ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - JANUARY 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)
Tuesday, January 31, 2006 — We were delighted to learn that the film "Crash" received six Oscar nominations today, including Best Film and Best Director. "Crash" was by far our favorite movie of 2005.
This film has been described as taking on the topic of race relations, but we found its lessons to be far broader: Try watching "Crash" through the lens of discerning behavior motivated by fear versus love, and perhaps you'll be persuaded of this.
What is the purpose of film, of art? That's a bigger question than we can take on in depth in a Blog, but our short answer is that we believe the best has something to do with uplifting the human spirit.
Dr. David R. Hawkins has written a number of thought-provoking books (including Power vs. Force) suggesting that everything -- including people, places and things -- can be quantified on a scale of 0 to 1000. Those that calibrate under 200 are said to be based on force (aka fear), and those over 200 are said to be based on power (aka love). According to Hawkins' scale, Death Row inmates calibrate at 20, while Jesus and Buddha calibrate at 1000.
In the Appendix of his book Truth vs. Falsehood, Dr. Hawkins calibrates various movies. "Big Blue" is the highest calibrating (at 700); other high-scoring films include "It's A Wonderful Life" (450), "The Wizard of Oz" (450), and "Forrest Gump" (475). At the other end of the spectrum are movies like "In Cold Blood" (80), "Rosemary's Baby" (60), and "Pulp Fiction" (25). We may be in the unfashionable minority, but our taste in films is with the former and not the latter.
Just last week, we saw one of the highest-calibrating films (on our own personal scale, not Dr. Hawkins') we've ever watched entitled "The Girl in the Cafe." It is not only a well-directed film (by David Yates, who's also directing the Harry Potter movie due out next year) and a well-acted film (with wonderful performances by Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald), but one that dares to suggest that anyone can play a role in creating a better world.
As human beings, we have fear-based (i.e. <200) encounters on a regular basis as part of the course of daily life -- whether fighting bacteria (1), overhearing gangster rap music (35-95), or watching TV reality show contests (125).
What better reason to appreciate those films -- like "Crash" -- that are able to lift us up to a higher personal calibration (in Dr. Hawkins' terminology), or -- more simply put -- that dare us to act from love instead of fear? We wish the makers of "Crash" the best of luck come March 5th, but as far as we're concerned, they already have a winner.
"Crash" has a Web site at www.crashfilm.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is at www.veritaspub.com.
"The Girl in the Cafe" is at hbo.com/films/girlinthecafe.
Monday, January 30, 2006 — We were very saddened to learn at noon today that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein just passed away at the age of 55.
We had been honored that Wasserstein -- an avid fan of Picholine restaurant and its maitre fromager Max McCalman -- had shared her very kind words for Max and our book DINING OUT as the opening quote on its opening page:
"As far as I'm concerned, cheese doesn't come from cows or goats or sheep, but from Max McCalman at Picholine. McCalman's cheese guide in this book is an informative survey of all the things I've wanted to ask him but didn't have the time because I'm in love with an Irish Cheddar he's just put on my plate. This wonderful book finally lets us all take Max and his cheese cart home!"
--Wendy Wasserstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright
We'd last run into Wendy a few years ago at Payard Patisserie on Lexington Avenue, where she'd graciously introduced us to her mother, Lola.
But Karen had first met Wendy in 1993 when she'd hosted a dinner for fellow Harvard Business School alumnae before a performance of one of Wendy's plays:
"Wendy Wasserstein Honored for the Road Not Taken
Act I: Wendy Wasserstein, gifted undergraduate, applies to the Columbia Business School and to the Yale Drama School at the same time.
Act II: Ms. Wasserstein goes to Yale, writes hit plays, and wins a Pulitzer Prize.
Act III: Ms. Wasserstein is honored by 35 women with Harvard MBAs for not going to business school.
As the curtain rose last night on dinner at the '21' Club, the playwright was being named the first honorary member of the Harvard Business School Network of Women Alumnae. Karen Page, who heads the network, described the dinner as 'our thanks for the laughs and the astute insights Wendy has brought into our lives by opting not to attend business school.'
Along with thanks, the Harvard women also gave Ms. Wasserstein a crystal star. It was presented by the chef and owner of the Arcadia restaurant, Anne Rosenzweig, who called herself an actual 'sister Rosensweig.' The reference was to Ms. Wasserstein's play, 'The Sisters Rosensweig.' The Harvard crowd attended a performance of it after the dinner.
Ms. Rosenzweig went to cooking school, not business school. Ms. Wasserstein's brother, Bruce Wasserstein, has a Harvard MBA, but he was not at the dinner."
--Georgia Dullea, "Chronicle," The New York Times (March 25, 1993)
Wendy Wasserstein and her immense talents will be sorely missed. Our hearts go out to Wendy's family -- and especially her 6-year-old daughter Lucy Jane -- and friends at this very sad and difficult time.
Monday, January 30, 2006 — Our bestselling author friend Barbara Stanny can be one tough cookie! Having stayed with her at her beautiful home in Washington State, and been wined and dined as her guests there, we hoped to take her to dinner on Friday night while she's in New York City on her latest book tour. But in her email today, she holds firm:
"I just want to tell you I'm in NY, and can't wait to see you Friday at 7:30...how exciting...and Karen, I insist...this time it's my treat...so please, no argument!! ; ) "
We think we know better than to argue with Barbara! (At least we did our part by making a reservation at a Midtown restaurant with a new, talented chef that is participating in the last night of Restaurant Week 2006.) But we will put our foot down that we insist on sharing her other exciting news, which is that her latest book Overcoming Underearning gets a terrific review in USA Today today:
"Quick. How much do you want to earn? Write down the first number that pops into your head. Tell someone. Post it on a note on your computer. Believe you can do it. You're on the way to Overcoming Underearning, the title of a new book by Barbara Stanny, the daughter of Richard Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block....To make it happen, you must be a 'doer,' she writes. Some affirmations: Make a vow that underearning is not an option. Put yourself first. Do what you think you can't do, stretch. Surround yourself with supportive people. Banish naysayers. And, 'Keep passages of this book where you can see them,' she urges. There may be many reasons to want more income, but the best might be simply financial independence. Or as Stanny defines it, 'having the resources to live a satisfying, comfortable life, accomplish your dreams and goals, and have more fun doing what you do.'"
Kerry Hannon, USA TODAY (1/30/06)
Congratulations to Barbara on her latest book, and USA Today's rave (which you can read the rest of here). You can order Overcoming Underearning by clicking its title.
And our thanks to Barbara for being the friend who first took us to see "What the Bleep Do We Know?!" (see yesterday's Blog, below) at a tiny theater in Washington nearly two years ago!
Wu Liang Ye's Signature Roasted Lacquer (Beijing) Duck
Wrapping the duck into pancakes with hoisin and scallions
Our 1999 Philippe-Lorraine Merlot was a +2 accompaniment
Sunday, January 29, 2006 — Ahem: After today's article in The New York Times' Arts & Leisure section (p. 18) on the "surprising" success of "What the Bleep Do We Know!?", we'd just like to point out that we'd predicted its runaway success in our June 2004 e-Newsletter. Now, on to food....
People who read our Blog -- or those who merely know that we write books about food and wine and restaurant life -- will ask us if, in the midst of all our dining out, we ever eat at home. Today's Blog entry is for them.
Yes, we eat at home. And quite often. Andrew, who trained with the legendary Madeleine Kamman at the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards and learned a lot on the job in the kitchens of Chris Schlesinger at the East Coast Grill, Lydia Shire at Biba, Anne Rosenzweig at Arcadia, et al, is quite a good cook (writes Karen, who gets to take advantage of this fact more than anyone else). And, like other New Yorkers, we'll often order in. Having assumed that what we eat at home is of lesser interest than where we're dining to those who read our Blog, we haven't written much about it. However, today -- and in the future, thanks to your input -- we'll make more exceptions.
With Chinese New Year upon us, we've had a hankering for Peking duck. If we were in the best of muscular condition and health, we'd probably head straight to Michael Tong's Shun Lee Palace. But having run the NYRR Manhattan Half-Marathon in Central Park yesterday morning, our legs are sore -- and since Karen's been under the weather for several days to boot, we didn't feel much like going out. So, we took a $28.95 risk and ordered Peking duck from our "corner Chinese restaurant," Wu Liang Ye.
We were pleasantly and happily surprised. While Wu Liang Ye has proven to be reliable over years of taking out lunch specials and dan dan noodles, it certainly calls a restaurant out to order the most expensive item on its menu. Wu Liang Ye rose to the challenge, packing a "to go" bag with a whole crisp duck, a box of pancakes, another box of white rice, a tub of hoisin sauce, and another container of julienned scallion and cucumber (not to mention another of two different kinds of ripe melon that served as dessert). We loved every bite.
We had consulted our manuscript for WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT (Bulfinch Press, October 2006) for recommended wine accompaniments for Peking duck, and hit upon an array of fruity reds and whites: Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Zinfandel, etc. Andrew reminded Karen of the jammy Merlot we'd picked up at a January 11th wine tasting in the neighborhood at World Wines & Spirits on Second Avenue at 38th Street, and we both thought it would be a great match. In fact, the fruity 1999 Philippe-Lorraine Merlot (Napa Valley) earned a +2 (our highest rating) with our Peking duck.
Thanks to World Wines and Spirits and Wu Liang Ye, we can't imagine a better way to have rung in 4074 at home in Murray Hill.
Philippe-Lorraine is in St. Helena, California. We thank Phillip Baxter, Proprietor, for managing to make a Merlot (not typically our favorite varietal) that made us sit up, take notice, plunk down our money, and enjoy.
World Wines and Spirits is at 705 Second Ave. (at 38th Street), New York. (646) 227-0446.
Wu Liang Ye is at 338 Lexington Ave. (at 39th Street), New York. (212) 370-9648.
Our first Chinese New Year card of 4074 from Corinne Trang
Saturday, January 28, 2006 — On the heels of receiving Corinne Trang's New Year card (above), we opened our emailbox to find an email from astrologer Joni Ross (who is a friend of a friend of ours) with her own celebration of the New Year -- and the New Moon, which arrives tomorrow morning at 9:15 am EST, marking the very start of the New Year:
"Sunday, January 29, 2006, 9:15 AM EST New Moon in Aquarius. Aquarius (ruler Uranus) symbolizes personal liberation and conscious/rational choice. With the planet Neptune (spiritual connecting) and Mercury (our thoughts and questions) conjoining this lunation, our visions and the ability to have focused prayer are enhanced. As we begin this new cycle for the month ahead, we have a great opportunity to reflect on where, in our own lives, we may be compromising our dreams for the sake of not wanting to rock the boat. That honesty with ourselves is what we need to set that change in motion. Now is the time to envision our goals and dreams coming true and trust that a change of perspective is a necessary part of that process."
Joni goes on to offer a gift -- which you should feel free to take advantage of, too:
"The house placement of Uranus can indicate the ongoing area in your life that needs to revolutionize. The Zodiacal sign and aspects are indicators on how you might go about accomplishing that. If you would like to know what house the New Moon will be affecting this month and the sign, aspects and placement of your natal Uranus, email Juoni@aol.com and I will send that to you as a gift. Please include your date, time and place of birth."
Astrologer Joni Ross is a talented and insightful woman, and is reachable at Juoni@aol.com. For anyone who's ever been curious about having their own astrological chart read (which was such an unexpectedly fascinating experience for us that we definitely recommend that everyone have it done at least once in a lifetime), Joni offers a very reasonably priced consultation.
Friday, January 27, 2006 — Happy "Year of the Dog" -- and hope you enjoy the homemade card (above) from the multi-talented Corinne Trang (who is also the award-winning author of
Authentic Vietnamese Cooking: Food from a Family Table (Simon & Schuster;1999), Essentials of Asian Cuisine: Fundamentals and Favorite Recipes (Simon & Schuster; 2003), and the upcoming The Asian Grill: Great Recipes, Bold Flavors (Chronicle Books; 2006) as much as we did!
Click here for a link to an article by Corinne on how to prepare your own Asian New Year dim sum celebration at home. As Corinne would put it, "Gong Hey Fat Choy!"
"Chinese New Year may bring to mind dancing dragons parading through the streets, noisy firecrackers and crowds of spectators. But for most Asian families, like mine, the lunar New Year -- a 15-day celebration (from January 29 to February 12 this year) -- is a time to gather and prepare a festive traditional meal. Since my father is ethnic Chinese and my mother is French, my New Year's party mixes East and West...And, for this Year of the Dog celebration, our Yorkie, Astérix, is our guest of honor."
--Corinne Trang, Budget Living magazine (Winter 2006)
Corinne Trang can be found at www.corinnetrang.com.
Alto's Sliced Raw Diver Scallops with Manila Clam Salad
Alto's Fricassee of Seasonal Mushrooms over creamy polenta
Andrew kicked off his Espresso Menu with potato-garlic soup
Alto's Rabbit Ravioli with pignoli nuts and currants
Slow-Roasted Salmon with three onions and spaetzle
Alto's sea bass with pancetta and radicchio
A sampling of four desserts at Alto...
...was followed by a lovely tray of petits fours
Thursday, January 26, 2006 — While only two city blocks and an avenue apart in distance, the experience of our second Restaurant Week 2006 lunch today was a world apart from our first (see our January 23rd Blog).
Having run into managing partner Chris Cannon on Monday night at Gourmet's anniversary party at Morimoto, we were especially looking forward to our first-ever dining experience at Alto today over lunch. Chris had mentioned to us the other night that Restaurant Week diners in for a bargain lunch rarely ordered wine, and so Alto encourages them to do so by offering three wine pairings with the three-course $24.07 prix fixe lunch for only $20.06. Especially given the quality of the wines, it's a wonderful bargain* -- not to mention a great way to try some very interesting Italian wines. (We adore slightly sweet and effervescent Brachetto d'Acqui either with -- or as -- dessert.)
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In a city filled with wonderful Italian restaurants, what on earth does Alto have to recommend it?
+ It's a beautiful room. Compared to the stark, cold space we found ourselves in during Monday's lunch, Alto is sleek and modern with enough whimsical touches (e.g. beautiful walls of bottles) to keep it interesting and far from cold.
+ It's a wonderful team. No one was on autopilot at Alto: Even the staff members who served our bread and cleared our plates did so with a smile and friendly eye contact. Chris Cannon was there to greet us at the door, and captain (and former Philadelphian) Michelangelo oversaw our table with great professionalism and even good humor. (And we were happy to get to say hello to T.J. at the bar on the way out, as he was among our favorite reasons to dine at Artisanal in his days there five years ago.)
+ It's a talented kitchen. The dishes coming out of chef Scott Conant's kitchen at Alto sing with flavors and dance with textures. Alto even goes to the trouble of baking its own breads, of which we especially loved the potato and pretzel breads.
+ It's a lovely wine selection. Based on the Prosecco with which we again toasted Rikki Klieman's new book along with our sampling of the three wines paired to this week's Restaurant Week menu -- which included a 1999 Hofstatter Chardonnay and a 2004 Tiefenbrunner Schiava (both from Italy's Alto-Adige region) as well as a delightful 2004 Marenco Brachetto d'Acqui -- we can sense that the wine list is in very capable hands at Alto.
+ It serves dishes you'll want to taste again and again. While all of the above are reasons to try a restaurant once, the secret of getting people to return is providing an experience guests will want to repeat. We found one in the Fricassee of Seasonal Mushrooms with creamy polenta and truffle reduction, which was among the most flavorful and decadent we've ever tasted. (After we all but licked the plate clean, we joked that it hadn't been rich enough for our taste.) The delicious Sliced Raw Diver Scallops were rich in flavor while still being relatively light. We were also crazy about the Rabbit Ravioli with pignoli nuts, mustard seeds and currants (and found the currants offering the perfect note to balance the dish). And while we very much enjoyed both fish dishes, we were especially appreciative that the kitchen cooked both perfectly -- and would return to discover its treatment of other fish dishes.
*Speaking of bargains, we were surprised and happy to learn that aside from Restaurant Week, Alto offers a $30 three-course Espresso Lunch of an appetizer, entree, and espresso with biscotti for dessert -- so even after Restaurant Week's February 3rd conclusion, you can still find a nice deal here.
All the more reason we'll be happy to return to Alto another time very soon. This time, Restaurant Week 2006 did exactly what it was supposed to do: It gave three first-time customers an excuse to pay a visit, and turned into an experience that already has all three of us not only looking forward to returning, but happy to spread the good word about this very special restaurant.
Alto is at 520 Madison Ave. (on 53rd St., bet. Madison and Fifth Aves.), New York. (212) 308-1099. Web: www.altorestaurant.com
DB Bistro Moderne's gifted chef Olivier Muller takes
break from the kitchen to deliver our Tarte Flambee
The best Bibb lettuce salad we've ever had, at DB Bistro
The only other dish of frog legs in town (other than Jean
Georges' classic with garlic soup) that lights our fire!
The three women at our table didn't hesitate when placing
our orders: Bring on three medium-rare DB Burgers, please!
DB Bistro Moderne's incredible rabbit entree provided a
different taste and texture in every delicious bite
Rikki Klieman and Andrew Dornenburg; one of
desserts we enjoyed at DB Bistro Moderne
The book that prompted our celebratory dinner: TAKE THE
WITNESS, co-edited by our dear friend Rikki Klieman
Thursday, January 26, 2006 — We don't write up every restaurant we visit, and we certainly wouldn't write up a restaurant we've already written up twice in the past two months unless there was good reason. DB Bistro Moderne is such a special restaurant that it's been providing reason after reason to do so.
Having impressed us on those two aforementioned visits, when we were invited to a book party celebrating the debut of our dear friend Court TV anchor Rikki Klieman's legal book (co-edited with Baker & McKenzie partner Larry Newman) TAKE THE WITNESS on the art of cross-examination around the corner at the law offices of Baker & McKenzie (where we enjoyed saying hello to Murray and Stacey Richman, and Mickey Sherman), we made plans to sit down for dinner afterward at DB Bistro Moderne. A long-time fan of the DB burger, Rikki was excited to return -- and we were all happy to introduce Jacalyn Barnett (the New York matrimonial attorney who also contributed an essay to the book) to the restaurant.
DB Bistro gets it right. The restaurant was packed when we arrived at 8:15 pm, yet our greeting at the door was warm and not rushed. When the night's specials were described to us, the praises of the rabbit were sung so loudly that we would have felt silly not to order it -- and we were, in fact, richly rewarded with one of the best rabbit dishes we've ever tasted.
This level of hospitality and professional passion is simple, but it is not easy -- or else every restaurant in town would offer it. And, truth be told, with so many restaurants to choose from, why should any New Yorker return to a restaurant that isn't passionate about its food? (The examples of the Croatian restaurant Trio that we visited the other month, as well as Aquavit which we visited earlier in the week, come to mind. If their own staff doesn't seem to care about a restaurant's unique offerings, especially when a guest inquires about them, then why should a guest care?)
Hospitable service, great food and wine, and a beautiful ambiance....These are the essentials of a great restaurant. Everything else, as they say, is gravy. But even the "gravy" is special at DB: The fact that chef Olivier Muller took three minutes out of the kitchen to deliver our Alsatian tarte flambee personally -- and the fact that DB's genial wine pro Arnaud Devulder took a moment to share Andrew's excitement about the Spanish reserva wine from Toro Andrew had spotted on the wine list for just over $50 (a fantastic wine which turned out to be a pet wine of Arnaud's) -- put our experience last night over the top.
Thanks again to the extraordinary team at DB Bistro Moderne for doing what they do so well!
DB Bistro Moderne is at 55 W. 44th Street, New York. (212) 391-2400. Web: http://danielnyc.com/dbbistro/.
Jacalyn Barnett, Esq., matrimonial lawyer, can be found at 260 Madison Ave., New York. But we hope you never need her.
TAKE THE WITNESS: The Experts Speak on Cross-Examination, edited by Lawrence W. Newman and Rikki Klieman, is available through www.jurispub.com and will soon be available on Amazon.com.
"Over a century ago, Professor John H. Wigmore wrote that cross-examination is 'beyond any doubt the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.' The outcome of trials routinely turns upon the effectiveness of cross....TAKE THE WITNESS is a gem -- full of tactical pointers on the art of cross-examination and, at the same time, a highly entertaining read for the lawyer and non-lawyer alike."
--John M. Walker, Jr., Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals
Le Bernardin's private room upstairs set up to introduce
guests to Wolf Blass Wines' "Flavors of the Outback"
A tasting of Australian wild fruits and nuts: The Bunya Nuts
(located at 6 o'clock) were turned into a hummus appetizer;
a squeeze of the Finger Lime at 3 o'clock turned its pulp into
the perfect "caviar" accent for a raw oyster
Chef Andrew Fielke introduces us to a native we'll soon be
sampling as part of the appetizer Tasting Plate
The Australian Tasting Plate of everything from Bunya Nut
Hummus to Marron Tail to Barramundi with 2004 Riesling
Sommelier Matt Lane explains the next wine we'll taste
Pouring the 2002 Wolf Blass Gold Label Coonawara Cabernet
Sauvignon, to accompany the Australian Beef Brisket
The Australian Cheese Plate's knock-out was a Caramelized
Australian Aged Cheddar with the 2002 Wolf Blass Shiraz
Australian dessert plate of treats such as Banana Macadamia
Spring Rolls with Olida Butterscotch Sauce
Wednesday, January 25, 2006 — As it's our friend Barry Salzman's birthday, our hearts were already in Australia (where he lives) today. But over lunch at Le Bernardin, we took a virtual trip to Australia, courtesy of Wolf Blass Wines' "Flavours of the Outback" event.
Australian chef Andrew Fielke led us on an exploration of the Outback via our noses and tongues as we tasted our way through plates of wild fruits and nuts, and then wild herbs, spices and vegetables. We learned that over the past two decades, there's been a movement among some Australian chefs to celebrate these indigenous ingredients.
Highlights of the lunch included a +2 pairing of Oysters with Finger Lime "Caviar" with the 2004 Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Riesling, as well as the Caramelized Australian Aged Cheddar with the 2002 Wolf Blass Gold Label Barossa Shiraz (also a +2 pairing). Those who know us know that a +2 pairing is our highest possible compliment to a match!
Special thanks to Lisa Klinck-Shea of Foster's Wine Estates Americas, and Joe Naughton of Dreamcoat for their hospitality -- and especially Joe for thinking to introduce us to the very kind Lucinda Scala Quinn of MSLO. And thanks, too, to our seatmates (e.g. Patricia Cobe of Restaurant Business, Janet Forman, Kate Fox of Saveur, and Peter Zwiebach of Impact) for making the lunch as enjoyable as it was.
Wolf Blass Wines of Australia can be found on the Web at www.wolfblass.com.
Foster's Wine Estates Americas can be found on the Web at www.fosterswineestates.com.
Chef Mario Batali and Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl
at the kick-off party for Gourmet's 65th year at Morimoto
Chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Francois Payard of Payard
Patisserie & Bistro at this "first look" at Morimoto
Karen Page, chef Kerry Heffernan of Hudson Yards Catering,
and Michelle Tong (daughter of restaurateur Michael Tong)
Andrew Dornenburg and Gourmet editor John Willoughby,
at an impromptu meeting of the East Coast Grill Alumni Club
The passed sushi (including sweet shrimp) at Morimoto
Morimoto served terrines with wooden sticks for eating
Morimoto's high-tech hot-seated self-flushing toilet
Tuesday, January 24, 2006 — Many diners out for a $35 dinner the first night of Restaurant Week 2006 got second-tier cooking last night: Whether there to celebrate Gourmet magazine's 65th anniversary year or to check out the new competition in town, virtually all of New York's top chefs (Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Terrance Brennan, Cesare Casella, Rebecca Charles, Kerry Heffernan, Zarela Martinez, Francois Payard, Eric Ripert, Laurent Tourondel, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jonathan Waxman) and restaurateurs (Joe Bastianich, Rita Jammet, Jerome Kretchmer, Sirio Maccioni, Michael McCarty, Danny Meyer, Phil Suarez, Michael Tong) were out for a "first look" at Morimoto restaurant on Tenth Avenue at a party co-hosted by Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, restaurateur Stephen Starr, and chef Masuharu Morimoto.
We enjoyed getting to catch up with many of them -- and getting to confess to Mario Batali our new addiction to his fabulous branded sausages, which can be found at Whole Foods. It was also a pleasure to be introduced by Ruth Reichl to restaurateur Michael McCarty and especially Michael's General Manager Steve Millington -- who confessed that he, like many others we know in the restaurant business, is a former professional musician. We recounted to him the time that we coaxed chef Andrew Carmellini to play a CD of his music late one of his last nights at Cafe Boulud, and asked whether we might be treated to some of his music over the restaurant's sound system on a future visit to MIchael's. "I don't think so," Millington admitted. "One of my last songs was titled 'Fuck You.'"
From a 1990s bash at the Morgan Library to a few years back at The Whitney to last night's soiree at Morimoto, some of the very best parties in this biz have been thrown by Ruth Reichl's Gourmet. Thanks for including us in the fun, Ruth!
Morimoto is at 88 Tenth Avenue (bet. 15th & 16th Streets), New York City. (212) 989-8883. Web: www.morimotonyc.com Morimoto officially opens for business at the end of the month. (Manager Karin Haidorfer told us that Morimoto's sister restaurant Buddakan opens at 75 Ninth Ave. after Valentine's Day.)
Aquavit's herring sampler with cheese and potatoes
Aquavit shrimp salad toast with golden white fish roe
Aquavit's hot smoked salmon with apple-horseradish broth
Aquavit's Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes
Aquavit pastry chef Carina Ahlin's Arctic Circle: Goat cheese
parfait, blueberry sorbet -- which "wow"ed us both!
Aquavit Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with coconut sorbet
Monday, January 23, 2006 — Life as an author is filled with deadlines. We met another one this morning after working virtually 'round the clock the past several days (except for the couple of hours we spent running the New York Road Runners Frostbite 10-Mile Race in Central Park yesterday morning) -- after which we celebrated over our first lunch of Restaurant Week 2006 at Aquavit.
Karen had been taken out for a memorably unpleasant lunch at Aquavit over a decade ago, and as a consequence, it was never high on our list of places we were eager to dine together -- and so we hadn't. When participating restaurants were announced for this month's Restaurant Week (which kicks off today and runs through Friday of next week), we decided the stakes were low enough at $24.07 for a three-course lunch to give Aquavit another shot. (We made a couple of other lunch and $35 dinner reservations as well.)
Restaurant Week has been around so long that Andrew still remembers it from his perspective as part of the kitchen team at Anne Rosenzweig's restaurant Arcadia. Tales were rampant of the "chiselers" filling the dining room, ordering tap water to drink [or, in the case of a customer who'd ordered a martini with his lunch and was asked by the waiter whether he preferred it straight up or on the rocks, "whichever comes with more"] and notoriously undertipping. So, when we occasionally dine out during Restaurant Week, we're predisposed to err on the side of overdressing and overtipping.
Apparently, we're in the minority. During Restaurant Week, the staffs at not just a few restaurants tend to get that glazed-over look in their eyes as they go onto automatic pilot and treat lunch and dinner like two weeks of impersonal banquet service. That was unfortunately mostly the case this afternoon at Aquavit -- a bit early for Day One of this 10-day promotion.
On the plus side, this wasn't a lunch that dragged on endlessly. (In fact, arriving just after 2 pm, we'd found a cab and were back in our home a mile away just 80 minutes later.) Our first courses were served barely three or four minutes after we'd placed our orders -- and our desserts were set before us almost as quickly after our entree plates were removed from our table (although the server had to stand behind our table to wait to serve them while our silverware was then quickly reset).
On the negative side, it made us question just what the restaurant hoped to get out of its participation in Restaurant Week. As customers, we look at it as a form of "restaurant speed-dating": a low-risk way to check something out to see if it showed promise for a future rendez-vous. For a restaurant, it is in fact possible to build a relationship with a table such that newcomers will consider returning. This is an opportunity to celebrate and share what's special about the restaurant, e.g. how the four types of herring served on a sampler plate differ. However, when servers go on autopilot and guests' orders are reversed (or ignored)....well, that's not likely to happen.
Even though there were only two of us, each of us was served the other's appetizer and coffee ($5.50) / tea ($7). We ordered a bottle of sparkling Voss mineral water for the table ($9), yet had to keep asking the busboys to stop filling our half-filled glasses of mineral water with tap water -- unfortunately unsuccessfully, and more than once.
The appetizers were set before us quickly and wordlessly, without explanation or enthusiasm. We had to ask a few people before we could find one who could explain the intriguing flavor of one of the four herring samples to us (which was said to be the result of "marinating" in "candlewood" -- er, "sandalwood"). And we had to ask for the wine list before one was offered to us, although we found a lovely glass of Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling from Alsace ($12) to accompany our entrees.
While the appetizers were fine, we were impressed with the excellent quality of the hot smoked salmon, and the intriguing sweet-hot flavor of its apple-horseradish broth.
What really made us sit up and take notice, however, were the desserts. The Arctic Circle of goat cheese parfait with blueberry sorbet and passion fruit curd was boldly flavored, rich, and refreshing at the same time -- it made the first word out of both of our mouths after tasting it a resounding "Wow!" And while the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with coconut sorbet and citrus salad wasn't to Andrew's taste, Karen let out another joyful "Wow!" upon tasting the aggressively salted peanut butter that oozed from this delicious cake. We were so impressed that we asked who the pastry chef was, and the genial headwaiter thoughtfully offered to double-check with the kitchen and returned with the name "Carina Ahlin." A quick search on Google revealed her to be formerly of the Stockholm bakery
Riddarbageriet. Well, we'll certainly keep our eyes on pastry chef Carina Ahlin (and our forks on her desserts any time).
In fact, Carina is arguably the only one who put herself out to make an outrageously favorable impression on us at lunch today. Thanks, Carina -- we noticed, and we really appreciated it.
At about $50 per person all-in (with beverages and a 20 percent tip), Restaurant Week doesn't qualify as a "cheap lunch," but as far as getting to know a restaurant goes, it does qualify as an inexpensive "speed date." We just wish more restaurants weren't so jaded after 14 years of this promotion and were willing to try a little harder to make a better first impression on guests by a) getting orders right, and b) sharing their enthusiasm for what makes their restaurant unique and special.
The Dining Room at Aquavit is at
65 E. 55th Street (bet. Park and Madison Aves.), New York City. (212) 307-7311. Web: www.aquavitrestaurant.com
Asian woman in head-to-toe bright pink on Lexington Ave.
Friday, January 20, 2006 — Sure, we see it all in New York City -- but yesterday at lunchtime was admittedly the first time we'd ever seen an Asian woman dressed head-to-toe in bright pink handing out flyers on Lexington Avenue near the Citicorp Center.
We thank her for this bright sight on a winter day!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006 — Congratulations to our friend (and the photographer of our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT) Michael Sofronski, for garnering such great press for his photo exhibition "The Last Bohemians" at the Westbeth Gallery (see our January 13th Blog) in today's New York Post and New York Daily News:
"'Partridge Family' star Susan Dey schmoozed with 'Addams Family' actress Judith Malina at the opening of 'The Last Bohemians' at the Westbeth Gallery. Malina, who cofounded the Living Theater, is one of the venerable Village artistes chronicled by Dylan Foley and Michael Sofronski."
--Rush & Molloy, New York Daily News
"Photo-journalist Michael Sofronski, son of producer Bernie Sofronski, has a showing at Westbeth Gallery (55 Bethune St.)."
--Michael Starr, "Starr Report," New York Post
With all our newspaper reading, how could we have previously missed the review of the "exhilarating" Ligeti concert we attended Friday night with our Rancho La Puerta cohorts Julia and Stuart in yesterday's New York Times? We thank Julia for mentioning it to us:
Lusty bravos greeted the dynamic performance of the concerto, brilliantly conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, who returned to conduct "Mysteries of the Macabre," the supervirtuosic coloratura aria from Mr. Ligeti's audacious opera, "Le Grand Macabre," arranged for chamber orchestra and performed here by the fearless soprano Barbara Hannigan.
The male character she portrayed is Gepopo, the chief of police in the surreal land where this apocalyptic opera takes place. Wearing fishnet tights, spike heels and a leather trench coat, Ms. Hannigan was a demonic presence. But even scarier was her uncanny ability to toss off the hysterical coloratura flights and nonsensical words.
The chamber orchestra follows the singer's tortuous vocal lines almost slavishly, here couching a syllable with a gnashing chord, there providing a countermelody in whining winds, sometimes offering a fleeting moment of repose in a pensive chorale. Ms. Hannigan, Mr. de Leeuw and the players were brought back for five bows by the audience.
Five bows?? We had apparently been too busy clapping to count. (Either that, or too busy imagining the Indian food that we'd head out for afterward at Sapphire, before capping off the evening -- or, more accurately, kicking off the early morning -- with a delightful tasting of Italian digestifs chez Julia and Stuart.)
Without a doubt, soprano Barbara Hannigan's costume was certainly the most memorable we've ever seen on a Lincoln Center stage! And indeed our first experience of a live performance of Gyorgy Ligeti's music was equally provocative and memorable. Our thanks to Julia and Stuart for suggesting it, and for sparking such a wonderful evening together.
Sapphire Restaurant is at 1845 Broadway (bet. 60th & 61st Streets).
(212) 245-4444. Recommended dishes: Chicken Shahi Korma ("a
rare recipe of korma cooked with a cashew nut and almond based sauce"), and Dal Sapphire (lentils).
Cover of May 1973 Country Music magazine,
which Karen had Johnny Cash sign for Andrew
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 — We were happy to see Joachin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon take home Golden Globe Awards last night for their portrayals of Johnny and June Carter Cash in the movie "Walk the Line."
We've long been fans of Johnny Cash -- and even more so ever since he and his wife and son showed up at Karen's office Christmas party in Westport, Connecticut, more than a decade ago where he happily agreed to sign a copy of Country Music magazine for Andrew -- by far Andrew's favorite Christmas present that year, to put it mildly! (Karen's was doubtless meeting them, and being able to attend their holiday concert that night in Stamford.)
We hadn't yet seen "Walk the Line," which opened in November just as we were leaving for a week in Paris (and a week in Mexico shortly thereafter), but it's now been raised to the top of our must-see list.
Long live Johnny and June Carter Cash -- and congratulations to Joachin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for bringing them to life in "Walk the Line."
"Walk the Line" is playing in theaters nationwide.
Susan Dey takes on the db burger at DB Bistro Moderne
(Photo by the multi-talented Susan Dey)
Karen indulges in the bacon-wrapped salmon at DB Bistro
Painter John Dobbs is 74, not 72 -- and very proud of it!
(His black-and-white portrait at left is by Michael Sofronski)
Friday, January 13, 2006 — The word "awe" has been defined as "an overwhelming feeling of wonder or admiration."
Yep, "awe-filled" pretty much sums up our day yesterday.
After a glorious morning run through Central Park (and was that chef Eric Ripert we spotted walking through the Park in the direction of Le Bernardin?), we met up with our multitalented friends actress Susan Dey and producer Bernard Sofronski for lunch at chef Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne. While we'd been blown away by our dinner there last month (see our December 5th Blog), it still didn't prepare us to be blown away all over again at lunch yesterday. Boulud has an extraordinary gift for spotting and hiring talent, and it shows both in the graciousness and smooth professionalism of his fabulous front-of-the-house staff as well as on every plate that comes out of his kitchens.
Yesterday's parade of hits included an amuse-bouche of goat cheese-filled Parmesan crisps, a spectacular tarte flambee (a thin Alsatian cream and bacon pizza), tuna tartare (packing a delicate punch with its hint of curry), fettucini with chanterelles, and coq au vin. One of the most joyful sights we've ever seen was the widening of Susan's eyes at the sight of the signature DB burger she'd ordered that arrived at our table overstuffed with short ribs and foie gras, prompting her to comment, "I wish I had a camera!" Seconds later, she was holding ours, capturing her burger for posterity (photo above). Karen snapped her own bacon-wrapped salmon with herb gnocchi and mushrooms. Lunch concluded with coffee, camomile tea, and a tray of some of the best petits fours in New York City. If anything could match the extraordinary lunch we enjoyed at DB Bistro Moderne -- one of the best (not to mention one of our favorite) restaurants in New York City -- it was only the extraordinarily delightful company of Susan and Bernie.
We met up again later at the opening reception for Michael Sofronski's photography exhibition "The Last Bohemians" at the Westbeth Gallery in Greenwich Village, which doubled as a book party for poet Edward
Field's new book THE MAN WHO WOULD MARRY SUSAN SONTAG and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era. The show consists of 20 portraits of artists, dancers and writers -- bohemians who came up in the 1950s and 1960s -- such as Living Theatre founder Judith Malina, the late sexual anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum, and the painter Susan Weil. We were able to observe first-hand what an extraordinary job Michael did of capturing his subjects, since so many of them were in attendance, from a long-time Alvin Ailey dancer to a former nude model. A special pleasure was to catch painter John Dobbs in the true bohemian act of changing the curatorial text display to correct his age from 72 to 74 years. Karen found it so hard to believe that this young-spirited man was in his 70s at all that she asked for proof, and Dobbs produced his driver's license. Very impressive! We only hope we're as youthful as Dobbs when we hit our 70s, should we be so lucky.
The tone in the room was one of pure joy and celebration, and we found ourselves in conversation with an endlessly fascinating series of New Yorkers. It's definitely worth stopping by to see Michael's photos of "The Last Bohemians" and to read the snapshots of 20 intriguing lives as shared by writer Dylan Foley.
Afterward, not sure where we landed on the line between being more tired or more hungry, we opted for a quick bite at the bar at Inside. There's nothing like feeling awe for an old favorite restaurant all over again -- the warmth of Bill Flatley's welcome, the homey deliciousness of Charleen Badman's (and Lisa's) bucatini with garlic and clams, the coziness of this perfect neighborhood restaurant.
The awe continued this morning, when we had the banana bread Charleen sent us home with for breakfast, and found it to be the best banana bread we'd ever tasted in our lives.
Isn't New York City awesome?
DB Bistro Moderne is at
55 W. 44th Street, New York. (212) 391-2400. Web:
Westbeth Gallery is at
57 Bethune at Washington, New York. (212) 989-4650. Web: www.westbeth.org. Hours: Thursday through Sunday, 1-6 pm.
Inside is at 9 Jones Street, New York. (212) 229-9999. Web: www.insideonjones.com. Don't miss Inside's Sunday night $25 three-course prix fixe featuring appetizers such as beet salad appetizers, entrees such as beef stroganoff, and fabulous fresh-baked desserts.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006 — We've never met Brett Moore, the passionate professional chef and writer who serves as the Gourmet Food guide at About.com, but we already know we love the guy.
Today we were tipped off that Brett named this Blog -- the one you're reading now -- to the list of his Top 10 favorite food blogs. At GourmetFood.About.com, Brett writes:
"Top 10 Food Blogs Good Enough To Eat: Blogs (or web logs) are an interesting phenomenon. Anyone with a computer and an opinion can start a blog, a sort of online diary, for the entire world to read. Food blogs generally relate the dining adventures or cooking experiments of the writer. Many of these blogs are very well written, extremely interesting, and can be addictive. Here are some of my favorite food blogs. Explore these and you may want to start your own. Surely someone out there cares what you had for breakfast....
#6) Andrew & Karen's Web Log: Blog page of the brilliant writing team of Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (husband and wife). Dornenburg and Page are authors of Culinary Artistry, Dining Out , Chef's Night Out, The New American Chef, and Becoming a Chef (this book was partly responsible for my own desire to become a professional chef). As you would guess, Andrew and Karen dine out a lot. This page is a diary of their dining experiences, chats with chefs, opinions, and useful restaurant information -- a pleasure to read."
Thank you so much, Brett, for your very kind words -- and since you check out this space, we're delighted you'll soon know how appreciative we are!
GourmetFood.About.com is hosted by professional chef and writer Brett Moore, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute and the University of Nebraska who has cooked everywhere from gourmet pizza shops to five-star resorts.
Tuesday, January 3, 2006 — As we slowly make our way through literally thousands of emails in our emailboxes that have accumulated during our travels of the past six weeks, we're finding some wonderful gems -- including one from chef Jeremiah Tower:
"In a villa in Darshur, 15 mins outside of Cairo, date palm grove, Giza pyramids out the back and the Nile in front. The local traffic jam is made up of Mercedes, camels, and white donkeys. Not a cherub in sight. Off to Alex. today for NY's Eve. Egyptians as civilized as humans can be. Have a fabulous 2006. Very best, Jeremiah"
Jeremiah Tower deserves yet another nod for helping us fall in love with afternoon tea (see January 2nd, below). When we were researching our first book BECOMING A CHEF from 1992-1994, we were two prospective first-time authors whom he didn't know from Adam. Yet he responded to our request to interview him by graciously suggesting that we sit down for afternoon tea in The Palm Court of The Plaza during his upcoming visit to New York City. Thanks again, Jeremiah -- and happy travels!
Amy Sacco's restaurant Bette now serves afternoon tea
Numalighar is a deliciously subtle Assam tea
Bring an appetite to begin with assorted finger sandwiches
Freshly baked plain and ginger scones are served with clotted
raspberry jam, and passion fruit curd
Bette's sweet finale -- from cookies to tarts to candied nuts
Monday, January 2, 2006 — Karen adores afternoon tea. She credits Scott Kauffman -- the charismatic Newsweek executive who first took her to tea 20 years ago at The Helmsley Palace across the street from the magazine's Madison Avenue offices -- with spurring her fascination with the ritual of tea.
Since that time, Karen has enjoyed tea everywhere from the Four Seasons Hotel in New York to The Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, and from Lady Mendl's on Irving Place to -- just last week -- Amy Sacco's West 23rd Street restaurant Bette.
A love for afternoon tea is something that the team at Bette obviously shares. Not only does Bette offer a thoughtful selection of more than a dozen different (white, green, oolong, black and herbal) teas, but it serves each tea brewed to its optimal point of flavor and strains the tea leaves behind the scenes -- so your second and third cups of tea aren't increasingly tannic or bitter, but just as perfectly flavored as the first.
Afternoon tea kicks off with assorted finger sandwiches, which ranged from chicken with apple (which we preferred eating open-faced) to curried egg salad pinwheels to lobster salad to duck liver pate with fig compote. The scones are wonderfully textured, and we found the ginger scones an especially great match for the passion fruit curd served alongside. A sweet finale of tiny, delicious cookies, cakes, tarts, and candies concludes tea. Our genial server Christina offered more of anything we wished.
Bette gets that the accoutrements of tea are a lovely part of the experience, and thoughtfully serves its pots of tea with silver tea strainers to catch any stray tea leaves (although ours caught none). We have always loved the dining room at Bette for its intimate feeling at dinner, and found that the room transforms beautifully into a sophisticated setting for afternoon tea.
In Scott Kauffman's honor (wherever he may be!), Karen looks forward to returning to Bette soon with a 20-something New Yorker and providing her (or him) with a first-time afternoon tea experience that's one of New York's very best circa 2006.
Note: We were sorry to learn that chef Tom DeMarzo is no longer at Bette, as we loved his cooking there. Hmm....Has Silverleaf Tavern (see our November 8th and 18th Blog entries) hired a new chef yet? It would be great to have Tom in our neighborhood!
Bette is at
461 W. 23rd St. (near Tenth Ave.), New York. (212) 366-0404. Tea is served daily from 3-5 pm. Full afternoon tea is $35 per person; tea for two is $60.
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