Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

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ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - FEBRUARY 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)

Sunday, February 26, 2006 Congratulations again to Chef Jeff Henderson, whose story of transformation from cocaine dealer to executive chef is mentioned not only in our February 6th Blog below, but in this week's Newsweek magazine:

Oprah, add this name to your book-club address list. Jeff Henderson, 41, a cocaine dealer turned high-end chef, just signed a six-figure deal with William Morrow/HarperCollins to write his memoirs. Henderson pitched his book with the title From Cocaine to Foie Gras.

Known as Chef Jeff, Henderson—born in southern California's Watts and raised by a single mother—says he earned as much as $35,000 a week dealing cocaine in San Diego. He wound up in prison in 1988: "People say I got arrested. No, I got rescued," he says. At the time, he likes to say, the only thing he had ever cooked was crack. But while incarcerated in six different prisons for eight years and nine months, he worked in prison kitchens. First, he cleaned pots and pans. Then he prepared meals, bartering food for services like haircuts. His signature dish in prison: fried chicken, served every Sunday. Today it's a pan-roasted Chilean bass with fingerling potatoes —a $26 entree at the Cafe Bellagio, where he is executive chef.

This being the James Frey era, Henderson is busy pulling together all his materials and pictures showing his life as a dealer, prisoner and then motivational speaker and chef. "I want to stand tall when my memoir comes out that everything is true," he says. Meanwhile, these days, he also fields calls from different kinds of customers: talent agencies and movie-production company reps. "Cooking food saves lives," Henderson says—beginning with his own.

—Karen Springen, Newsweek (March 6, 2006)

We determined this month that Henderson's literary agent most likely learned of our e-Newsletter (and read about Henderson therein) after it was featured in Charlie Suisman's wildly popular free daily email Manhattan User's Guide as "best food newsletter."

POSTSCRIPT: After the Newsweek article appeared, Chef Jeff Henderson wrote, "My agent Michael Psaltis been fielding calls from all the around the country. Today and CBS Evening News both want me to appear. Again, thank you so much. I will keep you posted on future developments."


One of the best homemade desserts we've ever tasted,
courtesy of our neighbor's mother visiting from Poland


Bicycle snow sculpture in front of Sarge's Deli on Third Ave.


The Empire State Building from Lexington Ave. on Sunday

"That's one of the great things about being a chef: You can disagree
about politics, baseball, or whatever, but if somebody makes
a really dynamite soup and you get a spoonful of it in your mouth,
you figure that the person who made it couldn't possibly be all that bad."

--Chef Norman Van Aken, in CHEF'S NIGHT OUT (p. 137)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 On Sunday, we had one of the most delicious homemade desserts we've ever tasted. And we never would have tasted it if Manhattan hadn't been hit with its biggest snowfall in half a century on the previous Sunday, February 12th.

That day, we had ventured out in our Murray Hill neighborhood to capture some shots of the record 26.9 inches of snow. It was so bitterly cold that we did not last long outdoors. Returning home, Karen was taking so long to warm up again that she envisioned the perfect way to foil the cold weather: with some of Andrew's hot apple crisp, which has been one of his specialty desserts after first learning to make it at Chris Schlesinger's East Coast Grill in Cambridge. (Yes, that's one and the same restaurant where New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni last month spent a week undercover as a waiter.)

So, Andrew baked a huge pan of apple crisp, with lots of brown sugar-oatmeal topping -- which Karen deemed so great it that would be a crime not to share it right out of the oven. We took some to our super (who had been shoveling the sidewalks outside our apartment building since 7 am), and to our neighbors across the hall, who we know are really into food. As our neighbors weren't in, we left the container with our neighbor's father, who appeared to be visiting and simply accepted it with a smile.

The following Sunday (three days ago), there was a knock at our door. Our neighbor's father was returning the container that had held the apple crisp. In broken English, he managed to explain that he was visiting from Poland and leaving the next day for Krakow via Warsaw. In the plastic tub was the beautiful dessert above, which his wife had made.

The next night, we ran into him and his wife in the elevator with their suitcases on their way to the airport. Karen, who had learned some rudimentary Polish while doing some pro bono consulting in Warsaw in 1990, was able to say, "Dziekuje" (ZHEN-koo-yah, or "Thank you") -- but, frustrated with her lack of vocabulary in the face of trying to express that it had been one of the best homemade desserts we'd ever tasted as we helplessly repeated, "Dziekuje! Dziekuje!" while rubbing our stomachs, ended up throwing her arms around both of them in big hugs. From their smiles, we think they got the idea.

Due to the language barrier, we may never know what was in that amazing dessert, which seemed to be a cake made of ground nuts (walnuts?) and dates with a topping that was a cross between whipped cream and icing. But we'll never forget it -- or the boundaries that can be crossed, and relationships forged, via food.


Today's New York Times article on Michael Sofronski's show

Sunday, February 19, 2006 Congratulations to our friend Michael Sofronski who shot the gorgeous four-color photographs for our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT (Bulfinch Press, Fall 2006) on the great write-up on his photography exhibit "The Last Bohemians" in today's New York Times, which reports:

One of the world's greatest flowerings of art and creativity occurred in the West Village from the 1940s to the 1970s, and although many of the artists, writers and poets who contributed to the era's richness have passed on, a few remain.

Twenty of them have been photographed by Michael Sofronski, a native New Yorker; his images are on view in "The Last Bohemians," an exhibition at the Westbeth Gallery, at 55 Bethune Street.  The exhibition, which includes interviews with the subjects by Dylan Foley, a writer, runs through Saturday.

The photographer's goal was to document the bohemians before they are all gone; in fact, one died before the work was complete.

"The Last Bohemians" is at the Westbeth Gallery, 55 Bethune Street, in New York's Greenwich Village, through this Saturday. To view The New York Times article and slide show online, click here. (Viewing is free, but requires registration.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006 Readers of our book CULINARY ARTISTRY might recall Karen's Preface to the book, which opens:

In a childhood diary entry written when I was about eight, I confidently listed my five favorite foods on which I felt confident I could happily survive for the rest of my life: 1) bacon, 2) bananas, 3) chocolate, 4) peanut butter, and 5) Rice Krispies.

I enjoyed each of these on their own -- whether a single ripe banana, or a spoonful of peanut butter -- but learned firsthand the meaning of the word "synergy" when I found that I could more than double my pleasure by combining certain pairs of ingredients. In terms of candy, I gravitated toward Nestle's Crunch bars and Reese's peanut butter cups. At mealtime, I experimented with peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but found I preferred an open-faced version of peanut butter on toast topped with banana slices or, better yet, crumbled bacon. In my food memory, one of the most wonderful discoveries I ever made was of a concoction of melted semi-sweet chocolate chips sandwiched between layers of a mixture that incorporated Rice Krispies and peanut butter -- which became the treat I'd choose to bring to school to share with classmates on my birthday. To be able to enjoy not just two but three of my favorite ingredients at once was sheer ecstasy.

This might set the stage for how pleased we were to open a copy of the brand-new Kellogg's Cookbook this morning to see on pages 196-197 "Author/Chef Andrew Dornenburg's recipe for Karen's Sundae Cups." It opens:

Andrew Dornenburg and his wife, Karen Page, are award-winning cookbook authors. When Karen was about eight years old, she kept a diary, listing in it her five favorite foods: bacon, bananas, chocolate, peanut butter, and Rice Krispies. In her honor, Andrew has incorporated four of her childhood favorites in this delicious dessert.

In addition to Karen's Sundae Cups which is cups made of Rice Krispies and peanut butter filled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sliced bananas, and chocolate sauce you'll also find recipes from the likes of chefs David Burke, John Doherty, Charlie Palmer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Kate Zuckerman.

Congratulations to Kellogg's and to the talented team behind it on a book that really snaps, crackles, and pops!

The Kellogg's Cookbook is available at Amazon.com.


Part of "Flavors of Winter" at Gilt: Crab Salpicon, Sea Herb
Glass, Baliontine of Dover Sole, Confit of Celery, Roasted
Baby Abalone, Duck Confit, Pedro Ximenez Gelee, Sweet-
breads, Argan Oil, Red Shiso


Gilt's Maine Roasted Lobster with Cauliflower Creme, Lobster
Sable, and Pistachio


The selection of Farm House Cheeses at Gilt


Gilt pastry chef Oscar Palacios' peanut butter dessert with
chocolate beignets is one of NYC's best desserts


The post-dessert candy service at Gilt


After Gilt, Bill Bratton, Rikki Klieman, Andrew Dornenburg

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Happy Valentine's Day!

We celebrated early: On Saturday night, we had an opportunity to visit Gilt in the New York Palace Hotel (in the space formerly occupied by Le Cirque 2000). We'll have to write more later, as we have our hands full trying to rectify some computer-related technical difficulties.

However, in a nutshell: While we agree with both Frank Bruni and Adam Platt that Gilt serves some of the if not THE best bread in New York City, our total experience was a lot closer to the latter's three-star review in New York magazine than the former's two-star review in The New York Times.

Bravo to chef Paul Liebrandt, pastry chef Oscar Palacios, and the fabulous service team at Gilt, including assistant manager Tobie Cancino (especially for her wonderful door-to-door hospitality) and wine director Jason Ferris (especially for introducing us to that fabulous Tasmanian Pinot Noir!).

Addendum Palate: The kitchen loves chile spicing at Gilt, starting with an amuse-bouche of chile marshmallow (which worked well with a glass of Champagne, by the way) through a chile-infused cookie in the bag of macaroons the restaurant sends you home with as a gift as you leave.

Menu: When we made the reservation to join our friends for dinner at Gilt, we weren't yet aware of exactly how avant-garde chef Paul Liebrandt's food was thought to be. After reading early reports, we worried how less adventurous palates would receive it. It turned out that the Dry Aged Rib Eye served with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Confit Potatoes ordered by one of us at our table was so straightforward and wonderful that it could have made better known New York City steakhouses blush. The Maine Lobster entree was not only beautiful to look at but delicious as well and with four former Bostonians at our table, we could all be a little picky about our lobster.

Wine: Gilt's wine list has taken some heat for its prices. However, we found plenty of reasonably-priced wines for a restaurant of this caliber, room and ambition. Sommelier Jason Ferris explained to us that he wanted to feature a lot of single vineyard wines that are not only hard to find, but rarely if ever offered by the glass. Our recommendation to him would be to add a mission statement to the wine list (as we reported in our Feb. 2nd Blog that Asiate does), which would let customers in on the secret and help them realize the value of the unique opportunity being presented to them at Gilt.

Gilt is at 455 Madison Ave. at 50th Street, New York. (212) 891-8100. Web: www.newyorkpalace.com


Maitre d' extraordinaire Ron Miller of Solera Restaurant


Andrew's glass of Spanish red (a 2004 Bierzo Mencia) next to
Karen's Codorniu rose cava of 100% Pinot Noir grapes


The tasting plate of cold tapas at Solera


Solera's special of bacon-wrapped scallops with pomegranate


Ace staff members Francisco and Julien at Solera


Spanish cheese plate at Solera with fig tart & quince paste;
clockwise from 3 o'clock: Nevat (goat), Malvarrosa (sheep),
Garrotxa (goat), Smoked Simon (cow), Menorca (cow), and
Picon (a mixed milk blue from Asturias)

Friday, February 10, 2006 While the competition is heating up with new restaurants like Barca 18 and Tia Pol (both of which we also love), Solera is one of Manhattan's oldest Spanish restaurants (and its best), and we were happy to slip into the bar last night for some tapas and delicious wines.

After more than 15 years of dining here, we've come to think of Solera as a "home away from home" and its warm, professional team as members of our extended family. When our most discriminating food world colleagues come to town, we always give them the name of Solera's very knowledgeable and gracious maitre d' Ron Miller to help them enjoy the best of the restaurant's impressive wines and consistently excellent Spanish cuisine.

Don't be surprised to bump into food world luminaries at Solera: We've run into Gotham Bar & Grill's chef Alfred Portale there, and learned that he was a regular, too. (In fact, we just learned that Solera's staff celebrated the holidays at Gotham Bar & Grill, where Portale's team had the pleasure of returning the favor of providing wonderful food and service.)

While we've dined in the back dining room a number of times, sitting at the lively tapas bar up front is our favorite way to enjoy the restaurant. There's also a private room upstairs that is invariably booked for parties as many as 35 people for a sit-down lunch or dinner, or more for a tapas buffet. And we love the food so much that Andrew had Solera do the catering for the last birthday party he threw for Karen. (The service for Solera's catered events is impeccably handled by Regina Mallon's Mallon Enterprises.)

We just got an email from Dean at SideBern's in Tampa, who's going to be paying a visit to New York City next week. Guess which restaurant we think that he and Bern's Steak House's sous chef Andy and their friends shouldn't miss??

Solera is at 216 E. 53rd Street (bet. Second & Third Aves.), New York. (212) 644-1166. Web: http://www.solerany.com An excellent restaurant with a private party room upstairs that also offers off-premises catering. Don't miss the fried calamari with aioli or the picquetostes.

Regina Mallon Enterprises is at (212) 751-1652. Provides excellent service staff (including waiters and bartenders) for priviate parties in and around Manhattan.


Kathy Reilly, Maria Teresa Arida, Karen Page and Hilary Shor


Lunch at Bette kicked off with a ricotta cheese appetizer


Bette's staff wine tasting on Tuesday afternoon

Speaking of homes away from home, Karen's friend author Laura Day and Laura's friend Jane Hoffman hosted a lunch for some of the most interesting women they know on Tuesday at Amy Sacco's restaurant Bette which was not only a fun opportunity to meet some fascinating filmmakers, designers, and other creative professionals, but also to enjoy Bette's wonderful food, service, and ambiance.

And it's always a pleasure to see Bette's GM Ray Pirkle and HW Craig Atlas, as well as to get a behind-the-scenes look at why Bette's entire team always seems so knowledgeable: While Karen at first mistook the gathering as a private party for a visiting rock band, she learned that it was simply Bette's entire staff convened for an afternoon wine tasting! They were so into it that it was hard to believe this was a "mandatory staff meeting."

Craig Atlas later emailed us:

"You asked me for info from the other day's staff tasting....First, Linus Kessler of Polaner Selections: Savennieres, Altesse from Montagnieu in Bugey, Bugey Cerdon (the sparkling rose aperitif we tried together, Karen) from Bugey as well, Mondeuse from Bugey, and Saumur Champigny. I believe you took the photo while the Domaine du Closel Savennieres was being poured.…I wasn't spitting, so I'm not totally sure.

The Bugey Cerdon 'Methode Ancestrale' is a demi-sec blend of Gamay and Poulsard, fermented to low alcohol (7.5%) with tons and tons of ripe red fruit and good acid to back it up. Foamy, charming with residual sugar but finishing dry and lending it great aperitif appeal (even more so once Spring is upon us). As far as I know, only Daniel and Bette have any in the States. List price is $40/bottle. Super cool stuff.   ["I loved it, too," sez Karen.]

....We are hosting this fabulous natural winemaker's wine dinner on the 7th of March. I really hope you're in town and can attend. The winemakers in attendance mainly grow grapes in the Loire and represent the Who's Who of renegande, natural winemaking (producing passionately made, yet inexpensive wines mainly falling under VDP and VDT). They're an opinionated, pig-headed, confrontational, and thoroughly lovable bunch.…" ["Tell us more," sez Andrew.]

Bette is at 461 West 23rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, New York City. (212) 366-0404. Wonderful for lunch and afternoon tea from 3-5 pm, as well as dinner.


The Tom Valenti-endorsed bacon cheeseburger at the Odeon

On Sunday afternoon, we went out for a late lunch with fellow author friends who live in Tribeca. Walking into the Odeon, we were happy to see one of New York's most talented* chefs Tom Valenti ('Cesca, Ouest) out enjoying a bite with his lovely wife. (*NOTE: We refer to his culinary giftedness as well as his lesser-known comic talents.)

Asking them what on earth could pull them so far downtown from their Upper West Side locale, we looked at their identical plates and learned: Odeon's hamburger! After interviewing Tom for our show "Chef's Night Out" and learning of his excellent taste in hamburgers (e.g. he's a fellow fan of Big Nick's), there was no way were we leaving without ordering one and, lo and behold, they were right: It was fabulous!

Odeon is at 145 West Broadway (bet. Thomas & Duane), New York. (212) 233-0507.

'Cesca is at 164 West 75th Street (bet. CPW & Columbus), New York. (212) 787-6300.

Ouest is at 2315 Broadway (at 84th St.), New York. (212) 580-8700.


Chef Jeff Henderson transforms from
cocaine dealer to executive chef
to author, with his new book deal

Monday, February 6, 2006 Congratulations, Chef Jeff!

Readers of our e-Newsletter may recall that we'd met Chef Jeff Henderson a year ago this month when we keynoted the FENI Conference in New Orleans, and had written about his journey "FROM COCAINE DEALER TO EXECUTIVE CHEF" in our March/April 2005 and May 2005 e-Newsletters.

This morning, we opened an email from Chef Jeff to read:

"I wanted to thank you two again for your inspirational book BECOMING A CHEF that I read while incarcerated and for the opportunity to share a few words with you at the FENI Summit in New Orleans in 2005. After you wrote about me in your newsletter last year, super agent Michael Psaltis of the Culinary Cooperative, a division of Regal Literary, read your testimony. He contacted me in my kitchen at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas about representing me for a possible book deal. After several conversations, we put together a proposal and pitched it to some of the largest publishing houses in New York, and my God, almost everyone we sent proposals to responded with interest. The rights to my life story were sold to William Morrow/Harper Collins for a substantial six figures. Two weeks after I accepted the Harper Collins deal, I was contacted by United Talent Agency about an agreement to represent me.  I've been truly blessed by God and so many in the food world who have inspired me through their books and cuisine. Thank you, Andrew and Karen, for coming into my life through your work.

Chef Jeff"

Today's Publishers Weekly reports:

"Harriet Bell prevailed in an auction for Jeff Henderson's From Cocaine to Foie Gras, the story of the author's journey from crack dealer to world-class chef, in a 'significant six-figure,' world-rights deal with Michael Psaltis of the Culinary Cooperative, a division of Regal Literary. Henderson, who ran a million-dollar cocaine operation in San Diego by the time he was 19, discovered a passion for cooking while serving a decade-long prison sentence; he is currently executive chef in Las Vegas. A 2007 publication is expected."

We wish Chef Jeff the great joy of one day knowing what it feels like to learn that a book he wrote went on to make a positive difference in someone else's life.

You can read more about Chef Jeff Henderson in "From Hell to the Kitchen" at Las Vegas Weekly.


Enjoying the view at Asiate as we perused the wine binder


Our mini-tasting of Slovenian wines at Asiate: next to our
San Pellegrino (left to right) was 2000 Santomas Big Red
Vinter's Choice; 2003 Kogl Pinot Noir; and 2003 Kogl Magna
Dominica Albus


Appreciating the purse hook at the next table at Asiate


Daniel pours our Caesar Salad Soup at Asiate


Asiate's Caesar Salad Soup, Israeli Couscous, Bacon Foam


Our 2006 Restaurant Week Assortment of Six Daily Specials


Andrew enjoys the upside-down reflection of Manhattan in
his glass of 2003 Batic Valentino Slovenian dessert wine, an
exceptional blend of 50% Pinela and 50% Rebula


Uh-oh: The point at which we realized we hadn't shot dessert


Luis at Asiate cheerfully models a complete dessert for us

Thursday, February 2, 2006 Given the names of the restaurants at which we chose to sample $24.07 lunches during the current Restaurant Week (i.e. Alto, Aquavit, Asiate), it appears we didn't make it very far down the entire list of participating restaurants before selecting our choices. (In a dramatic point of alphabetic departure, we'll be celebrating the last night of Restaurant Week tomorrow night at a Midtown restaurant beginning with the letter "B.")

However, the wonderful lunch we enjoyed yesterday at Asiate made us awfully glad of that.

Of the four factors we've written comprise a restaurant experience, Asiate appears strongest (in descending order) in 1) ambiance, 2) service, 3) wine, and 4) food.

Ambiance: From the 35th floor of the Time Warner Center, Asiate offers an intimate room with every table appearing to boast a spectacular view of Central Park South. The room at lunch yesterday was filled not only with fast-acting diners (as Asiate's Restaurant Week reservations were snapped up quickly, according to Steve Cuozzo's report in the New York Post) but with gorgeous sunlight. Based on the view alone and the elegant modern setting, we could imagine returning with out-of-town guests to enjoy it.

Service: Every member of the staff with whom we interacted at Asiate was professional, warm, and good-humored. As we had inquired about the Slovenian wines which had been featured at Asiate in January, Assistant Sommelier Emilie Garvey arrived at our table to share her enthusiasm for them, and to offer us a tasting. Our waiter Luis also sang their praises, reserving his strongest for the Slovenian dessert wine. When he noticed us getting a shot of Daniel pouring our soup into our bowl, he joked that Daniel's hand would soon be famous. "Don't laugh you're next!" Karen joked back.

Little did we know that we'd forget to take a photo of our delicious Ginger-Infused Savarin Cake with Milk Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Ice Cream and Seasoned Chestnut Puree (which doubtless reflects what a good time we found ourselves having at Asiate). So, when Karen noticed another table's dessert awaiting delivery at the nearby waiter station, she asked Luis if he'd mind if she shot it first. Not only did he not mind, but he offered to place it on a table in the window for a nicer setting and better light!

And the calming presence of restaurant manager Charles Kim gave us confidence that if we ever needed anything during lunch, a single raised finger or eyebrow would have someone at our table in an instant. Because the staff seemed to anticipate every need, from refilling water glasses to replacing napkins, that was never necessary but it was noticed and appreciated.

Wine: While we interviewed other women sommeliers (including USHG's Karen King) for our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT, we can't think of another restaurant that boasts women in its two top wine positions. Wine Director Annie Turso was reportedly away in France on a wine trip, but we were more than ably assisted by her sommelier Emilie Garvey a poised professional from Lyon whom we learned had traded in her passion for pastry (having previously worked at Fauchon) for wine, and whom we never would have guessed was only 23.

The restaurant focuses on different wines every month, and January's Slovenian specials have now given way to February's Pinot Noirs although they were gracious enough to let us sample the former. We loved that the wine list shared its passion for its special Slovenian offerings with the following introduction:

"Slovenia is a country of many attractions -- from Alpine peaks to mysterious Karst caves. It is a land of medieval castles and fortified villages, all bearing witness to an ancient culture. Many wine lovers would be surprised to learn that their wine tradition dates back to the Roman era and that Slovene vineyards lie on the same latitude as Burgundy and Bordeaux. The wines selected give a sense of history and authenticity but above all are to be enjoyed for their unique character."

We were also impressed to see that the wine list featured a mission statement:

"Harmony....Authenticity....Simplicity.

The challenge is to delight you with wines chosen to enrich your experience. To aim for harmonious pairings. To find wines authentic in their nature. And with knowledge of the menu, to do this simply, to allow you to sit back, relax and enjoy the ambiance and Nori's creative cuisine. Please ask for our guidance."

Food: Mentioning chef Nori Sugie's Asian fusion food last doesn't suggest that it was lacking in any way. We loved every item featured in the restaurant's $24.07 special bento box, starting with a creamy and luxurious lentil soup; a tuna tartare topped with a layer of avocado and pops of rice cracker; a medley of vegetables accented with toasted almond slivers and goat cheese; braised beef cheeks over smoked mashed potatoes; a miniature casserole of chicken gratin, featuring a layer of mushrooms and quinoa at the bottom; and a beautiful confit of salmon crusted with a layer of dill. In addition to the Restaurant Week menu, we were so curious about the dish described as Caesar Salad Soup that we had to order it and although it didn't remind either of us the least bit of Caesar salad, it offered a fascinating exploration of flavors and textures.

Extra credit goes to the restaurant for offering a tasting of three wines with lunch yesterday, which allowed us to sample 18 different food and wine combinations. It was striking how well all three wines went with the lentil soup (which was topped with rich meat). The light-flavored, medium-bodied white wine (which was made from an equal blend of Auxerros, Riesling and Yellow Muskat) served us well through the first dishes and the salmon. The fascinatingly vegetal Pinot Noir was almost as versatile, while the peppery and chewy Santomas (a blend of 80% Refosk, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot) was a standout with the beef cheeks.

We're now curious about chef Nori's cuisine outside the crush of Restaurant Week. Given Asiate's regular-priced $95 tasting menu at dinner, we're even more grateful for the generous glimpse offered by its $24.07 Restaurant Week lunch menu...and for our delicious memories.

Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental is at 80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street, New York. (212) 805-8800. Web: www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork

Congratulations to Fahrusha, the woman who helped Karen locate her missing diamond a few years ago, who emailed us to let us know about her coverage on FOX News today (which you can read here).

"I was able to book a reading with a psychic named Fahrusha, who has appeared on the 'Late Show with David Letterman' and 'The View' and counts some high-profile Manhattanites among her clients — including, she says, a fellow FOX employee (though she won't name names)....[She] appeared to have about as impeccable credentials as one can hope for in this field of expertise. Fahrusha has been named one of the 20 best psychics in Woman's Own magazine and one of New York's Psychic Superstars in New York magazine. She writes a column on handwriting analysis for Tiger Beat magazine and has been featured in three different books and guides on New York's psychic community....Fahrusha is more soothing earth mother than spooky sorceress....[She] guesses my husband's name."
--Robin Wallace, FOX News (2/2/06)


Our 2006 Restaurant Week $35 three-course dinner at
San Domenico kicked off with a whole lightly breaded fried
egg on a soft polenta and Robiola cheese "fonduta"


Roasted guinea hen filled with fennel and anise over soft
rosemary-scented polenta at San Domenico


We also ordered a small cheese plate, which arrived with
gorgonzola, robiolo and mosciato cheeses and walnuts


San Domenico's panne cotta with chocolate drizzle


The pistachio parfait at San Domenico won us all over!


Chocolate polenta cake and petits fours at San Domenico

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 There are three days left of this Restaurant Week, offering a twice-a year opportunity to visit (or re-visit) some of New York's best restaurants for only $24.07 for a three-course lunch and $35 for a three-course dinner. If you can get a reservation, we strongly encourage you to pay a visit to San Domenico. The easiest way to find out is via this link to OpenTable.com, where you can search participating restaurants for, yes, open tables.

We hadn't visited San Domenico for dinner together...well, ever. But having our friend Susan Butler in from out of town for meetings regarding her forthcoming book Become the CEO of You, Inc. and staying at a hotel around the corner led us to look forward to our visit. We found a packed dining room filled with lively conversations -- and a professional and genial staff who smiled easily and made us feel right at home.

And the food? We enjoyed every bite. The Restaurant Week menu kicked off with a choice of a whole lightly breaded fried egg on a soft polenta and Robiola cheese "fonduta" (our favorite), or a crunchy polenta cannoli filled with salt cod whipped with extra virgin olive oil, dressed with capers from Pantelleria and "puntarelle" greens.

Of the three entree choices (which included homemade spaghetti with a tomato and basil sauce), we opted for the beautifully light and fresh fillet of sea bass in a tomato zucchini herbed broth with Sardinian couscous, and the gently licorice-scented roasted guinea hen filled with fennel and anise over soft rosemary scented polenta. Each dish captured the sea and the countryside, respectively.

Dessert is your choice of any one of San Domenico's homemade desserts from their a la carte dessert menu, and either coffee or tea. The favorite of the three of us was the pistachio parfait, although the chocolate polenta cake was arguably the best version of this dessert we've ever had, given that it retained its moistness even with its appealingly grainy texture.

The cheese course wasn't part of the $35 menu, but we were seated near the cheese display and Karen found herself craving cheese after staring at it all night. It was a lovely selection of three different cheeses served with walnuts and pollen-scented honey.

We also found a nice selection of wines by the glass, and while Andrew enjoyed his softly fruity Sangiovese, we both loved Karen's Tocai so much we shared a second glass of it.

We were able to thank the lovely and delightful Marisa May, daughter of San Domenico owner Tony May (who was also strolling the room chatting with guests), for our wonderful dinner experience. Commenting on how the vibrant dining room last night contrasted with the serious tone set at special events we'd had the pleasure of attending there during the day (from a water tasting to a truffle auction), Marisa laughed, "We're Italian everybody here likes to have a good time!" It showed and we thank the entire team at San Domenico for ensuring our own good time last night.

After walking Susan to her hotel, we strolled east in the mid-50s between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, musing about the wonderful time we'd had and reflecting on how rare it was these days to see owners welcoming guests personally to their restaurant. "It harkens back to the days of Sirio [Maccioni] at Le Cirque," Karen remarked, gesturing her arms as we walked along the empty block.

Or at least we thought the sidewalk was empty. But as Karen's arm poked the air with her gesture, her hand pointed in the direction of another walker alongside us, out of our eyeshot until this very moment. Magically appearing into our view was...none other than Sirio Maccioni himself.

As we walked the half-block together, we explained that we'd just left a lovely dinner at San Domenico. Tony May has it all figured out, Sirio told us: "He plays golf two or three times a week." And as the conversation turned to new restaurants (as we'd bumped into Sirio on our way into Morimoto just last week), we asked when the new Le Cirque was expected to open (in the new Bloomberg building on Lexington at 58th Street). "End of April," Sirio promised.

We raise a toast to those hard-working Italian restaurateurs who are on hand in their restaurants to make sure their guests have a deliciously good time.

San Domenico is at 240 Central Park South (59th Street, near Broadway), New York. Phone: (212) 265-5959. Web: restaurant.com/sandomenicony Marisa May mentioned that San Domenico is very proud of its weekend brunch, for which we look forward to returning.


Abby Dodge's Honey-Balsamic Baked Chicken

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 Following up on our promise to share more of our home-cooked fare, here's a shot of one of Andrew's favorite make-at-home dishes.

Not one to follow recipes, one caught Andrew's eye in the April / May 2000 issue of Fine Cooking magazine and he decided to try it. We loved it so much it became part of his repertoire.

Years later, we were in the recording studio at Carnegie Hall taping an interview for KCRW Radio in Los Angeles, and met the delightful fellow culinary author Abby Dodge in the green room.

Fast forward to the next time Andrew pulled out the recipe for honey-balsamic baked chicken, and the byline of the recipe's author finally caught his attention: Abigail Johnson Dodge our Abby Dodge! We enjoyed letting her know about her ongoing presence in our kitchen.

Abby Dodge's
Honey-Balsamic Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Mushrooms & Peppers

Andrew writes: I don't have many recipes that I follow. Being male and a former restaurant cook, I am genetically challenged on this front. At last count, I think I am up to four. This is a fantastic winter dish that is very easy to make, cooks in less than an hour in the oven, and is just as delicious the next day as leftovers. This dish can be served with a variety of starches on the side, but typically I serve it with polenta (with or without pesto added), buttered egg noodles, or just some crusty bread to dip in the sauce. Though Abby does not call for it, I like to grate some good Parmesan on top of the dish as well. I've made a couple of very minor changes over the years because of what I've had on hand at the time, which I note below.

1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into quarters
(you can substitute chicken thighs, which make a very inexpensive and tasty choice)
1 medium red pepper, cored and seeded and cut into one-inch pieces
1 medium yellow pepper, cored and seeded and cut into one-inch pieces
(you can use any color of pepper for this dish but the red and yellow are prettier and a little sweeter)
½ pound mushrooms (button, cremini or other), cut into quarters
14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. chopped rosemary
1½ tsp. course salt
freshly ground pepper
1½ Tbs. honey

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and dry the chicken and cut into quarters. Cut away any excess fat and tuck the wings under the breast.

In a large shallow baking pan (10 ½ by 15 ½, which Abby says is key however, if you make a small batch, a large ovenproof frying pan can be used), toss in the peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper, and mix together.

Dredge the chicken skin side down into the mixture and flip over. Sprinkle on the rest of the salt and a crack of pepper, then drizzle with the honey.

Bake until the chicken is cooked through, or about 50 minutes.

Depending on your oven, you may want to cover the chicken for the last 10 minutes to avoid having the skin overbrown.

Abby Dodge has a Web site at www.theweekendbaker.com. We also love her book of the same name!

"I have enjoyed reading about what Andrew has been cooking at home."
--Charleen Badman, chef, Inside (NYC)

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

I wanted to thank you two again for your inspirational book BECOMING A CHEF that I read while incarcerated and for the opportunity to share a few words with you at the FENI Summit in New Orleans in 2005. After you wrote about me in your newsletter last year [a literary agent read your testimony and contacted me about writing a book]...The rights to my life story were sold to William Morrow / HarperCollins for a substantial six figures... Thank you, Andrew and Karen, for coming into my life through your work.
Jeff Henderson, executive chef,
Cafe Belaggio/Las Vegas (2/6/06)



 
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