ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - DECEMBER 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)
Our nieces watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center
Pre-theater cheese fondue at the restaurant Swizz
Jacques Torres chocolate fondue for dessert at Swizz
Our "Wicked" post-theater visit to Times Square
Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculpture at Bloomberg (58 & Lex)
Desserts to Die For from our friend chef Marcel Desaulniers
Thursday, December 29, 2005 — We survived Christmas Week 2005.
It was a lovely if exhausting week, squeezing in both a two-day visit to Philadelphia plus a two-day visit with family here in New York City. What better way to get to experience one's own city than through the eyes of out-of-towners who actually see the crowds we've learned to ignore, hear the sirens our ears have been trained to filter out, and give us an excuse to jam-pack a 24-hour period with both "Wicked" and the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," views of the skaters at both Rockefeller Center and Wollman Rink, not to mention countless restaurant visits, a drink at the Central Park Boathouse, and a Junior's cheesecake?
Our restaurant find before seeing "Wicked" the other night is worth mentioning: Right around the corner from the Gershwin Theater is the one-year-old restaurant and wine bar Swizz, which specializes in cheese fondue and raclette (yet another take on melted cheese). The $24.91 three-course pre-theater prix fixe menu (served from 5-7 pm) is very nice, although we'd recommend supplementing the fondue or raclette options (which are served with bread) with an extra side dish or two of spicy sausage, air-dried beef, and/or apples for dipping -- and also not missing the chocolate fondue made with Jacques Torres chocolate!
During our extensive walking through Manhattan, we were happy to finally make it to the lobby of the new Bloomberg building (at 58th & Lexington) to see the enormous -- and enormously impressive -- wood sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard. We've long enjoyed her work after being introduced to it (and to her and her wonderful husband Paul Greengard) by our friends Lisa Wood and George Richardson, and are pleased to have one more reason to admire Mayor Michael Bloomberg: his excellent taste in art!
We may be fighting post-Christmas overindulgence syndrome, but it will just have to wait until we've enjoyed the gift we just received from chef Marcel Desaulniers: a box of Desserts to Die For, including his incomparable chocolate cookies. Each comes individually wrapped in a Desserts to Die For paper sleeve, with six cookies packaged per airtight plastic bag, all to ensure peak freshness. But don't take our word for it -- you can order some for yourself (or the chocolate lover of your choice) by visiting www.dessertstodiefor.com.
Desserts to Die For is at www.dessertstodiefor.com.
Swizz Restaurant & Wine Bar is at 310 W. 53rd St. (between Eighth and Ninth Aves.), New York. (212) 810-4444. Web: www.1291swizz.com
Bumping into Marla Schaffel (center) on Ninth Avenue
Roberto Passon's bruschetta with a whisper of truffle
Mushrooms with sheep's milk cheese at Roberto Passon
Parmesan grated at the table at Roberto Passon
Andrew & Steve dig (into) Passon's profiteroles for dessert
GrooveLily performing "Striking 12" at Ars Nova
GrooveLily receiving a standing ovation last night
Brendan Milburn showing off a cute new photo of little Mose
Left: A single bacon cheeseburger at McHales, split for two;
Right: Karen Page and Steve Wilson at McHales
Saturday, December 24, 2005 — We planned an entire evening last night around seeing the final performance of our friends Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin's extraordinary holiday show "Striking 12" at Ars Nova -- though even the best plans can be improved by a pleasant surprise or two.
Used to allowing twice as much time as usual to get around town this time of year, we arrived at Roberto Passon's cross-streets 20 minutes early -- so we decided to stroll Ninth Avenue before going in for dinner. While doing so we bumped into our friend actress Marla Schaffel, whom we had the pleasure of meeting when she was starring on Broadway in "Jane Eyre," for which she received a
Tony nomination, the Drama Desk Award, a Drama League Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award, all for Best Actress in a Musical. We were delighted to learn that Marla is currently appearing in "A Broadway Diva Christmas" at the Julia Miles Theatre on West 55th Street through December 31st, so we're looking forward to seeing the show next week.
We met up with our friend Steve Wilson at Roberto Passon, where we hadn't previously dined but after learning of its location around the corner from the theater as well as its raves from both Gael Greene ("generous portions for just $11 and $13") in New York magazine as well as the 2006 Zagat Survey ("outstanding pastas," "excellent wines"), we were confident it had promise -- and the restaurant delivered on that promise. We especially loved the glasses of prosecco with which we began our meal on a festive note, as well as Andrew's tagliatelle with lamb ragout and the profiteroles for dessert. Pastas tend toward the al dente side, so if you prefer your pasta a bit less toothy (as does Karen), you might want to mention this to your server. Service in general was very warm and professional. We'll look forward to returning.
We saw "Striking 12" a few years back with our nieces Gail and Kristen in Philadelphia, and again a year ago in Palo Alto, but last night's performance was the best yet, earning GrooveLily a rousing standing ovation from audience members. To continue to rave about it would just be mean, as it closed last night and you won't have another opportunity to catch it until next year. However, the excellent CD is available online; it was our gift to many friends and family members last year for its infectiously uplifting holiday melodies.
After the show, we decided to go out for a drink, and with the recollection that one of our favorite burger dives was closing on December 31st, we headed to McHales for a beer. Even with open tables, their tables are reserved for diners, so we decided to split a bacon cheeseburger ($8.95) among the three of us. Such a feat is never a problem at McHales, as you can tell from the size of the portions pictured above -- they cheerfully split its burger into servings for two, with a full-sized bun and a full-sized order of fries, not to mention roughly a half-pound of bacon per burger. We only had a few bites, but as they will likely be our last (even though we learned the restaurant received an extension until January 31st), we appreciated them. Our lovely multitalented waitress is off to play the role of Rosie in "Bye, Bye Birdie" -- and we wish her great success in becoming another "Broadway diva."
Roberto Passon is at 741 Ninth Avenue (at 50th St.), New York. (212) 582-5599.
"A Broadway Diva Christmas" at the Julia Miles Theatre on West 55th Street, New York. Through December 31st. Don't miss the amazingly talented Marla Schaffel's performance.
McHales is at 750 Eighth Avenue (at 46th St.), New York. (212) 997-8885. Closing January 31st, barring additional extensions.
Shrimp with romesco sauce and asparagus at Petrossian
Chicken over a bed of mashed potatoes at Petrossian
Cookie plate served with Petrossian's $35 prix fixe menu
Thursday, December 22, 2005 — Only twice in our lives have we ever enjoyed our fill of caviar: Once was at a party hosted by fitness club entrepreneurs Bob and the late Lucille Roberts at The Pierre, and the other was after a party hosted by our friend Barry Salzman, who had overestimated how much caviar his guests would go through and, as he was leaving town the next day, sent us home with the better part of a kilo of caviar.
Even though we can very easily find better uses for our money than eating our fill of caviar on a regular basis (from contributing to Citymeals on Wheels to paying our mortgage), we do enjoy at least a taste of caviar around the holidays.
Last night, we continued a holiday tradition of getting in a festive spirit with our friends Rikki Klieman and Bill Bratton at Petrossian. As our favorite osetra caviar is no longer available, we ordered beluga -- which is more delicate in flavor than osetra, and not as salty or strong as sevruga. While they favor toast points and we prefer blini, it's wonderful to have friends who take as much pleasure from this holiday ritual as we do.
In lieu of eating our fill of caviar last night, the four of us shared a somewhat more modest portion before dinner. One of Petrossian's best-kept secrets is that the restaurant offers a lovely $35 three-course prix fixe menu, providing a more affordable way to "fill up" than simply ordering more caviar from its extensive caviar menu. While neither of us craves asparagus in December, Andrew loved his appetizer of smoked salmon and Karen especially enjoyed her chicken with mashed potatoes, which she found warming on this cold winter night. A little tray of cookies offered a light and delicious ending to our holiday indulgence.
Petrossian is at
182 W. 58th St. (at Seventh Ave.), New York. (212) 245-2214.
Michael Whiteman & Rozanne Gold mark 18 years together;
(right) Tim Shea gives a friendly hug to Eileen O'Kane
Gael Greene ceremoniously cuts the first slice of her cake
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 — Transit strike or no transit strike, there was no way we were going to miss Citymeals-on-Wheels founder (and author of the forthcoming INSATIABLE: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess) Gael Greene's birthday party on the Upper East Side last night -- even if it meant walking the more than four miles to the restaurant and back.
Clad in more sensible shoes than either of us like to wear, we set out -- and were surprised to find not one but several available cabs. We learned the reason why upon reaching our destination (after our cab had stopped to pick up two other passengers along the way): During the current transit strike, not only have NYC cabs given up meters in favor of a zoning policy ($10 for a stop within a zone, and an additional $5 for each zone), but the new fares are per person -- making this usual $10 fare (including tip) cost us a whopping $30.
With so much to celebrate, any grumpiness over our sticker shock didn't last long: We were greeted warmly by photographer Steven Richter, who was chatting with actor Joel Grey, whom we'd met a few years ago while sharing a table at a dinner for chef Rick Bayless at New York's Savoy restaurant. And we soon learned that culinary couple Rozanne Gold and Michael Whiteman were celebrating their 18-year wedding anniversary, and had just come from a ceremony at which they'd renewed their vows.
Seating was "Power Lunch" style: Everyone pulled a number from a bowl indicating the table at which they were to sit. Karen landed between designer Adrienne Landau (and was happy to learn that her holiday sample sale runs until 6 pm today at 529 Eighth Avenue bet. 35th & 36th Sts., 21st floor) and caterer Pamela Morgan. Andrew especially enjoyed getting to chat with music afficianado Billy Kornreich and chef Zarela Martinez.
By the time we sat down to our first taste of the delicious Turkish cuisine served at Beyoglu, to which we'd been previously introduced by Gael, we were in heaven. The restaurant lifts Turkish standards up to a whole new level.
Before leaving, we were able to compliment Le Bernardin owner Maguy LeCoze on this year's beautiful holiday card, which had just arrived in our morning mail, and to mention to Gloria Steinem how thrilled our friends who had been first-time attendees at the Citymeals-on-Wheels Power Lunch for Women had been to meet her there this year and last.
We were happily able to avoid an overpriced taxi on the way home after being generously offered a ride from Eddie Schoenfeld and Elisa Herr -- and look forward to an opportunity to repay their kindness soon!
Beyoglu is at
1431 Third Avenue at 81st St., New York. (212) 650-0850. Wonderful Turkish mezze and breads.
P.S. Michael Whiteman thoughtfully sent along a list of his restaurant consulting firm's Top 10 Dining Trends, which include:
- Chocolate gets mass-market snob appeal
- Snacks muscle in on upscale restaurant menus
- Vinaigrettes are the new dressings
- Watermelon is the new tomato
- Fat is back
For more, visit www.baumwhiteman.com.
Annisa Escargots with Fines Herbes, Fried Lemon and Lardo
Lobster Chowder with Salsify and Sea Urchin at Annisa
Trumpet Royale Mushroom Bread Pudding at Annisa
Seared Sea Scallops with Beets, Caviar and Creme Fraiche
Sauteed Filet of Fluke with Fennel, Orange and Bottarga
Andrew makes a wish on his apple tart with caramel sauce
Chewy Japanese fritters coated with sesame seeds
Annisa's stellar chocolate dessert orbited our table
Annisa's lovely petit fours of miniature coconut popsicles,
ginger, and chocolates
Monday, December 19, 2005 — When we skimmed the new 2006 New York City Zagat Survey a few weeks ago, we realized that chef Anita Lo's restaurant Annisa was one of a handful of restaurants with the highest food ratings at which we'd not yet dined. We had also had the pleasure of speaking with Anita at the recent fundraiser for SHARE at Chelsea Piers (see our September 25, 2005 Blog), and hearing raves about Annisa from our friend Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread. So, with Andrew's birthday approaching, we made plans to join friends for dinner there last night to celebrate -- and although they are avid restaurant goers who live just a few blocks away, they hadn't been there before, either.
It was mostly a very pleasant surprise to discover this lovely, informal yet sophisticated restaurant tucked away on Barrow Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Greenwich Village. We all loved the amuse-bouche, which did exactly what an amuse-bouche should do: these tiny tastes of smoked salmon in crispy thimble-sized cups were tantalizing and had us eagerly anticipating our first courses (including Andrew's escargot and Karen's lobster chowder, which we enjoyed). But it was the middle course sent to us of Trumpet Royale Mushroom Bread Pudding that really sang next. This was a course that perfectly celebrated the season in both ingredient and technique. In addition, our seafood entrees -- Andrew's fluke and Karen's scallops -- were both perfectly cooked.
Desserts were a standout, for more than just the restaurant's thoughtfulness in including a candle on Andrew's luscious apple tart with caramel sauce: Each dessert was a winner, and the petit fours that followed were unique and delicious. The experience placed Annisa's desserts squarely in the company of some of our very favorites in New York City.
While we love Annisa's all-woman winemaker wine list in concept, we were underwhelmed by the bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc we ordered, which was uncharacteristic of others from that region with its strong green olive nose and strong green olive and green pepper flavors. However, the Riesling Kabinett we ordered by the glass was delightful.
And while we were happy to find the service professional, we were admittedly disappointed to find it lacking warmth, which pulled the level of service down a notch or two from the level of Lo's excellent cuisine. (One of the women who served us never smiled once over the course of three hours of interactions with her.) With more than one chorus of "Happy Birthday" being sung throughout the dining room last night (although, to Andrew's great relief, not at ours), Annisa is clearly a special restaurant where people like to celebrate. How much nicer it would be as a place to do so if staff members were to contribute to the festive spirit by cracking a smile now and then!
Annisa is at 13 Barrow Street (bet. Seventh Avenue South and West 4th Street, New York. (212) 744-6699. Web: www.annisarestaurant.com
Rancho La Puerta co-founder Deborah Szekely with us in the
Dining Room's self-service area after our kitchen tour
Our first lunch outside on the patio at Rancho La Puerta
Vegetarian lasagna with organic vegetables from the garden
One of the delicious desserts served at dinnertime
We loved the sculptures that adorned RLP's grounds
Our hikes left every morning before sunrise, offering guests
views of Mexico's daybreak
Our hike leader showing the crater-like effect of centuries
of grinding food
on the surface of granite
Andrew checking out the peppers in RLP's organic garden
Andrew and fellow New Yorker Stuart celebrating reaching
the hike's peak overlooking
Mount Kuchumaa in Mexico
The views during our descent weren't too shabby, either....
The inspirational quote for the day in front of the vineyard
the morning we left
was "Motivation gets you going, but
gets you there." --Zig Ziglar
Photo by meditation hike guide Phyllis Pilgrim
Sunday, December 18, 2005 — Those who know us well know that we're typically vacation-challenged: We rarely take extended (i.e. a week or longer) time off, favoring long weekends away throughout the year. So they'll be surprised to hear that on the heels of our week away in Paris over Thanksgiving to celebrate our 20th anniversary of meeting one another, we just returned from another week away in celebration of Andrew's birthday (which is today).
We returned this morning on the red-eye after enjoying an extraordinary week at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico. Before losing ourselves to catching up on a week's worth of voicemail and email (not to mention news in general), we wanted to post at least a few of our photos from this extraordinary place, in the hope that you'll discover it for yourself in the months to come if you haven't already. It managed to make mountain hikers out of us, hiking about 30 miles in the mountains over the past week, as well as countless more throughout Rancho La Puerta's beautiful grounds, which fueled our appetites for Rancho's vegetarian-leaning cuisine, much of which comes from the Ranch's own organic vegetable garden a couple of miles away. (We'll be sharing more details in our January 2006 e-Newsletter.)
Rancho La Puerta is located in Tecate, Mexico, which is just over the Mexican border from San Diego, California. Web: www.rancholapuerta.com
Salutation to the Dawn
Look to this day! For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities
And realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the Salutation to the Dawn.
—Kalidasa, read by Phyllis Pilgrim on our last morning at Rancho La Puerta
Flammenkuche, or Tarte Flambee, at DB Bistro Moderne
Rabbit Pate En Croute at DB Bistro Moderne
Choucroute de Poisson: smoked trout, shrimp, squid
Niman Ranch Pork Duo: tenderloin and braised belly
Andrew loved his cod with brandade at DB Bistro Moderne
Andrew with Dave Mabe; Susan Butler, Karen, Susan Mabe
Monday, December 5, 2005 — We don't always love the crowds and the traffic created by the influx of visitors to New York City this time of year. Of course, when they're our own friends and family doing the crowding, that's a completely different story.
Yesterday, having friends in from out of town was a great excuse to enjoy theater (having received the tickets as a thoughtful holiday gift), followed by drinks at The Algonquin and dinner in the Theater District. When dinner turns out to be as fabulous as it was at Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne last night, it's a reminder to not wait so long for another excuse to return.
DB is featuring "Sundays in Alsace," offering a delicious three-course prix fixe menu of Alsatian specialties for $42. A glass of Riesling is the perfect +2 accompaniment, and the restaurant is offering one from Albert Mann for $13/glass. It's also perfect for toasting good news, like the forthcoming publication of our friend Susan Butler's book Become the CEO of You, Inc.
Thanks to the magic of sharing tastes around the table, we not only savored Karen's Tarte Flambee (think "Alsatian thin-crust pizza with bacon") and Choucroute de Poisson, plus Andrew's rabbit en croute and cod, but also tastes of our friend Susan Mabe's Escargot Fricassee (with hazelnut spaetzle, chicken oysters, button mushrooms, garlic and parsley broth) and Niman Ranch Pork Duo (with both roasted tenderloin and braised belly alongside mustard greens, crushed potatoes and pork jus) and Dave Mabe's DB Burger!
For dessert, the Blueberry Red Wine Soup with macerated berries and condensed milk ice cream was a standout.
Of course, the real highlight was getting to say hello to Daniel Boulud himself, who was in with his wife Micky for Sunday night dinner. Never off duty, Daniel was exceedingly charming to our out-of-town guests.
Then, when we told him of the email we'd received from Karen's Aunt Gerry in Michigan mentioning an incident from her own visit to DB over the Thanksgiving holiday ["On Sunday afternoon we took a taxi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then had an early dinner at DB Bistro Moderne. The food was outstanding, presentations were a '12,' the waitstaff was very attentive and a nice man leaving the restaurant helped move our table a bit after dinner (so I could squeeze through) when I was on my way to the restroom. I talked with the maitre d' and told him you had recommended the restaurant. He told me the man who moved my table was Daniel Boulud...."], Daniel not only remembered this incident, but pointed out Karen's Aunt Gerry's table!
It's clearly not for nothing that Daniel Boulud is considered one of the most extraordinary culinarians the world has ever seen. And if you visit DB to cap off your weekend for "Sundays in Alsace," you just might catch a glimpse of the great chef yourself -- only don't be fooled if he's not wearing a white chef's jacket!
DB Bistro Moderne is at 55 W. 44th Street, New York. (212)
391-2400. Web: http://danielnyc.com/dbbistro/
Slicing duck (right) for Peking duck at Shun Lee Palace
Addictive candied walnuts (left) and fruit at Shun Lee
Friday, December 2, 2005 — There's a first time for everything, as our impromptu visit with friends last night to Shun Lee Palace proved.
While we've long enjoyed Shun Lee Cafe on the West Side, we'd never before made it to Shun Lee Palace on the East Side -- other than to interview its legendary owner Michael Tong for our book THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF.
But after having to cancel our plans to travel out of town, we were able to accept a last-minute invitation to turn a foursome into a sixsome and to venture out for Peking duck and Pinot Noir.
We'd dined with Michael Tong a few months back over what we'd thought was pretty good Peking duck, until his more experienced palate quietly informed us that it could have used a couple more minutes of roasting. And how fortunate we were last night to have that kind of experience behind the restaurant that prepared one of the very best versions of Peking duck we've ever had. It is entertaining to watch the duck carved tableside by a chef with a sharp cleaver, and to see the slices folded into "mini-burritos" along with with scallions and plum sauce.
Our wine-loving friend Michael Gelb turned the accompanying Pinot Noir into a lesson: Thanks to his sage ordering, we ended up tasting a 2002 Rochioli Pinot Noir (from the Russian River Valley) and a 2002
Chambolle-Musigny Red Burgundy side by side -- and loving both. Deborah Domanski's own sage ordering capped off dinner with fresh lychees.
And it was fun to be introduced to two passionate coaches, Rob Berkley and Debbie Philips, who run Group MV out of Martha's Vineyard. We thank them for passing through New York City, and for prompting such a delicious get-together!
Shun Lee Palace is at
155 E. 55th St., New York. (212) 371-8844. Web: www.shunleepalace.com
Daniel Johnnes, Daniel Boulud & Andrew Dornenburg in Boulud's
NYC home celebrating the launch of
Boulud's bookshelf prominently featured some of our books
Foie gras amuse-bouche at Solera (216 E. 53rd Street)
Solera has the best fried calamari we've ever tasted
Picatostes (front) and cookies cap off dinner at Solera
Thursday, December 1, 2005 — Last night we attended a celebration of the launch of DTOUR Macon-Villages -- a collaboration of four-star chef Daniel Boulud, sommelier Daniel Johnnes, and Dominique Lafon of Vigneron -- which promises to make this delicious yet affordable white-wine-in-a-tube (with a spigot) a part of daily home life.
We tasted two versions of the 2004 wine -- one that had just been opened, and another we were told had been opened two weeks prior. Both were medium-bodied made from Chardonnay grapes and had a deliciously fresh, crisp flavor, with no sign at all of oxidation.
Planning an informal holiday buffet? Set a tube of DTOUR Macon-Villages on your table and let guests help themselves. When the weather turns warmer, you can chill it and take it on a picnic. Either way, the tube's cardboard packaging provides insulation that will keep this wonderful wine cold for as long as four hours at room temperature.
After our visit to Boulud's Park Avenue apartment, we joined friends for tapas at our long-time favorite Spanish restaurant in Manhattan, Solera. Our wine-loving friend was ecstatic to find a wine Robert Parker had rated 92 on Solera's wine list for only $50, and it was so good we ended up sharing a second bottle. Maitre d' Ron Miller selected an array of tapas that was so delicious it created a tableful of new (or renewed) fans of the restaurant, and the PX sherry he served with our incredible cheese course (with a fig tart that was indescribably delicious) prompted another friend to declare the pairing one of the peak wine and food experiences of her life.
DTOUR Macon-Villages comes in a tube that holds the equivalent of four bottles, and sells at a suggested retail price of $37. It can be purchased at Sherry-Lehmann and Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York City. For more information as well as other locations, visit www.dtourwine.com.
Solera is at 216 E. 53rd St. (bet. Second & Third Aves.), New York. Web: www.solerany.com (212) 644-1166.
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