James Beard Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE's Web Log -
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's Top 10 Food Blogs in 2006
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you:
I came to live out loud."
—Critic and novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902)
"When shall we live, if not now?"
—Author M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992),
quoting Seneca in Serve It Forth
The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.
Zen Buddhist text
Our Moroccan-style fish accented with shrimp at Darna
Darna dessert: phyllo, strawberries and cream
Mourad sprinkles rose water on our hands after dinner
Returning to Darna to split a salad and Darna lamb burger,
Andrew quipped, "It's darna good!"
Karen's "Mini Tiffin" thali with dosa ($8.95) at Saravanaas
Andrew's "Mini Meal" thali at Saravanaas
The scene at tiny Bar Carerra on Second Avenue
Our octopus terrine with a side salad at Bar Carerra ($3.50)
Our trio of tapas at Bar Carerra, just $3.50 per pair: Torta
del Casar cheese with chestnuts; "New Style" Pan Con Tomate
with Powdered Olive Oil; Chorizo Sausage Bocadillo
Our favorite: Caramelized juniper pork with bean puree
Our just-poured glass of 2005 Txakoli on the tapas bar
Strawberries con crema on mini brioche w/honey ($3.50)
Laura Day's full house at Barnes & Noble - Astor Place
Laura watches Samson and Emma sample the peach won tons
Samson and Emma: "Come on, vogue!"
Emma, Chris Zander & Laura; Samson's eye on Emma's cellphone
Monday, July 31, 2006 — Having been busy working to finish our next next book, we're a little behind on blogging...so we're using the last night of the month to catch up, with reports from the past week on Bar Carerra, Darna, Indochine, and Saravanaas.
We were happy to return to Darna with friends and friends of friends, as well as on our own to split our first Darna (lamb) burger — which Andrew declared "darna good." Darna has confirmed its place as our favorite new Moroccan restaurant in New York City. Our fezes off to Darna chef Lahcen Ksiyer and his partner Mourad El-Hebil.
Thanks to the new New York "Cheap Eats" issue, we also discovered Saravanaas in Curry Hill. While the service is pretty much what you'd find in an average Chinatown restaurant, the thalis (think Indian TV dinner on a silver tray with individual compartment, each containing a different dish, including dessert) were a great deal.
The same "Cheap Eats" issue was also responsible for our discovering Bar Carerra tonight, where we popped in for tapas at the bar before an event featuring our dear friend bestselling author Laura Day at the Barnes & Noble at Astor Place. We were blown away by the fabulous tastes of everything from bacon with bean spread to octopus terrine that we enjoyed for a mere $3.50 a pop. True to its rave in "Cheap Eats (as #49 ot of 101), Bar Carerra has got to be one of the best deals in town. As we especially loved the three dishes our waiter-bartender Christopher selected for us, we told him that next time we're letting him choose them all.
Laura's event at B&N was so packed with more than four dozen people that it was standing room only — but worth it. It was heartwarming to witness a guy who found himself at the store to buy a guidebook for his upcoming trip to Australia (Bobby) become a fan (and buy a copy of one of Laura's books!) right before our collective eyes.
Afterward, we had the pleasure of catching up over wine (and ginger ale!) and spring rolls with Laura, her son Samson, his friend Emma (whose cell phone looked an awful lot like a harmonica...), and eventually Emma's cool dad Chris at Indochine. As always, Laura knew exactly what to order, and we each enjoyed a lettuce-wrapped spring roll plus a peach won ton or two (served with four different dipping sauces) for dessert.
Bar Carerra is at 175 Second Ave. (near 11th St.), New York. (212) 375-1555.
Darna is at 633 Second Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York. (212) 213-9095. Despite being so new, the food is arguably the best Moroccan in the city and the service is coming along nicely.
Indochine is at 430 Lafayette St., New York. (212) 505-5111.
Saravanaas is at 81 Lexington Ave. (near 26th St.), New York. (212) 679-0204.
Laura Day is at www.practicalintuition.com.
Skewers of chicken await reheating in the tandoori oven
Our seekh kebob and chicken tikka roti sandwiches
Trading bites of our chicken tikka and seekh kebob roties
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 — This week's special issue of New York magazine "The 101 Best Cheap Eats" is already paying off with its recommendations, which got us down to Little India today to taste a couple of Roomali's roti sandwiches.
Curious about these Indian-style wraps consisting of "flat-grilled bread with egg, lemon, lettuce and spiced onions," we sampled both the chicken tikka and seekh kebob (spiced lamb) versions, at $5-6 each (2 for $9-11), respectively.
We could sum them up in just one word: MMMmmm....And while the staff is very pleasant, the dining room is very sparse, so take-out or delivery is probably your best bet unless you're just looking to grab a quick bite in the neighborhood.
Roomali is at 97 Lexington Avenue, which is actually located on 27th Street between Lex and Third. (212) 679-8900. Web: roomali.tripod.com
Monday, July 24, 2006 — There's lots of great reading for foodies hitting newsstands today, including:
- Pranay Gupte's wonderful interview with Insatiable author Gael Greene in the New York Sun, which we thank Devi chef Suvir Saran for tipping us off to via an email this morning and which you can read here, and
- New York magazine's cover story "The 101 Best Cheap Eats Restaurants in NY Ranked In Order!" which you can read here.
Our congratulations to some of our favorite restaurants that earned a spot on NY mag's 101, including Tia Pol (#7), Inside (#25), and Jimmy's (#100)!
Inside is at 9 Jones Street (bet. W. 4th St. and Bleecker), New York. (212) 229-9999.
Jimmy's is at 43 E. 7th Street, just west of 2nd Ave., downstairs, New York. (212) 982-3006.
Tia Pol is at 205 Tenth Ave. (bet. 22nd & 23rd Sts.), New York. (212) 675-8805. Web: www.tiapol.com.
From our mailbag:
A woman of a certain age, Julia Kerr of Waltham, MA, took a
four-mile fundraising scooter
ride in the rain on June 24th
"Andrew and Karen, thank you so much for your recent contribution to the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese June Jubilee. You and I and other Jubilee teams together raised money to support home-based care and orphan feeding programs in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, countries which have been severely affected by the AIDS pandemic....Africa accounts for two-thirds of the world's AIDS cases....According to Save the Children, some 9 million children in Africa have lost a mother to AIDS. Over 100 teams from 10 parishes in the diocese participated in the Jubilee, and walked along the Minuteman Bikeway. I rode my scooter in the rain, but it was a beautiful day even with the raindrops."
—Julia Kerr, Waltham, MA (received today)
"My Mom finished her four-mile scooter ride....The day of the ride, it rained in Massachusetts, but my sister purchased a poncho for Mom that covered her and the scooter, and my brother left New York at 4 AM to get to Boston in time to jog alongside Mom. The other scooter participants dropped out for fear of shorting in the rain.
At the end of the whole affair, it was announced that Mom had raised over 5% of all of the proceeds raised that day! P.S. By the way, did I tell you that my Mom LOVES your website!?"
—Otho Kerr, New York, NY (7/5/06)
There is an article about our friend (and one-time Easter Bible trivia contest teammate) Julia Kerr's inspiring accomplishment of one month ago today in The Winchester Star here. Congratulations, Julia!! —K & A
Chef Eoin Redmond of Hattiesburg, MS, with his 3rd
CULINARY ARTISTRY (having lost a prior copy to Hurricane
in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans
Mother's, the site of the best breakfast (and ham!) of our
last trip to New Orleans, is still going strong
Glimpse of August's dining room from its 2nd floor balcony
August's salad of heirloom beets, crabmeat, Allan Benton's
cherry wood bacon, mustard greens and quail eggs
with black-eyed pea croutons ($10)
Crispy fried P&J oysters with Clemson blue cheese and
($12) at August
Warm baked fig wrapped in Allan Benton's ham, stuffed
with goat cheese, and served with warm honey and pinenuts
Bouillabaisse at August is served in two courses: a bowl of soup
accompanied by a tray of crisps, cheese and roux, followed by....
...a bowl of mussels, clams, shrimp, blackfish and loup de mer
Brian Cappy's jumbo shrimp and Jacobs's andouille sausage
over organic Anson Mills grits
Jim Core's Peaches upside-down cake with blueberry sorbet
The New Orleans landmark Cafe Du Monde
The short but sweet menu at Cafe Du Monde includes
Beignets (3/$1.59) and a great Iced Cafe au Lait ($2.73)
Our clothes were covered with powdered sugar when we
left, but it was worth every delicious bite!
Walking past the booth of The National Anthem Project:
Did you know 2 out of 3 Americans don't know the words?!
Karen is congratulated for earning a medal by proving she
knows the lyrics to
"The Star-Spangled Banner"
We took this photo in a guitar store window of a guitar
signed by the members of Nirvana while thinking of our
guitar-loving friend Samson Day
Our last look at two of Randy Cooper's beautiful shadow
sculptures, which we'd admired up close earlier in the week
TOTC had us travel in style (in Booker's stretch limo!) with
Bob Markel on the way to the New Orleans airport
Saturday, July 22, 2006 — Having arrived home in New York City many hours after we were scheduled to do so (at 2 am this morning!), we're not only tired but swamped — so we'll have to let today's blog be a photo essay of our last day in New Orleans until we have the time to write more! Our sincere thanks again to Tales of the Cocktail for hosting us in New Orleans this week....and leaving us with so many delicious memories!
August is at 301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans. Phone: (504) 299-9777. Web: www.restaurantaugust.com
Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day in New Orleans' Historic French Market, and has been serving beignets and cafe au lait since 1862. Web: www.cafedumonde.com
Mother's is at
401 Poydras Street (at the corner of Tchoupitoulas), New Orleans.
Phone: (504) 523-9656.
The National Anthem Project, the campaign to get America singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," spotlights the important role music education plays in giving Americans our patriotic voice. Web: thenationalanthemproject.org
Randy Cooper is at www.randycooperart.com.
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
We kicked off last night's dinner at La
Cote Brasserie with
a Champagne Normande toast!
Back: Karen, chef Chuck Subra, and Andrew;
McIntosh, Rob Chirico and his wife Valdina, Thomas Connors
Our amuse-bouche at La Cote Brasserie: housemade pate
Wonderful venison carpaccio with truffle vinaigrette
Wild salmon and scallop sausage with housemade sauerkraut
Warm ginger cake sabayon with spiced peaches
Karen with Tulane Law School third-years Lucie Shipp
Tredennick, Jennifer Hoekstra and Jennifer Griep;
Bruno Veninga and Courtney Brauninger (who met 2 weeks ago in Italy), Chef Chuck & Andrew
Left: David Lourie, Stephanie Bialobok, and Karen (who thanks
them for telling her about
the Mexican restaurant Coyoacan)
Right: Fred Free, Katherine Free, and Keith "Baby" Schroth
Sous chef Nick Engler with his well-worn copy of CULINARY ARTISTRY
kept in the chef's office at La Cote Brasserie
Karen and Andrew with La Cote Brasserie's hard-working
kitchen team: Nick Engler, Mike Nold, Chef Chuck Subra,
Hines, and Wyatt Kennair — thanks again, guys!
Award-winning radio host Jennifer English interviews
chemist Ted Breaux
Chemist Ted Breaux with photographer Kerri McCaffety
La Cote Brasserie is at 700 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans. (504) 613-2350. Web: www.lacotebrasserie.com
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
From our email bag:
with his chef mentor Abdel Hashhoush
"Dear Karen, Andrew, and Chef Jeff,
I just wanted to share this photograph that I took this morning of
Demetrius with his chef mentor Abdel Hashhoush at [Jose Andres' restaurant] Zaytinya [in Washington, DC].
Thanks to you and your support, he is truly living his
dream now! I hope you're all well.
—Kelli [Taylor, co-founder of Free Minds Book Club]
There's a special place in heaven for people like
Kelli Taylor, Jose Andres and Abdel Hashhoush. K & A
you've had quite a busy month, judging from the blog!
Anne Saxelby was thrilled that you had visited her cheese stall. She is a refreshing new face for this town's food community. Best,"
—Jimmy Carbone, owner, Jimmy's restaurant (43 E. 7th St., NYC)
Karen Page, sipping our favorite summer cocktail: a Colette
from Amy Sacco's restaurant Bette in Manhattan
Ryan Magarian and Karen; Robert Hess, Tales of the Cocktail
founder Ann Rogers, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Friday, July 21, 2006 — At last night's cocktail hour, we urged attendees to sample our single favorite summer cocktail: the Colette at Amy Sacco's restaurant Bette in New York City. You can also find the recipe in Amy's brand-new book Cocktails (whose launch party at Barneys we were sorry to miss on our first night in New Orleans this week).
And we were delighted to sign copies of our own book CULINARY ARTISTRY after our fellow panelists were so generous in singing its praises to the crowd!
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
From our email bag:
"I just wanted to say what a great pleasure it was to meet you both.
I have been
telling all of my chef friends that I had the opportunity to actually meet the
people behind some of the best books in the business.
A true honor."
— Dave Martin, chef and one of the three finalists on TV's "Top Chef"
We haven't seen "Top Chef," but we had the pleasure of sharing a car from the New Orleans airport to the Hotel Monteleone with Dave — and on Friday afternoon, we overheard two Tales of the Cocktail event attendees walking along Rue Royale talking about wanting to get their picture taken with him! —K & A
"This year, I chaired a panel discussion about 'Pairing Cocktails with Food.' Joining me were Audrey Saunders, Ryan Magarian, Andrew Dornenburg, and Karen Page....Andrew and Karen are the authors of CULINARY ARTISTRY, a simply amazing book which provides a wealth of information about how various chefs in the industry think about flavor pairing. They also have recently finished a new book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT."
—Robert Hess, host, DrinkBoy.com
We owe a debt of gratitude to Robert for being so passionate in his praise for CULINARY ARTISTRY, which has turned many top mixologists on to the book, and for recommending our inclusion in the Tales of the Cocktail event. Spending time among so many serious "bar chefs" in New Orleans definitely opened our eyes to their important contributions to the evolution of mixology and, increasingly, gastronomy. This field is lucky to have such a thoughtful, respected advocate as Robert Hess in its midst.
Audrey Saunders, Andrew Dornenburg and Robert Hess
discuss our "Pairing Cocktails and Food" panel
Ryan Magarian with Mario Batali's dad's
mole salami with tequila-soaked dried cherries, a fabulous
pairing with Ryan's Anejo Manhattan
Tasting five different-flavored foods with two cocktails
Taking a break from tasting to pose for Karen's camera
Panel moderator Robert Hess addresses the crowd
Andrew and Robert compare cocktail shirts!
"Seminar 3: Pairing Food with Cocktails....Audrey Saunders, Ryan Magarian, Robert Hess, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg walked us through matching the different flavor profiles of cocktails with assorted dishes.
This was probably
the best event of the day, in my opinion."
—Paul Clarke, on CocktailChronicles.com
Thursday, July 20, 2006 — This afternoon's sold-out "Pairing Cocktails and Food" panel, presented by Imbibe magazine, featured two surprise panelists in addition to advertisied panelists Robert Hess of DrinkBoy.com, and mixologists Ryan Magarian (of Seattle's Kathy Casey Food Studios) and Audrey Saunders (of NYC's Pegu Club): us!
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
"Get the Hot Dish" panel discussion: Frank Stitt, Marcus
Samuelsson, Aaron Sanchez
and Dale DeGroff
The panel on current flavor trends packed a full house
Pirate's Alley entrance to Faulkner House Books
"A borrowed book is but a cheap pleasure...To know the
value of books, you must feel the sweet delight of
them." —J.M. Baldwin
Our biscuits were served with luscious Carolina cherry butter
Our room service muffuletta and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Thursday, July 20, 2006 — Tales of the Cocktail kicked off this morning with an interesting 11:30 am panel discussion entitled "Get the Hot Dish," billed as a discussion of current trends in flavors, how flavors evolve, the next big flavor, and how flavors are important in creating the "hot dish."
Panelists included three chefs and a mixologist, with a shared passion for exploring flavors. It was worth it for us to attend if only to view the packed house and to be thereby reaffirmed of our staking our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT on America's interest in expanding its exploration of flavors into the world of beverages. The panelists' comments only served to confirm it, too.
Some chefs noted the evolution from regional-driven cooking into flavor-driven cooking (which we'd argue was helped along by the publication of our book CULINARY ARTISTRY in 1996), and with flavors lightening significantly as chefs moved away from flour-and-butter-based sauces into lighter sauces based on olive oil, chicken stock, and lemon or lime juices (which we'd argue was helped along by the publication of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's book SIMPLE CUISINE prior to that).
Frank Stitt spotlighted the new emphasis on techniques as a means of exploring flavor, crediting Alain Ducasse as his inspiration for serving dishes featuring raw, slightly cooked and long-cooked ingredients (say, lamb) on a single plate to mirror and echo the same flavor through different textures.
Panelists agreed on the need to subtly (or not so subtly!) educate the broader restaurant community and customers alike to raise their standards in terms of what they serve and what they're willing to consume. Chef Aaron Sanchez, who praised his mother (noted chef Zarela Martinez) more than once for the incredible foundation she provided him with, admitted that he serves cactus with the popular steak dish on his restaurant's menu as a way to introduce it to his customers. Mixologist Dale DeGroff looks forward to the day when 95 percent of the bars in America no longer serve sour mix out of a gun, or "ice that tastes like shit." Amen to that!
Prior to the panel, we had the great pleasure of being hosted for breakfast in the home of New Orleans legends Rosemary James and Joe DeSalvo, who own the national literary landmark Faulkner House and run a charming bookstore on its ground floor — where William Faulkner lived while writing his first novel. Knowing they had just hosted author Gay Talese for an event in their bookstore on Tuesday night, we were delighted that they were able to take the time to chat with us about their renowned Words & Music Festival — and even more delighted to be invited to participate in the future. After all, one taste of Rosemary's wonderful biscuits with Carolina cherry butter, and you, too, would want to be planning your next trip back to New Orleans!
Maybe it tasted especially great because after a very brief power outage and getting caught and completely drenched in the rain, last night we ended up ordering in room service for dinner: a muffuletta and a bottle of 2005 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand!
Faulkner House Books is at 624 Pirate's Alley (off Royale), New Orleans. (504)
524-2940. Web: www.wordsandmusic.org
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
"I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things.
It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
—William Faulkner, in his acceptance speech for the 1949 Nobel Prize
The tiled plaque near the entry way of Bayona reads, "When
New Orleans was capital of the Spanish Province of Luisiana
(1762-1803), this street bore the name Camino de Bayona"
Our 16-cent vodka martini with olives — our first cocktail
of this "Tales of the Cocktail" week!
Susan Spicer's signature Cream of Garlic soup — the recipe
for which appears in our first book BECOMING A CHEF
Bayona salad with balsamic vinaigrette and Grana cheese
Pan roasted triple tail with blue corn posole broth and
Mixed grill of pork tenderloin, Poche's boudin, beef brochette
We LOVED Bayona's root beer ice cream, not to mention its
accompanying shortbread cookie
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 — On our last visit to New Orleans last February, our dinner at Susan Spicer's restaurant Bayona had proven to be the most extraordinary meal of our entire trip.
Celebrating its 16th anniversary, this summer the restaurant is offering what could be the single best bargain in all of New Orleans: a three-course lunch of soup or salad, a slightly smaller-sized version of any of the menu's lunch entrees, and a scoop of homemade ice cream for just $16 — plus the option of a gin or vodka martini for only 16 cents!
Trust a James Beard Award-winning chef like Spicer to get every delicious detail right: We marveled anew at her extraordinarily simple yet delicious garlic soup, which manages to be rich without being heavy, with a deep, rich and sweet yet pungent flavor, and smooth, velvety texture accented perfectly by the crunch of tiny seasoned croutons.
If root beer ice cream is offered, do not even bother to think twice about what to order for dessert: root beer lovers will find it tickles their noses just like the real thing, and even shortbread cookie afficianados won't be disappointed with Spicer's accompanying cookie.
Bayona is at 430 Dauphine Street (bet. Conti and St. Louis Sts.), New Orleans. (504) 525-4455. Web: www.bayona.com
Chefs doing double-duty as sommeliers — we hear:
Stephen Asprinio, a CIA alum, went on to serve as sommelier
at Nob Hill at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas
Saunders Conroy, sommelier of the Besh Steak House at Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, is a CIA alum
Khai Duong, executive chef at San Francisco's Ana Mandara restaurant, attended the Academie Du Vin in Paris
Paul Ferzacca, chef-owner of La Tour in Vail, CO, holds a sommelier's certificate
Bob Iacovone, chef of Cuvee in New Orleans, has both a degree from the CIA and a sommelier's certificate
Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie Street Bistrot in Cambridge, MA, researches and selects his own wine for his 97% organic wine list
Devin McGarry is a CIA alum who's worked for 15 years in the wine industry and is now launching the caterer Wine & Dine at Home
Heidi Noble, a professionally trained chef and sommelier, established Joie Farm Cooking School in British Columbia
Dino Renaerts is both executive chef and sommelier of Crowne Plaza Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, having earned a sommelier's certificate
Carlos Solis, a CIA alum, is both chef and beer sommelier for the Sheraton Four Points/LAX
Didier Virot, chef at Aix and FR.OG in New York City, states in his bio that he
"earned a degree in sommelerie"
John Wabeck, chef at Firefly in Washington, DC, acts as his own sommelier and is currently working toward his Master Sommelier designation
Sang Yoon, chef, owner and beer sommelier of the restaurant/bar Father's Office in Santa Monica, CA
...and of course Andrew Dornenburg not only studied with Madeleine Kamman at the School for American Chefs, but earned his sommelier certificate from the Sommelier Society of America
Do you know of other chefs with sommelier training (or sommeliers with chef training) who belong on this list? Please email your suggestions to Dornenburg@aol.com.
Sleigh bed bread basket at Cuvee in New Orleans features
a medley that includes killer biscuits and cornbread
The first taste of Cuvee's shrimp remoulade was what made
like we were in New Orleans...and nowhere else
Red and yellow tomato gazpacho with avocado puree and
lump crabmeat, with microgreen salad
Cuvee's chopped salad of mixed greens, apples, praline bacon,
Danish bleu cheese: familiar flavors in a unique format
Duo of Yellowfin Tuna: Summer tuna tartare, tuna carpaccio
with caperberry salad, extra virgin olive oil
Deux Foie Gras: two signature preparations: seared with
peaches and cherries, and as creme brulee with sour apples
Chef's daily sweetbreads preparation, with gastrique
Tapas plate: melon-lemon basil sorbet with crisp prosciutto;
Serrano-chevre peppadews; Boursin-stuffed asparagus with
crisp duck pastrami (So much "bacon," Karen was in heaven!)
Chicken-n-waffles, Cuvee-style: coq au vin blanc with
Boursin-spinach waffle, served with rosemary cane syrup
Scallop-crusted grouper with butter-poached lobster
Can you say "Creamsicle?" Cuvee's New Orleans Nectar Soda
"snow cone" with stewed
nectarines and fresh raspberries
— and drizzle of sweetened condensed milk
Cuvee's comfortable yet romantic exposed-brick dining room
the end of the night
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 — Learning that its chef Bob Iacovone had both a degree from the CIA and a sommelier's certificate bumped Cuvee to the top of our list of restaurants we wanted to visit on our first night in New Orleans. We're delighted that our hunch paid off so deliciously.
We'd been hearing that post-Katrina New Orleans was a city short on cooks, many of whom had moved with their families elsewhere. The good news is that many of the city's top chefs are in their kitchens doing the cooking, and not simply expediting. Iacovone himself oversaw last night's dinner and helped serve dishes to every table in the restaurant, including ours. Coming from a city like New York where critics regularly take "absentee chefs" to task, it provided last night's dinner with a welcome, personal touch — and gave Iacovone the opportunity to elaborate on menu descriptions, such as pointing out that our wonderful gazpacho had been made with tomatoes from his own home garden.
Restaurant manager Chris Ycaza was knowledgable and passionate about wine, and oversaw our pairings with each course. We thank him for starting us off with such an edgy choice in the Bugey demi-sec sparkling rose, which sang the perfect summer melody with its notes of sweet raspberries and even a hint of watermelon. (We'd tasted it in February at Bette in New York City, and had loved it there, too.)
Ycaza was thoughtfully but unnecessarily apologetic about sharing so many of his favorite off-dry wines, since we're huge fans of the style, too, agreeing with his philosophy that it plays off the spice of local cuisine so well. We also loved the German Riesling he poured us, and especially the sweet Chenin Blanc from Loire that accompanied our foie gras and sweetbreads.
After pouring non-traditional white and red burgundies (with the former featuring aligote as opposed to chardonnay grapes, and the latter lacking the fruitiness of many pinot noirs) with our entrees, Ycaza cautioned that they were better food pairing (as opposed to sipping) wines. But he'd earned our trust based on his previous choices, and we went on to indeed taste both wines come alive with our grouper and chicken dishes, respectively.
At the end of the night, Andrew declared the unusual "snow cone" dessert to be "wacky, fun and delicious." Karen concurred. In fact, the last two adjectives could sum up our entire meal, with "wacky" thrown in from time to time to keep everyone on their toes. This doesn't take a thing away from the restaurant's serious and sincere intentions — it simply acknowledges that said seriousness doesn't interfere with having a deliciously good time.
We were even more impressed upon learning that Iacovone himself had just flown in from New York, after having cooked at the James Beard House the night before. We hope his visit serves to bring more New Yorkers down to New Orleans to taste his food — and to experience the warm hospitality of Ycaza and his team (including our waiter Reno and his colleagues) — in the lovely setting of Cuvee.
We have several more meals ahead of us this week in New Orleans. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, last night 35-year-old (as of July 7th!) chef Bob Iacovone just set the bar rather high.
Cuvee is at 322 Magazine Street, New Orleans. (504) 587-9001. Web: www.restaurantcuvee.com
From our email bag:
"While you're in New Orleans, would you like to meet Rosemary James and Joe DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books? Rosemary puts on the fabulous Words and Music Festival ....They always have an event around food writing. Besides, its the best book festival in the country. I went a couple of years ago and if I'd had any more fun it would have been illegal....Have fun in New Orleans and try to stay cool!"
Loraine Despres, novelist
"I understand you were in August [one of the restaurants TRG manages] recently, and I saw the write up. It was a wonderful one, thank you."
Frannie Rabin, director of operations, Townhouse Restaurant Group
"I learn more from your blog on a daily basis, and get more ideas from it, than I have in ages from any place else. Makes me feel like I am still cooking and 'on the pulse' of the big chefs' latest ingredient obsessions!"
Rev. Marshall Shelly, Trinity Church
The new-ish Papaya King at JFK's Terminal 6
"The best hot dog in New York" —Julia Child
JetBlue may have low fares, but also great taste in naming
Joshua Wesson its sommelier
"Forget Iraq. Rebuild New Orleans" bumper sticker
Piles of bricks, as welcome signs of rebuilding to come
The "welcome" package awaiting us in our hotel room
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 — Greetings from New Orleans, where we're being featured at the annual Tales of the Cocktail event hosted by the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to benefit the hospitality industry.
Flying in to New Orleans yesterday via JFK, we were happy to discover the new (to us!) Papaya King hot dog stand among the options in Terminal 6. It's doubtless the best bargain at JFK: $1.52 will buy you a frankfurter that earned the praise of the late Julia Child — and for an extra nickel, you can have it with sauerkraut.
Best Cellars' Joshua Wesson's smiling face was a welcome sight aboard our JetBlue flight — albeit in miniature form on the television screen located at each JetBlue seat. Congratulations, Josh, on being named JetBlue's onboard sommelier!
Our drive to the hotel gave us a taste of how the city has changed in the 17 months since our last visit, from a newfound politicism as expressed on bumper stickers and the like to hopeful signs of the post-Katrina rebuilding still to take place in this beloved American city.
There's still time to hop a flight to join us, so we'll hope to see you here! Otherwise, check back soon for our regular reports on Tales of the Cocktail happenings.
Tales of the Cocktail is at talesofthecocktail.com.
August's artichoke was worth returning for!
Our view of the New York sky from August's patio
One of Karen's new favorite salads in New York: the Bibb
lettuces with radishes and lemon dressing
Blistered peppers were sprinkled with coarse salt
August's non-traditional take on "tarte flambe" still rocked,
featuring caramelized onions, bacon and creme fraiche
Sauteed soft-shell crabs with pea leaves, brown butter,
Grilled leg of lamb salad with green garlic and wilted frisee
Grilled onions with Romesco sauce at August
(Photo credit: Jeff Penney)
August's braised whole fava pods
Last night's dessert special: citron tart
Fresh raspberry linzertorte with white chocolate shavings
View from a pier along the Hudson River Park
Enjoying the night rhythms of drummers in the park
Strolling along the water's edge, with a view of New Jersey
Monday, July 17, 2006 — Tony Liu's cooking at August has lots of new admirers, including us. Our Blog of last week helped make fans of chefs Charleen Badman (of Inside) and Chrysa Kaufman (of Rancho Pinot), and we returned last night with friends who live nearby in the West Village and were happy to pay their first visit.
Last night's dinner confirmed that last Sunday's dinner hadn't been a fluke, and that Liu (who was in the kitchen last night) is overseeing one of the most talented small kitchens we've recently come across. The food at August is very much to our taste: every ingredient tastes of what it is, and accenting ingredients only enhance, and never detract from, the dish.
After dinner, we strolled with Cynthia and Jeff Penney from the restaurant to the West Side, and along the river, where they turned us into new fans of the lovely Hudson River Park.
August is at 359 Bleecker Street (bet. Charles and West 10th Street), New York. (212) 929-4774. Web: www.augustny.com
Friends of Hudson River Park are at www.fohrp.org.
From our email bag:
"We have discovered a most amazing restaurant [in Southampton, New York]: the Plaza Cafe. Truly world class...Chef Doug Gulija is representing New York State at the 3rd Annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans later this summer...In any event, our meal there last night was stupendous and we immediately thought of you...."
—Gene Bryan Johnson, NPR radio producer
"We recently dined at Al Forno, so, of course, I thought of you....While interviewing Chef Mariano Aznar [formerly of Solera] about his new restaurant, Patrias, in Port Chester, I noticed that THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF was in his window [as he appears on its cover]. Congratulations on your forthcoming book — I look forward to reading it! I'm excited, as my first book, TASTING CLUB, will be out in 5 weeks!"
—Dina Cheney, author, TASTING CLUB
Take the R train to Elmhurst Avenue in Elmhurst (Queens)
Strolling along Whitney Avenue to Mie Jakarta in Elmhurst
Mie Jakarta is at 86-20 Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst
Katie tastes this fruity drink featuring avocado and tapioca
Pangsit goreng: Crispy Indonesian fried wontons ($4)
Indonesian sio may w/peanut sauce at Mie Jakarta
Mie goreng, traditional Indonesian fried noodles ($5.50)
Ayam rica: Indonesian chicken with hard-boiled egg, rice,
shrimp chips and cucumber slices ($6.50)
Mie Jakarta's proud owner David Wuntu stops by our table
Approving our taking pictures at the nearby dumpling house
A platter of just-made dumplings at the dumpling house
The dumpling house kitchen, with pot of boiling water
Through a window partition, we see noodle dough rolled....
...and rolled by hand to create a thin log of dough
A long jumprope of noodle dough is created...
...that is doubled and stretched...
...and then doubled and stretched again...
...and then doubled and stretched twice again, then boiled
Off to Moore Homestead Playground, to dine on park benches
The handmade noodles, topped with meat and fresh herbs
Fresh pork and chives, and celery, dumplings: 8 for $2
Dining on our park bench; enjoying the l-o-n-g handmade noodles
"Just down the block from Minang Asli on Elmhurst's exploding Whitney Avenue dining strip, Mie Jakarta ('Jakarta Noodles') appeared....Painted several shades of pink and offering only a handful of tables, this small café emulates a warung a hawker stall specializing in one or two dishes done to perfection. Like the name says, Mie Jakarta's specialty is noodles."
—Robert Sietsema, Village Voice (June 8, 2006)
Saturday, July 15, 2006 — 'Twas the night before our five-mile race in Central Park, so last night we brought an ethnic twist to the concept of carbo-loading by venturing out to Elmhurst to taste some of the best Asian noodles and dumplings in Queens with three fellow intrepid eaters.
Several weeks ago, we'd read on fellow author (of the fascinating Kitchens) Northwestern University sociology professor Gary Alan Fine's Blog VealCheeks.Blogspot.com:
"Before my relocation to New York, my religiosity was rusty. I was a jack Unitarian. But now I have a God of my own device: Robert Sietsema, the restaurant critic of the Village Voice and author of The Food Lover's Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City. Every night before bed, I read a few chapters and verses, and carry the writ close to my heart."
Knowing that Gary was winding up his year in New York (as a fellow of the Russell Sage Foundation) this month, we decided to facilitate a surefire spiritual experience for him by organizing an outing last night to introduce him to Sietsema, whom we'd had the great pleasure of meeting while researching our book DINING OUT.
Trust Sietsema to choose a heavenly new three-month-old restaurant as the site of our dinner. The four of us — along with Kate Schmier, a University of Michigan student Robert had met during her internship last summer at Gourmet — met at Mie Jakarta in Queens, just around the corner from the Elmhurst Avenue subway stop, which he had reviewed in the Village Voice just a few weeks ago.
From there, we went on to a nearby dumpling house recommended by Robert — whose name and address we'll share after he writes his review of it. It would have been worth the trip just to get to watch its cooks prepare their hand-made noodles, rolling lumps of dough into long logs of dough, then expertly stretching and doubling the strands of dough into long, thin noodles.
At Robert's suggestion, we took our stash of noodles ($2.50/serving) and dumplings ($2 for 8) to the nearby C. Clement Moore (the author of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," who was considered a savior of Greenwich Village) Homestead Playground, where we sat on a park bench and each took bites, passing the styrofoam containers back and forth to share.
Who would have thought we'd had a prayer of being able to stuff ourselves silly while spending less than $10/person? (Luckily, we had those five miles in the Park scheduled this morning to undo some of the caloric damage.) Dollar for dollar, last night turned out to be one of our most divinely delicious nights of the summer to date. Thanks, Robert — and Gary!
Mie Jakarta is at 86-20 Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst. (718) 606-8025. To get here from Manhattan, hop on the R train and get off at Elmhurst Avenue. Walk toward the exit at Elmhurst & Broadway, and then walk one block to Whitney Avenue and hang a right; about a 30-minute door-to-door trip from Midtown.
Dumpling house name and address TK. Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House is at 86-08 Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst. (718) 639-3996.
Robert Sietsema's always-entertaining and informative column "Counter Culture" in the Village Voice can be found here.
"Our long noodles with beef and herbs was fulfilling. And as pleasurable was the food (a few dollars/person) — and the company — we chose to eat at the diverse and busy local park, a block from the restaurant, the one-time homestead of Clement Moore, the Nineteenth Century Episcopal leader and poet, best known for 'The Night Before Christmas.' Consuming superb dumplings on a warm July evening in a charming park, I was receiving my presents under the tree."
—Gary Alan Fine, on VealCheeks.Blogspot.com (7/17/06)
Grilled watermelon with tomatoes, basil and aged balsamic
White gazpacho with poached prawns and smoked paprika oil
Dr. Michael Mascha approved our Lurisia water selection
Grilled Maine diver scallops with cannellini beans and chorizo
Gnocchi with fleur de courgette, lemon confit and bottarga
Michael Mascha was a sport to let us shoot his veal cheeks!
Andrew's blueberry dessert featured cornbread ice cream
Karen's chocolate tart featured roasted peanut ice cream
Karen Page with Dr. Michael Mascha of FineWaters.com
we were impressed recognized Ursula von Rydingsvard's art
from his visit to the Bloomberg building!)
The wonderful buffet at the C100 event at Solera restaurant
Solera's buffet ranged from paella to marinated shrimp
Karen Page, Gina Silvestri, Linda Munger, Betsy Combier
Lori Anne Czepiel addresses the Northwestern crowd
C100 member Vicki Snoy introduces herself to alumnae
C100 member Dr. Sue Sacks of Columbia University comments
Recent Northwestern alumnae enjoying the C100 event:
Michelle Edgar, Maridel Reyes, Katie Jacobson, Emily
Lehrman and Marissa Conrad
Tiffany Forte, Danielle Dabney, Jessica Lane
Monica Carmean, Karen Callahan with friend, Karina Martinez
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 — Yesterday was a great day for making new connections and reconnecting, starting with lunch at Eleven Madison Park with one of the world's leading experts on fine waters and ending over tapas at Solera with some of Northwestern University's most impressive alumnae.
We're so busy working to finish our next book that we hadn't made any reservations for Restaurant Week (which is this week and next, featuring three-course lunches for $24.07 and dinners for $35), other than yesterday's at EMP. But boy, did we choose right. We're long-time fans of former chef Kerry Heffernan's wonderful cuisine, and our last dinner at EMP last August with our friend Rikki Klieman was arguably our best ever at the restaurant. However, our first experience of new EMP chef Daniel Humm's cuisine was impressive — and all the more so that it was the result of a Restaurant Week visit.
While other restaurants buckle under the pressure of so many first-time diners descending upon the restaurant during this two-week period, Eleven Madison Park rose to the occasion. Some other restaurants try to push their regular-priced menu and make diners ask for the special $24.07 menu. EMP featured only its $24.07 menu, providing so many tempting choices that just reading the menu, you can find yourself already contemplating a second visit. After tasting the dishes, you're definitely planning one — which is why with typical Danny Meyer genius, the restaurant brilliantly offers departing diners a $24.07 gift certificate to use on their return visit to EMP this summer. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?
We were happy to finally meet face-to-face with Dr. Michael Mascha (to whom we've fondly come to refer through our two years of email correspondence as "M2"), whom we had the pleasure of interviewing for our next book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea — Even Water — Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers. After having our water world rocked upon our first visit to Alain Ducasse when presented with a water cart of more than a half-dozen choices and asked about our water preferences (e.g. size of bubble, minerality, salt level, etc), it was M2 who led us to understand his five-level distinctions beyond simply "flat" and "sparkling," and the food pairing implications of each. Not only do we cover water and food pairing guidelines in WHAT TO DRINK, but M2 covers them in even greater detail in his forthcoming book Fine Waters, which is also out this fall — making us all the more convinced that 2006 will be looked back upon as a critical turning-point year for food and beverage pairing in the history of gastronomy.
Uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer is used to tackling the impossible and making it look easy, from transforming the landscape of Union Square and now Madison Square to celebrating Gramercy Tavern's 12-year anniversary just yesterday, he told us. So you can bet we'll be the first in line to buy our copies of his new book due out this fall Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (for which he was just in the studio recording the audio version) to learn more of the secrets of his amazing success.
After a meeting at the W Hotel, Karen co-hosted the summer meeting of The Council of 100 — Northwestern University's 100 leading professional alumnae, as appointed by NU's President — over tapas and sangria in the lovely private room upstairs at New York City's best Spanish restaurant Solera. It was impressive that fully 7% of C100 members attended the gathering (including Betsy Combier, Lori Anne Czepiel, Linda Munger, Dr. Sue Sacks, Gina Silvestri, Vicki Snoy and Karen), which also attracted a roomful of purple-blooded NU students and alumnae, ranging from new admits to recent graduates working everywhere from Forbes, Glamour and Self magazines to NBC's "Dateline" to Sidley & Austin to Teach for America.
Karen was happy to reconnect with Michelle Edgar, a recent grad who's now happily ensconced at Women's Wear Daily and writing up a storm. And it was mutually mind-blowing to meet New York Dept. of Education's Danielle Ongart, with whom Karen enjoyed several rounds of a rather surreal game of "Me, too," after Danielle shared that she was the first person in her family to attend college, was from Michigan, specifically Sterling Heights, although born in Warren near "8 Mile" and Van Dyke, and had attended Ascension Church! Though only 630 miles, it takes someone else who also hails from Eminem's now-infamous neighborhood to "get" what a miraculously long road it is from 8 Mile and Van Dyke to 53rd Street and Third Avenue!
Eleven Madison Park is at 11 Madison Ave. (at 24th Street). (212) 889-0905. Web: www.elevenmadisonpark.com.
FineWaters.com is Dr. Michael Mascha's Web site.
Solera is at 216 E. 53rd St., near Third Ave. (212) 644-1166. Web: www.solerany.com
The Council of 100 is the Web site of Northwestern University's Council of 100.
"Thank you for organizing a great event. It was so nice to meet such an impressive group of women! I enjoyed my conversations with the Council of 100 members, as well as current students and alumnae. I always love meeting fellow Wildcats, and this was one of the best alumni events I've attended in the city. Plus, the tapas and sangria were delicious!"
—Northwestern University Class of 2002 alumna
"It was great meeting you at the event. The food, conversation and opportunity to meet so many amazing women from Northwestern was wonderful. I plan on attending many more C100 events in the future!"
—Northwestern University Class of 2004 alumna
"Thanks so much for hosting the event last night. I had a wonderful time and met some fascinating women. It was a pleasure to meet you, Sue Sacks, and other members of the Council of 100, and I thought it was a nice way for Northwestern women to get together and network....I especially liked the 'obstacle' portion of your speakers' comments [addressing obstacles they'd overcome], since I am going through a bit of a setback career-wise at the moment and it was comforting to hear that it is more common than it feels when it's happening to you. I hope the Council of 100 hosts more New York events in the future. I know that some of my fellow 2005 grads as well as some new grads would be interested in attending future events."
—Northwestern University Class of 2005 alumna
"Karen, thanks so much for hosting the wonderful Council of 100 event at Solera last month. Being in a room full of talented, accomplished NU alumnae was so inspiring! I definitely came to work the next day fired up. I've been checking out your blog for dining ideas — I'm a restaurant hound! Thanks again."
—Northwestern University Class of 2005 alumna
"Thank you so much for organizing the Council of 100 event at Solera last night. I met so many amazing people, and the food was delicious! I will definitely see you at future Council events (and, with any luck, become a member after I graduate)!"
—Northwestern University Class of 2007 alumna
The charming garden seating at August on Bleecker Street
August's bread basket features wonderfully crustry bread
Chilled pea soup with marinated fluke and pimenton croutons
Wild mushroom and radicchio pizza with balsamic glaze
Capellini with Shrimp and Zucchini Flowers at August
Profiteroles with warm chocolate, and Hungarian cherry soup
Our neighbors' "delicious" artichoke appetizer!
"Known for 'hearty,' 'seasonal' specialties straight from the wood-burning oven, this Village regional European 'gem' would be a 'winner' 'for any month'....[I]ts 'picture-perfect' rusticity ('coutyard' included) is 'inviting' all year."
—2006 Zagat Survey
Monday, July 10, 2006 — Tony Liu, do you have any idea what goes on at your restaurant August on your night off? Many chefs don't. However, we can assure you that last night we found your staff to be busy making you very proud.
After a long run in Central Park and working on our next book all day, we found ourselves exhausted last night. We stopped by Tribeca Grill for a tasting of wines, cheeses and cured meats from Spain to say hello to host chef Jose Andres, but discovered him to be in the midst of a long media interview. (Speaking of which, you can catch him on NBC's "Today" show tomorrow morning, July 11th.)
Our plan was to grab a quick bite on the way home. As it was still early by New York (if not our aching legs') standards, we decided to try our luck at August — which doesn't take reservations. We'd never visited August before, but it had come highly recommended to us by pastry chef Gina DePalma of Babbo, where Liu used to cook.
We were greeted warmly and shown to a table in the restaurant's lovely enclosed backyard garden. Walking past the restaurant's wood-burning oven, we found the aromas to be all the amuse-bouche we needed.
The restaurant offers several wines by the glass, including a Spanish Txacoli ($13) and a French rose ($8). The two beautifully accompanied our first two courses of chilled pea soup with marinated fluke, pimenon croutons, mint and lemon oil ($9), and an outstanding tuna bruschetta with white beans and red onions. In fact, regarding the latter, if you are a fan of these three ingredients, plus crusty toasted bread and a liberal dose of olive oil, you will be hard pressed to taste a better version of the combination anywhere. We recommended it to the very friendly duo at the table next to us as they sat down, and they concurred.
Next up was the wild mushroom and radicchio pizza with balsamic glaze and Parmesan cheese ($12), which could have been called "pizza with a salad on top," except such a light-hearted name wouldn't properly suggest this dish's serious deliciousness. The capellini with shrimp and zucchini flowers, spicy almond pesto, tomato and garlic chives ($20) didn't feature the zucchini blossoms we'd expected but rather tiny slices of zucchini. No matter — we loved every bite. It's very difficult to cook very thin pastas like capellini and angel hair perfectly, since the window of doneness is so narrow, but August pulled off the feat.
We had come to trust our waiter Brian (whose face was familiar to us from another restaurant in Tribeca), so we asked him to have the kitchen choose a dessert for us. They must have been as indecisive as we were, because not one but two appeared on our table: the profiteroles with warm chocolate and vanilla anglaise ($9) plus the Hungarian cherry soup ($7), which was more of a parfait with layers of luscious cherries and a very light, tangy, nutty cream. This was a case where indecision paid off: we loved both desserts and would have been hard pressed to give either up.
Savoring our desserts gave us a moment to marvel at this wonderful restaurant, which proves that you don't have to reinvent the wheel to find success: You can base your cuisine on outstanding ingredients and simple yet outstanding preparations of them. Hire an ace staff in the front (e.g. our overseeing waitress Traci) and back of the house (e.g. August's hard-working cooks!), train them well, and let them do their thing — and you can even take a Sunday night off.
As we were leaving, the friendly duo next to us was being served an artichoke dish that was so beautiful that we asked to photograph it — and whose flavor we were told matched its visual appeal. We're happy to have tipped them off to the tuna, and look forward to trying their artichoke recommendation on our next visit to August.
August is at 359 Bleecker Street (bet. Charles and West 10th Street), New York. (212) 929-4774. Web: www.augustny.com
"Thanks for writing such wonderful things about August.
[Chef] Chrysa Kaufman is visiting from Phoenix with a friend, and I sent them there last night. They enjoyed their meal so much, they took me to lunch today. It was great and I really enjoyed everything, including the staff. I made reservations for them tonight at A Voce, again on your recommendation.
I am sure they will enjoy it, too. Thanks again for helping me entertain
my guests. See you soon."
—Charleen Badman, chef of Inside, NYC
Of course the chefs at August and A Voce would love Inside (one of our favorite restaurants, located at 9 Jones Street near West 4th Street in the Village; 212/229-9999) just as much, Charleen!
Andrew, Julia and Stuart, with Julia's red velvet cake
Three delicious layers of red; Karen with her red velvet cake
The gorgeous afternoon that prompted our long walk
Encountering a huge weeping beech tree from afar....
...and from underneath its huge, weeping branches
Julia shot Karen shooting Andrew; Karen shoots Andrew again
Strolling through the Japanese garden
Continuing our stroll through the Japanese garden
Stuart and Julia
Andrew checking out just how tall the bamboo trees were
Julia shot us by the Japanese rock garden
Karen is drawn to this sculpture of a woman
Andrew (top) and Karen (bottom) compare bowling shoes
Andrew's ball takes flight as he tries to pick up a spare....
...while Stuart keeps score for the four of us
A bowler's fantasy come true: seeing how it works back there...
...and how the pins are replaced so magically / efficiently
Sunday, July 9, 2006 — Two months to the day after her birthday, Karen was surprised with a birthday cake yesterday: an amazing red velvet cake baked by our incredibly thoughtful friend Julia D'Amico.
We took a break from our computers (to which we've been recently glued while working to make our next book deadline) by taking the train to Tarrytown yesterday morning to spend a wonderful day with Julia and her equally thoughtful husband Stuart.
Credit Rancho La Puerta (where the four of us met in December), with its own jam-packed days of hiking and meals and activities galore, for setting the pace for our fun-filled day yesterday which included enjoying a delicious lunch capped off by a slice of Julia's fabulous red velvet cake (which she baked from a recipe in Southern Living, thankfully customizing the recipe to eliminate a second full box of confectioners sugar the icing definitely didn't need!) followed by a round of croquet, a long walk, a swim, bowling, and even ice cream (when Karen herself jumped behind the soda fountain to test the ice cream-scooping skills she'd honed as a 16-year-old!).
On the 10:12 pm train ride home to Manhattan's Grand Central Station, our muscles had the satisfying ache of having been so well-used throughout the day — just as they had every night of our stay at Rancho La Puerta. But getting to have such fun with our friends from Rancho without having to leave New York State (following a "non-Rancho-approved menu" featuring delicious homemade red velvet cake to boot) was icing on the cake.
Karen and Heather started out with raw oysters...
...while Andrew dove into his crunchy fried calamari salad
On top of spaghetti, Andrew had scallops and shrimp...
...while Karen and Heather had their scallops bacon-bound!
Thursday, July 6, 2006 — "I have heard the mermaids singing each to each / I do not think that they will sing to me," wrote T.S. Eliot. But tonight, at the Mermaid Inn, they did sing to us...again.
We loved our second-ever visit to this Manhattan restaurant from the get-go: the passion with which our bartender Allison approvingly took Karen's order for a glass of Prosecco, and with which she described the creamy Italian Vigne di Chignole that Andrew enjoyed...the sense of humor with which she shared two sticks of her Orbit bubble gum with us before we left to take a table outside with our friend Heather...the freshness of the oysters...the crispness (even in all the humidity!) of the flatbread...the crunchiness of the calamari salad...the delicious simplicity of the bacon-wrapped scallops...the just-enough little cups of chocolate pudding...and again those wacky fortune-telling toy fish (see our August 22, 2005, Blog).
Mermaid Inn is at 96 Second Ave. (bet. 5th and 6th Sts.), New York. (212) 674-5870. Web: www.beanstalkrestaurants.com
Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculpture in Madison Square Park
Andrew Carmellini's squid salad at A Voce
A Voce's impossibly creamy risotto with fresh morels
Lamb tasting of chop scottaditto, shank brasato, fagiolini
While the bombolini are a hands-down favorite at dessert,
the peach cobbler gained four new fans around our table
A Voce chef Andrew Carmellini and Karen Page; Rikki Klieman,
Andrew Dornenburg and Steve Collins
"Four sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard, on view for the rest of the year in Madison Square Park...appear vibrantly at home in one of the most successful parks in New York City [and] also nourish this particular park’s character."
—Mark Stevens, New York magazine (6/19/06)
We've raved so much in our Blog about A Voce that there's really not that much left to say about it, except that it's still great! (Our congratulations to Joseph on his recent promotion, not to mention how good he looks in a suit....and our thanks to good-humored Rian for being so, well, good-humored.
We'll add that you should give yourself a little time before or after your next visit to stroll to Madison Square Park to admire Ursula von Rydingsvard's new sculpture installation there, as we did last night. Bravo!
And while we're on the subject of what to do before or after dinner, we hope you'll join us in checking out the lovely Jennifer Rosen's performance at this year's New York International Fringe Festival (August 11-27) in "Only a Lad," which is based on the songs of Oingo Boingo and Danny Elfman. Jennifer, break a leg!
A Voce is at 41 Madison Ave. (on 26th St. bet. Madison and Park), New York. (212) 545-8555. Web site: www.avocerestaurant.com
"Your site is amazing!"
—Ursula von Rydingsvard's daughter Ursula von Rydingsvard
Bikky Sharma (left) serving our flaming sambuca drinks
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Amma's Bikky Sharma has an amazing palate for pairing wine (from Gruner Veltliner to a David Bruce Petite Syrah) with Indian flavors, which he proved to us yet again over a delicious dinner with our friends Cynthia and Jeff at Amma this week. And we find we've developed a strange fondness for those wacky flaming sambuca cocktails at the end of the night!
Amma is at 246 E. 51st Street (bet. Third & Second Aves.), New York. (212) 644-8330. Web: www.ammanyc.com
The bar at Darna, a delicious new Moroccan restaurant
The ornate (and very comfortable!) velvet chairs at Darna
The view of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral from Darna
"May God help you enjoy this" is the traditional pre-meal
Moroccan blessing (and, less traditionally, our toast)
Briwates, stuffed with chicken, onions, dates and almonds
Salade Berbere at Darna, with marinated eggplant
Couscous Royal, piled high with sausage, carrots and cabbage
Imported Moroccan fixtures on back of Darna's bathroom door
"America will never forget that in 1777, the first nation in the world to recognize the United States was the Kingdom of Morocco. Ten years later, our two countries approved a treaty of peace and friendship which today remains the longest unbroken treaty of its kind in all history. In the days since, we have stood together to live up to that treaty's ideals and to secure its blessings for others."
—President Bill Clinton, when welcoming Morocco's King Mohammed VI on his first state visit to the U.S. on June 20, 2000
"Another custom, in a restaurant or in someone's home, is to give a guest a tour. We show them the kitchen, and where the bathroom is. I love this tradition, because it puts guests at ease. No one ever has to awkwardly ask for the bathroom."
—Rafih Benjelloun, chef-owner, Imperial Fez in Atlanta, as quoted in THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF (p. 390)
Monday, July 3, 2006 — What could be more patriotic than our having celebrated the 230th anniversary of the actual date of the original signing of the Declaration of Independence (July 2, 1776) at a new Moroccan restaurant?
A couple of years ago, we mourned the closing of Manhattan's first Moroccan restaurant, Lotfi's, upon the retirement of its gifted chef-owner Abdel Rebbaj, from whom Andrew learned how to make couscous from scratch. Ever since, we've been looking for a Moroccan restaurant we could get excited about.
On Saturday night, while enjoying the exquisite crab enchiladas (an unlikely new favorite dish there we learned of through long-time customers Ilene and Butch which are not on the menu, so you'll have to ask if they're available) at El Parador on East 34th Street, the younger half of the owner team of
Manuel and Jose Alejandro told us that a new Moroccan restaurant had just opened around the corner on Second Avenue.
While strolling home (delighting in the brightly-colored robes worn by the Asian women we encountered, who explained that it was in honor of the Dalai Lama's 71st birthday), we stopped by the restaurant — Darna — to pick up one of the to-go menus that were available out front. A tall gentleman (whom we later learned was its manager-partner, Mourad El-Hebil) engaged us in friendly conversation, and invited us in to take a look at the dining room. Recognizing this traditional gesture of hospitality, there was no way were were going to say no, even though we'd just eaten.
Mourad pointed out all the plush fabrics and elegant fixtures that had been imported from Morocco, giving the restaurant a real sense of place and authenticity. The tour continued into the kitchen, where the smell of spices perfumed the air and the cooks (a woman and a man, specializing in Moroccan and French cuisines, respectively, who report to Executive Chef-partner Lahcen Ksiyer, formerly of Cafe Noir and Cal's) both smiled warmly at the jeans-clad strangers who'd just invaded their workspace. We were then led to examine the bathroom, where Mourad pointed out that even the lock on the door was straight from Morocco.
With such an enchanting introduction to the restaurant, we returned last night for dinner. We started with the Briwates, five stuffed triangular "bricks" filled with chicken, onions, dates and almonds, and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon ($7.50), which were deliciously complemented by a glass of off-dry 2003 Richter Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany ($10).
Our glass of dry 2003 La Vielle Femme Rose from Provence ($8) found its perfect match in the Tagine de Sardines, which were accented by Moroccan charmoula, a classic Moroccan paste of herbs and spices that is traditionally rubbed on fish ($7.50). This was one of the most appealing preparations of sardines Andrew has ever tasted. (Karen loves them all, and this was no exception.)
Afterward, we shared the Couscous Royal, which featured lamb, chicken, merguez sausages, and root vegetables ($19.95). Having learned to make couscous from a master, Andrew recognized the quality of this version, with the couscous in perfect individual grains (and no lumping!). We also enjoyed the Salade Berbere of marinated eggplant and bell peppers with olives and preserved lemon ($7).
The restaurant is very proud of its sangria, a blood-red wine punch native to Spain [and named after the Spanish word for "blood"] that was accented with apples and oranges — and rightly so. We're typically not big fans of the beverage, having tasted too many overly-sugared versions. Sensing our reluctance, Mourad offered us each a taste. We found it to be refreshingly fruity, yet dry, and suspect that it would have accompanied our couscous beautifully.
For dessert, we took Maroud's recommendation and sampled a dish of fried phyllo leaves topped with cream flavored with rose water, and dotted with fresh strawberries and chopped nuts. This was accompanied by a plate of juicy orange slices simply adorned with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and cinnamon.
By the time we were done, we didn't even have room for a simple cup of mint tea, our favorite ritual for ending a Moroccan feast. We look forward to returning to Darna to sample theirs soon.
Darna is at 633 Second Avenue (bet. 34th and 35th Streets), New York City. (212) 213-9095. The restaurant just opened a few weeks ago, so it is naturally still working out some service issues (although everyone we encountered was friendly and earnest) but the food is highly recommended.
"United by one of the oldest treaties of amity and peace, which has been in force since it was signed by King Mohammed III and President George Washington, our two countries have fought together unrelentingly for liberty and the triumph of the lofty principles of humanity....I pray the Almighty to bless the American nation and to grant it great happiness and prosperity."
—Morocco's King Mohammed VI, on his first state visit to the U.S. (June 20, 2000)
Zip Burger on East 52nd Street off Second Avenue
Our Zip Burger, and bag of crispy Belgian fries (in basket)
We even enjoyed the wrapper around our Zip Burger!
This cook's good humor in coming out of the kitchen to let us photograph his "I hate you" smiley face T-shirt defies its
sentiment (plus he cooks a perfect medium-rare burger!)
The other day we slipped into Zip Burger to share a burger. The regular in line ahead of us (who'd called in her order, and was greeted with recognition by the staff) seemed to know the drill, so we asked her if there was anything we shouldn't miss. "The Belgian fries!" was her enthusiastic reply — so enthusiastic, in fact, that we couldn't resist. She was right. They were really crispy, and perfect for dipping into the house-made Belgian mayonnaise. (Those on low-cholesterol diets should doubtless refrain.)
And the Zip burger we were there to sample was terrific — perfectly cooked to medium-rare (as we'd asked), draped with with a good Vermont Cheddar and delicious applewood-smoked bacon, and with the beef flavor standing up to such flavorful condiments.
Only after we got home did we read on New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni's blog that the milkshakes (made with homemade ice cream) are "great," too. Dang — guess we'll have to go back....
Zip Burger is at 300 1/2 East 52nd Street, bet. First and Second Aves., New York City. (212) 308-1308. Web: zipburger.com
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