others) Buddhist, Catholic, Christian Scientist, Episcopal, Jewish, Presbyterian, Protestant, Unitarian, and even agnostic / atheist.
Karen was raised Catholic, but when she was in her early 20s and dating a Jewish guy whose grandmother asked her five minutes after meeting her (just as he'd predicted she would) where she worshipped, Karen's straight-faced (but joking) reply was, "The Unification Church." (At least it got a laugh out of his dad.)
The fact is that neither of us currently claims a religious affiliation. But that doesn't make us any less enthusiastic about seeking truth wherever we may find it — from the pages of the Bhagavad-Gita to the mouth of a 12-year-old.
This weekend, we celebrated Easter out in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a community to which we were first introduced by Karen's Harvard sectionmate Barry Salzman. We had dinner at a restaurant in Carversville where Karen has in the past enjoyed one of the best quiches of her life, but where our dinner on Saturday night unfortunately wasn't good enough to be worth celebrating (nor awful enough to be worth warning you away from).
Sunday was more reliably delicious: Andrew started our day with apple pancakes made from chef Bradley Ogden's ultimate recipe calling for lemon zest and (of all things) cottage cheese. Then he prepared not one but two different versions of butterflied leg of lamb: one inspired by France (stuffed with garlic and mushrooms, and served with a mushroom leek sauce), and the other by Spain (stuffed with garlic, and served with a piquillo pepper sauce).
But the highlight of the meal was the fact that all of the 12 guests around the table (who included Trinity Episopal Church minister Marshall Shelly and his wife Laura) contributed to it, whether in terms of food (as we especially loved Fred's wife Ann's deviled eggs, our host Trey Wilson's salad, and Chris Anderson's roasted vegetables) or spirit (as our co-host Otho Kerr led the table in an egg-cracking ritual that had each of us sharing our hopes for the re-birth offered by the Easter holiday, and 12-year-old Trent moved us with his comments on the perfection of imperfection, in deference to his beautiful, broken egg).
It was inspiring to hear about Jacqueline Novogratz's trip to Pakistan from which she'd just returned on Friday night, not to mention 15-year-old Kaylyn's excitement to return to Africa this fall...and even more inspiring to witness how 12 friends and once-strangers could come together with differing backgrounds and beliefs to become "family" for the afternoon — so proving "the immense mystery of love" around our Easter table.
Acumen Fund is at www.acumenfund.org
Ted.com is at www.ted.com
Trinity Episcopal Church is in Solebury, Pennsylvania. Rev. Marshall Shelly. Web: www.trinitysolebury.org
Addendum: We were delighted to hear from Rev. Marshall Shelly, a fellow food lover who admitted to us on Easter Sunday that he'd applied to cooking school at the same time he'd applied to the seminary (and obviously opted for the latter, to the great pleasure of Trinity Church-goers), and learned through this touching email that we'd earned a place in his Blog:
A true gift…and to meet you both was a treasure, too. I hope we get some more time together. Either with us in NYC, or you all coming out to our hinterland-over-the-river.
I had a great experience yesterday, that is only briefly noted in my own blog (which you all now have a place in as well!). I was given the opportunity to hear a friend preach about his life and ministry in the Holy Land in context with receiving a Distinguished Alumni/ae Award at my seminary. He talked about being pulled out of his context (which had narrowed significantly due to his passion for the issues around him) to speak to us about being with God. He talked about God not being seen by us when we are in bitter conflict (the Greek, of which he is a scholar, has a lot more color to it). When God is revealed at our null point, we change.
A food example: when I was a student pastor, I went to visit a woman who had been NPO for nearly three weeks due to renal failure. No food, no liquid. Just a tube. An operation had saved her life, and with her kidney function returning to normal, she was allowed to eat.
Her first “meal” was a piece of that terrible, nasty institutional white bread, toasted with butter on it. I am sure it was cold. I am sure it tasted like something just this side of paper with some grease smeared into it.
When I walked through her door, she said to me in heavily accented English- -- “You know, this is good bread .” I wasn't sure what she meant, so I asked her. She replied, “This reminds me of the bread I had when I was released from the camps back in the war.”
It is all about context.
Thank you for quickening ours.
Steven reaches for another addictive breadstick at Dona
Dona's amuse of three different fish, served raw
Dona's Grilled Sardines with crushed raw garlic
Dona's Chitarra pasta with eggplant and lamb bolognese
Dona's Grilled Loin of Pork "Portafogli"
Pastry chef Nancy Olson's petit fours at Dona
Our fellow author friend Michael Gelb (who wrote the bestselling How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and just closed his latest book deal to write Innovate Like Edison next) was in town, so we made plans to get together for dinner to share a bottle of wine (a 1992 Phelps Insignia) that Andrew had been given several years ago that was said to be drinking well now. Then we expanded our plans into a fivesome so we could all meet up with Gael Greene (of whose book Insatiable we brought along two copies for her to sign — one for Michael, and one for Don Cogman, whose generous Silent Auction victory a few years ago brought us all together over a fun dinner with actor Edward Hibbert, who portrayed restaurant critic Gil Chesterton on TV's "Frasier") and photographer Steven Richter.
Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia (Ama, davidburke&donatella) has opened Dona in the space where her Bellini long stood, in partnership with talented chef Michael Psilakis. While we'd never been to Bellini, we'd remembered running into foodies (including Food Maven Arthur Schwartz) on their way there and hearing its praises sung.
Dona's menu, with its Italian and Greek influences, is described as "Southern European" cuisine. Given both countries' extensive coastlines, it was not surprising that we started with fish. Our amuse of three different raw fish (including a stunning escolar) showed off the texture and richness of each beautifully. The appetizers of grilled sardines and crispy baccala and bufala ricotta would bring Andrew back any time.
Guided by our bottle of red, we ordered accordingly. The Grilled Loin of Pork "Portafogli," cooked to a perfect medium-rare, was a favorite at the table, as was the Chitarra pasta with eggplant and lamb bolognese and a Sicilian caponata.
For two authors who had just finished a book on food and beverage pairing, the cheese course at Dona was a special delight. Each of the half-dozen cheese courses ($15) featured only one cheese, along with accompaniments specially selected to accent its flavor — plus a glass of wine designed to do likewise. Thus, our Gorgonzola Picante from Lombardy was paired with crispy prosciutto, fig-balsamic granite, and a glass of 2003 Zibibbo, Donnafugata, Passito di Pantelleria, Ben Rye (Italy).
Pastry chef Nancy Olson's Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with Black Sesame chocolate gelato was as creatively presented as it was tasty. (And watch out — her seeded, impossibly thin breadsticks are absolutely addictive.)
Dona is at 208 East 52nd St. (bet. Second and Third Aves.), New York City. (212) 308-0830. Web: www.donanyc.com
Maxie's Zensai: Chef's Selection of five appetizers
Maxie's Bento Box with Shrimp Tempura and Grilled Salmon
Kamo Nanban Udon (Duck Breast with Scallion) at Maxie
Some restaurants seem to get overlooked, and it's hard to understand why. (We're not alone in this, as our intern Robbie's March 23rd Guest Blog confirms.) Maxie is an attractive restaurant with a talented chef and a warm staff. It's not the hippest location (Murray Hill admittedly is not Madison Square Park), but personally we're glad that it's close enough to pop in — as we did a week ago Sunday night, when our friend Susan Butler (author of the brand-new Become the CEO of You, Inc.) was in town.
It's sometimes hard to find a restaurant open on Sunday night, let alone one where the chef is in the kitchen — so we were duly impressed that chef Keishi Rikimaru was there, and hard at work. It had unfortunately been so long since we'd visited Maxie that we were compelled to order our favorites: the Zensia chef's selection of five assorted appetizers, along with the tasting of three different sakes. Thereafter, Andrew opted for the bento box, while Karen went for the Duck with Udon noodles — which was as impressive for the rich duck broth as for the chewy noodles themselves.
Chef Rikimaru mentioned to us that he's now consulting at Shaburi across from the W Hotels on 39th Street near Lexington Ave. Having recently passed on writing up what turned out to be a mediocre lunch there, we know the kitchen needs the tweaking. After our delicious dinner at Maxie reconfirmed Rikimaru's talents, we'll look forward to returning not only to Maxie but to Shaburi, with high hopes.
Maxie is at 516A Third Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York City. (212) 685-3883. Web:
Display of meats and side dishes at My Befana
Display of salads and other vegetables at My Befana
Katherine Don with Andrew Dornenburg at My Befana
Bumping into chef Charleen Badman (l.) & Lisa (r.) of Inside
ChikaLicious amuse-bouche of bread pudding with sorbet
Chika Tillman and her associate drop off desserts personally
ChikaLicious petits fours cap off our desserts beautifully
Karen Page with Katherine Don in front of ChikaLicious
Friday, April 7, 2006 — Today's Blog features our second-ever Guest Blogger: Northwestern University senior Katherine Don, who spent today with us as part of Northwestern's one-day externship program (NEXT). We invited her to take a half-hour or so to write the Blog mid-afternoon, after our visit together to chef Daniele Baliani's new sit-down/take-out concept My Befana. Her observations:
A typical map of New York City consists of street names, important government buildings, and popular tourist sites. But during my externship with Karen Page, I’ve learned that there is a whole different map of New York: The Restaurant Map. I learned more about the logic, importance, and idiosyncrasies of this type of map throughout my day with Karen and Andrew, all the while realizing the ubiquity of food to a food lover, and coming to appreciate the reasons for this devotion.
My externship experience started with breakfast at Chez Laurence, on 38th and Madison. There I enjoyed an unusually crisp and flaky croissant. Karen later explained that a true croissant is made of many layers with butter in between each, rather than the “Wonder bread” consistency of a poorly made croissant. But the talk of food over breakfast was more informative than the breakfast itself. This is when I learned about The Restaurant Map of New York City.
I had told Karen that, after losing a battle with the Zagat Survey, my mom decided that we should just walk into random restaurants during our weekend in New York. Karen’s reaction was immediate and vehement. Grabbing her yellow pad of paper, she immediately set about creating a restaurant itinerary for my mom and me, all while hastily explaining that playing the New York restaurant roulette would be a truly dire mistake. As she jotted down restaurants, I realized that Karen was expertly navigating The Restaurant Map that was in her head. From my hotel at 45th and Madison, she immediately located commendable restaurants within walking distance, and produced a list of some ten restaurants. I never knew that the streets of New York could be organized according to restaurant, but I am sure that my mom and I will eat well as a result of the unique Restaurant Map accessible to Karen upon a moment’s notice.
After leaving Chez Laurence, we walked a few blocks south along Madison to the Science and Industry Business Library, where Karen told me to take a look around and come up with marketing suggestions for her upcoming book [while Karen had to attend to other business for 75 minutes]. The library was impressive — high ceilings, lots of light, and simple modern décor. This fresh yet quietly dignified atmosphere made me feel like I could truly come up with a marketing strategy — without really knowing what a marketing strategy is, or how to plan one. After admiring the architecture of this building and taking many pictures of the interior, I was glad to get back to the main focus of the day: food.
We went to a new restaurant called My Befana. It looked like a typical small café: a counter with the menu selections displayed on plates, with a few small round tables opposite. I had salmon with a side of overly-garlicky broccolini; Karen had the duck, and Andrew had a Serrano ham sandwich. There were of course many other ingredients to these dishes, but not being a “foodie,” I’m not sure what. I can say with confidence that most of it tasted excellent, especially the sandwich and not including the broccolini. But the dining experience itself was not so agreeable, including tall, backless bench chairs that truly tested one’s posture, and a cold [both literally, as the door was left wide open on this rainy afternoon despite our suggestion that it be closed, and figuratively] and impersonal atmosphere.
After leaving My Befana, Karen and I walked to the coffee house where I am currently typing [Cafe Vivaldi, 32 Jones Street near Bleecker], and along the way I was further indoctrinated in the geographic conceptualization of New York according to a food lover. Karen pointed out where to get the best cheese and bread, and which restaurants were good and why. I’m normally one to skip over the restaurants and hone in on the clothing stores, so it was interesting to learn the noteworthy spots in the area from this new perspective.
Of course, over our meals, Karen and Andrew gave me generous advice on the publishing industry and writing a good story. This is the type of advice for which I traveled to New York City this week. But throughout the day, I was also exposed to New York through the eyes of a food-maker and a food lover, and I can say for certain that I will never again walk into a New York restaurant without first consulting the Zagat Survey — or Karen!
— Katherine Don (Northwestern University, BA '06)
We were duly impressed with Katherine's on-the-spot writing and, wanting to make things up to her after our so-so lunch, we decided to introduce her to one of our tried-and-true favorite places in Manhattan: ChikaLicious, the three-course prix fixe dessert-only restaurant. Chika Tillman's extraordinary desserts, and Don Tillman's warm hospitality, did not disappoint. It was the perfect backdrop for walking Katherine through our original book proposal for our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT and then the designed pages for the actual book which we'd spent the past couple of weeks reviewing and proofreading, allowing us to explain every step of the book publishing process.
We expect that Katherine's new-and-improved "NYC Restaurant Map" will lead her (and her mom!) to some delicious adventures this weekend (doubtless including Inside at 9 Jones after bumping into its distinguished chef Charleen Badman while walking down Jones Street between West Fourth Street and Bleecker) — and we've already invited her to Blog them thereafter!
Chez Laurence is at 245 Madison Ave. at 38th St. (212)
683-0284. Great croissants, starting at 7 am.
ChikaLicious is at 203 E. 10th St. (bet. First and Second Aves.), New York. (212) 995-9511. Web: www.chikalicious.com
My Befana is at 116 West Houston St. (at Thompson), New York. (888) 6-BEFANA. Web: www.mybefana.com
Patrick O'Connell introduces Karen Page as moderator of the
panel featuring the Zagats, Jean-Luc Naret & Fred Ferretti
Per Se amuse-bouche of truffled custard served in eggshell
Per Se Salad of Holland White Asparagus
The bread selection at Per Se
"Macaroni n' Cheese" with Lobster Tail at Per Se
The pouring of a Pauillac signifying the red meat course
Elysian Fields Farm "Selle d'Agneau Rotie Entiere" at Per Se
Petits Fours at Per Se
The ballet of service unfolds in the dining room at Per Se
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 — We enjoyed a really lovely lunch at Per Se yesterday.
Now, some would argue that having a lovely meal at a restaurant that's received four stars from The New York Times, three stars from the Michelin Guide, and a 28 food rating in the Zagat Survey is a foregone conclusion. However, our previous (first) visit to Per Se as guests of friends of ours for dinner on a Monday night just over a year ago was...shall we say...underwhelming. Yesterday, we were finally able to catch a glimpse of the kitchen's capabilities.
Of course, it never hurts when you're dining in the company of the Relais Gourmands, at whose North American meeting (attended by the likes of chefs Daniel Boulud, Gary Danko, and Patrick O'Connell), Karen had moderated the morning's panel on
"America's Place in the International Culinary Scene — Now and In the Future." Panelists included two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee Fred Ferretti, the sixth director in the Michelin Guide's history Jean-Luc Naret, and Zagat Survey founders Tim and Nina Zagat (who were celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary).
The menu included:
Salad of Holland White Asparagus
Braised Field Rhubarb, "Brioche Crouton,"
"Petite" Mache, White Asparagus "Bavarois" and Truffle Vinaigrette
"Macaroni n' Cheese"
Nova Scotia Lobster Tail "Cuite Sous Vide"
Parmesan "Crisp," Creamy Lobster Broth
and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo
Elysian Fields Farm "Selle d'Agneau Rotie Entiere"
"Pommes Boulangere," Butter Poached Morel Mushrooms,
California Fava Beans, Pickled Cipollini Onions Shoots and Lamb "Jus"
"Biscuit et Mousse au Chocolat," Spiced Caramel Cream,
Orange Scented "Streusel," Caramel Marmalade and Ginger Ice Cream
While we didn't "get" the use of all the "quotation marks" on the "menu," they didn't interfere with our enjoyment — especially not of the amuse-bouche of truffled custard served in an eggshell (Andrew's favorite) nor of the salad featuring the white asparagus "Bavarois" (Karen's favorite).
Per Se is in the Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle (at 60th Street and Broadway), 4th Floor. (bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.), New York. (212) 923-9335. Web: www.perseny.com
Spring blooms yesterday afternoon in Murray Hill
Gene Davis's 1971 Untitled at the MoMA paired with...
One of the MoMA's newest acquisitions: a 2004 felt-tip pen
paper work by Iran do Espirito Santo, CRTN V
Karen in the MoMA's Sculpture Garden with a David Smith
The Modern's Twin Oysters with leeks, cider and caviar
The Modern's Arctic Char Tartare with basil and caviar
The Modern's Basil Gnocchi with peekytoe crab
The Modern's amazing Homemade Alsatian Country Sausage
marinated turnips and whole grain mustard sauce
Our new favorite dessert in New York: The Modern's Beignets
with three different dipping sauces (don't miss the caramel)
Saturday, April 1, 2006 — One of the best things about Manhattan is that on Fridays from 4-8 pm, anyone can visit one of the world's best art museums for the grand total of $0 — courtesy of Target, one and the same discount retailer that also brought the designs of postmodern architect Michael Graves and fashion maven Isaac Mizrahi to the masses.
We'd been so busy working to finish our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT (Bulfinch Press, Oct. '06) that we hadn't made it to the MoMA for any length of time (i.e. to view the art rather than to pass through on our way to an event in the building) since its reopening...until last night, when we popped in for a couple of hours.
Our minds have been so devoted to the subject of pairings for the past few years that perhaps it's no wonder that we found the curatorial pairings of similar works by unrelated artists in the exhibit Transforming Chronologies: An Atlas of Drawings, Part One so illuminating. One of our favorite pairings was of a 1971 work by Gene Davis of colored pencil and charcoal on paper with a 2004 work by Iran do Espirito Santo of felt-tip pen on paper. The latter represented a new acquisition by the MoMA, and we could see why: What amounted to tightly-spaced vertical lines of magic marker on paper virtually throbbed with texture and nuance.
As we were leaving, we stopped first in the Sculpture Garden we'd seen several times from the other side of the glass as guests in the dining room (or conducting interviews) at The Modern. The view from this opposite angle was beckoning (as was the memory of running into The Modern's managing director Ana Marie Mormando yesterday at Shake Shack!).
Pitting hope against hope, we decided to see whether there might be a table available in The Modern's less formal Bar Room on this very busy Friday night around 7:30 pm...and our prayers were answered by service director Thierry Chouquet.
The Modern opened in January 2005, and we were fans from the get-go. However, even we could tell that a transformation has since taken place at the restaurant. It has found its voice, the staff has found its groove, and The Modern has emerged as one of the single most reliably excellent restaurants in the city.
While we have been guests in its formal Dining Room on a number of occasions, last night was only our second visit to the less formal Bar Room, where we were again ably served by the warm and knowledgeable Umberto. "Less formal" does not suggest that the restaurant is making any less effort — only that you can enjoy these efforts even if clad in a pair of jeans (but leave the sneakers at home, please).
We tasted one of the most extraordinary Champagnes of our lives in the impossibly soft (with the tiniest imaginable bubbles) 1998 Paul Goerg Cuvee Lady. It proved to be a +2 pairing (our highest rating) with chef Gabriel Kreuther's Twin Oysters with leeks, cider and American caviar ($12), as well as with the Arctic Char Tartare with basil and trout caviar ($14).
The glass of 2002 Cheateau du Hureau Saumur we shared was also a +2 pairing with the Seared Scallops with honshermiji mushrooms, wakame and ginger-fish consomme.
And leave it to wine director Stephane Colling to surprise us with a dessert wine — a Slovenian wine made by Franc Pucer from Malvasia grapes — to pair perfectly (+2) with our dessert of Beignets with three dipping sauces — which we immediately dubbed our new favorite dessert in New York City.
We learned that the Relais Gourmands organization will be hosting a dinner at The Modern this coming week during its North American conference (at which Karen will be moderating a panel discussion on the subject of
"America's Place in the International Culinary Scene — Now and In the Future"). It is a distinct honor for The Modern to have been chosen as the site of a dinner for this discerning and distinguished group — and about as ideal a pairing as we can imagine.
The Modern is at
9 West 53rd St. (bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.), New York. (212) 333-1220.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is at 11 West. 53rd St. (bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.), New York. (212)
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