Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

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ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - JULY 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)


Team Ziff: Adam, Andrew Dornenburg, Matthew & Lorraine


Mixing up cake batter for the chocolate dessert


Adam and Matthew master the art of tossing while sauteing


Andrew Dornenburg signs books for the Ziffs


Andrew Dornenburg with Larry Ziff (official photographer
and chief taster for the day)


Sonny wasn't happy to be left out of all the fun, however --

apparently not enough scraps were dropped for his taste!

Saturday, July 30, 2005 We were happy to receive photos today from the Ziffs (that is, Larry, Lorraine, Adam and Matthew), a wonderful family whom Andrew had the pleasure of meeting after they won a private cooking lesson with him in their home kitchen the other week through a silent auction held during a Share Our Strength ("the nation's leading anti-hunger organization") benefit held at Eleven Madison Park. The menu -- or, rather, class syllabus -- ranged from roasted red pepper soup to Spanish romesco sauce to chocolate bundt cakes with creme anglaise. As Adam and Matthew weren't that into vegetables (like many teenagers), Andrew's proudest moment was helping them "get into" his garlicky sauteed zucchini -- and the fun of tossing it into the air while sauteing!

"Andrew, we really loved the day you spent with us -- it was a life experience none of us will soon forget. Enjoy the pictures!"
The Ziffs


Joslyn Richardson's summer tarts


Joslyn Richardson's individual-sized summer tarts


Joslyn Richardson's citrus tart with melon froth

Friday, July 29, 2005 Every summer, when the gorgeous bounty of summer fruits makes its way to the Union Square Greenmarket, we have the same fantasy: We're going to take the day off and buy whatever looks best in the market that morning, turn it into a fabulous dessert that afternoon, and savor it for dinner that night.

Ha! Instead, we typically find ourselves spending the summer on book deadline, and shelve the fantasy for another year.

This being New York City, there's a new option: Hire gifted teen-aged pastry chef Joslyn Richardson to do it all for you.

Joslyn is dedicated to spending this summer doing personalized homemade baking to order. Her menu of Summer Tarts includes lemon cream with fresh seasonal fruit, drunken peach, drunken plum with ginger, chocolate espresso, citrus with melon froth, lime and ginger, and white chocolate raspberry. She also bakes cakes, including a very rich flourless chocolate cake, a very light flourless almond cake, a carrot layer cake with cream cheese icing, and a rum pineapple upside-down cake.

But that's not all. As Joslyn put it, "Summer brings new and delectable fruit every week. I am a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket, so new ideas pop up all the time, depending on what's fresh and special that day." If you hire her to make a dessert for you, she'll call you from the Market, tell you what fruits look best that morning, and you can decide on the spot what you'd like her to turn them into for you.

Last night we tasted the desserts pictured above, and it was truly hard to believe that these beautiful, sophisticated and delicious creations were the work of a teenager. While the chocolate espresso tart was a bit too heavy on the espresso for our taste, we'd be hard-pressed to find another single criticism of any other item we tasted. (Joslyn even bakes a mean brownie, too!) Our fellow tasters were wowed, too, spouting comments like "inventive," "gorgeous," "incredible" and "you can taste the love!"

So, whenever you're looking to enjoy a special dessert and start fantasizing about one made from the best of the Green Market (and you're as pressed for time as we are), be a Manhattanite and give a call to someone who can made that fantasy come true for you!

Joslyn Richardson. Email: Summertartnyc@aol.com. (*Need we add that her prices are reasonable? She's a kid, and she charges only for ingredients and her time.)


The Artisanal Cheese Center, set up for a private tasting


A few of the cheeses to be tasted at Artisanal


Max McCalman's portable cheese pairing database


Two flights of New York wines at Vintage, flanking the
crispy duck confit salad with pistachios and cracklins


Long Island duck meatballs with Thai sauce at Vintage


Vintage's fromage blanc drizzled with honey, paired with a
2001 Pindar Late Harvest Gewurztraminer


Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (23rd St. & Madison)


Breakfast of Champions (clockwise from top left): iced tea,
Usinger's bratwurst with mustard, Shack burger, and a kid-
sized vanilla frozen custard


Our green apple greeting at The Ryland Inn in New Jersey


Getting serious about food/wine pairing with Craig Shelton


Black pepper, blue cheese, lemon wedges, and sugar


Our amuse-bouche of tomato gazpacho and lobster salad


Spanish bluefin tuna tartare at The Ryland Inn


Turbot with salsify, razor clams, orange and watercress

Thursday, July 28, 2005 A whirlwind past few days researching our next book took us Tuesday afternoon to the offices of cheese guru Max McCalman at the Artisanal Cheese Center to discuss some of his favorite cheese and beverage pairings. (We also had the pleasure of running into chef Terrance Brennan, who was meeting with David Rosengarten and his partner TJ Robinson for a cheese-intensive chat.) As we've been compiling one of the largest-ever databases of food and beverage pairings on our home office computer, we got a kick out of seeing Max's own cheese-centric version in his hand-held PDA!

Knowing of our current research on pairings, the other day long-time "Insatiable Critic" Gael Greene had very thoughtfully faxed us the menu for Vintage NY's new Wine Bar, which has a fold-over menu indicating wine pairing recommendations for each dish. After our meeting with Max, we headed downtown to check it out. We weren't blown away by anything we tasted (and were disappointed that two out of three of our Rieslings were served at nearly room temperature before being replaced with chilled versions); for the same price, Tasting Room's offerings of small dishes and glasses of wine (described in our June 26th blog) were far superior. However, we sincerely appreciated the very attentive waitress who rushed to Karen's side with a spray bottle of WineAway after Karen splashed a little red wine on her silk blouse -- and we do love the fact that restaurants like Vintage are making an effort to pair wines with dishes and getting their customers to focus on the synergies possible between what they eat and what they drink.

Yesterday, we kicked off our morning with a meeting with Eleven Madison Park's GM Richard Breitkreutz, who's paired beverages not only at this French-inspired restaurant (whose kitchen is headed by talented chef Kerry Heffernan) but at Indian-inspired Tabla next door. Upon leaving at 11 am, we happened upon a sight we haven't seen the entire summer: no line at Shake Shack across the street! We seized the opportunity to enjoy a "late breakfast" of a Shack burger and a Usinger's bratwurst, with a small vanilla frozen custard chaser. Heaven!

We finished just in time to pick up our rental car and to make it out to The Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey, to speak with its chef-owner Craig Shelton about food and wine pairing. Well, that was our agenda, anyway, although we soon learned that Craig had an agenda all his own -- which, over the course of the next several hours, ended up dovetailing with ours in a roundabout sort of way....We were admittedly charmed that he eventually led us into a private room at the restaurant that had been set up for Craig to lead us through a formal tasting where he had us sucking on lemon wedges and tasting finger dips of pepper and sugar so we could experience first-hand the physiological interactions of those flavors with various wines -- from a Chablis to a Cabernet Sauvignon.

After the drive out to Whitehouse, we ended up staying for dinner. (We'd eaten at The Ryland Inn once before, enjoying an incredible lunch celebrating our anniversary several years back. However, at the time, Craig and his wife were at The Inn at Little Washington, so despite the fact that we'd interviewed him for two of our books, we'd never actually met before yesterday.) Sommelier Paul Mason oversaw our tasting menu, and treated our palates to some delightful wine pairings with our dinner, including a glass of Moscato d'Asti served with a delightful post-cheese course of fresh litchi nuts and anise hyssop; and a glass of Banyuls that provided the perfect, classic pairing for our chocolate desserts.

Artisanal Cheese Center is at 500 West 37th St. (at 10th Ave.), 2nd floor, New York. (212) 871-3144. Web: artisanalcheese.com

Vintage NY Wine Bar is at 482 Broome St. (at Wooster). (212) 226-9463. Web: vintagenewyork.com

Shake Shack is located in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park (near 23rd St. and Madison Ave.), New York. (212) 889-6600. Web: shakeshacknyc.com

The Ryland Inn is on Route 22 West in Whitehouse, New Jersey. (908) 534-4011. Web: therylandinn.com


Our amuse-bouche of lobster gazpacho at Bette


Last night's winning calamarata pasta special at Bette


Bette's homemade granita is the perfect summer refresher


The never-too-sweet chocolate polenta cake at Bette

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 How proud were we to learn that our favorite waiter in Manhattan had been promoted into the suit-sporting ranks of management? Congratulations to Craig Atlas, who charmed our table of five with his gracious hospitality at Bette, where we enjoyed yet another wonderful dinner last night in the pleasurable company of legal eagles Rikki Klieman, Mickey Sherman and Lis Wiehl.

Bette's chef Tom Dimarzo hit it out of the ballpark with last night's pasta special, a calamari ring-shaped pasta served with prosciutto, figs, mint, porcini and a drizzle of olive oil. But is that any surprise when the chef motivates his cooks' preparation of each dish by urging them to tap the same sense of prideful craftsmanship "as in the making of a pair of Manolo Blahniks," as he told Andrew on our way out last night?

And whether your taste for summer desserts is light and refreshing or classic sinful chocolate, Bette's got one that will hit the spot. Owner Amy Sacco was on hand to make sure every detail of her new restaurant was in place -- which, just a few short weeks after opening, it miraculously seemed to be. Congratulations, Amy!

Bette is at 461 West 23rd St. (bet. 9th and 10th Aves.), New York. (212) 366-0404.


Marc Varsano is our favorite downtown chocolatier!


Sunday night is barbecue night at Inside


The Sunday night $20 barbecue buffet at Inside


Bill Flatley pours us another glass of wine at Inside


Apricot and cherry upside-down cake at Inside


Keenan Bosworth, Karen Page and Chrysa Kaufman

Sunday, July 24, 2005 As promised, we made it to Inside for its Sunday night $20 barbecue buffet -- which tonight featured an incredible array of barbecued chicken with homemade barbecue sauce, crabcakes with homemade tartare sauce, fresh sliced tomatoes, a fabulous salad of sweet corn, almonds, and fresh peaches; and a fresh bean salad. Dessert was a deliciously tart apricot-Rainier cherry upside-down cake. Andrew's wine by the glass -- a refreshing Saint-Veran "Les Pierres Grises" 2002 -- was perfect with the fresh salads and crabcakes, while Karen's fruity Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Big House Red went great with the barbecued chicken.

But best of all was the convivial feeling of being guests at a backyard barbecue of dear friends who happened to be wonderful cooks. We even had the pleasure of bumping into chef-restaurateur Chrysa Kaufman (whom we'd met at the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs conference in Louisville this past November), who happened to be in town from Rancho Pinot Grill in Scottsdale, AZ, with her cook Keenan Bosworth (who'd previously cooked with Odessa Piper at L'Etoile in Madison, WI) to check out chef Charleen Badman's wonderful cooking (with Lisa's able assistance) at Inside. Lucky them!

And lucky us to get to say a quick hello to our favorite downtown chocolatier Marc Varsano before dinner!

Varsano's Chocolates is at 179 W. Fourth St. (bet. Sixth and Seventh Avenues), New York. (212) 352-1171. Web: www.varsanos.com (Tip: Great chocolate-covered pretzels!)

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

Rancho Pinot Grill is at 6208 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, AZ.
(480) 367-8030.


Marla Schaffel & Andrea Bowen, "Jane Eyre"; and Bowen today

Sunday, July 24, 2005 During its run on Broadway, we saw "Jane Eyre: The Musical" several times, including opening night, after which we attended its opening night festivities as guests of a friend who was an investor in the production. There was a lot of talent in the show, from the extraordinary Marla Schaffel (who would be nominated for a Tony for the title role) to the pre-teen actress who portrayed Jane Eyre's French-accented charge, Adele. In fact, the young actress was so impressive that Karen sought her out at the opening night party to congratulate her on her performance, which by then Karen had already seen two or three times -- and Karen had been even more impressed by the 10-year-old girl's striking poise and self-possession.

Fast-forward five years: We read this morning that the same young actress Andrea Bowen (now a mature 15-year-old) portrays Teri Hatcher's daughter on the hit TV show "Desperate Housewives." We congratulate her on yet another impressive performance and on the show's success -- and wish every member of the former cast of "Jane Eyre" their own runaway success!


Chicken with Black Bean Sauce


Double-Cooked Pork in front of the Roasted Lobster


Whole Pumpkin filled with Braised Chuck Roast


Whole Fried Chicken Skin Stuffed with Rice


Andrew Dornenburg with Eddie Schoenfeld


One dragon's eye blinks red!

Saturday, July 23, 2005 We have Eddie Schoenfeld to thank, ultimately, for getting us down to Pell Street near Mott Street in Chinatown tonight as part of a table of 8 to sample some of the most unusual dishes we've ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant -- tops on the list being the perfectly crispy skin of a whole chicken stuffed with rice and deep fried (a dish which understandably requires being ordered ahead)! A close second might have been the whole pumpkin filled with braised chuck that was sliced at our table so that each slice fell away from the beef like petals on a flower.

Few of the dishes we tasted were on the restaurant's regular menu (i.e. in English), of course, so you'll have to order from the restaurant's banquet menu (which is in Chinese). Good luck! (Happily, the pair of ornate dragons with blinking lights for eyes on display in the back of the restaurant might be able to help with a little of that, as Chinese dragons are regarded as divine mythical creatures that bring abundance, prosperity and good luck.)


Buffalo milk burrata with caviar, beets and croquant at Cru


Mess Kit: Grilled sausages w/onions & peppers at Maremma


The Tuscan steak with beans at Maremma


The lemon "souffle" with blueberries at Maremma

Friday, July 22, 2005 Since our first delicious visit to Maremma on the 12th, we'd been looking forward to returning. Last night, with our friend Rikki Klieman in town to appear on Court TV today, we had our chance.

But first, knowing we'd be heading downtown, we stopped in for a drink at Cru, where we'd not been before. Someone had mentioned that they had a nice bar area, and indeed there were open tables in the bar which looks out onto lower Fifth Avenue. Cru has a massive wine list which consists of two different books (one each for whites and reds) totaling several inches of thickness (and bulked up largely by vertical offerings; i.e., different vintages of the same bottle of wine), and offers several wines by the glass and by the taste.

We ordered tastes of three different wines: a 2003 Domaine de Gourgazaud Viognier, a 2000 Smaragd Weingarten Gruner Veltliner, and a 2003 Kuenhof Sylvaner, priced at $6, $8, and $11 per taste, respectively. Each was entirely pleasant, although none made us want to return to be able to order a full glass (let alone a bottle).

There is no bar menu. We were offered the restaurant's regular menu of $15 appetizers and $35 entrees. We spied an interesting appetizer of buffalo milk burrata, caviar, roasted and marinated beets, and cashew croquant. Being very fond of both burrata (a very creamy Italian cheese) and caviar, we decided to give it a try. Nothing shows off caviar's delicate texture better than softness (think of airy blini, soft scrambled eggs, creme fraiche), and we thought the burrata would be a perfect match.

However, with our first bites, we both looked at each other with identical looks of shock on our faces: the creamy dreaminess we'd envisioned in our mouths was marred by tiny bits of something having the texture of crumbled and/or nearly pulverized Melba toast. (It turned out to be the "cashew croquant.") As a result, the texture of the caviar was entirely and sadly obliterated.

We were glad that dinner at Maremma was still ahead, and chef Cesare Casella did not disappoint. Having tasted so many dishes on our first visit, we were surprised that there were so many fabulous dishes we'd managed to miss last time. However, perfectionist that he is, Casella is still tweaking the menu, changing the presentation of the Sloppy Gios and adding a new dish here and there.

Tops on the list was the incredible Tuscan steak, which was cooked perfectly to our taste (rare to medium-rare) and served with Cesare's Republic of Beans beans and beautiful chanterelle mushrooms. Another big hit was the Mess Kit: grilled Maremma sausages and sweet Texas onions and peppers. Karen enjoyed the Pork Fried Steak, which is topped with mushrooms and Grana Padano. We also sampled the Sloppy Gios this time, which were a fun and flavorful meaty appetizer.

We never expected the wines at Maremma to be our favorites of the evening. However, during the course of our dinner, we progressed from a delightful and refreshing chilled Prosecco to a red we believe was a Chianti clone: a fruit-forward Sangioveto that was so delicious we'd definitely want to have it again.

The food at Maremma tends to be robust, so we thought of demurring when it came time to order dessert, in favor of just camomile tea. However, we would have been very sorry to miss the lemon souffle served with blueberries and lemon sorbet!

Cru is at 24 Fifth Avenue at 9th Street, New York. (212) 529-1700. Web: www.cru-nyc.com (although it's never been up when we've tried it)

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


Sakagura is housed in the basement of 211 E. 43rd St.


To get to Sakagura, walk past the security desk, turning left


...into the doorway leading downstairs...


...where you'll be greeted by a sign and its Zagat ratings


Enter, and experience another world!


Manager Hisaya Kadoi displays our sake before pouring it


A sparkling sake cocktail (with a little added cranberry juice
and a squeeze of lime), and plain sparkling sake


Bottles of five of the sakes we sampled last night


Glasses of five of the sakes we sampled last night


Two of our first appetizers at Sakagura


A fabulous shaved daikon salad with spicy cod roe mayo


Three Japanese delicacies: mountain yam topped with an
abalone intestine sauce, raw squid dressed with sea urchin,
and raw sweet fish with sweet fish liver sauce


Our grilled fish was served plainly, but beautifully


Sakagura's udon noodles were absolutely pristine


Our last dish featured salmon with short-grain rice

Thursday, July 21, 2005 Hiromi Iuchi, Vice President of Jizake Inc., knows more about sake than anyone else we've ever met. That she is so knowledgeable, generous with sharing that knowledge, and delightful to be with is a dangerous combination: We could sit for hours sipping and listening to her talk about sake. And last night, we unexpectedly did.

We met last night at Sakagura, to which Hiromi had introduced us about five years ago. The restaurant, which is housed in the basement of a rather ordinary-looking Midtown office building, is an improbable, incredible subterranean sake den whose existence contributes to making New York City the kind of magical place that it is.

After we were introduced by Hiromi to the restaurant's genial manager Hisaya Kadoi, we sat down for what turned out to be the second of the two most educational introductions we've ever had to sake -- both thanks to Hiromi.

And each dish we tasted at Sakagura was absolutely delicious.* On our way out, we noted a sign advertising that the restaurant serves lunch Monday through Friday from noon until 2:30 pm, and features a $10.95 lunch special -- along with a free sake tasting. Sounds like quite a deal, if you can afford to get caught up in what just might unexpectedly turn into a few blissful hours of sipping and reflecting on sake....

(*Caveat added 7/25/05 after being called on it by Gael Greene: "Absolutely delicious," that is, were we to care for abalone intestines, which we learned we do not. However, the dish was well-prepared, so we don't fault the chef our distaste for abalone intestines!)

Sakagura is at 211 East 43rd Street (bet. Second and Third Aves.). (212) 953-SAKE. Web: www.sakagura.com

Jizake Inc. has a Web site at www.sakejapan.com/jseb/e


The $12 sandwich and soup lunch special at Gramercy Tavern:
Grilled Cheddar and speck sandwich, and chilled "corn" soup


Fresh bacon served on a bed of spaetzle with grilled peaches
and sugar snap peas at Gramercy Tavern


Ginger beer and sparkling apple cider at Gramercy Tavern

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 Yesterday's email brought what we thought was an exciting one from the Union Square Hospitality Group:

"...I wanted to let you know about Gramercy Tavern's new Summer Lunch in the Tavern.  It's one of the best deals in town, and a really inexpensive way to experience the restaurant.  In the Tavern section of the restaurant, we're offering a chilled soup and half-sandwich Monday-Friday from noon until 2:30pm for $12.  There will be one soup and two sandwiches offered each day and the menu will change weekly to reflect what's fresh in the greenmarkets.  Here's just a sampling of what's offered:

Soups: Chilled Peach with Sheep's Yogurt, Toasted Almonds, and Vin Cotto, Chilled Fava Bean with Creme Fraiche and Mint, Chilled Corn w/ Creme Fraiche and Lime.

Sandwiches: Summer Squash with Olive Tapenade and Feta; Egg Salad with Pancetta and Red Onion Relish; Grilled Speck with Goat Cheese, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato; Chicken Salad with Red Onion Confit, Fennel and Figs; Grilled Cheddar with Speck and Green Tomato Relish; and Cod Brandade w/ Cavaillon Melon and Piquillo Peppers."

We couldn't wait to go today to check it out, and arrived around 12:30 pm to nab one of the last available tables in the Tavern. (There were plenty of seats open at the bar, however.)

Our waiter didn't mention the Summer Lunch, nor was it mentioned on the menus we were handed, so we asked him about it. As it turned out he wasn't familiar with any Summer Lunch menu, we asked if we could speak with the manager about it.  She also informed us that there was no Summer Lunch menu other than those offered in the main dining room, and that the soup and sandwich was simply a special of the day -- and nothing new.

Regardless, Karen ordered the day's special of Chilled Corn w/ Creme Fraiche and Lime soup and opted for the Grilled Cheddar with Speck and Green Tomato Relish sandwich, while Andrew (who has an aversion to corn soup) ventured onto the regular menu to order the fresh bacon served on a bed of spaetzle with grilled peaches and sugar snap peas ($16). We appreciated the fact that after Karen ordered her sparkling cider ($5), our waiter advised that the same would be a great accompaniment for Andrew's bacon -- although knowing he could have a taste of hers, Andrew ordered ginger beer ($5) so he could sample something different.

Karen was served a bright orange pureed soup (pictured above) so devoid of any corn flavor whatsoever (a fact to which the corn soup-phobic Andrew concurred after several tastes) that she double-checked to see what it was, assuming that it might have been replaced last-minute with another soup.  It was confirmed that the soup was indeed the chilled corn soup she'd ordered, but that it was a pureed soup made with a base of mire poix (apparently one so strong that it erased any corn flavor whatsoever). The dominant flavor of the soup ended up being the sharp flavor of its chopped red pepper garnish.

The greasiness of the grilled Cheddar and speck sandwich (which you can see glistening prettily in the photograph above) made it difficult for us to enjoy the flavor of what seemed to be really nice cheese and speck (which we both love).

Andrew's bacon dish was also heavy on the grease, but come on -- what kind of position is someone ordering an entree of bacon in to comment on its level of grease?! It probably made us appreciate even more the summery touch of the grilled peaches in the dish.

Even at a "really inexpensive" price, we would have characterized this lunch at Gramercy Tavern as a disappointing bust. However, on our way out, we were able to stop by the table of legendary architect I.M. Pei to mention how much we loved his photograph with Sirio Maccioni that appears in our book DINING OUT (both on page 191 as well as on its back cover). He couldn't have been more gracious or charming, which is quite a feat after nearly nine busy decades on this planet!

As one of New York City's very favorite restaurants for more than a decade, who doesn't hope that Gramercy Tavern will age as gracefully?

Gramercy Tavern is at 42 East 20th Street (bet. Park Avenue South and Broadway). (212) 477-0777.


Michael Sofronski captures Paul Constine pouring Champagne
for Stacy Yoshioka and Tobie Cancino at Fauchon


Our shoot at Lombardi's -- and Lisa's favorite white pizza

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 Yesterday's day of photo shoots for our next book on food and beverage pairing took us from high tea at Fauchon to pizza and Chianti and beer at Lombardi's -- deliciously! We thank all our good-natured friends (and a few of their friends) who joined us to eat, drink and smile, including Tobie Cancino, Noah French, Brendan Milburn, Joslyn Richardson, Valerie Vigoda, Steve Wilson, Lisa Wood, and Stacy Yoshioka.

And thanks to Lee Klein, Miami Times' restaurant reviewer for the past 9 years, for these kind words: "Dear Andrew and Karen,
Just received an enews[letter] from you, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to write to you for some time to tell you how much I enjoyed, and still refer to, your book
DINING OUT....Keep up the good writing."

Fauchon Cafe is at 442 Park Ave. (at 56th St.). (212) 308-5919. Web: www.fauchon.com

Lombardi's Pizza is at 32 Spring St. (bet. Mott and Mulberry). (212) 941-7994. Web: www.lombardisoriginalpizza.com


A tasting of three different sakes at Maxie


Zensai: Maxie's chef's selection of five different appetizers


The bento box at Maxie features sushi, tempura and more


Maxie's chef's choice of toro and young yellowtail sushi

Sunday, July 17, 2005 When our colleague and friend Hiroko Shimbo, the author of The Japanese Kitchen who's been called "the Julia Child of Japanese cooking in America," told us about a relatively new Japanese restaurant that impressed her, we were all ears. When we learned that it was just a few blocks away in our Murray Hill neighborhood, we were downright excited.

Last night, we popped in for dinner at Maxie (516A Third Avenue, bet. 34th and 35th Streets), and were grateful to Hiroko all over again for the wonderful tip. The menu states that chef Keishi Rikimaru is originally from Fukunoka, Japan, and has 28 years of experience. We could taste it.

Given the very reasonably priced sake offerings (at $4/glass), we decided to do an impromptu comparative tasting of three: Otokoyama (the driest, which our waitress told us was the most popular), Oyama (a dry sake), and Haru-shika (an off-dry sake that our waitress mentioned was especially popular with women). Our preference was for the multi-dimensional Oyama when tasted alone, although each had its own affinities with the various dishes we ordered.

Maxie offers zensai, a selection of five amuse bouche-sized appetizers (ours ranged from beef to seafood to tofu, each delicious), for $15. Afterward, we shared a bento box, which is an impressive value: For $16, it includes a light miso soup with vegetables and tofu; shrimp and maitake mushroom tempura; tofu salad; a choice of either grilled chicken with ponzu sauce or grilled miso-marinated salmon (we opted for the latter); tuna sashimi; and fluke, shrimp, tuna and yellowtail sushi.

Afterward, we asked our waitress to bring us two pieces of sushi whatever the chef recommended. She returned with two perfect pieces: one a fatty and full-flavored toro, the other a young yellowtail. With a second glass of Oyama sake, It was the ideal ending to our taste of Japan.

Thanks again, Hiroko!

Maxie is at 516A Third Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York. (212) 685-3883.


Pablo Aguilar, Jean Francois Scordia, Henry Aguilar, chef
Tony Esnault of Alain Ducasse, chef Scott Conant of Alto

Friday, July 15, 2005 (evening) When the invitation arrived via email on July 11th to attend a press conference this afternoon (a Friday, mind you) at 4 pm, it was an automatic NBL ("not bloody likely"). But then we read further and saw that it was being held in the private dining room at Alto restaurant, where we'd not yet been, and that its co-sponsors included Alain Ducasse, Jean Georges, Daniel, Le Bernardin, Alto and Masa. The line "Hors d'oeuvres and Champagne will be served" just put it over the top they had us at "Daniel."

We arrived for the event assuming it would take the form of most press conferences we've attended at restaurants: a half-hour of schmoozing with other attendees over said hors d'oeuvres and Champagne while stragglers fought traffic to get there, then a few announcements and a Q&A. We soon learned that this one had formal seating: row after row of straight-backed chairs. We'd never realized that a group of chefs getting together for a soccer tournament was such serious business.

A press release and a complete set of "Game Rules" (this was serious business!) were distributed, and we sat in our straight-backed chairs reviewing them.

Finally, around 4:30 pm, the genial event-organizing brothers Pablo (of Latin Connoisseur) and Henry (of Alain Ducasse) Aguilar kicked things off, providing an overview of the event: In this fourth annual tournament taking place on the last two Sundays of this month (July 24th and July 31st) on Roosevelt Island, six of "the most esteemed and awarded New York City 'creme de la creme' American restaurants" would compete for the Four-Star Restaurants Soccer Championship. There would be great food at a feast created by the participating restaurants after the last game on July 31st. They were hoping to have movie stars perhaps Susan Sarandon, Robert DeNiro and/or Alec Baldwin there.

Any questions?

Karen had one. From her straight-backed chair, she read aloud from the official "Game Rules" that had been distributed that (exact quote) "For 2005 calendar year every team must provide with a beauty girl for the beauty contest that will be held at the end of the tournament in our final party." Um, fascinating.... Could we have a few more details, please? It would be charming to have beautiful women wearing the teams' soccer jerseys, it was explained to us. It would add "emotion to the event." OK....

When questions from the audience of a couple dozen people dwindled, Henry prompted us to ask a few more. "No one's asked about the menu for the feast," he observed. (Maybe because we all know chefs, we thought, and that the menu would doubtless be determined at the last minute.) But Karen is a gamer: "So...can you tell us about the menu?" she asked. "It's a surprise," said the newly-appointed chef of Alain Ducasse. "We're going to the market the day before to see what looks best," Alto's chef explained further. OK....

But the press conference really took off when someone asked about this week's New York Times review of Alto, which awarded the restaurant two stars, not the four required of the tournament. (Every year, the best restaurant newcomer is chosen to join the group, and Alto had been this year's choice.) Alto's chef Scott Conant was as diplomatic as any deeply disappointed chef (albeit one who's spent the past three years right around the corner from the United Nations, at L'Impero) could be: Frank Bruni's review had struck him as "hurtful" and "personal," he admitted. Maybe even a little "irresponsible." Coaxed on by a number of supportive members of the audience, Conant added gamely, "This restaurant will still be open when Mr. Bruni's gone."

After the press conference concluded, we went downstairs to talk with Alto partner Chris Cannon, whom we hadn't recognized when we'd rushed into the event several minutes after 4 pm (although we soon were to learn that it hadn't yet started) and chef Scott Conant, who thoughtfully gave us a tour of the restaurant's dining room. They and their colleagues (including T.J. Siegal, whom we'd loved seeing regularly during his days at Artisanal) seemed crushed by the review, but they all put on brave faces. It had been so long since Andrew had been in a restaurant kitchen that we'd forgotten how personally every restaurant and its staff takes its reviews particularly from The Newspaper of Record.

Seeing the sincerity of the team behind Alto, we're hoping to return to experience the restaurant for ourselves beyond the hors d'oeuvres passed at this afternoon's press soccer tournament press conference. Besides, we want to meet the staffer who agrees to be Alto's designated "beauty girl."

For more information on the soccer tournament, contact organizer Pablo Aguilar at (646) 284-1025, or visit www.latinconnoisseur.com.


The Shiraz - Pinotage blend that trumped our
hours of tasting wines with Josh Wesson


A platter of roasted garlic greets diners on the bar at INSIDE


INSIDE serves a dish of roasted garlic oil with its crusty bread


INSIDE's garlic custard with herb hazelnuts


INSIDE's soft-shell crab sandwich with coleslaw and aioli


Almond and peach butter cake with lemon curd ice cream,
with a glass of 2003 Selaks Ice Wine, at INSIDE

Friday, July 15, 2005 Appetite is a funny thing. We thought we'd completely lost ours after Wednesday night's dinner at a new Asian restaurant uptown ended with the worst dessert of our lives.

But after regaining our fighting spirit following an extended wine tasting session-cum-interview for our next book with Best Cellars' Josh Wesson yesterday on an empty stomach, we rebounded in time to take in the highly-recommended Garlic Festival going on all this month at Anne Rosenzweig's restaurant Inside and ended last night with one of the best desserts we'd tasted all year: an almond and peach butter cake with lemon curd ice cream, served with slices of perfectly ripe peaches.

While we've not yet been, we learned that Inside is also hosting Sunday night barbecue nights, where they barbecue in front of the restaurant and offer up a $20 barbecue buffet. Word is that cocktails start at 7:15 pm and dinner at 8:00 pm. Give the restaurant a call for exact details: (212) 229-9999.

Congratulations, too, to Bette on its mouth-watering write-up in the Diner's Journal column of today's New York Times, which reports on some of the pleasant surprises on the restaurant's menu, including "a hefty strip steak [that] comes with fries that have been sprinkled with truffle oil, but not too much of it, a nifty idea and effect that should enjoy greater currency than it does." (We just call them "Samson's fries," in tribute to the 13-year-old who first shared a taste of his with us!)

Inside is at 9 Jones St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves. and between West 4th St. and Bleecker. (212) 229-9999.

Bette is at 461 West 23rd St. (212) 366-0404.


Our main dessert: The worst dessert we've tasted in 2005,
in recent memory...or arguably in all our lives


Land of beautiful-but-not-at-all-delicious petits fours

"I actually spat out two of the mouthfuls of dessert. Three words: re volt ing."
from a 7/14 email from someone who'd also tasted these desserts

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 (late evening) We're still scratching our heads over the desserts we were served tonight at a new Asian restaurant on the Upper East Side (a restaurant hot enough to also pull in the likes of Serena Bass, Eddie Schoenfeld, and Michael Tong not to mention a restaurant critic or two this evening). We personally found them so bad as to be literally inedible.

Now, most brand-new restaurants don't deserve a slam when they're still trying to get things together during their first two weeks of being open, but this one had so many clueless moments (from serving room-temperature sake that was supposed to be served chilled to never asking for drink refill orders when the wines we'd ordered by the glass were empty to repeatedly bumping the chairs of guests around our table of five throughout dinner) and such high prices that we can't resist...although we'll let you guess which restaurant it is!


Alex Trebek and Evan Kleber on the set of "Jeopardy!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 (evening) Congratulations to Karen's friend-since-senior-year-of-high-school Evan Kleber of Del Mar, California, for his strong showing on "Jeopardy" tonight! While Evan couldn't break the winning streak of the current (geeky) champion, he looked great, smiled a lot, took some exciting risks, lost it all mid-game, then gallantly rebounded to take second place and made his friends from St. Charles High School (IL) very proud.

Way to go, Evan!!

"COWBOY COOKIN'....Some emasculating New York women will love the granelli at Cesare Casella's new restaurant Maremma, which features 'Italian cowboy cuisine.' Casella, who made his reputation with Beppe, had such gourmets at the West 10th Street eatery's soft opening Tuesday night as Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini and his wife, Lisa, Bloomberg Radio restaurant reporter (and Sirio Maccioni biographer) Peter Elliott, restaurateur Charles Baum (son of Joe), and husband/wife foodies Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. In addition to 'sloppy Giuseppes' and 'Wild Boar Cody' (pappardelle with chocolate wild boar sauce), Casella served a plate of 'granelli' walking off with a shrug and a smile when asked what the dish was. Experienced restaurateur that he is, Casella apparently knew that 'deep-fried calf testicles' just doesn't have the same ring to it. (To his credit, they were perfectly cooked and a deal priced at $8!)"
Richard Johnson, "Page Six," THE NEW YORK POST (July 14, 2005)


Granelli: Don't ask just taste and enjoy them!


Mrs. Paul's fish sticks were never as good as Cesare's


Tuscan Chili, served with crumbled bacon and fresh chilies


Big Blue: Pan-fried blue fish with escarole and chickpeas


Gnocchi with fresh tomato and marjoram


Wild Boar Cody: Pappardelle with chocolate wild boar sauce


Caldaro: Peppery campfire fish stew


Earn Your Spurs: Slow-cooked short ribs over grits


The spiced almonds on Maremma's cheesecake pack a punch!


Maremma's flourless chocolate torte, with hazelnut gelato


At $7/glass, the deliciously refreshing Bastianich Tocai
Friulano 2004 is one of the best wine deals in the city. (Check
out Maremma's Italian stallion logo on the glassware!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 We'd been wondering what chef Cesare Casella meant when he'd told us months ago that his new restaurant Maremma (which opened Monday night in the West Village) would feature "Italian cowboy cuisine."

Now we know. Last night, after popping in to photographer Patrick McMullan's wackily fun party celebrating the opening of the newest location of Pump (the healthy food chain of which we've been fans since its first location opened not far from us in Murray Hill) on Lexington Avenue at 50th Street) and witnessing the crowning of the 2005 "Mr. & Mrs. Pump" (for which you'll have to click here for photos) we headed downtown for dinner at Maremma.

The restaurant's menu features "Small Plates" and "Big Plates" (not to mention a half-dozen side orders) of dishes inspired by the Wild West Tuscany's, that is.

While we loved just about everything we tasted, we were both especially wild about "Wild Boar Cody" (pappardelle with chocolate wild boar sauce), the Tuscan Chili served with crumbled bacon and fresh chilies, and the cheesecake with spiced almonds.

And, speaking of wild, we were sent a plate of granelli. Andrew used to cook "Rocky Mountain oysters" at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge and Karen's eaten "prairie oysters" both at the ECG and on her women-only cattle ranch vacation in Kansas in the 1990s. Still, a testicle is a testicle is a testicle — although Cesare Casella's testicles are the best we've ever tasted. (Or does that sound wrong?!)

Given its nice touch of serving everything on colorful Fiestaware (which we use for casual meals in our own apartment), dining at Maremma already feels like home. On the range, of course.

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


Chicken flautas in front of the snapper hash at Zarela


The corn bread made with rice flour at Zarela

Sunday, July 10, 2005 Neither of us has been able to stop thinking about our dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns on Friday night.

Last night, we ended up at Zarela to make a meal of three shared appetizers: her classic snapper hash (which tastes exactly the same as it did a decade or so when we first tasted it; click here for the recipe), chicken flautas served with guacamole, and a slice of delicious cornbread made with rice flour (recipe here). We really liked everything, including the tortilla chips served with two different salsas but a highlight of the entire experience was pairing our food with a "floral and fruity, with hints of apple, citrus and guava) Mexican wine Zarela Martinez had previously recommended to us: Chateau Camou Flor de Guadalupe Blanc de Blanc 2002. At $9.50/glass, this wine is signficantly higher priced than others on Zarela's wine list, but it's worth it: the wine tastes like Mexico's answer to Riesling, albeit a very light version. It was fun to enjoy a delicious Mexican wine with such delicious Mexican food!

Zarela is at 953 Second Avenue, bet. 50th & 51st Streets, New York City. (212) 644-6740. Web: www.zarela.com.


Gardens surrounding Blue Hill at Stone Barns


The Cafe at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (BHSB) serves lunch


BHSB's Cafe features farm-fresh egg and chicken salads


Mike Anthony gives us a tour of Blue Hill at Stone Barns


One of many garden areas at Blue Hill at Stone Barns


The Greenhouse at Blue Hill at Stone Barns


Inside the Greenhouse at BHSB


Mike Anthony gives us a tour of the Greenhouse


The Greenhouse's tomatoes are still ripening


Mike picks flowers that are later served to us at dinner


We spy a well-camouflaged pig at the edge of the woods!


The kitchen preps for Friday night dinner service


The bar at Blue Hill at Stone Barns


The table at the center of the restaurant's dining room


BHSB's GM Philippe Gouze is a cocktail whiz!


Philippe's miniature cocktails at Blue Hill Stone Barns, from
right to left: strawberry sangria, rhubarb cosmo with frais de
bois,
cucumber martini, and beet vodka with marigold petals


Creamless sugar snap pea soup


Two perfect Ruby Red Maine shrimp on skewers


Ricotta-spread rice chips with fava beans and chanterelles,
served on a bed of grated Parmesan cheese


This "gazpacho" of greens and herbs was
thickened with avocado and served with yogurt sorbet


The "papillon" (butterfly) rolls were a unique bread offering


Roasted oysters with saffron-infused tapioca and beans


Hot smoked lobster with more perfect peas,
guanciale (pig jowl), and a garnish of the
flowers Mike had picked in the Greenhouse


Pork belly with a deep-fried egg and greens


Lamb six ways: roasted rack of lamb, sliced loin, braised
shoulder, with tongue, neck and brain in the salad greens


Fresh mint sorbet with local berries


Chocolate hazelnut dessert with a glass of PX sherry


Cocoa-dusted cashews and chocolate tartlets

Saturday, July 9, 2005 We've got photo shoots all day today for our next book, but this morning we wanted to share a few (or more!) of the photos from our visit yesterday to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Yes, we braved yesterday's thunderstorms and a nearly two-hour door-to-door drive in a rental car on the way there to make it out to Pocantico Hills for our first-ever visit and, still drenched from the rain with hair plastered to our heads, sat down to speak with Dan Barber and Michael Anthony and then for our first-ever dinner in their dining room last night.

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


"Just desserts" at Bette

Friday, July 8, 2005 We dined at Bette again last night. Then again, who didn't?

We said hello to Saveur editor Colman Andrews, who was sitting a couple of tables away. (Given that he lives in the building and was making a repeat visit, he just might have found his new neighborhood hangout.) And we chatted with Avenue magazine's Richard Turley on his way back to his table at the front and center of the dining room.

We're not sure if it was simply the nature of being a "deuce" (restaurant speak for "a table of two") in between two other closely-spaced deuces at a hot new restaurant, or whether our city's collective empathy for the tragic events of yesterday morning in London pried opened our respective hearts and loosened our respective tongues (or some combination thereof), but we had a delightful series of warm conversations with the tables on either side of us that emptied and then refilled throughout the evening: a couple planning a fall wedding at Blue Hill Stone Barns (where we're paying our first visit this afternoon), a talent manager, a fellow author, two friends who'd attended Jean-Georges Vongerichten's wedding together, the restaurant designer behind L'Impero and the new Alto, a writer for a popular soap opera, etc. Owner Amy Sacco was on hand to light up the room with her little black dress, covetable chandelier earrings, and spectacular smile. It made for a very special and unforgettable Manhattan evening.

So, by the way, did the food.

Bette shines when it comes to perfect summer salads that take vegetables to their zenith. The endive and watercress salad with anchovies is not for the faint of heart; the anchovies pack a true punch, punctuating the crispness of the greens and the tang of the dressing. The vegetable salad with chanterelles features carrots and other vegetables cut into matchstick width yet leave so much length that it resembles a plate of spaghetti. (We confirmed that it was indeed Amy's Bread featured alongside them on the table, including Amy's fabulous olive twists.)

There's nothing simpler than a shrimp cocktail, but Bette elevates its version to new heights through not only its presentation of three giant shrimp interlaced into a cake on the plate, nor through its smoky accompanying tomato sauce on the plate, but through the perfectly-cooked shrimp themselves: a feat next-to-impossible to achieve without such large shrimp and very precise attention to cooking times.

Our salmon was cooked perfectly, too.

We made sure to order the Cherry Pot Pie a friend had swooned over after her last visit. Rightfully so: the cherries themselves comprised a warm and wonderful dessert. We also tasted the Chocolate Polenta Cake, which was doubtless designed just for chocolate lovers like us who believe that nothing ruins a good chocolate dessert like too much sugar. And the Valrhona Chocolate Pudding retains its place as one of our very favorite versions of the dish.

We'd not previously met Bette's chef, but after sharing our compliments for our dinner with our new favorite waiter in Manhattan Rocco DiSpirito look-alike Craig he took us back to the kitchen to introduce us to Tom Dimarzo. While we'd heard reports that Tom had once worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, somehow we hadn't realized that Tom had worked with Jean-Georges for more than two decades (starting at four-star Lafayette)! That sure explained a lot to us about the food at Bette.

But what's the deal with all the good vibes we felt at Bette last night? Our farewell at the door from Bette's GM Ray Pirkle was as warm as his greeting when we first arrived. Are New Yorkers going soft? Or is Bette truly shaping up into an exceptionally professional and special New York restaurant?

We think perhaps both.

Bette is at 461 West 23rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, New York City. (212/366-0404).

[For other Blog entries on Bette, click here.]

Thursday, July 7, 2005 Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of London and their families.


Kai's tea expert Kai Andersen pours Andrew tea


Kai Andersen displays a pot of Budding Jasmine Rose tea


Andrew's seafood lunch at Kai restaurant on Madison Ave.


Karen's sashimi and salad at Kai restaurant on Madison Ave.


Our tasting of three different sakes at Artisanal


Artisanal's "East Meets West" pairing of sakes and cheeses

Thursday, July 7, 2005 We stuck with a Japanese theme for most of our dining yesterday, kicking off with a tasting of teas over lunch at Kai restaurant with its tea expert Kai Andersen.

We started with hojicha: In Japanese, hoji means "roasted" and cha means "tea." The result is a green tea with toasty flavors that make it a savory accompaniment to food.

Next, Kai poured us three different teas: a megami sencha (a rare varietal of green tea with a jade green color), an organic black spiral (a roasted black Hunan tea), and a beautiful budding jasmine rose (which unfurls when placed in boiling water, making quite a beautiful spectacle to show off in a clear glass pot!).

The assortment of pristine seafood that accompanied our tea (including amazing sashimi, which featured the sweetest and most delicious raw scallop Karen's ever tasted) gave us the opportunity to see how well tea served as an accompaniment to food. We especially enjoyed the green and black teas with our lunch, but the budding jasmine rose is so aromatic that it's probably best saved to drink on its own between meals.

Continuing our theme, we visited Artisanal last night to sample its cutting edge "East Meets West" pairing of three different sakes with three different cheeses. When cheese guru Max McCalman had mentioned to us that he was experimenting with these, we knew we had to check it out. It definitely worked for us, as we were able to taste for ourselves the affinities between each cheese and one or more of the sakes served. And at $25 for a selection of three perfect cheeses and three tiny glasses of sake, it's definitely a bargain.

Speaking of bargains, we just learned that a number of restaurants in New York including Artisanal are continuing their Restaurant Week 2005 special (three-course lunches for $20.12 and dinners for $35) through Labor Day. Other participating restaurants (which include Aquavit Cafe, Blue Smoke, Dawat, and Payard Patisserie and Bistro) can be found at www.opentable.com.

Kai is at 822 Madison Avenue at 69th Street, New York City. (212) 988-7277. Web: www.itoen.com

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


Calvados and Camembert a classic combination!


Tawny port is perfect with chocolate desserts like fondue!

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 Yesterday we celebrated the 4th of July with our dear friends Cynthia and Jeff Penney, for whom Andrew was inspired to create a feast that featured several rocking food and wine pairings. Our guests had brought us back a bottle of Calvados from their recent trip to France, which our now-massive database of great food and beverage pairings indicated was the perfect match for Camembert cheese. We can see why: while the Calvados was pretty strong on its own, the strength of the perfectly ripe Camembert (from Murray's Cheese) matched it, yet took things a step further by coating the palate so that the crisp apple flavor of the Calvados was even more evident. We continued enjoying our pairings through dessert with a decadent dark chocolate fondue, which was perfectly (and classically) complemented by tiny glasses of tawny port.

Monday, July 4, 2005 (afternoon) How nice to take a break from a marathon work session to check email and to find such a lovely one from Alexa Hernandez from Houston:

"CULINARY ARTISTRY is one of my favorite books. While in culinary school, it was passed around and hushed about like some secret ingredient. Now that I have it, I treasure it, carry it around with me, and can read it over and over again like the essential manual that it is. Thank you to both of you for writing such a wonderful and inspiring book! It continues to be a wonderful and necessary part of my daily mise en place. I work at one of the two four-star restaurants in Houston. I just discovered your blog on blogger, as  I also have a blog at www.lilojones.blogspot.com where I discuss my life happenings and try to talk a lot about food as well.  Thanks, and  I look forward to reading future posts from your site!

P.S. Next time you're in Houston, stop by Aries on Montrose for dinner, or Gravitas on Taft for lunch and dinner!"

Hope you enjoy this one, Alexa! Thanks for taking the time to write.

Monday, July 4, 2005 (morning) The other day, we heard from Xixi, a woman student at Northwestern whom Karen had the pleasure of meeting through her involvement with Northwestern's Council of 100. (Named the college's 100 leading professional alumnae by Northwestern's President, we return to campus twice a year to counsel women students on achieving their career aspirations.) Xixi wrote:

"I am having a good time here in Hokkaido, Japan.  I have been here about two weeks, learning A LOT of Japanese every day.  This place is like a fishing valley, quiet, peaceful, and really beautiful.  My host family is a mom and dad (whom I call 'mama' and 'papa'), and a younger sister of 15.  My host sister plays the trumpet and the piano, and listens to symphonic music every day.  So, through music, we are able to make bonds....

Before I tell you about my first cultural shock, I think I should write about the cuisine.  The way Japanese people eat is quite interesting.  Everything in this country is mini-sized.  My host mother makes and takes out a lot of food for dinner every day.  She makes everything in a small quantity, and if we don't finish something, she puts it back into the little containers and take them out again the next day, and the next, and the next.  So, we always have a full table of food, a large variety in a small quantity.  For breakfast, too, every day we have a table full of dinner food and also the typical American cereal, which I like. 

My host mother buys all her veggies directly from the farmer, so they always really fresh.  This place also happens to be right next to the sea, so fresh seafood is available every day.  I went to a fish market the other day, and they have everything made in squid, from microwavable squid stuffed with rice to squid chips.  They also have what they call the 'morning market,' which is comprised of many seafood shops.  They sell gigantic crabs that cost about $80, pretty expensive, but they are really big.  Some fruit stores also sell small melons that cost about $60.  Apparently, according to my teacher, the melons are the best in the country, really sweet....

Now, back to my first cultural shock, which was actually their super-duper high-tech toilet.  The toilet is a toilet-bidet, powered by electricity. I almost jumped up from the toilet when I tried to press one of the buttons! (It has like 6 or 7 buttons that I would never be able to use.)  I will remember to take a picture of it before I leave."

As we're in the midst of finishing our next book on the subject of food and beverage pairing over the next couple of months, we couldn't miss an opportunity to ask Xixi what her Japanse host family drinks with its meals. Her answer arrived today:

"...About the beverage habits in Japan: I asked my host mother a lot about it.  It took her an hour and a half to explain to me just how to make miso soup, which is their beverage choice with their meal.  When there is no soup, there is tea....

" The miso soup takes three steps to make: the soup, the veggies or seafood, and the miso.  First, you need to make the 'dashi,' which is the soup part of the miso soup.  It is made of three things: dried baby sardine, dried seaweed, and dried fish flakes called 'ka-tsu-o-bu-shi.'  You mix those three and just boil, but you have to make sure to separate the ingredients from the soup afterwards.  After you get the soup, you add in the veggies and the miso.  Well, the miso part is also really hard to make.  You need soybeans, rice, soy sauce, and oats.  I don't quite understand the exact process, but after you mix and crush everything, you have to wait for six months in order to take it out of a container and add to the soup.  So, making miso soup is definitely NOT easy.  The Japanese people see cooking as an art form.  'Good' miso soup should be clear, almost like water, so that the vegetables or seafood that you add can be displayed and seen in a beautiful manner.  There a million ways to make great miso soup.  It is amazing how there are tons of books just on a single type of soup.  For convenience's sake, people usually buy the pre-made packages to make dashi, but they still make their own miso so that they can adjust the flavor according to their taste.   I am very lucky to live with a host mom who knows everything there is to know about Japanese cuisine.  She writes consumer reports on various food factories...."


The cheese case in the cheese cave at Artisanal


Artisanal's cheese and charcuterie plate


The watermelon and feta cheese salad at Artisanal


Dessert at Artisanal? Cheesecake what else??


The crispy Tunisian duck "cigares" at L'Orange Bleue


Valerie Vigoda, Karen Page, and Brendan Milburn


Our rooftop picnic with Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda,
with the Empire State Building in the background (right)


Brendan Milburn and Andrew Dornenburg, with the sun
setting behind Frank Gehry's Perry Street Towers

Sunday, July 3, 2005 We're in the midst of a marathon work weekend, restructuring and pulling together elements of our next book. Knowing what they say about "All work and no play," we're still slipping out for a meal (or a run, to counteract all of our recent meals) here and there....

On Friday, we had long-standing plans for lunch with two fellow food professionals, one making a rare visit from Chicago (and the other from the Upper West Side). The restaurant choice was ours, which is always a tough decision: Where on earth do you take such discerning palates, who'd either already "been there, done that," or were about to? (Their itinerary for the weekend ranged from Per Se to Spice Market to wd-50.) With Max McCalman's recent fascinating cheese and wine pairing seminar still fresh in our minds, we selected Terrance Brennan's ode to cheese: Artisanal.

We'd forgotten that it was the last day of Restaurant Week, and the restaurant was jamming. Very thoughtfully, they set up a private table for the four of us in the cheese cave, which is a tiny room off the back of the restaurant surrounded by cheese cases (as pictured above) where we were able to dodge much of the cheese-loving din outside to actually enjoy our conversation not to mention the food. Eschewing entrees in favor of sharing the gigantic cheese and charcuterie plate (which is served with fresh fruit, nuts and even goose liver pate) and smaller dishes like watermelon and feta cheese salad, steamed mussels, and a side of Artisanal's glorious macaroni and cheese, it felt like a glorious indoor picnic: the perfect way to kick off both the new month and the Fourth of July weekend.

We've also had other friends visiting from out of town this week, and late Friday night after a long day's work, we met up for cool glasses of rose and "Cigares Tunisiens" (Ras el Hanut spiced duck rolls with teriyaki - pomegranate dipping sauce) at L'Orange Bleue. They were so good, we had to have a second order of them.

Last night, we unglued ourselves from our computers long enough to slip away for a private picnic on the rooftop of the West Village condo owned by our friends Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda (otherwise known as two-thirds of the band GrooveLily). It doesn't get much better than ending a picnic for four with four little pies from The Little Pie Company! Karen's favorite was the apple with crumble topping, while Andrew's was hands-down the of-the-moment peach!

Artisanal is at Two Park Avenue (entrance on 32nd Street), New York City. (212) 725-8585.

L'Orange Bleue is at 430 Broome St., New York City. (212) 226-4999. Web: www.lorangebleue.com.

The Little Pie Company is at www.littlepiecompany.com.


Antipasto (from beans and sausage to mozzarella) at Beppe


Andrew's Tasmanian fish and seasonal vegetables at Beppe


The lamb two ways (both exceptional) at Beppe


Beppe's exquisite cheesecake with berries


The best zabaglione Andrew's ever tasted, at Beppe


Deborah Pines and Karen Page at Beppe


Tony Schwartz and Andrew Dornenburg at Beppe

Friday, July 1, 2005 (morning) There are some restaurants that are so extraordinary that the pleasure of being there transcends the company you're with. There are some friends who are so extraordinary that the pleasure of their company transcends the restaurant you're at. There are few things in life more pleasurable than the company of extraordinary friends at an extraordinary restaurantwhich was exactly the kind of magical evening we experienced last night with psychotherapist Deborah Pines and bestselling author Tony Schwartz (of The Energy Project) at Cesare Casella's restaurant Beppe.

Cesare Casella is an exhuberant chef in terms of personality as well as cooking. His presence announces itself moments before his arrival as the sweet aroma of fresh herbs (exclusively rosemary of late) eminates from his pocket. [We think we've only seen him once without his trademark pocketful of herbs: over this year's James Beard Awards weekend. "What happened?!" we'd asked Cesare in mock disbelief, pointing to his empty breast pocket. "Julian Niccollini (of The Four Seasons) took them," he'd shrugged with a laugh.]

Likewise, Cesare's cuisine announces itself the minute you walk through the doors of Beppe, as the aromas of the dining room's wood-burning oven and the scintillating creations within waft toward the front door to greet you. [There's no greater olfactoric announcement of a restaurant in New York City; Beppe's is equaled only by that of Terrance Brennan's Artisanal where the pungent aroma of its hundreds of cheeses fills your nostrils the moment you enter the restaurant at Two Park Avenue.]

And it's not false advertising: Each rustic dish served at Beppe lives up to its aromatic prequel, with each bite providing a rush of flavor matched by exquisite texture. There are no misses here. From our first bite of "Republic of Beans" (Cesare's own branded heirloom beans) through a litany of little tastes of everything from farro prepared in the style of risotto to buffalo mozzarella to the bright flavors and colors of the season in Andrew's Tasmanian fish entree to the earthy, lusty flavors of lamb (in one of the very best lamb dishes Karen can ever remember having: lamb served two ways, roasted and braised in a lamb pot pie).

Almost every restaurant has a menu weakness. Some excel at savory foods while letting things drop a notch at dessert time or vice versa. Not so at Beppe. The luscious desserts upheld the high standard set by the rest of the dinner, with everything from the coconut cream tart to the cheesecake to the best zabaglione Andrew's ever tasted being greeted by a flurry of diving forks.

Never been to Beppe or not in a while? What are you waiting for? Call a couple of your dearest friends and make a dinner date at this extraordinary restaurant. A magical evening awaits!

Beppe is at 45 E. 22nd Street (bet. Park and Broadway), New York City. (212) 982-8422. Web: www.beppenyc.com

"Food doesn't usually resonate in my consciousness 12 hours later, but last night's really does. For all the reasons you say in your caption the blend of company and setting and food.  I definitely put that dinner among my best meals of all time.  It was great to share it with you, and we're very appreciative going to any restaurant with you makes it a transcendentally different experience.  I also loved the whole blog you do there's something wonderful and loopy about seeing all that food from your wide ranging travels a food travelogue."
Tony Schwartz, co-author, The Power of Full Engagement

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