James Beard Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE's Web Log -
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's Top 10 Food Blogs in 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)
"When shall we live, if not now?"
—Author M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992),
quoting Seneca in Serve It Forth
“The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
—Zen Buddhist text
"Without the writing, we can't do it — especially us women. Every one of these great performances by these great actresses in this category were revealed to us by some wonderful writing. I know there are many more brilliant performances by women of all ages and all races waiting to be revealed by some great writing, so let's look forward to that."
— Dame Helen Mirren, in her Best Actress acceptance speech at last night's Emmy Awards
"Poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and can be overcome by the actions of human beings."
— Nelson Mandela, whose belief inspires "The Girl in the Cafe"
Monday, August 28, 2006 — Last night's Emmy Awards conferred three upon one of the most inspiring movies we've ever seen: "The Girl in the Cafe," which was named Best Made-for-Television Movie — and had also been the subject of our January 31st Blog.
Congratulations to Kelly McDonald for her Best Supporting Actress victory, and to Richard Curtis for his Best Screenwriting win, for "The Girl in the Cafe." (This year's Best Actor competition was especially keen, as evidenced by Bill Nighy's not even receiving a nomination for his flawless performance in the film.)
And our admiration goes out to the very classy Helen Mirren for her wise and gracefully-delivered comments gently encouraging screenwriters to create more compelling roles for women.
Dare we dream of what a truly powerful medium television could become if it tapped more of the talents of half of the world's best performers — not to mention more of our highest, rather than our basest, instincts?
"The Girl in the Cafe" is at www.hbo.com/films/girlinthecafe. You can either buy a copy of the movie (e.g. on Amazon.com), or rent it (e.g. at Blockbuster) -- but don't miss it!
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great.
You can be that great generation."
— Nelson Mandela, whose words close "The Girl in the Cafe"
Karen's undergraduate alma mater Northwestern University has a lot to be proud of, including Best Actress wins at last night's Emmy Awards by alumnae Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who was in Karen's freshman Class of 1983) and Megan Mullally (Class of 1981).
Rice, at the corner of Lexington Avenue at 28th Street
Inside at Rice, where rice bags are turned into lanterns
Front: Thai coconut curry with shrimp and black rice
Back: Indian chicken curry with basmati and fruit chutney
Rice's decadent chocolate "cupcake," with white jimmies
Funeral home near Rice featuring a big clock in its window,
which struck us as a priceless philosophical commentary
Grill 44, on East 44th Street between Third and Lexington
Grill 44's shawarma platter was enough for 2, split at home
Mazhi greets diners with a complimentary summer roll
Mazhi's appetizer sampler of spring rolls, coconut shrimp,
chicken and beef satays, and Asian "ravioli"
"The $68 billion casual-dining sector posted a 1.8% decline in same-store sales in June, the most recent month reported by Knapp-Track, which monitors the restaurant industry. June guest counts were down 4.4%."
— USA TODAY (8/25/06)
"To invite someone to one's table is to assume responsibility
his happiness during the time he is under your roof."
— Jean Anthelm Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)
Friday, August 25, 2006 — With the recently-observed over-restauranting of New York City (e.g. our August 4th Blog, below), are restaurants becoming nicer as a competitive response?
We recently checked out three modest ethnic spots near our Murray Hill neighborhood, where each visit was marked by surprising hospitality — sometimes outshining even the food.
In fact, it was the impressive service we received at Rice a few weeks ago when we'd stopped in for a quick bite (sans digital camera) that prompted us to return this week so we could write about it. At that time, we'd been seated at a table for two next to a table of four 20-somethings, when a fifth person arrived late and (after giving Andrew an eyeful as she squeezed between our closely-placed tables, before throwing her soaked umbrella down on Karen's feet) plopped herself down onto the banquette virtually "cheek-to-cheek" with Karen. We quietly told our waitress that we wished to move to accommodate the expanded group, and re-settled ourselves at a nearby table. After we finished eating, our waitress dropped off a menu so that we could order a dessert "on the house." We told her that wasn't necessary, as we'd already been planning to order the menu's most expensive dessert ($6!), but as she dropped off our decadent plated dark chocolate "cupcake" (studded with white jimmies resembling rice!) in a pool of chocolate sauce, she told us that her manager had insisted. We thought it was a very thoughtful gesture acknowledging our having been slightly inconvenienced by our neighboring table; despite being no fault of the restaurant's, they assumed responsibility for our happiness while under their roof.
On our return visit, it appeared to be a completely different staff at Rice — yet the superior service was intact. In fact, we ordered the same dessert, and again we were not charged for it. When we inquired why, we were told that the restaurant sometimes did that for "regulars," and someone else had thought they'd recognized that we'd been in before.
Does Rice have the best food in Curry Hill? Not necessarily. But its superior service makes it one of the most pleasant, well-priced places we can think of to enjoy a bowl of exotic (or not-so-exotic) rice (and delicious toppings) in the neighborhood.
We were charmed by the guys behind the counter at modest take-out joint Grill 44 (which we'd read about in Time Out: New York's recent Cheap Eats 2006 issue). After admitting we were first-timers, they eagerly made recommendations as to the best entree (the shawarma platter, $8.95) and dessert option (the pistachio versus the walnut baklava, $2.95 for two).
The service and setting at Mazhi were both so pleasant that even though we found the dishes we sampled ranging from only fair to good, we plan to return after Labor Day, when its new chef from Saigon is set to debut. The staff answered our many questions with patience, such as when we tried to determine the source of their wines by the glass, which are listed only by varietal and group-priced at $5/glass for whites and $6/glass for reds. Our request for lettuce leaves in which to wrap our spring rolls was met with not only an enthusiastic "Great idea!" but a smile and a thumbs-up from our server.
After we found ourselves staring curiously at the salmon napoleon served with a dessert wine glass full of sauce that a neighboring table had ordered, its orderer was so enamored with it that he, too, met our inquisitive glances with a smile and another thumbs-up. On our way out, we thanked him for the tip, and he volunteered that he loved the salmon napoleon so much that he ordered it every time he was there, which he said was often.
After spending the better part of a year eating out with restaurant critics while researching our book DINING OUT, we learned they found the least-forgivable errors to be those of staff rudeness or indifference. We're getting the sense that restaurateurs of even modest establishments are now learning that they, too, can turn great service into a strategic advantage in this increasingly competitive marketplace.
Rice is at 118 Lexington Ave. (at 28th Street), New York City. (212) 686-5400. Web: www.riceny.com
Grill 44 is at 160 E. 44th Street (bet. Lexington and Third Aves.), New York City. (212) 949-0245.
Mazhi is at 120 E. 34th Street (bet. Park and Lexington Aves.), New York City. (212) 686-8866. The restaurant is soon closing for renovations, and expects to reopen after Labor Day with its new chef from Saigon.
Just for fun, in honor of our 16-year anniversary today....A few photos from our August 25, 1990 wedding at Lydia Shire's restaurant Biba in Boston (where Andrew cooked at the time):
Andrew swears he's never smiled more!
Karen with two of her HBS sectionmates
Our niece Gail started college this week!
The best wedding cake we've ever tasted,
courtesy of pastry chef Rick Katz
From our email bag:
"i am 15 years old and i am dyslexic. i saw your
artical on the net and it interested me. i haev a job in a kitchen as a
assistan chef. i haev fond being dyslexic make my life a bit harder than
other peoples but that hardship has helped me. i am now a stronger person
and altho the efects of being dyslexic are still there i have learnt to deal
wiht them and to acsept them into my life.
i have reciently be doing some reserch on dyslexia and have found out that a lot of famous people are dyslexic that is how i found your sight and
decided to send you a email.
i would realy apreciate it if you could tell me how many replyes you have
got from your post i find it very help full knowing there is a lot more
people out there wiht the same difficultyes as me.
—Marc A., United Kingdom
Marc, thank you for your inspiring email. We were happy to hear from you how you have gained strength through your efforts to persevere in achieving your goals despite the challenges of dyslexia. Andrew (who is dyslexic) knows first-hand how difficult that can often be. There are a lot of other dyslexics in the world — by some estimates, as many as 1 or 2 people out of every 10 have some form of dyslexia. You can read more about fellow dyslexics on Web sites such as www.dyslexia.tv and www.schwablearning.org....We wish you every success with your culinary and other life pursuits!
Best wishes, Andrew & Karen
P.S. We had the pleasure of meeting the distinguished journalist Doug Johnson (of WABC-TV), who is also dyslexic, just this past weekend. He serves on the board of the New York branch of the International Dyslexia Association, which might also be a useful resource for you.
A bottle of Lorraine Bracco's new Bracco Primitivo wine
Tasting wines (with chef Vinny's food) around the pool
Robert Zimmerman, Lorraine Bracco, and Karen Page
Chef Vincent Minuto, Ilene Landress and Robert Zimmerman
Freshly-made doughnuts from a little store in Quogue
Sunday morning parade in Quogue
Old-time firetrucks are on display during the parade
Having a bacon Cheddar burger on English muffin in Quogue
Stopping by Robert's friend's art gallery in Quogue
Ode to Italy: Italian mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and
meats (from DiPalo) with fresh figs and chestnut honey
Andrew checks the lamb on the grill, and plates it in the kitchen
After pulling the lamb, rosemary burns off on the grill,
perfuming the air with the aroma of herbs and meat
Arriving at the Southampton beach yesterday morning
Having the beach all to ourselves for our walk/run
Tuesday, August 22, 2006 — Scenes from a weekend away from Manhattan: Exhausted from working virtually round-the-clock the past few weeks to finish our next book, we desperately sought a little R&R in the country over the weekend that would allow us to reenergize. Ha!
Sleep-deprived and just off the Jitney, on Friday night we landed as guests of our wonderful weekend host in extraordinary company at a dinner party that even well rested we would have found challenging to keep up with, given the vast expertise in world affairs of those gathered around the table. Nevertheless, our sorry states didn't prevent either of us from having a marvelous time meeting such a fascinating group of moguls, professors, journalists, lobbyists, et al (although — given said sorry states — we certainly can't imagine the reverse was necessarily the case!).
We're both hoping to run the inaugural New York City Half-Marathon next weekend, if our bodies hold out (as we've both been plagued with recurring calf cramps of the excruciating "Charley horse" variety the past several months), so we managed both a training run/walk and a swim on Saturday.
On Saturday night, we were very pleasantly surprised to discover how much we enjoyed the new line of wines bearing the name of actress Lorraine Bracco ("Goodfellas," "The Sopranos"). Given the hot summer evening, we would have been happy to find ourselves drinking her Bracco Pinot Grigio — which perfectly accompanied fresh-shucked clams and oysters (+2, on our -2 to +2 scale) — all night long! But then we would have missed the pleasure of sampling the entire spectrum of the half-dozen wines that were being poured at Saturday evening's wine tasting, including a fruity Bracco Chianti Classico, the ideal match for Chef Vincent Minuto's thick-crust pizza).
Lorraine, whom we enjoyed meeting so much that we're definitely planning to pick up a copy of her recent memoir On the Couch, told us that she'd fallen in love with wine while living in France, but chose to come out with a line of Italian wines that, the three of us agreed, were all very food-friendly. The other wines we'd sampled included Amarone Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Primitivo. At the tasting, we were also happy to meet a fellow food lover in "The Sopranos" executive producer Ilene Landress, with whom we enjoyed trading restaurant tips, and a fellow friend of our friend Kathy Reilly in Hamptons magazine editor-in-chief Cindi Cook!
Our couple of run/walks both on winding roads and in the sand along the beach probably only made a tiny dent in undoing the damage of our weekend indulgences — which ranged from our long-time favorite Sunday morning doughnuts made fresh at a little store in Quogue to a butterflied leg of lamb Andrew grilled on Sunday night expressly to accompany a legendary bottle of Bordeaux.
We returned to Manhattan yesterday to read the rave review Gael Greene gave to our new favorite Moroccan restaurant Darna (Second Avenue at 35th Street) in the pages of New York magazine. Somehow mustering enough energy to stop by Darna to split an order of Couscous Royale last night, we found it worth it for the fun of overhearing other guests congratulating partners Mourad El-Hebil and Lahcen Ksiyer on the review and ordering the exact dishes Gael had praised in her write-up!
This morning, it was "back to business" with a 9 am interview with chef Marcel Desaulniers (of The Trellis, in Williamsburg, VA), the only chef to have won James Beard Awards both for his savory cuisine as well as his desserts, discussing some of his favorite ingredients from herbs (e.g. tarragon) to nuts (e.g. toasted!). Funny...to be back in the groove of working on the book again at our computers after such an unforgettable weekend is the most energizing experience of all.
Bracco Wines are at www.braccowines.com. They can be purchased throughout the greater New York area, including (now or reportedly soon) at such wine retailers as Crush, London Terrace Liquors, Southampton Wines & Liquors, Vino, and World Wine and Spirits. Bracco Pinot Grigio retails for about $12/bottle.
Darna is at 633 Second Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York. (212) 213-9095.
Our congratulations to LAPD Chief Bill Bratton for being one of the few leaders in the public sector named to the Los Angeles Times' West magazine's "West 100" list of the 100 most powerful people in Southern California:
"He's more than a law-and-order man; he's a celebrity, and with that comes the
power of celebrity. As recent events show, Bratton is tough enough to take on
the City Council — and savvy enough to know when to kiss and make up. Politicians seek his endorsement, and other chiefs across the country look to his example. Most importantly, he's been quite effective, restoring a measure of order and dignity to the long-suffering (and, some would add, insufferable) LAPD."
First bite: hummus, croutons and olives at West Bank Cafe
Glass of tomato water w/halibut ceviche at West Bank Cafe
Tuna tartare with capers and shallots, potatoes gaufrettes
Green and white asparagus salad with Parmesan mousse
Grilled peppered shrimp with avocado and fennel salad
Grilled salmon with tomatoes, raisins, pinenuts and celery jus
Halibut, accompanied by vermicelli cooked risotto-style
(The Rice-a-Roni of our childhoods never tasted this good!)
Chatham cod with red potatoes and preserved lemon dressing
Potato-less goat cheese gnocchi with duck cracklins and
were a surprise hit at the table
Roasted chicken with wild mushroom risotto cake
Grilled, sliced skirt steak with potato hash, creamed spinach
TIP from West Bank Cafe Chef Joe Marcus: "Too often, too
much nutmeg ruins steakhouse creamed spinach. Be sure to
use a light touch when adding nutmeg."
Passion fruit panna cotta with melon consomme
Toffee parfait so delicious even the chef calls it "liquid crack"
The trio of chocolate desserts includes a pot de creme
Friday, August 18, 2006 — Two years ago, we had an early dinner that blew us away at a restaurant we were visiting for the first time on 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues headed by an alum of Picholine restaurant. The other night, we had deja vu.
Two years ago, it had been chef Lawrence DiJoseph's cooking at Bistro du Vent that had blown us away. The other night it was chef Joe Marcus's cooking at West Bank Cafe, just next door.
We've dined with our dear friend Rikki Klieman (who will appear this fall in the much-touted Spike Lee-directed CBS drama "Shark," which stars James Woods as an LA celebrity attorney turned prosecutor) numerous times at Picholine (including in its private room at her wedding to LAPD Chief Bill Bratton), so we all respected the pedigree of former Picholine sous chef Joe Marcus (who is also an alum of Alison on Dominick, Alison on the Beach, and Aqua, not to mention Johnson & Wales University) going in. We respected it even more on our way out.
With his appointment to the position by West Bank Cafe owner Steve Olsen in May 2005, Marcus is only the fourth person to serve as chef at this Theatre District restaurant in its 27-year history. We commend Olsen on his selective taste in chefs.
West Bank Cafe is at 407 W. 42nd Street (bet. 9th and 10th Avenues), New York City. (212) 695-6909. Web: www.westbankcafe.com. Don't miss the asparagus salad with Parmesan mousse, the potato-less goat cheese gnocchi, or the toffee parfait. At $45, the restaurant's five-course chef's tasting menu is one of the best bargains in town.
Is this what our non-fluent French sounds like to native French speakers? We were tickled to just discover Christine Blouin's recommendation of our Blog in a Quebecois trade journal:
"NEW YORK INSPIRATION: To have an outline of the kitchen of the
New Yorkean restaurants, anything of such as consulting the blog of Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page! This couple of recognized authors presents on his site a blog making the chronicle of the evolution of the gastronomy in their city.
The blog contains many stereotypes — certain excellent, others straightforwardly bad — dishes been useful in restaurants of the city. The site is in English, but…an image a thousand words, isn't it worth?"
— Christine Blouin, HRI Magazine
(Hotels, Restaurants, Institutions), Quebec
[In case you couldn't tell, the passage above was autotranslated by Google from French: "Pour avoir un aperçu de la cuisine des restaurants new-yorkais, rien de tel que de consulter le blog
d'Andrew Dornenberg et de Karen Page!"]
Darna, on Second Avenue between 34th & 35th Streets
A glass of Pinot-Chardonnay is only $5 all month at Darna
Tuna and beets paired as carpaccio at Darna
Moroccan-spiced shrimp in a lettuce leaf at Darna
Mixed green salad with apples and blue cheese
The delicious lamb dish we hope Darna will add to the menu
Ending dinner with creme brulee and mint tea at Darna
Corn ravioli with hen of the woods mushrooms at A Voce
Chef Andrew Carmellini's amazing chicken dish at A Voce
Blueberry /cheesecake sorbets,
watermelon salad w/granite,
and summer strawberries
with prosecco zabaglione
Thursday, August 17, 2006 — If there's a better Moroccan restaurant in New York City than Darna, which just opened a few weeks ago in Murray Hill, we want to know about it!
We've previously written about the restaurant's Darna (lamb) burger, which has become our favorite burger in Murray Hill. But just about everything else we've tried at Darna has been wonderful, too. The benefit of patronizing a restaurant early on is that partner Mourad already recognizes faces of customers who return, including ours. The other night, this landed us a complimentary taste of a new dish Darna's talented chef Lahcen had been experimenting with: lamb with onions that had been so gently cooked (with almonds, cinnamon, honey and prunes) that we at first mistook them for fruit! The dish was so delicious that we hope others will join us in persuading Darna to add it to the regular menu.
While we're raving, we have nothing but compliments for our favorite new dish in New York City: Chef Andrew Carmellini's chicken dish at A Voce, which is brined, marinated, grilled, and served with vegetables and an incredible sauce. Wow, that guy is talented....So hard to believe he's only 35!
A Voce is at 41 Madison Ave. (on 26th St. bet. Madison and Park), New York. (212) 545-8555. Web site: www.avocerestaurant.com.
Darna is at 633 Second Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York. (212) 213-9095.
From our emailbag:
"Came across this cute memento of our dinner in Chicago [at Tru, after a meeting of Northwestern's Council of 100, of which Loraine and Karen are both members]."
— Loraine Despres, author of The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell
So nice to receive this photograph of our unforgettable dinner together at Tru in Chicago, where sommelier extraordinaire Scott Tyree ensured that we all had a wonderful time!
Loraine Despres, Andrew, Karen, and Carl Eastlake at Tru
Sip Sak sampler of vegetarian appetizers
Homemade gyro at Sip Sak, on Second Avenue
Sip Sak baklava with Turkish cheese, and Turkish tea
A half-dozen fountains line the Katharine Hepburn Garden
Strolling through the Katharine Hepburn Garden along 47th St.
Philosophy, courtesy of Katharine Hepburn, on path tile
Sunday, August 13, 2006 — New York's recent "101 Best Cheap Eats" issue has been worth its weight in gold. Last night, we fell in love with #78, the Turtle Bay Turkish restaurant Sip Sak, which is run by "passionate, pony-tailed chef-owner Orhan Yegen."
Even though the restaurant is within walking distance from our home, we didn't rush there at first because we're typically pretty happy ordering in Turkish food from Ali Baba (at 212 E. 34th Street), which has some of the best baba ganoush and baklava in Manhattan. But we don't enjoy dining there, as the staff of mostly introverts is just as often indifferent as they are pleasant.
But at Sip Sak, we weren't treated like strangers paying our first visit to the restaurant. We were treated like regulars they simply hadn't met yet. Our lovely waitress either smiled with approval at our choices or gently steered us to splurge an extra $2 on our red wine selection for an "even better" glass of wine. Speaking of which, both glasses of Turkish wine we tried — a white Cankaya that was similar to Sauvignon Blanc, and an Okuzgozu that had spent a couple years in oak, both from Kavaklidere — were very nice, and paired well with our dishes.
Sip Sak's four-color glossy delivery menu out front indicates its motto is "Fast Served Turkish Food." But we found the food worth waiting for — not that we ever had to wait. The entree we shared was delivered to our table by the chef-owner himself mere moments after we'd finished our shared appetizer.
We'd started with a sampler of the restaurant's "great vegetarian appetizers," which included its wonderful humus, roasted eggplant spread, flat green beans, red bean pilaki, and more. Our first taste blew us away from the start: a single elephant bean (giant white kidney bean) bathed in lemon and olive oil. We haven't tasted such delicious simply-adorned beans outside Maremma chef-owner Cesare Casella's dining room.
For our entree, we enjoyed the restaurant's "homemade gyro" on crispy bread with yogurt sauce. We recognized the dish as similar to our favorite Iskender kebob on Ali Baba's menu — but Sip Sak offers a somewhat lighter, fresher-tasting version. We loved it, too.
While the rice pudding was recommended to us for dessert, we had to "research" its baklava. While the pastry itself wasn't as crisp and delicious as Ali Baba's, we enjoyed the textural contrast of the butter-like Turkish cheese that was served on top of it.
Throughout our dinner, we saw customer after customer greeted warmly, many with a touch on the elbow or a sincere "How have you been?," evidencing that Sip Sak is a place that customers return to again and again. We can definitely see why.
Afterward, as we strolled home along Second Avenue, we noticed a garden that hadn't been evident to us before when the farmers market is in session along the same stretch of 47th Street between First and Second Avenues. It turned out to be named after Katharine Hepburn, in tribute to her horticultural passions. In addition to a half-dozen beautiful water fountains, it featured a trail of tiles that you can walk along to view the flowers and plants, stopping occasionally to read a quote from Hepburn or view a still from one of her movies etched into the stone. It will be a must-stop addition to our tours for out-of-town guests who are ready to experience New York's magic on a more intimate scale.
In the world of must-see flora, our friend Earl Weiner, chairman of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, tipped us off on Friday to the current historic blooming of the BBG's "corpse flower," which hasn't bloomed since 1939. If all the traffic doesn't crash the BBG's Web site again, you can catch it, too, right here.
Sip Sak is at 928 Second Avenue, bet. 49th and 50th Streets, New York. (212) 583-1900. Web: www.sip-sak.com
The Katharine Hepburn Garden is along the south side of 47th Street between First and Second Avenues. Enter through the gate near First Avenue. Web: www.nycgovparks.org
Our congratulations to NYPD lieutenant and crooner Lou Moneta (and his lovely singing partner Gayle Scott), whom we'd mentioned in our April 30th Blog we'd had the pleasure of meeting while out to breakfast at Nectar. Today's Daily News features a three-quarters-of-a-page article by Ernie Naspretto on Lou's journey to the stage, with a photo of Lou in action. You can catch Lou and Gayle perform once a month at Baldoria restaurant on West 49th Street in New York City.
Andrew and Karen with FCI Director Dominick Cerrone
Our fellow jurors included restaurant critic Andy Birsch,
Rozanne Gold & Melissa Clark, and Laurent Lanneau
More fellow jurors at the FCI — and the students' dishes:
The talented FCI students who created the dishes above:
Charles, Dean, Ed, George, Pete, Phil and Tammy
Enjoying Champagne after posing for photographer Lou Manna
Thursday, August 10, 2006 — What's the difference between a food industry professional and a billionaire? As Karen once had the pleasure and privilege of having lunch with fellow Harvard MBA Michael Bloomberg (before he was Mayor, when he was "just" a billionaire entrepreneur), she can tell you.
Billionaires and food industry professionals often tend to eat at the same three- and four-star restaurants. Afterward, the billionaire puts the meal on either his/her Platinum Card or house account, and probably forgets about it the minute s/he walks out the door. The food professional puts the meal on his/her MasterCard or Visa, justifying the often substantial expense as tuition for lessons in gastronomy unattainable by any other means, and savoring and applying the lessons and memories of a truly great dish (or, more rarely, a great meal) over a lifetime.
This came to mind the other night, when we found ourselves out to dinner and seated next a couple of California culinary school graduates, who were two of the younger guests at a restaurant filled with its share of Masters of the Universe (plus us). We knew that these young culinarians were likely splurging that night (as we were) in the hope of learning something new.
Little did we know that we'd end up learning from each other. We left the duo with a cardful of our restaurant recommendations (including A Voce, August, ChikaLicious, Daniel, The Modern, Solera, etc.). We ourselves took home notes on some of the places they were most enthusiastic about (including pastry chef Will Goldfarb's Room for Dessert) — not to mention renewed compassion for the odd lot we have as culinarians, for whom trying to keep up with what's going on in our field means dining regularly amongst billionaires and multi-millionaires, when that same devotion to our modestly-paid profession keeps most of us laughably far from ever becoming one ourselves.
Because it's possible to learn more from dining in great restaurants than anywhere else (the subject of our book CHEF'S NIGHT OUT), serious food professionals often scrimp in other areas (e.g. housing, clothing, entertainment, etc.) in order to finance their educations (i.e. dining out). And while such dining habits may look a lot like a billionaire's (minus the Chateau d'Yquem), insiders know better.
Our conversation with these recent culinary grads put us in the right mindset to serve as jurors last night at the French Culinary Institute, as graduates-to-be cooked their "final exams" (two dishes each) and presented them to one of three panels of judges (our panel comprised the two of us plus FCI Director of Culinary Arts Dominick Cerrone, a very talented and thoughtful chef who formerly headed the kitchen at our beloved Solera and once cooked at Le Bernardin) for critique.
Overall, the students' efforts last night were impressive. Dominick and his team have obviously taught them well. But the smartest among them know that with their graduation from the FCI this week, their educations are only beginning — and that rising to the top of their field will involve honing their palates and technique through ongoing travel, reading, and eating. We know all too well the challenges this poses on a food professional's income.
But we also encourage fellow culinarians to look at the bright side. As far as education goes, Karen can promise that dining out at Restaurant Daniel or the Inn at Little Washington is a lot more fun than Harvard Business School....
French Culinary Institute is at 462 Broadway (at Grand), New York. (212) 219-3300. Web: www.frenchculinary.com. The FCI's restaurant L'Ecole offers a five-course dinner for $35. The 2006 Zagat Survey reports, "The prix fixes are unbeatable, given the top-notch cooking."
"I just ate — yesterday— in a terrific new restaurant in Cuernavaca that could quickly become a cult place. It's called Tequila, and has panoramic views over the city and mountains. Only sampled across soups and appetizers as a first foray. The winner was an ineffable crema de requesón (kind of like ricotta) gorgeously served in a glass bowl with a visible sprinkling of red onion, and invisible hit of epazote and serrano. The chef is Fernando Hernandez, who'll be working with us from now on."
— Magda Bogin, Director, Under the Volcano
and Cocinar Mexicano (Tepoztlán)
"I finally had a chance to go to Pizzeria Bianco [in Phoenix, which we'd highly recommended to her]. We were 7 people in our group. We ordered 6 different pizzas and enjoyed them so much. I chatted with Chris [Bianco, the chef-owner] for a short time. He is a real artisan. His pizza is the only one [I've ever had that tastes] nourishing."
— Hiroko Shimbo of Hiroko's Kitchen (NYC) and
author of The Sushi Experience (Fall 2006)
"Just got back from Jean Georges. Great restaurant, and I had the spring garlic soup [which we'd recommended to him]."
— Earl Weiner, attorney, and Chairman of The Acting Company
and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Georgia and her daddy Jimmy Carbone, our Guest Blogger
Wednesday, August 9, 2006 — With a fast-approaching book deadline, we certainly didn't plan to leave town this summer — which is why we invited restaurateur Jimmy Carbone (of our favorite NYC gastropub Jimmy's, 43 East 7th Street in the East Village) to contribute a Guest Blog of his recent family trip (with designer wife Pixie Yates and beautiful daughter Georgia) to New England.
Here's Jimmy's report on "New England seafood / fried clams":
seafood in the summer is a religion in new england.
the new hamshire/massachusetts border has a particularly un-boston, old yankee vibe: in touch with nature.
neighbours still own outboard motor boats and, yes, they really do go fishing on their days off!!
in the 60's and 70's, my family would make a night of: drive a few towns over to a local fry shack, with a takeout window, and picnic tables on a lawn. we'd sample fried clams, onion rings, curly fries....
part of the fun was eating "in the rough" or "in the comforts of nature". it seemed much more civilized than a barbecue at home (which we called a "cookout").
pixie and i went up to the mass/new hampshire border for the 4th of july. we offered to visit some of the fried seafood joints:
Woodman's in Essex, MA, as seen from the highway
The onion rings at Woodman's that Carbone deemed best
121 main st. rte 133 essex, mass. www.woodmans.com
pixie and andrew had experienced the seafood, particularly the fried clams, at woodman's, in essex, massachusetts, when they lived in boston in the 80's.
while maybe not the best, woodman's is definitely the most publicized seafood establishment north of boston.
it heralds itself as the first place to fry and market "fried clams", in july 1916.
much of the decor is supplied by old press clippings and other self promotional memorabilia....
woodman's is open year round. there are buses of retirees and tourists. it is on a busy roadway, with paved parking lots. if you make it out back, there is a beautiful, pastoral view of the salt marshes.
big bonus: full bar.
we tried the fried clams, and onion rings. the onion rings have an excellent, old fashioned, chewy batter.
Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound/Seabrook, New Hampshire
The lobster pound at Brown's
BROWN'S SEABROOK LOBSTER POUND
rte 286, seabrook, new hampshire 03874
open year-round (weekends only nov-april)
Brown's is a local, family favorite. there are 3 food stations here:
1. outdoor "fried food" window, with choice of fried clams, scallops, haddock, onion rings, and more.
2. indoor mega lobster pound (they sold over 500 lobsters on the 4th of july!! over 700 on mother's day).
3. steamer (clams) station, in the dining room.
Brown's is set on top of the marsh river, "black river," a short walk from the rustic seabrook beach -- with deck overlooking the seabrook nuclear power plant on the horizon!!
[the beaches and marshlands up here are more austere than anywhere else. sand, water, marshes all around you.]
you eat picnic style, in a vast shore hall dining room. one big covered cafeteria.
byo is a big draw here: we drank a neal rosenthal selection "macon", jc thevenet "macon pierreclos" 2005, that we had brought from nyc.
the fried clams, onion rings, steamers, lobsters and lobster rolls are all good. same quality as woodman's, and, similarly, on the greasy side.
pixie wished we could get some fruit, watermelon especially. all of these seafood places only offer coleslaw or corn on the cob as vegetables. no salads are offered.
on display in the lobster pound: giant lobster, 30.5 # caught off shore july 1965.
Bob Lobster on Beach Rd./Plum Island in Newburyport, MA
Jimmy's #1 favorite lobster roll: Courtesy of Bob Lobster
Jimmy's #1 favorite clams: the fried clams at Bob Lobster
our favorite seafood spot:
plum island, newburyport, mass.
(accessible by car, small boat, small airplane)
when i mentioned plum island to a pilot friend, he checked his "secret pilot data" and immediately warned me that plum island, off of lyme, connecticut, was a government biological weapons laboratory in the 60's. agent orange was developed there, and the mysterious 'lyme' disease has been linked to it, as well.
new yorkers don't know everything.
my plum island is a fragile, dune island in the atlantic off of newburyport, massachusetts. an old new england seaport.
it is separated from the mainland by a large, 10 square mile bay, known as the joppa flats. (great for fishing.) much of the island is a state nature preserve.
bob lobster is the only seafood establishment on the beach road from newburyport to the island.
small fishing boats (the outboard motor variety) pull up for lunch. often, visitors will walk over from the nearby small craft airport (it features a grass runway and an old wind sock).
unlike woodman's, it is not on a busy tourist road, nor surrounded by paved parking lots.
bob lobster is small and family oriented. it is also byo, but more discreet.
bob catches the lobsters and steamers himself. the other seafood is local.
by far the best lobster roll of the 3 places.
best fried clams as well...fried in canola oil. not greasy.
woodman's fried clams were limp and greasy. (woodman's is for beginners, with a large catering business.)
brown's fried clams were crisp and greasy.
bob lobster's fried clams were light, crisp, sweet tasting.
all 3 share beautiful views of the surrounding marshland.
bob's: best lobster roll, best clam chowder, best fried clams
woodman's: best onion rings, full bar
brown's: best byo, family gatherings
Thanks, Jimmy, for your painstaking report — which we hope some of our Blog readers can take advantage of this summer, and which we'll look forward to taking along on our next trip to New England!
This year's invitation arrived today, announcing that Citymeals on Wheels is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Power Lunch for Women, which raises nearly $1 million a year to feed New York's
Make a contribution at www.citymeals.org.
Texas Smokehouse $9 ribs and chicken combo; onion rings
(Tibet's most popular dish), or meat-filled
dumplings; Then Thook is most popular in Eastern Tibet
Oms/b, or omusubi, in Little Japan at 156 E. 45th Street
Select from dozens of different rice balls behind the counter
This $6.50 lunch special featured smoked salmon, lobster
salad and eel rice balls, marinated vegetables, and miso soup
Shrimp tempura, popcorn shrimp and garlic butter chicken
rice balls (omusubi) at Oms/b
Top: Gorgeous football rice wrapped in a sweet-tasting
wrapper was our dessert; bottom: fried chicken (80 cents)
Pouring a bottle of Bollinger at the bar; August's grilled flatbread
Two different melons with prosciutto at August
Ben (a native of Dublin) refreshes our glasses of Bollinger
At August: Grilled short rib on a bed of Romesco; grilled bluefish
Plum tart, in front of the melon sorbet and the
Tuesday, August 8, 2006 — Our quiet Murray Hill neighborhood may not be as cutting-edge as Tribeca or Williamsburg, but we've got our share of cool residents (and you can decide for yourself whether or not to include present company).
Karen always seems to run into Union Square Cafe's genial and ever-dapper chef-partner Michael Romano when she's not wearing make-up, and we've even traded neighborhood restaurant tips with chef Rocco DiSpirito. The current issue of New York magazine (and its NYC Star Guide) suggests that actor Gabriel Byrne and anchor Anderson Cooper are neighbors, too.
So when we clarify that Murray Hill is an exception to our August 4th Blog's contention that New York City is over-restauranted, it's not that we lack a discerning base of support here. Still, the dearth of good neighborhood restaurants (besides the usual suspects of Artisanal, Chez Laurence for one of pastry chef Adolf's excellent croissants, El Parador, and exciting Moroccan newcomer Darna) leaves the door open for us to report on merely decent ones of likely interest only to locals — like Texas Smokehouse and Tibetan Kitchen — along with genuinely good ones, like Oms/b.
Of course, what we're really always craving is a wonderful meal at a wonderful neighborhood restaurant like Greenwich Village's August, where we were recently invited to return and sampled new favorite dishes like the bluefish (for Andrew) and the plum tart (for Karen) — not to mention our friends' gift of a magnum of Bollinger Champagne, to celebrate the publication of WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT.
But it would be nice to have such a meal without having to leave Murray Hill for it! We hope our neighbors will keep us posted (at Dornenburg@aol.com) re: any restaurants worth a visit in the area.
August is at 359 Bleecker Street (bet. Charles and West 10th Street), New York. (212) 929-4774. Web: www.augustny.com August is running specials all month in celebration of the restaurant's namesake month:
Aug. 1-31: Beer Festival (Great Britain)
Aug. 7-13: Sardine Festival (Greece and Portugal)
Aug. 14-20: Tomato Festival (Italy and Spain)
Aug. 21-27: Pepper Festival (Italy)
Aug. 27-31: Wine Festival (Belgium and Germany)
OMS / B is at 156 E. 45th Street, bet. Lexington & Third Avenues, New York. (212) 922-9788. Web: www.riceball-omsb.com Great deals at breakfast (2 rice balls + pickles + miso soup for $4.75) and lunch (3 rice balls + soup + appetizer for $6.50).
Texas Smokehouse is at 438 Second Avenue, near 35th Street, New York. (212) 725-9800. Its $9 lunch specials are big enough to share, and a bargain for decent barbecue. Free delivery in Murray Hill.
Tibetan Kitchen is at 444 Third Avenue, near 31st Street, New York. (212) 679-6286. Where else can you dine on dumplings and noodle soup under a large portrait of the Dalai Lama? Free delivery in Murray Hill, too.
"We loved August (the restaurant)!!!"
—Dr. Trey Wilson
"Had a FANTASTIC meal at August last night."
—Barry Salzman, winner of a 2005 Golden Light Award for photography
BMTC's Kafka-inspired multi-media expressionistic realism
Saturday, August 5, 2006 — Now celebrating its 10th year, the New York International Fringe Festival opens in a week, running August 11-27 and featuring more than 1300 performances.
FringeNYC is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 17 days in more than 20 venues. We've seen some unforgettable performances over the years during the Festival, including ones by the Black Moon Theatre Company and Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects.
Next month, Black Moon will present another performance of "The Metamorphosis," which we caught during the Fringe Festival a few years back, at Teatro La Tea / Clemente Soto Velez (107 Suffolk Street at Rivington St.), opening September 15th, as well as a new (and timely) performance of "The Trial," opening September 22nd.
Each is a multi-media adaptation of the respective Kafka novel, performed in its unique physical performance style known as expressionistic realism. Black Moon's performances incorporate traditional theatre, non-Western dance techniques, visual arts, and music to bring a fascinating new perspective to its performances of dramatic and comedic classics.
We're marking our calendars now.
Black Moon Theatre is at blackmoontheatrecompany.org.
FringeNYC2006 is at www.fringenyc.org.
The "Big Top" in the back dining room of In Tent
The stone waterfall at the back of In Tent's dining room
In Tent's unique and delicious bread accompaniments of
hummus, eggplant, and herbed oil
served in too-small portions for a table of 4 to enjoy
Sauteed filet of daurade wrapped in bric dough w/crushed
potatoes, spicy Mediterranean vegetables, and tomato oil
($21) won Andrew's vote as best entree of the night
The $22 lamb burger with shoestring zucchini fries and
cucumber-yogurt sauce struck us as shockingly small
Mission figs served three ways: bruleed, sticky figgy pudding,
and port wine poached fig ice cream ($9.50)
Karen's favorite taste of the night was the red wine poached
medjool dates, feta cheesecake with white pepper ice cream
Best of all was the company: Joshua & Andrew; Karen & Andrea
Across from In Tent at Vin Noir, Joshua & Andrea become
sculpture seated in illuminated chairs at 228 Mott Street
"New York is a great restaurant town,
but we've reached a saturation point."
—Restaurateur Drew Nieporent
Friday, August 4, 2006 — In Wednesday's New York Post, Steve Cuozzo not only pointed out that there are no major restaurant openings scheduled for this fall, but reported that leading restaurateurs agree that New York City is over-restauranted.
What are the implications for new restaurants still trying to carve out a niche for themselves in this crowded marketplace? Going back to Competitive Strategy 101, it's simple: restaurants need to distinguish themselves as better and/or cheaper than the competition.
Beating out the competition on price alone is tough in an age when you can go to places like Bar Carerra and fill up on fabulous tastes of cutting-edge ingredients for only $3.50 a pop.
Providing better food and drink, service, and atmosphere to justify a higher price should therefore be the aim of most new restaurants. But as food and restaurants keep getting better and better, the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher.
So it's in that context that we wish we could be more enthusiastic about In Tent, a restaurant we loved in concept (i.e. Mediterranean-Moroccan flavors served under a big backyard tent, with dessert master Francois Payard ensuring a sweet finale and wine master Jean-Luc Le Du consulting on the excellent, interesting wine list) more than in last night's actual execution.
But the company of wine master Joshua Wesson of Best Cellars could turn even a Big Mac at McDonald's into a side-splittingly hilarious night out. Coupled with his thoughtfully introducing us live and in person to long-time email pal food writer Andrea Strong, In Tent ended up providing the perfect summer's night setting for an unforgettably fun evening nonetheless.
We wish In Tent the best of luck in staking out its place in this hotter-than-ever (and with this week's 100+ degree temperatures, we mean that both literally and figuratively!) competitive market.
P.S. As it was the first time we'd seen Josh since our July 19th Blog sharing his appointment as JetBlue's sommelier, we just learned last night that JetBlue founder and CEO
David Neeleman was so tickled by our Blog mention that he'd forwarded it to others throughout the company!
Andrea Strong is at www.andreastrong.com.
Best Cellars is at www.bestcellars.com.
In Tent is at
231 Mott Street, bet. Prince and Spring, New York. (212) 966-6310.
Vin Noir is at 228 Mott Street, bet. Prince and Spring, New York. (212) 925-6647. Web: www.vinnoir.com
What is America drinking? Restaurant Wine names names.
Thursday, August 3, 2006 — What is America drinking? Our email today brought the results of a recent study conducted by the trade journal Restaurant Wine, published by Ronn Wiegand, MW:
What wine brands and individual wines are the most popular in USA restaurants?
Researched and written by Master of Wine and publisher, Ronn Wiegand,
the article identifies the Top 100 Wine Brands sold in restaurants in 2005,
ranked according to their estimated sales volume (by 9-liter cases).
Additionally, Wiegand identifies the 60 most-frequently ordered wines,
based on their 2005 estimated case sales, the first time that a definitive
list of the most popular individual wines has ever been compiled.
...And just what are the most popular individual wines? The top five are:
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay,
2) Beringer Vineyards White Zinfandel,
3) Cavit Pinot Grigio,
4) Sutter Home White Zinfandel, and
5) Inglenook Chablis.
Restaurant Wine is at www.restaurantwine.com.
From our email bag:
"I wanted to say that your new book looks great. When I was reading your newsletter and came across what you wrote about Bloodroot in Connecticut, I was flooded with memories of my college days. Thank you for that reminder. I'll have to visit there some time soon! I love hearing about your culinary explorations! Now I know who to ask when I have questions about what to eat (and what not to) in NYC."
—Mari Miyoshi, instructor/consultant, Brain Gym (NYC)
Jody Oberfelder thoughtfully shares photos of dinner in France
"Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects has just returned from our exciting trip to France. We had two performances, a workshop showing at Centre National de la Danse in Paris and the Fete de Festalemps, a site-specific performance near Bordeaux. We got amazing feedback on our new piece 'The Title Comes Last.' The dancers did beautiful work and we're all eager to show you the piece in our NY season at the Flea Theater June 2007. We hope you'll continue to be a part of our creative process."
—Jody Oberfelder, choreographer, Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects
Dancer Jody Oberfelder
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