Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

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ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - AUGUST 2005

"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)


Andrew Dornenburg and Leslie Crocker Snyder at
our book party for THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 We applaud The New York Times' thoughtful endorsement today of the candidacy of our friend Leslie Crocker Snyder for the office of Manhattan DA.

Its editorial entitled "When to End an Era" begins:

"In the last 30 years, Robert Morgenthau has given Manhattan a world-class district attorney's office. It pains us not to be able to endorse him for re-election. But we believe that there is a limit to how long any manager can stay at one job and continue to administer with vigor and openness to new ideas. Three decades is more than enough time for any executive to accomplish his or her mission."

The editorial goes on to conclude:

"Ms. Snyder is a lawyer of unquestioned ability and broad experience who understands the vast power that prosecutors wield and seems prepared to exercise it with proper restaint. She would come to the district attorney's office with impressive energy, new ideas, and an obvious passion for building on Mr. Morgenthau's record. With due respect for the incumbent's legendary tenure, it is time for a change. We endorse Leslie Crocker Snyder for Manhattan district attorney."

We hope the Manhattanites reading this will support Leslie Crocker Snyder in the September 13th primary election. She is truly an extraordinary public servant, and an extraordinary human being and friend. You can read more about her on her Web site at www.snyderfornewyork.org.


Eleven Madison Park blew us away with its Heirloom Tomato
Salad with Truffle Panna Cotta and Tomato Consomme


Eleven Madison Park's Bean Salad and Swordfish Tart


Eleven Madison Park's Deep-Fried Ravioli with Cream Sauce


Muscovy Duck with Broccoli and Leeks at Eleven Madison


Eleven Madison Park's pork and lamb entrees were fabulous


Andrew and Karen were served congratulatory dessert plates


Andrew Dornenburg and Rikki Klieman at 11 Madison Park


At Pearl, Ed McFarland drops off his home-grown tomatoes


Pearl Oyster Bar's Classic Caesar Salad


The steamed mussels at Pearl Oyster Bar


Ed McFarland, Karen Page and Tony Bonner at Pearl

Monday, August 29, 2005 We're still riding high after an absolutely stellar dinner at Eleven Madison Park on Saturday night in celebration of our 15-year wedding anniversary, courtesy of our dear friends Rikki Klieman and Bill Bratton (although we'd have much preferred it if Bill hadn't been called back to L.A. on police business so that he'd actually have been able to enjoy it himself!). Chef Kerry Heffernan may be moving on to launch Hudson Yards Catering under the Danny Meyer flagship, but he'll be taking along a legion of admirers of his cuisine when he goes. We've long counted ourselves in that camp, but never more so than after Saturday night's truly spectacular dinner.

That night, Heffernan served three different tasting menus simultaneously. That meant that if we passed our plates to share tastes, we could sample literally dozens of dishes throughout the evening. However, with each course, we'd lift our forks to take our first bites -- after which our first inclination was not to want to share! But with each taste of the others' dishes, we ended up being very glad we did.

After many years of enjoying Kerry's cuisine, we've learned that his strength is in celebrating the season and balancing its flavors. We saw this in play with the perfect tomato salad with truffle panna cotta which opened our dinner, which juxtaposed a lovely tomato consomme. We've also come to know Kerry to be an avid fisherman who loves fish and has a way with flavored flans -- and were treated a trio of dishes showcasing both: a corn flan served with bass, a cauliflower flan served with impossibly tender squid, and a pepper flan served with crab.

What better end to an extraordinary celebratory dinner than to be treated to an array of tiny desserts on individual platters -- with anniversary congratulations written in icing on ours?

Karen ended up running off most of the calories the next morning when she completed all 13.1 miles of the Manhattan Half-Marathon in New York's Central Park.

Then today when our taxi inadvertently took us through Greenwich Village while heading home from Battery Park City right around lunch time, our will power wasn't strong enough to stay away from Pearl Oyster Bar. It was great, as always, to see our pals in the kitchen Tony Bonner and Ed McFarland, who were in high spirits in anticipation of their vacations next week in Brazil and Philadelphia, respectively. Ed was very sweet to drop off some cherry tomatoes from his own garden to complement a dish of fried shrimp. And, having somehow mustered the will power to skip ordering our beloved Lobster Roll for possibly the first time (not to mention its accompanying fries, despite being tempted by Maria to reconsider mid-meal!), we found the mussels and classic Pearl Caesar to be as fabulous as ever!

Eleven Madison Park is at 11 Madison Ave. (at 24th St.), New York. (212) 889-0905. Web: www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Pearl Oyster Bar is at 18 Cornelia St., New York. (212) 691-8211. Web: www.pearloysterbar.com


House on Long Island where we celebrated our anniversary


The view of the water at the edge of the lawn


Rikki says it with Post-Its: HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!


Andrew makes a new friend while we were out on a walk


Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee with potato caviar pizza


Salmon with romesco sauce, yellow rice, and zucchini


Andrew's unforgettable strawberry shortcake


The spectacular view from the island at sunset

Saturday, August 27, 2005 We can't imagine a more idyllic 15-year wedding anniversary celebration than spending the past few days with our friends Rikki and Bill out on Long Island. What a welcome opportunity to hang out with two of our favorite people on the planet, cook, read (our own book-in-progress, of course!), stroll the private island, and yes, capture a few photos of the breathtaking scenery.

Andrew recreated tastes from our wedding celebration of 15 years ago by popping a cork on a bottle of Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee and making a fabulous potato caviar pizza (which were both served at our 1990 wedding at Biba in Boston). We loved the American caviar (Sterling Royal Caviar) introduced to us by Wild Edibles in Manhattan, which was also the source of the beautiful Alaskan king salmon we enjoyed with Andrew's signature romesco sauce.


Julia Davis in a photo taken earlier this month

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 We send love to our dear friend Julia Davis, whom we just learned was hit by a truck while out for a run and is awaiting medical treatment in Milwaukee. Our hearts are with you, Julia.


The chalkboard outside Aroma advertises its 5-7 pm special:
Four different wines plus antipasto for only $15


Aroma is a tiny restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating


Aroma proudly displays its Italian wines by region


Help yourself to the antipasto bar from 5-7 pm -- starting
with eggplant caviar crostini and homemade pesto


Aroma also offers its own housemade sliced salmon


Afterward, we sample Aroma's excellent mushrooms...


...as well as Aroma's striking roasted heirloom tomatoes


Who knew that artichoke and lobster paired so well?


Chocolate dessert (and three dessert wines) at Artisanal

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 How does a tiny restaurant like Aroma make it onto our radar, after a mere five months of being in business?

We first heard of Aroma last week, after interviewing David Rosengarten for our next book on food and beverage pairing. David was kind enough to give us copies of several of the most recent issues of The Rosengarten Report, one of which featured a positive write-up of Aroma.

Then someone shot us an email a day or two later, announcing Aroma's new late-night dining menu.

Then today our assistant learned that Aroma also offers an apperitivo hour from 5-7 pm, providing several tastes of wines with an array of little dishes. The third time was the charm: We went to check it out tonight, and found Aroma to be exactly the kind of neighborhood restaurant we wish we could find closer to home.

It's also got to be one of the best deals in Manhattan: You can sample four different Italian wines (one rose, two white, one red), while helping yourself to a bountiful antipasto spread featuring everything from eggplant crostini to housemade sliced salmon to several different fresh vegetable salads -- all for only $15.

Andrew was 4 for 4 on the terrific wines (while Karen was 3 for 4, as she was only so-so about the very light Chardonnay blend). But the batting average for the food was even higher. Aroma's chef Christopher Daly (founder of Hospitality Industry Professionals for Kids) previously worked everywhere from Checkers with Thomas Keller to West Broadway, taking over when chef John Schenk left -- and you can taste it.

More proof that Daly gets around? He stopped by our perch at Aroma's bar to mention to Andrew that he'd met him before -- in the 1990s when Andrew was at Florence Meat Market on Jones Street, excited to be able to buy hoofs from former owner Tony to prepare a classic aspic recipe he'd just tracked down. Now that's a memory! Daly mentioned that he uses 95 percent local ingredients (from New York State) at the restaurant. A memorable exception were the pungent Sicilian white anchovies featured on one dish.

After enjoying getting to meet Aroma's charming co-owners, Alexandra Digiorgio (who said she was a fan of our book BECOMING A CHEF) and Vito Polosa, we headed out for a bite of chocolate at Artisanal -- and to conduct our own comparative tasting of three classic pairings: Banyuls, tawny port and PX sherry. How'd they do? You'll have to wait for the book....

Aroma is at 36 E. 4th St (bet. Lafayette & Bowery), New York. Phone: (212) 375-0100. Web: www.aromanyc.com

Artisanal is at Two Park Avenue (on 32nd Street, bet. Park and Madison Aves.), New York. (212) 725-8585.


The Mermaid Inn's amuse of truffled char tartar


The white gazpacho with a garnish of almond-crusted shrimp


The fried oysters with a bacon beurre blanc -- and slaw


Our lovely waitress Lisa pours us a glass of Sangiovese


Sunday night special: Spaghetti with a salad on top


Someone read our mind and brought bread for dipping


The Inn's complimentary dessert: a cup of chocolate pudding


Andrew tests out his "Fortune Teller Fish"


Two women at the bar playing with their "Miracle Fish"

Monday, August 22, 2005 Our hats off to Hal Rubenstein for being the first restaurant critic to come near to capturing our always-wonderful experiences at Bette in his review of the restaurant in this week's New York magazine.

Someone at The Mermaid Inn must be psychic: Right about the time we were wondering a couple of weeks ago what other restaurants were great to visit on Sunday nights (i.e. casual, with really good food but not obscenely expensive), we got word of the restaurant's Sunday night special of "spaghetti with a salad on top" -- a red-sauced pasta dish with an assortment of seafood topped with arugula leaves that had apparently been a popular item on the restaurant's opening menu. Last night, we decided to go check out the restaurant and the dish.

We love restaurants where the soundtrack is a big part of the experience, from Babbo to The Mermaid Inn. It's a bold move for a restaurant, though, because you either like the Stones or the Beatles blaring while you eat your pasta or you don't. We do. Karen commented on the edgy version of "Let Me Roll It" playing last night as one of the sexiest songs of all time, and throughout our dinner we were serenaded by the likes of Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash (whose attendance at her office Christmas party was a thrill for Karen in the early 1990s, but that's another story).

The kitchen made a great first impression with its amuse: a wonderfully rich char tartare with a hint of truffle oil served on celery root chips resembling shells. The chilled white gazpacho was its own thing -- different from the best-ever version we've had at Terrance Brennan's Picholine, but still a seasonal delight in its celebration of grapes and cucumber. We also enjoyed the crispy fried oysters with horseradish-bacon beurre blanc -- which wasn't particularly bacon-y, but still tasty, with the savoy slaw serving as a nice acidic foil for the butter sauce.

All the wines we tasted by the glass throughout our dinner were delicious -- from a Muscadet to a Fiano to a Sangiovese that beautifully accompanied our dinner's crowning glory: the fun-titled "spaghetti with a salad on top." The dish not only lived up to the hype, but surpassed it. Who knew we'd end up complimenting not only the wonderful seafood that topped the pasta -- from perfectly-cooked scallops to tender calamari -- and the perfectly al dente spaghetti, but also the beautifully zippy red sauce? Our hats off again to Chef Mikey Price and his able crew.

Our only complaint was going to be that The Mermaid Inn's bread selections (a vertical container of flatbread and thick, crunchy breadsticks served with butter) didn't allow for any sauce mopping. However, virtually the instant after this thought crossed both our minds nearly simultaneously, someone appeared at our table to drop off some sliced soft white bread perfect for dipping duty. See, we told you someone there was psychic.

Further proof of the restaurant's mind-reading powers lie in its unusual decision to forego a dessert menu in favor of dropping off complimentary little cups of pudding. With pudding this good in the house (last night's was chocolate with a hint of tapioca, topped with a little whipped cream), someone simply knows that diners are going to want a taste of it to end the meal on a sweet note.

For diners who don't happen to share the restaurant's fortune-telling powers, a "Fortune Teller Fish" or two are dropped off with the check. These so-called "Miracle Fish" are made in Taiwan where they are apparently infused with the magical power to read your mind simply by placing the fish in the palm of your hand.

Andrew tested his out, and both the fish's head and its tail started moving simultaneously. We checked the key provided on the envelope the fish came in, and saw it meant he was "in love." "This is great news!" Karen told the restaurant's Amy Sacco-lookalike manager Chrissie, an attractive 5' 9" blonde with a great smile who walked by our table just then. "We're celebrating our 15-year wedding anniversary on Thursday."

Karen tried hers next, and watched it curl up entirely. "You're 'passionate,'" Andrew read to Karen from the back of the envelope. "Really....?" Karen smiled.

Then, with the strains of "Let Me Roll It" still fresh in our minds, we got the heck out of that lovely restaurant. Yes, The Mermaid Inn's "Fortune Teller Fish" got it right: Even after such a delicious dinner, the best of our evening was still ahead.

The Mermaid Inn is at 96 Second Ave. (bet. 5th and 6th Sts.), New York. (212) 674-5870. Web: www.beanstalkrestaurants.com


Our little secret: El Parador restaurant on East 34th Street


Our waiter dishes out our chicken chilaquiles tableside


Our chilaquiles are served with rice and beans, too

Sunday, August 21, 2005 Do you have a favorite restaurant that you're loathe to tell others about, because you don't want it to be "discovered"? Us, too. Except we're going to make an exception to our rule and let you in on our little secret -- which really shouldn't be such a secret, as this long, dark "Old New York" restaurant has been serving the city for the past 40+ years as its oldest Mexican restaurant: El Parador.

When the topic turned to movies on Friday night over dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, we'd explained our system for rating movies to Alan Jones and Ashley Garrett: "The 40 Year Old Virgin" sounded like at least a two-margarita movie to us, meaning that in order to sit through such a movie and to find its level of humor funny, we needed to first stop at El Parador restaurant around the corner from the Kips Bay Loews and have a couple of margaritas first. ("The Wedding Crashers," featuring Karen's fave Owen Wilson, had also been a two-margarita flick.) Getting the dosage right is key: If the dosage is too low for the film, the viewer will fail to find it funny, and the night is a bust. It's less of a problem to play it on the safe side and opt for a too-high dosage, unless one is prone to falling asleep when one is intoxicated.

Last night, we decided to check out the aforementioned movie "The 40 Year Old Virgin," and were happy we hadn't overdosed -- lest we have missed the first known appearance of one of our books on screen. In a scene where the titular character portrayed by Steve Carell goes into a bookstore to hit on a woman employee, he walks past a section of cookbooks, and there on the top shelf was our most recent book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF!

So beloved to us are El Parador's chicken chilaquiles ($15; this tortilla casserole, served with rice and beans, can serve as a meal for two), warm chips and salsa, and tangy margaritas "on the rocks, no salt" ($7 each) -- not to mention the gracious hospitality of its father-and-son owners -- that dining there last night nearly equaled the pleasure of seeing our book's debut on the big screen.

Besides, with a movie like "Virgin," you don't really want one without the other.

El Parador is at 325 E. 34th St. (bet. First and Second Aves.), New York. (212) 679-6812. [They apparently deliver, too, as they were named to NEW YORK magazine's "Best Delivery" round-up, but we've always gone there to dine.]


Aboard an express train from Grand Central to Tarrytown


On the taxi ride to the restaurant, we spy the chickens who
do their part to make dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns great


Salted sardine-laced potato chips were a hit


A spritz of tomato vinegar finishes this tomato dish


Tender poached Maine shrimp, crab and corn


Bacon and eggs for dinner -- MMMmmm...


Ashley Garrett and Andrew Dornenburg at Blue Hill


Handmade pasta shows off a fresh tomato and chive sauce


Pork with tongue and fried ear, with garden herb salad


Apricots and peaches sparked this soup with sorbet


Berry crepe with coconut tapioca


Chateau d'Yquem being poured at the table


George and Audrea sharing a Chateau d'Yquem moment


George, GM Philippe Gouze, Ashley, chef Dan Barber and
Alan Jones in the kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Saturday, August 20, 2005 We're hard-pressed to think of two people more fun to dine with than our friends Alan Jones and Ashley Garrett -- particularly in the midst of one of our dinners together, which invariably have us alternating between convulsing with laughter and marveling at the next gem AJ has managed to unearth from the restaurant's wine list.

Last night, we took the train from Manhattan to Tarrytown to join them, along with their lovely guests Audrea and George, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills. When we found how easy it was to simply hop on the train at Grand Central Terminal (just five minutes from our home) and take a 36-minute express to Tarrytown, and a 10-minute cab from there to the restaurant, we shuddered in recollection of our first trip to get there (for which we rented a car and fought traffic for hours in the pouring rain!).

Yet another extraordinary dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns ensued -- after which we took the train back to Manhattan, and strolled a few blocks home at half-past midnight, recounting our delicious memories of the evening.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is at 630 Bedford Road in Pocantico Hills, New York. Phone: (914) 366-9600. Web: www.bluehillstonebarns.com


Andrew checks out gems in David Rosengarten's wine cellar


...while David pulls out his "favorite bottle in his cellar"!


David slices us thin pieces of beautiful wagyu short ribs


Popover Cafe still has the best popovers we've had in town


Bette's delicious ricotta cheese appetizer with crostini


We love the pasta with pesto sauce at Bette


In fact, we enjoy all the pastas at Bette


Rocco DiSpirito with Bette headwaiter Craig Atlas


Rocco DiSpirito, Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg at Bette

Thursday, August 18, 2005 We interviewed David Rosengarten yesterday morning for our next book on food and wine pairing, which took us to the Upper West Side offices of The Rosengarten Report. The newsletter provides comparisons and recommendations of various foods -- several of which we had the pleasure of tasting before and after we sat down to talk. We were also given a tour of David's impressive wine cellar. (That's one dinner invitation we wouldn't turn down -- unless he insisted on serving his "favorite bottle in his cellar"!)

Afterward, we had a bite at Popover Cafe around the corner. We hadn't been there in years, but being the type of people who love visiting Neiman-Marcus in various cities to see if they have a restaurant serving their fabulous popovers, we couldn't be in the neighborhood without stopping in for one. While the rest of the Cafe's food we've had there ranges from OK to good for the price (which skews expensive), and while the service ranges from scattered (e.g. a manager roaming the floor with three salmon salads, wondering aloud to which table they belonged) to thoughtful (e.g. our waiter pouring us complimentary refills on our iced tea without our having to ask), it's worth a visit for the wonderful popovers with strawberry butter (although we could do without the little plastic tubs in which the strawberry butter is unappealingly served).

We were happy to have an opportunity to return to Bette last night to interview Rocco DiSpirito about his monthly wine club that focuses on food pairing, and some of his favorite food and wine pairings. Rocco was a great sport and even posed for a photo with Bette headwaiter Craig Atlas, who always gets told he looks like he could be Rocco's little brother. But what makes Rocco Rocco (i.e. the kind-hearted and fun-loving guy we know him as) is that he also asked that the three of us have our photo taken together as well -- and how could Karen not love having the two hottest guys in the room posing on either side of her? Chef Tom Dimarzo's food at Bette, which was correctly described in yesterday's New York Times as "a guaranteed good time," continues to bring us great pleasure.

David Rosengarten is at www.davidrosengarten.com. To subscribe to The Rosengarten Report, click here.

Popover Cafe is at 551 Amsterdam Ave. (bet. 86th & 87th Sts.), New York. (212) 595-8555.

Bette is at 461 W. 23rd St. (bet. Ninth & Tenth Aves.), New York. (212) 366-0404.

Rocco DiSpirito is at www.roccodispirito.com. To join his monthly wine club, visit www.wine.com. To listen to "Food Talk with Rocco DiSpirito" on WOR Radio, visit www.wor710.com.


Sophie's opening proved there is such a thing as a free lunch


Sophie's Cuban Cuisine features humble steam tables...


...but the chicken, rice and beans were fresh and tasty

Monday, August 15, 2005 Sophie's Cuban Cuisine, a humble spot with steam tables turning out simple offerings like Cuban sandwiches ($6), fried pork chops ($8), and shrimp with garlic sauce ($10), just opened for business this past Thursday -- and already it's proven a most welcome addition to our Murray Hill neighborhood.

Its opening day celebration offered a free lunch to anyone willing to brave the lines that trailed down the block. And the lines have been long the past couple of weekdays since.

Already, other neighborhood spots are catching on to Sophie's "Marketing 101" lesson of how to build a business -- and they've taken to the sidewalk, offering tastes of their own wares in their own attempt to woo new customers.

We popped in for a bite tonight in the midst of a long work night, a half-hour before Sophie's closing time. The steam tables were still mostly full, with a fresh tray of grilled chicken being brought out as we arrived, and the staff was friendly and sincere.

Tonight, $8 bought us a plate of tender and juicy chicken with a sauce that no one was quite able to describe to us but that featured carrots, atop a mound of tasty rice and black beans. Splitting it offered a fine dinner for two -- just enough sustenance to see us through a few more hours of work!

Sophie's Cuban Cuisine is at 369 Lexington Ave. near 41st Street, New York. (212) 922-3576. Free delivery. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 am - 7:30 pm; Saturday, 8 am - 4 pm.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 — We congratulate Cris Comerford on her history-making appointment as the first female executive chef of The White House!


It's not every day you catch a wedding party posing for
photos in the middle of Madison Avenue (near 45th Street)


Menchanko-Tei's roast pork


Menchanko-Tei's salad with carrot-ginger dressing


The salmon hand rolls at Menchanko-Tei


We love Menchanko-Tei's crispy-yet-soft gyoza

Sunday, August 14, 2005 A Saturday afternoon with temperatures topping 90 degrees, yesterday nothing sounded good to eat. But after running four miles in Central Park yesterday morning, our growling stomachs let us know that eating was becoming a priority. It is a credit to Menchanko-Tei that it was able to please us when our hot-weather grouchiness started leading us to believe that no restaurant could.

When we were researching our book CHEF'S NIGHT OUT, bread baker extraordinaire Amy Scherber had praised Menchanko-Tei's location at West 55th Street (bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.) to us as one of her five favorite restaurants at which she ate most often. Prior to that, while researching our book DINING OUT, the Village Voice's restaurant critic Robert Sietsema had mentioned Katsu-Hama to us as one of his favorite restaurants -- and it quickly went on to become one of ours. A few years later, cookbook author Hiroko Shimbo had recommended Ony to us for its noodles.

Once we realized that all the restaurants were related, we made it a point to visit the one remaining restaurant in the Yonehama restaurant group we hadn't visited yet: Onigashima. All share the same dedication to providing good food.

Katsu-Hama --specializing in pristine fried pork cutlets served with a toasted sesame barbecue sauce you mix yourself with the mortar and pestle provided along with pickled vegetables, miso soup, shredded cabbage with an incredible dressing, and rice for just $10 at lunch -- remains our very favorite. We love Menchenko-Tei for a casual bowl of steaming noodles with pork when it's cold out -- and lighter fare on days like yesterday. Ony and Onigashima, where we've eaten less often simply because they're less convenient to us, specialize in noodles and sushi.

Menchenko-Tei and Katsu-Hama are two of our very favorite bang-for-the-buck restaurants in New York City. They're filled with Japanese customers, and Robert Sietsema had warned us that Katsu-Hama sometimes tries to ward off sushi-seeking Caucasians (as the restaurant serves only katsu). After eight years of dining there several times a year, they no longer try to shoo us away when we walk through the door. However, we once witnessed a very ugly scene with a Texas tourist literally yelling at Katsu-Hama's sweet staff, "What kind of a Japanese restaurant is this not to serve sushi?!" before leaving in a huff. The episode gave us compassion for the restaurant's peculiar practice of customer-screening.

Yesterday we also appreciated Menchanko-Tei for being so close to an errand we had to run near 45th and Madison -- where we happened upon a wedding party posing for photographs in the middle of Madison Avenue (see photo above). Don't you just love this city?

Menchanko-Tei is at 131 E. 45th Street (bet. Lexington and Third Aves.), New York. (212) 986-6805. Web: www.menchankotei.com

Katsu-Hama is at 11 E. 47th Street (bet. Madison and Fifth Aves.), New York. (212) 758-5909. Web: www.katsuhama.com


Hearth's surprising amuse of yellow pepper soup -- served
hot,
on one of the hottest nights of summer


Foie Gras Torchon with Endive, Apricot and Brioche Toast


Marinated Sardines with Soffrito Crudo and Parsley


Outside our window: a woman takes a seat just inches away


Pappardelle with Fresh Tomato and Basil


Roasted Monkfish w/Speck, Romano Beans, Smoked Tomato


A side order of Adam Tihany's favorite Gnocchi at Hearth


We're served two different dessert wines with dessert


Panna Cotta with Berries...and Corn


Goat Milk Panna Cotta with Strawberries & Thai Basil Sauce


Chocolate-Cherry Ice Box Cake with Bing Cherry Compote


Peach and Blueberry Fried Ravioli with Ice Cream

Saturday, August 13, 2005 Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington first pointed out to us the "language" of food and the dining experience. He added that if he was presented with a dish or a menu, it was all he needed to be able to write a short biography of the person who'd prepared it.

In the decade since then, we, too, have developed our ability to "read" restaurant experiences in order to determine what "language" is being spoken and who is speaking it. On our first-ever visit to Hearth for dinner last night, we had great admiration for the excellence of its "vocabulary," i.e. specific aspects of the experience (not to mention great appreciation for its ability to pull in an impressive clientele: We found ourselves seated next to a table of Master Sommeliers, two of whom -- Madeline Triffon and Joe Spellman -- we'd interviewed for our forthcoming book).

Having had Hearth recommended to us as one of chef Anne Rosenzweig's favorite restaurants, we already had some idea what the food would be like: Knowing Anne and her palate from eating at other of her favorite restaurants, we could easily guess that the ingredients would be of the highest quality, that they'd be fairly simply prepared, and that the flavors would be delicious in the best possible straightforward, unpretentious kind of way. Virtually all of this proved true.

Chef Marco Canora is obviously oozing with talent, as well as good genes: His pasta was so impressive that last night we'd asked whether his mother or grandmother had been a great pasta cook. "Both," he'd replied with a proud smile. GM Paul Grieco is said to have an incredible palate, allowing him to come up with Hearth's edgy, fascinating wine list, not to mention equally good genes: We'd met his long-time restaurateur father in Toronto while on a book tour a decade ago.

As O'Connell had suggested to us, there is a language that is expressed through everything from one's wine recommendations to the temperature at which foods and beverages are served. While each of these foods or beverages might be delicious in a vacuum, it's quite another thing to experience them in the particular order in which they're served and in the context of, say, one of the hottest nights of the summer. It was only on this level of "syntax" that we found Hearth lacking fluency. For example, we would have much preferred a cool or even room temperature amuse as our first bite of the evening instead of the hot soup we were served. And as another, as our first sip of the evening, we never would have chosen such a sweet if not quite syrupy wine as the 2001 Alsatian Tokay Pinot Gris without a hint of acid that was poured after Karen had asked for something "off-dry." (Kudos to the restaurant for immediately offering to replace it; however, we decided to make the best of it by sharing Andrew's glass of rose to start, and ordering the foie gras appetizer specifically to accompany Karen's wine.)

Chef Michel Richard once told us that "Perfectionism is not for this world." We agree. Still, since perfectionism is still the standard for which great chefs and restaurants strive, we can only hope Hearth will continue to hone the syntax of its dining experience. We already look forward to returning to enjoy the developing discourse.

Hearth is at 403 E. 12th St. at First Ave., New York. (646) 602-1300. Web: www.restauranthearth.com


Daniel Johnnes (2nd from left), Philippe Marchal (3rd from left)
and Daniel Boulud (2nd from right) were among this assemblage
of some of the best restaurant pros in the world today at Daniel


Tony's pushcart at 63rd and Madison drew a line that was
nearly a dozen people deep this afternoon


Fig & Olive's Tartine Poulet Braise Aux Herbes


Prosciutto with melon and melon granite at Fig & Olive


Olive oil and bread served at Fig & Olive

"We are interviewing Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, who write books about chefs and have won the James Beard Award and other culinary arts awards. They're fabulous!"
Rikki Klieman, guest host, KFI-AM / Los Angeles (8/12/05)

Friday, August 12, 2005 We loved getting to speak with Rikki Klieman this morning on KFI-AM Radio in Los Angeles about the rise of chefs as celebrities. Rikki's spent the past two weeks filling in for popular morning host Bill Handel, and she's every bit a natural on radio as she is on television. Is there a medium she couldn't master?? (We hear she also looks stunning on the cover of the current Hollywood Hills magazine!)

As Rikki had mentioned while the three of us sang uber-chef Daniel Boulud's praises on air, the minute we finished the interview, we had to jump in a taxi to get to Restaurant Daniel to sit down for a 90-minute interview with owner Boulud and his sommelier Philippe Marchal for our next book on food and beverage pairing. At the wine tasting they had scheduled immediately thereafter, there was such a gathering of talent that we couldn't help but take a picture of the assembled palates!

Afterward, we ran an errand on Madison Avenue, where we passed Tony's pushcart (at the SW corner of 63rd St. & Madison Ave.) -- perhaps the only New York City pushcart ever featured in The New York Times. In an early 1990s article by Anne Barnard reporting on the fact that cooks from Anne Rosenzweig's acclaimed restaurant Arcadia were among the loyal regulars there, Andrew was one of a handful of cooks featured in the photograph of Tony and his pushcart. We were happy to see that more than a dozen years later, he's still pulling the customers in -- and has even expanded to a three-man line!

Finally, we stopped in for our second-ever visit to Fig & Olive (63rd & Lex), which we think is a nice addition to the area. After all, at what other neighborhood lunch spot can you get Banyuls by the glass?

Restaurant Daniel is at 60 E. 65th St. (bet. Park & Madison). (212) 288-0033.

Tony's pushcart is at the SW corner of 63rd St. & Madison Ave.

Fig & Olive is at 808 Lexington Ave. (bet. 62nd & 63rd Sts.). (212) 207-4555. Web: www.fig-and-olive.com


The mesclun salad with goat cheese at bistro Frere Jacques


The hanger steak with herb salsa and fries at Frere Jacques

Friday, August 12, 2005 Where has the adorable French bistro Frere Jacques been the past four-and-a-half years?? We've lived in Murray Hill for more than a dozen years, and just paid our first-ever visit to this charmer last night. It won't be our last!

We discovered the restaurant one lazy night several weeks ago via www.delivery.com, which lists Manhattan restaurants that deliver by ZIP Code. If you enter in our Murray Hill ZIP Code and then sort the list by "Food Quality," Frere Jacques is one of the first restaurants to pop up. The one time we'd ordered in, the person who took our order was friendly and professional, the food arrived well within a half-hour, and everything was beautifully prepared. The two of us shared a $25 three-course dinner of country pate, chicken paillard with vegetables, and the dessert of the day, which we recall as a lovely Tarte Tatin. The Web site had described Frere Jacques as:

"French Bistro
Chef de Cuisine: Pascal Bettig

As young boys growing up in Northern France, brothers Jacques and Pascal Bettig dreamed of one day opening their own restaurant. Pascal studied the classics of cuisine in France and trained in some of the finest kitchens of France, England and Switzerland. Jacques naturally went to the front and served in some of the finest restaurants in France, Germany and Switzerland, finally moving to the USA and making his mark at greats such as La Cote Basque and Le Cirque.

In 1993, the brothers finally put everything together and opened 'Saint Michel' in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Having achieved great success and with the encouragement of their regular guests and friends, the brothers made the move to Manhattan and opened Frère Jacques in January of 2000. The rest, as they say, is history…."

Last night, we stopped in, and loved our mesclun salad with goat cheese, as well as the hanger steak with herb salsa and frites we split. The restaurant offers some very nice wines by the glass, and we each had a glass of Viognier before sharing a glass of French Pinot Noir with our steak.

Frere Jacques is a perfect neighborhood restaurant, and we strongly recommend it to anyone in the greater Murray Hill area -- or within its East 27th - 47th Street delivery zone! We're thrilled to have found a small, non-ear-splitting spot with wonderful food for those nights we feel like eating at a quiet , intimate bistro. Bon appetit!

Frere Jacques is at 13 East 37th St. (bet. Madison & Fifth Aves.), New York. (212) 679-9355. For delivery, visit: www.delivery.com.


Laura Day with Rumer and Samson at Inside restaurant

Sunday, August 7, 2005 We have to thank our dear friend author Laura Day for gathering up an A-list team of models for our photo shoot with photographer Michael Sofronski for our next book last night at Inside. With bestselling author Adam Robinson in tow, not to mention her son Samson and his friend Rumer, we couldn't have asked for a better cast of eaters, drinkers, and smilers in the shots! Our thanks, too, to the great folks at Inside -- from chef Charleen Badman to manager Bill Flatley -- for making our shoot there such a breeze.

Afterward, we wandered through the West Village, stopping to buy some of New York's best chocolates at Varsano's (and getting a taste of Marc Varsano's latest summer winner: a chocolate-covered s'more!), and ending up at Maremma so that those of us who didn't eat during the shoot could grab a bite. Charming chef-owner Cesare Casella (who's got a hit not only with his new restaurant, but with his Fall 2005 book, at whose galleys we were able to take a peek) instantly won over four new fans of his Tuscan cowboy restaurant, with Samson and Rumer praising his desserts (including a lemon blueberry dessert, not to mention a panna cotta so delicious it won over the non-panna cotta lovers at the table) to the skies as we left!

Inside is at 9 Jones Street (bet. W. 4th St. and Bleecker), New York. (212) 229-9999. Web: www.insideonjones.com

Varsano's Chocolates is at 179 W. 4th St. (bet. Sixth and Seventh Aves.), New York. (212) 352-1171.

Maremma is at 228 W. 10th Street (bet. Bleecker and Hudson Streets), New York. (212) 645-0200.


Hot Potato Chips, Blue Cheese Sauce at Bar Americain ($8)


New England Clam and Sweet Potato Chowder ($11)


Chopped Chicory Salad, Bacon, Blue Cheese, Green Beans,
Poached Egg
($12)


Tasting of three Shellfish Cocktails at Bar Americain ($21)


Squash Blossoms, Pulled Pork, Black Pepper Vinegar ($11)


Gulf Shrimp and Grits, Green Onions ($14)


Lamb Sausage, White Beans, Red Zinfandel ($12)


Duck, Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans, Bourbon ($29)


Caramel Whiskey Eclairs at Bar Americain ($9)

Saturday, August 6, 2005 It's funny the things you can find to celebrate: An air conditioner that's in working order again during a week when temperatures hit 90+ degrees. A great new pair of pants that fit perfectly and didn't cost an arm and a leg....Then there's the important stuff: The impending publication of a friend's new book. Another friend's completion of his first book proposal.

A simple Friday night dinner out can be a way to unwind at the end of a long week (made longer by that non-functioning air conditioner, mind you) as well as to celebrate the week's triumphs, large and small.

Last night we had the pleasure of enjoying a Friday night dinner with long-time New York magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene and photographer Steven Richter. Gael's long-anticipated memoir Insatiable is due to hit bookstore shelves next year, chronicling her decades of being front-and-center as America developed its love affair with food (during which time Gael had a few hot love affairs of her own). Steven is a fabulously talented photographer who is planning to publish a book of his series of photographs of "street girls," which reflect images and representations of women seen on the streets of cities around the world. (Agent Jane Dystel is repping the hot project, due to include essays by the likes of Gloria Steinem.)

Bobby Flay wasn't manning the kitchen last night at Bar Americain, but we were happy to meet co-owner Laurence Kretchmer, who recalled his inclusion in our book CHEF'S NIGHT OUT for which we'd interviewed Flay, who'd told us:

"I usually go [to J.G. Melon] with my business partner, Laurence Kretchmer, and we'll order three cheeseburgers, so each of us has one and a half. I like extra cheese, pickles, Dijon mustard and a lot of black pepper, and cottage fries and a Beck's. Melon's was my first watering hole. It's like my Cheers -- the same people have worked there for 20 years, and when I walk in, I know everybody. It's a comforting place to go."

Eating out with friends is indeed one of life's great pleasures.

Bar Americain is at 152 W. 52nd St. (bet. Sixth and Seventh Aves.), New York. Phone: (212) 265-9700. Web:
baramericain.com


The unusually delicious breads at Public


If you see this woman at a restaurant, RUN!


Mushroom ceviche served with chopsticks at Public


Fried oyster and grilled scallop at Public


House-cured wild boar with goat cheese and olives at Public


Snail and oxtail ravioli with pickled shiitake mushrooms


Lemongrass creme brulee with huckleberry surprise


Chocolate petit fours at Public

Friday, August 5, 2005 It's often amazing what chefs are up against in delivering a wonderful meal. Last night on our first visit to Public, we weren't sure chef Brad Farmerie even had a chance.

First, the restaurant isn't easy to spot, set off from Elizabeth Street in NoLita as it is with little signage and through what could be a secret passageway leading who-knows-where. Second, by 7:30 pm, its popular bar was already two to three people deep, and our table was next to the bar, so the din didn't lend itself well to normal conversational tones. Third, we have an aversion to ill-conceived fusion cuisine, so the descriptions of several of the "Australasian" dishes on the menu (e.g. "Snail & oxtail ravioli with pickled shiitake mushrooms, oven dried tomatoes, and smoked paprika oil") gave us pause. Fourth, the casual style of some of the service staff ("You guys done?" one had asked, before whisking our plates away) didn't always match what we'd understood to be the serious intentions of the cuisine. And fifth, on this particular night around 8 pm, a woman customer decided to move a bar stool from one end of the crowded bar to another, nearly goring Andrew in the side and back with two of its legs.

You get the picture. So you might be just as surprised as we were to learn that a truly wonderful dinner at Public ensued.

The breads made a great first impression. The delicious bright orange smoked paprika roll tasted strange and familiar at the same time, and we don't know that we've ever tasted a moister focaccia.

Karen is a Riesling fan from the word go, but last night the glass of 2003 Wynns Australian Riesling ($12) she ordered couldn't hold a candle to Andrew's fabulous 2003 Mount Riley New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($9). While the Riesling had a petrol nose (which is not unusual, but which we don't happen to prefer), the Sauvignon Blanc was all herbs and grapefruit with a fresh, crisp, clean flavor.

But who's learned more than we have in researching our latest book on food and beverage pairing how much the flavor of food and wine can change in conjunction with one another? The Riesling trumped the Sauvignon Blanc in pairing with the wonderful watermelon, feta, and pumpkin seed salad with fresh basil, with its own fruitiness highlighted by the combination.

We also loved our small cups of laksa, a pungent Malaysian soup laced with crab, shallots and cilantro, and served in just the right size portion...and the grilled scallop with sweet chili sauce and creme fraiche.

Moments after we'd finished our course of fantastic paper-thin-sliced house-cured wild boar (which our sweet server Kelly paired with a lovely glass of Spanish Tempranillo), chef Brad Farmerie passed through the dining room, providing us with a chance to tell him that we found it more reminiscent of our October visit to Spain than anything else we'd tasted since. (Simultaneously, we were happy to hear that he is "a fan" of our books.) A native of the Midwest (Indiana and Illinois, before leaving for Pittsburgh and Penn State), Brad has traveled the world (including England, France, Hungary, Romania, Spain, New Zealand, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Southeast Asia), resulting in the global influences that show up on Public's menu. However, he had just returned the day before from vacation: his first-ever visit to San Francisco (and visits to Gary Danko, The Slanted Door and Delfina).

Our dinner continued with the aforementioned dish of snail and oxtail ravioli, which surprised us with its delicious flavor synergies. It ended with a perfect little cup of lemongrass creme brulee, with a self-contained surprise of huckleberry compote at the bottom of the cup. Our dessert paired perfectly with the beautiful glass of 2002 Lilly Pilly Noble Blend "Australian sticky" (dessert wine) that Brad recommended to accompany it.

We understand that Public is well-known for its weekend brunch, for which we'll look forward to returning. And whatever influences start showing up in Brad's food next based on his most recent travels (e.g. even sourer sourdough bread?), we'll sample them with enthusiasm: He seems to have the je ne sais quois (not to mention the culinary literacy, given his...ahem...excellent taste in books) to make the unlikeliest of flavor combinations meld harmoniously on the plate. We were truly amazed that with so many flavors being juggled in each dish, we never once tasted a discordant note.

Now if only Public could do something about the spastic stool-wielding women at its bar....

Public is at 210 Elizabeth Street (bet. Spring and Prince) in New York. Phone: (212) 343-7011. Web: www.public-nyc.com


David Shaw

Friday, August 5, 2005 We were saddened to learn of the untimely passing this week of Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times. He was 62.

In yesterday's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. offers a fitting tribute to Shaw entitled "The Media's Good Cop."

We'd had the pleasure of interviewing David -- along with Pulitzer Prize-winning critics Tim Page and Allan Temko -- for our 1999 James Beard and IACP Book Award Finalist DINING OUT: Secrets from America's Leading Critics, Chefs and Restaurateurs on the subject of what makes good criticism and the state of restaurant criticism in America. A restaurant lover, Shaw then told us, "Critics, in the true sense of the world, are people who write short pieces applying thieir own critical standards to what they're reviewing. Eighty percent of food criticism is just a catalog of dishes. But there are some very good restaurant critics who have good taste and good judgment, and who are good writers....I'm biased, because I'm friends with all of them, but I think the three best restaurant critics in America are Ruth Reichl, Sherry [Irene] Virbila, and Phyllis Richman."

As only an insider could, Shaw offered up wise practical advice to our readers on how to assure themselves of the best restaurant experience, which sums up the advice we offer those who ask us to this day:

"In France, I've never been treated badly in a restaurant. But in this country, some restaurants will treat you like shit. It's important to develop relationships with restaurants, either the maitre d' or the owner or whoever's on the door. You should ask a lot of questions and be adventurous when it comes to the food. And you should go with some regularity because then a good restaurateur will get to know you. Sometimes I'll invite friends to dine at a restaurant with me, so I can introduce them to the maitre d' or the owner. Then it's up to my friends to remind them again when they go in on their own that they were introduced the last time they were in with me, and so on. When you develop relationships, it infinitely improves the experience."

In June, we interviewed master sommelier Paul Roberts of Per Se and The French Laundry, and learned that the restaurants' cutting-edge effort to pair non-alcoholic beverages with its cuisine (as covered in the December 22nd front-page article "Juice for Caviar, Soda for Foie Gras" by Kim Severson in The New York Times' Dining section) was in part prompted by David Shaw: When Shaw brought in his well-traveled pre-teen son Lucas to dine on Thomas Keller's cuisine, Roberts found he couldn't bear to send a kid who "knew more about food than some restaurant professionals" anything less than inspired beverage pairings -- and whipped up some truffled milk to accompany Lucas's pasta course of tagliatelle with black truffles.


The pastrami and corned beef sandwiches at Katz's


Our photographer Michael Sofronski concentrates, while
Kenny Kohn (standing, in white) chats it up with customers

Monday, August 1, 2005 We love Katz's Deli -- and any day that we get to pay a visit to this New York City landmark which has been around since 1888 (as we did today, for a photo shoot) feels like a holiday to us! Our thanks to Katz's charming manager Kenny Kohn for making our time there such fun.

Katz's Deli is at 205 E. Houston St. (at Ludlow), New York. (212) 254-2246. Web: www.katzdeli.com


The spiced crab kulcha bread at Devi


Our favorite new snack in Manhattan: garlicky fried potato
crisps, Devi-style -- with a tomato mayonnaise


Southern rice trio (flavored with tomato, yogurt, mint)
flanked by corn curry and butter chicken at Devi


Devi saffron bread pudding, cardamom cream, candied almonds


Fresh eggs upon their arrival to Blue Hill at Stone Barns


Patches of garden maintained by the cooks at BHSB


An incredible tomato salad at Blue Hill at Stone Barns


Future braised pork belly at Blue Hill at Stone Barns?


Michael Sofronski shooting summer's bounty at BHSB

Monday, August 1, 2005 Saturday's photo shoot for our next book at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, presented several delicious photo opportunities, thanks to chefs Dan Barber and Mike Anthony....On Sunday, we hoped to pop into Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new restaurant Perry Street for a drink before dinner, but on the way there we ran into Jean-Georges himself. He introduced us to his lovely new wife Marja Allen, then told us that the restaurant was closed -- and promised "two more weeks"! We're looking forward to visiting later this month....We ended up having a wonderful dinner at Devi last night. Given how many restaurants in Manhattan are closed on Sundays, it's a great spot to remember is open! We began by ordering a bottle of 2004 Dr. Loosen Riesling, which became our house wine at home after having our first taste of it courtesy of Devi -- but we'd just run out of our last case. It was the perfect accompaniment to all our savory courses. Our waiter Timmy at Devi exemplified the best of Manhattan's waiters: professional yet friendly, offering an inside glimpse at the menu and new dishes. However, our waistlines could do without his having introduced us to our new favorite snack in the city: Devi's fried potato shreds are dotted with fried curry leaf and whole cloves of garlic. Incredible! So was pastry chef Surbhi Sahni's saffron bread pudding, which was reminiscent of gulab jamin fit for an emperor (and nicknamed "Emperor's Morsel" on Devi's dessert menu)!

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is at 630 Bedford Road in Pocantico Hills, New York. Phone: (914) 366-9600. Web: www.bluehillstonebarns.com

Devi is at 8 E. 18th Street, New York. Phone: (212) 691-1300.

Perry Street is at 176 Perry Street (at West Street), New York. Phone: (212) 352-1900.

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culinary artistry, dining out, chef's night out, becoming a chef

This New York pair has specialized, for the past decade, in books that take readers behind the scenes of great restaurants. While their BECOMING A CHEF remains the definitive career guide for would-be Wolfgangs and Emerils, their DINING OUT describes how professional restaurant critics do their jobs. But my favorite Dornenburg-Page book is CULINARY ARTISTRY. In essence, it shows how chefs think — where they find inspiration, how they compose a dish, and their favorite ingredients and food pairings.
THE FREE LANCE-STAR (Fredericksburg, Virginia)



 
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