Blog of Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
Named one of The Fifty Best Links for Epicureans
Named to MUG 400 for "distinctive contribution to life in New York"
"Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page monitor the pulse of the food world like nobody's business. There's a fantastic database of restaurant reviews, too."
— Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma
"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)
"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer.”
— Ecclesiastes 8:15
Forge's soft potato rolls with caramelized onion butter
Leg of Suckling Pig, Mustard Crushed Fingerling Potatoes,
Broccoli Rabe, Porcini
Mushrooms for two at Forge
Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnut, Sauternes Poached Peaches,
Toasted Almond Ice Cream at Forge
Taste of American Classics: Butterscotch Pudding, Pignoli
Cookie; Granny Lu’s Chocolate Cake, Cocoa Nib Tuile; and
Beer Float, Ginger Ice Cream wowed us
Pastry chef Jenny McCoy reinvents Samoas, one of the Girl
Scouts' two most popular cookies, based on the combination
of chocolate, caramel, coconut and cookie
From Forge's menu: "I don't like gourmet cooking or 'this'
or 'that' cooking. I like good cooking." —James Beard
Sunday, June 29, 2008 — We'd only visited Forge restaurant's Web site long enough to scan the menu briefly after making a reservation to visit at our friends/colleagues' suggestion. While Forge's savory dishes sounded appealing, the restaurant's dessert menu left our mouths watering uncontrollably — especially the "Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnut, Sauternes Poached Peaches, Toasted Almond Ice Cream." Karen put in dibs before we'd even left home to meet our friends/colleagues there.
New restaurants have an inevitable shake-out period, which is why some charge discounted "preview prices" while the kitchen and dining room get their acts together. As Forge did not do so, it raised the level of expectation. This makes it all the more unfortunate when the potatoes in an amuse-bouche aren't quite cooked through, especially when it is the first bite of food tasted and thus responsible for the all-important first impression. (And while the staff is obviously still in training, management might want to inform them immediately to stop reaching across customers when they're serving since there is plenty of room for them to walk around the table to set dishes down directly. While forgivable when hash is being slung at a diner, such service at a restaurant offering $30-something entrees is another story.)
After sharing the succulent suckling pig and its trio of side dishes, we were brought four shot glasses containing a flavored blend of berry juices that were rimmed with sugar (and the slightest hint of salt) by the pastry chef — whom we didn't realize we knew until she introduced herself at that moment (after having noticed our names in the reservation book).
While we'd never met Jenny McCoy, we'd exchanged a few emails after her kind write-up of our book CULINARY ARTISTRY (about which she'd commented "Of all the cookbooks I own, this is the one that I reference most") on her Blog at Emerils.com.
After working in the pastry departments of Chicago's Bittersweet Bakery and Paul Kahan's Blackbird, and New Orleans' Emeril's Delmonico (where she was most recently the pastry chef), McCoy is showcasing her desserts on a Manhattan stage for the first time. Her delicious-sounding doughnut dessert didn't win the standing ovation we'd hoped, finding formidable competition in other ethereal doughnut desserts around town, including A Voce's bombolini, The Modern's beignets with maple ice cream, caramel and mango marmalade; and Spigolo's caramel affogato with bomboloni.
However, the flavor of Forge's trio of American classics made us want to stand up and cheer — just as much as the size of each tiny dessert left us wistful for more. Happily, a bit "more" arrived in the form of Forge's petit fours: simple cookies with a hint of lime, as well as Jenny's take on the classic Girl Scout cookie combination found in Samoas (i.e. chocolate, caramel, coconut, and cookie). As a number at our table didn't care for coconut, Karen requested and received a few paper napkins so she could take the rest home. Karen's breakfast this morning was as irresistible as last night's petit fours.
Thank goodness. Despite the snafus that pockmarked our otherwise pleasant dinner, the satisfyingly sweet ending to our night would happily bring us back to Forge any time just to eat our way through the rest of Jenny's dessert menu, which is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Forge is at 134 Reade Street, near Hudson, in Tribeca. (212) 941-9401. Web: www.forgenyc.com.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 — Summer is the perfect season for pink wines. You can read about the best rose wines of the dozens we've tasted recently in our column "Try On Something Pink for Summer" in today's Washington Post:
One hot summer afternoon in the early 1980s, when Andrew was a young 20-something living in Berkeley, Calif., he had his first taste of Sutter Home White Zinfandel. He had never had a wine quite like it — refreshingly fruity, noticeably sweet and, yes, pink — and he liked it.
Back then, so did a lot of other people, and they sent Sutter Home's new-style "white zin" soaring in popularity. To this day, white is still the best-selling form of zinfandel in the United States, outselling the red a half-dozen times over.
For Andrew and many others, though, the sweet simplicity of blush wines went out of vogue as their palates grew more sophisticated. But after years of staying away from anything pink, both of us are among the many drinkers who have recently come around to favor bone-dry rosés, sending these well-made, complex wines to their own height of popularity.
Pink wines are made from red grapes that are allowed to ferment for a much shorter time than for red wines, so the grape skins spend less time leaching their color into the juice. The process (which the French call saignee, derived from the verb meaning "to bleed") is halted when the wine is merely light to dark pink instead of red.
Blush wines such as California's white zin are typically off-dry (slightly sweet) to sweet in flavor. However, rosé wines tend to be drier than dry and are made around the world. Even far outside their spiritual homeland in Provence, spicy rosés are a staple of summer drinking. With one foot in the world of white wine (especially with their light-to-medium body, refreshing acidity and chilled serving temperature) and another in the world of reds (with their red-fruit flavors), they can pinch-hit for either team. That explains their extraordinary food friendliness, especially with Mediterranean cuisines (think French bouillabaisse and Spanish paella).
We tasted our way through dozens of pink-hued wines recently and came up with 10 favorites. Several, including this week's picks, showcase the grenache grape (called garnacha in Spanish wines), which contributes lemony citrus flavors and a peppery spiciness. The 2007 Les Deux Rives Corbieres Rosé ($11) is a classic blend of grenache (50 percent), syrah (35 percent) and cinsault (15 percent), bringing to mind a compote of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Karen's pick is the well-made, well-balanced and well-priced product of the oldest wine-producing dynasty in Spain, which has been making wine for 11 generations. The 2007 Julián Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado ($12; $10 at Calvert Woodley) is made from garnacha grapes that are macerated for 24 hours, after which the "free-run" juice is separated only by gravity, not mechanically extracted (which can impart bitterness). This refreshing wine is an exceptional value.
You could say Andrew's pick is the product of a relative newcomer: Jaboulet, founded in 1834, has two centuries' less winemaking experience than Chivite. The robust yet refined 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 Rosé ($12) from France is a blend of grenache, Cinsault and syrah that varies from year to year to feature the vintage's best grapes from the vineyards, which sit on the 45th latitude. The 2007 finds an ideal match in salade nicoise.
Rosé wines can be made with virtually any red grape, as our other choices this week show.
Gamay: The 2007 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Rosé ($14) from France has refreshing acidity, bright raspberry fruitiness and an impressively long finish. The bottle's screw top makes it a good choice for a picnic or the beach.
Merlot: The 2007 Wolffer Rosé ($15) from the Hamptons in New York no doubt gets its complexity from its blend of red grapes (merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon) and its base of 40 percent chardonnay. Think of a half-grapefruit with a half-strawberry on top, as served in diners: This wine brings those flavors to life in about the same proportion. It's bound to be popular with lovers of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Pinot noir: About as brooding as a rosé can get without turning into a red, the elegant 2007 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) has strawberry and red-plum fruitiness and solid structure that make it versatile enough to pair with tuna tartare or a grilled steak. In contrast, one of the lightest-bodied and -flavored rosés we tasted, the delightful 2006 Hermann J. Wiemer Pinot Noir Rosé ($15) from New York's Finger Lakes region, is best suited to be sipped as an aperitif or with light hors d'oeuvres.
Right in the middle, the 2007 Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé ($16) from Oregon's Willamette Valley is medium-bodied and well balanced, pairing beautifully with grilled chicken, salmon or tuna.
Syrah: The ruby-colored, 100 percent syrah 2007 Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah ($18) from Chile, with its cherry and strawberry fruitiness and firm structure, also can stand up to red meats.
Tempranillo: The 2007 Cune Rioja Rosado ($13) is a blend of 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent garnacha. Once it warmed in our glasses to a slight chill, its rich earthiness shone through even more impressively.
Obviously, zinfandel works for pink wines, too. In fact, we were grateful recently to discover an off-dry white zin at a favorite Thai restaurant when its lackluster wine list turned up no other viable options to pair with our green chicken curry. This summer, we're even more grateful to have a new roster of dry rosés to pair with just about everything else.
To read more, visit The Washington Post here.
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 — Barbecue season is upon us, so there's no better time to make sure you've got some good juice on hand to accompany the ribs in your future. You'll find tips in our column "Grape-and-Grill Sessions" in today's Washington Post:
Known as "The Legend" in barbecue circles, champion pit master Mike Mills gets credit for the best ribs we've ever tasted. They define perfection for us, so the only possible enhancement would be to pair them with the ideal wine.
When the opportunity arose the first weekend in June to re-taste Mills's handiwork with a bevy of beautiful wines, we couldn't pass it up. Mills, the force behind barbecue restaurants in southern Illinois and Las Vegas, is also a partner at Blue Smoke in New York, and his crew was among the cooks at the annual Snapple Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. The huge event also offered us the chance to sample other leading pit masters' whole hogs, beef brisket, hot links and other specialties, including the pulled pork made by the award-winning team from Pigs-R-Us restaurant in Martinsville, Va., and the chicken-based Brunswick stew from the Proclamation Stew Crew of Lawrenceville, Va.
Bringing our own wines into such an event involved disguising them by pouring them into empty plastic water bottles and swigging from the bottles between bites. But we're willing to make such sacrifices for our readers.
We started where we'd had the best results at our last barbecue tasting: with rosé wines. The first standout, from Italy, was the 2007 Muri-Gries Alto Adige Lagrein Rosato ($18), created in a working Benedictine monastery that began producing DOC (appellation-controlled) wines in 1947. It's made from the native red grape Lagrein (pronounced "lah-GRINE"), a relative of syrah that produces a light- to medium-bodied yet richly full-flavored wine. Lagrein is well regarded locally and is slowly but deservedly becoming even better known abroad. Our chilled water bottle of this wine was the one we reached for time and time again on the sweltering weekend of our research. Its fruitiness, with notes of cherry, was dominant enough to match the sweetness in barbecue-sauced pulled pork and baked beans.
Ribs in hand, we bumped into Gerry Dawes, an expert in Spanish wines, who tipped us off to what he believes is one of the greatest rosés of Spain: the 2006 or 2007 Artazu Artazuri Garnacha Rosado ($13), made with 100 percent garnacha (grenache). Our favorite of the Spanish rosés we tasted was the 2007 El Coto de Rioja Rosado ($11), a dry, lightly acidic selection made with half garnacha and half tempranillo that stood up well to pork and beef and their accompanying tangy barbecue sauces.
Another light-bodied option, this one from France, is the 2006 Georges Duboeuf "Flower Label" Beaujolais-Villages ($11). It brings a welcome fruitiness to barbecue. Made of 100 percent gamay grapes, it is a step up from simple Beaujolais. Served slightly or even thoroughly chilled, it's refreshing with all but the heaviest barbecue or, for that matter, with a plate of charcuterie.
Our biggest surprise was finding some zinfandels we loved after coming up empty-handed during research for barbecue-friendly bottles last spring, when we tasted more than a dozen over-amped wines, all over 15 percent alcohol. Two wines proved that the classic pairing of 'cue and zin still hangs tough. The firm tannins of the 2006 Summers Napa Valley Villa Andriana Vineyard Zinfandel ($34) softened as the wine breathed, exposing ripe blackberry and black plum flavors and chocolate malt notes unobscured by its relatively modest 14.2 percent alcohol level. It's delicious with less-spicy beef brisket and ribs. And the stunningly velvety 2006 Artezin Mendocino County Zinfandel ($18) so restored our faith in zin that Karen selected it as her pick this week. Even with the addition of 9 percent petite sirah — no shrinking violet among grapes — it was fruit-forward enough to serve as an ideal foil for heartier barbecue dishes, including beef brisket and ribs.
The beautifully balanced 2005 Rosemount Show Reserve GSM ($19), a blend of equal parts grenache and shiraz with a splash of mourvedre, melded with both sweet and spicy barbecue. But we saw Andrew's pick — the 2006 Rosemount "Diamond Label" Shiraz ($10, or $6.47 at Total Wine) — as a closer reflection of what most people probably want to spend on wine for a barbecue. It manages to deliver what most want to drink with Texas-style brisket and the like: a big, pleasing, jammy wine, lush with black fruit and hints of dried herbs.
While Mike Mills apparently likes a Bud with his 'cue, his daughter, Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, who co-wrote their book "Peace, Love, and Barbecue," prefers hers with champagne. Citing fresh memories of the "Bubble Q" celebration at this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, she singled out the Moët & Chandon served there. Over the years, we have enjoyed a bottle or two of the NV Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne ($33), whose bright apple flavor has just a whisper of sweetness, with barbecued chicken and flame-grilled turkey burgers.
In the end, though, we agree with Tunnicliffe that the best choice with barbecue is a rosé sparkler. Why? Many barbecues feature a variety of meats — chicken, pork, beef, lamb and hot links — and, if you're lucky, a diverse array of sides including coleslaw, baked beans and hush puppies. That means you want a "social" wine that gets along with lots of different foods.
For an all-American barbecue, all-American options abound, each with a different fruit accent: The NV Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine ($36), made by the country's first certified-organic "sparkling winery," tastes of strawberries; the 2004 Kluge SP Rosé Wine ($32) from Virginia's Albemarle County has hints of cherry; and the NV Gruet Methode Champenoise Rosé Brut ($13.50) from New Mexico has notes of raspberry and strawberry.
In fact, there is nothing we can imagine on your next barbecue buffet that won't be enhanced by a sparkling rosé. Indeed, its versatility is the stuff of legends.
To read more, visit The Washington Post here
Our congratulations to The Cookbook Store in Toronto, which is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. We had the pleasure of visiting the store a decade ago, and were touched to learn via a Google News Alert about a story in today's Toronto Star that we hadn't been forgotten! Manager Alison Fryer and her "sidekick" Jennifer Grange picked their top 10 "must-haves" of the more than 6,000 titles stocked by the store, and our very own CULINARY ARTISTRY was among them! We're incredibly touched to find it on a list of such classics, along with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
"Cookbook Store cookin' after 25 years. For 25 years, dozens of food celebs have come to Toronto's The Cookbook Store to shill their wares, and manager Alison Fryer and her sidekick Jennifer Grange have seen it all....Because Fryer and Grange personally source — and read — many of the 6,000-odd titles they have in stock at any one time, The Cookbook Store is a unique resource, offering British books that haven't been Americanized and U.S. books that haven't been changed for overseas markets....Top 10 Cookbooks: Alison Fryer and Jennifer Grange pick their top 10 must-haves: CULINARY ARTISTRY by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Gives you an insight into how chefs think."
— Julia Aitken, Toronto Star (June 16, 2008)
Sheep milk ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and radicchio
Creamy burrata cheese with balsamic vinegar
Cornmeal crusted soft-shell crab appetizer
Spigolo rosti potatoes
Spigolo quail over greens and toasted polenta
Spigolo's amazing apple fritters are worth the trip
Speaking of legends, we were honored to be invited to a speech given by legendary crime fighter LAPD Chief William Bratton last week that touched on some of the strategies and tactics he's used in turning around the crime epidemic in New York and now Los Angeles.
A few nights later, we joined Bratton and his wife Tru TV anchor Rikki Klieman for dinner at Spigolo, one of our favorite Manhattan restaurants that is run by husband-and-wife team Scott and Heather Fratangelo.
After our amazing meal there, we're convinced that Spigolo, too, is on its way to becoming an East Side legend.
Spigolo is at 1561 Second Avenue (at 81st Street), Manhattan. (212) 744-1100.
Photographer/cook Jason Spiro shows his forearm to a
wincing Andrew and our Tru TV anchor friend Rikki Klieman
Jason Spiro shows us his "badges of honor"
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 — Citymeals-on-Wheels is one of our favorite charitable organizations. Since we're in a field where we eat (and drink) so well, we're especially happy to be able to support those who don't — including New York's homebound elderly. Last night's event at Rockefeller Center raised more than $1 million for the cause.
While it was fun getting to say hello to friends and colleagues both in and out of the business, it was also a pleasure to meet some interesting new people, too — including event photographer Jason Spiro who claimed to also cook professionally. By way of proof, we were able to view his badges of honor: his burned and blistered forearm and hands. (We believe you, Jason, we believe you!)
Citymeals-on-Wheels is at www.citymeals.org. Jason's photos will soon be posted here.
Credit: Kevin Clark
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 — Is there any occasion in life worth splurging for a $190 bottle of Champagne? We thought the Phoenix mission's successful landing on Mars last month might be, as we write in our column in today's Washington Post entitled "Toasting Life's Happy Landings":
"If you'll excuse me, I've got a date with a bottle of champagne." That's what William Boynton said at the jubilant gathering on May 25 when NASA announced that its Phoenix spacecraft had landed safely on Mars.
His words sent our imaginations soaring: What extraordinary sparkling wine would a rocket scientist pop open to celebrate such an extraordinary feat?
Perhaps it was the multi-vintage La Caravelle Premier Cru Brut ($35 at Potomac Wines & Liquors), which had recently wowed us with its richness and delicious notes of butter, nuts and lemon. It's made from 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir grapes (from the 2002, 2001 and 2000 vintages), and its very fine bubbles carry its toasted-brioche flavor through to a surprisingly long, creamy finish.
Might it have been the 1998 Pol Roger Brut Vintage ($85)? Featuring the opposite blend of grapes (60 percent pinot noir, 40 percent chardonnay), this wine has the power to transform sushi and foie gras pâté into a celebration.
Or perhaps it was something from an even better vintage. We recently joined winemaker Stanislas Henriot for a 200th-anniversary tasting of some of his company's finest, including the 1995 Champagne Henriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs ($190) and the same wine's 1976, 1964 and 1959 vintages. The perfectly balanced 1996 Champagne Henriot Brut Millesime ($84) left us looking forward to any festive excuse to taste its lemonlike acidity and remarkably creamy finish again -- ideally with the same caviar-topped scallop tartare.
If any occasion called for an over-the-top prestige cuvee, surely it was the Mars landing. G.H. Mumm releases its Cuvee R. Lalou only in truly exceptional vintages. This year it introduced the extraordinary 1998 G.H. Mumm Cuvee R. Lalou ($160). The first vintage release since 1985, it is a 50-50 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from seven of Mumm's best vineyards and represents the apex of the art of making champagne.
Five days after the Phoenix had landed, a news release crossed our desk suggesting that shuttle astronaut and Navy commander Kenneth Hamm was planning a toast with Schramsberg sparkling wine after the completion of his Space Shuttle Discovery mission, which launched May 31. He is such a fan of the stuff, the release went on, that he decided to carry Schramsberg corks and labels on board among his allowed personal items.
Maybe Boynton, too, had uncorked the dry, toasty 2005 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut ($35), which has notes of lemon curd. It works as well as a refreshing aperitif as it does later in the meal with seafood, including fried calamari. Then again, perhaps in honor of the visit to the red planet, Boynton had opted for something rosy-hued. Andrew's pick this week, the 2005 Schramsberg Brut Rosé ($40), filled with strawberry and raspberry notes and bearing a refreshing lime finish, was one of the best rosés we've tasted this year.
Overcome by curiosity, we finally contacted a mutual friend, who let us know that Boynton's date had in fact been with "a $6.99 bottle of Freixenet" cava, a choice Boynton verified when he later e-mailed us. "I bought six bottles for the group and whoever else was around," he had explained to our friend. "It was not really a time to savor the delicate flavor of a good champagne."
Of course. Even more than flavor, popping the cork at a celebration is about sharing a ritual. And though a top-of-the-line champagne can offer a one-of-a-kind experience, any bottle of bubbly enables participation in this time-honored custom.
For $15 or less, you can open one of two delightfully creamy apple- and pear-noted sparklers: The delicately well-balanced NV Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut Cremant d'Alsace ($15) is made from pinot blanc; the refreshing, fruit-forward NV Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay ($10) from South Eastern Australia has a wonderful whisper of sweetness on its finish.
And don't overlook Boynton's choice: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to calculate the bargain offered by the beautiful bang-for-the-buck bubbly that is also Karen's pick this week. Made using the traditional method for French champagne, the NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava ($10) is softer in acidity than other sparklers, but its big, bold bubbles refresh the palate after fried and salty foods. It can stand up to heavier dishes or even to the addition of chilled fruit juices to create summer cocktails.
Boynton told us he's planning to launch a few more corks into the sky "at least one more time following the successful analysis of Mars soil and ice." We hope today's column helps him and his team -- and other summer revelers -- discover other options we've test-fired and think are out of this world.
To read more, visit The Washington Post here.
"Welcome 'Cue Lovers" sign at the entrance of the BA BBQ
17th Street's three-tiered barbecue sauce fountain
The Mills' hot links and the-best-ribs-of-our-life over killer
baked beans at 17th Street Bar & Grill's VIP table
Marybeth Desai, Jamieson Weeks and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe
Great BBQ inspires smiles from Ed Levine (who has his own
Blog posted on the Big Apple BBQ here),
with Amy Mills
BBQ Champion Mike Mills talks 'cue with visitors
$4 bought you a hearty taste of Brunswick Stew from VA
...filled with chicken, fatback, potatoes, onions, tomatoes,
butter beans, corn, margarine, salt, sugar, black pepper, red
pepper, and Proclamation Stew's "secret ingredient"
Checkered Pig's Chopped Pork Sandwich & Cole Slaw from VA
Things were still hopping when we left two hours later!
Saturday, June 7, 2008 — Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is due to change its name to "GREAT Big Apple Barbecue Block Party," with the intended double entendre of "GREAT BIG" meaning both gigantic and fabulous — or so we're convinced after braving the 90-plus degree temperatures to head downtown to check it out this afternoon.
Worth the trip alone was getting to hang out a while with Amy Mills Tunnecliffe, daughter of BBQ champion Mike Mills and his co-author of the award-winning book Peace, Love and Barbecue.
In Amy's other life in Boston, she is an etiquette expert and owner of The Proper Manner, which makes sense when you see how flawlessly she plays the role of gracious hostess at a crazed barbecue sauce-basted free-for-all like this annual party. She didn't miss a beat in entertaining a few tables full of media and other VIPs not to mention some of her lovely women friends down for the weekend from Boston.
She also graciously praised her fellow barbecue colleagues, steering us to visit their booths for a bite. Her praise for her neighboring booth serving up hush puppies — the mere idea of which had our mouths watering — was for naught, as these first-timers found themselves so deeply in the weeds that they unfortuantely weren't able to offer us a taste when we stopped by. With the guys frying up hush puppies in the heat of boiling oil as the 90-plus degree sun beat down upon them, they had our sympathy.
By the way, we're glad no one noticed us sipping pink and red liquids out of Fiji Water bottles all afternoon — conducting important "research" for an upcoming column. Stay tuned....
Big Apple Barbecue Block Party takes place today until 6 pm, and again tomorrow, Sunday, June 8th, from noon to 6 pm. Web: www.bigapplebbq.org
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 — Spring and summer bring so many pleasures to the market, but Karen's seasonal favorite has got to be soft-shell crabs. They're even more delicious when paired with the right wine, as we discuss in today's column "Soft-Shell Crabs Aren't Hard to Match" in The Washington Post:
The first time Karen saw soft-shell crabs on a menu 25 years ago, she asked the waiter what they were. He tried to discourage her by advising, "If you haven't had them before, you should probably order something else." Undeterred, she insisted on trying them and fell in love with their sublimely sweet-and-salty, creamy insides and crunchy outsides.
Ever since, ordering them has been her first inclination when they start to appear on restaurant menus in spring, although cautionary reports about their mercury levels limit us both to ordering them no more than weekly. When the season launches, typically in May, we'll eat them any way they're offered. By the end of the season, in September, we've put in months of trying them in different ways and with different wines.
The other night our Japanese-style spider roll with panko-crusted soft-shell crab, tobiko and spicy mayonnaise paired best with a glass of medium-dry Hakushika sake, with its banana and other light tropical-fruit aromas and flavors. The 2007 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Riesling ($13) won honorable mention when we found it flexible enough to be a refreshing choice with that dish as well as the next: pan-seared Maryland soft-shells with a vanilla brown butter sauce. But the best match of the night was those crabs with a 2006 Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Chardonnay ($17, although Pearson's has it on sale for $10), which was full-bodied and rich, its creamy texture well balanced by apple and pear fruitiness and nice acidity. The vanilla and butter flavors resonated on the plate and in the glass.
Each preparation of soft-shell crabs calls for a different wine choice to best enhance the flavors of the dish. Here are some of the winning matches we've discovered, along with various takes from chefs tapping flavors from around the globe:
Spanish: With a dish such as Cafe Atlantico chef Jose Andres's simple soft-shells fried in extra-virgin olive oil and served with a lemon wedge, we recommend Andrew's pick this week: the elegant, light-bodied NV Cristalino Brut Cava ($8). Made in the traditional French champagne method (that is, with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle), this delicious cava features crisp apple fruitiness with a lemonlike finish. It spends a year and a half on the lees, resulting in impressive complexity of flavor, and its bubbles are perfect for refreshing the palate during a meal of fried crabs.
Andrew sauteed soft-shell crabs and served them with a rich Spanish romesco sauce made of toasted almonds and hazelnuts, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, parsley and fried bread. He found an ideal match in the 2006 Calistoga Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($15), ripe with apple and pear fruitiness. Its rich, buttery notes apparently are a mirage, as the wine reportedly spends no time on oak.
Japanese: Chef Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro employs the largest crabs he can find (which he praises as meatiest) in two signature preparations, soft-shell crab roll with jalapeño sauce and soft-shell crab kara age with wasabi-carrot sauce. Though he's also inclined, as we were, to pair them with sake, such as a Yomeiribune Junmai ($15 for 300 ml), he also enjoys them with a sauvignon blanc from California's Kaz Winery (no relation).
Italian: With our first taste of Karen's pick, the 2006 Tortoise Creek Central Coast Chardonnay ($12), each of us independently detected hints of bacon on the nose and palate. It reminded us of the late chef Jean-Louis Palladin and his impossibly rich dish of soft-shell crabs with pancetta butter. We were inspired to pair this wine with a version of his dish featuring an equally rich, smoky bacon butter sauce. It was an ethereal pairing.
With Italian-influenced soft-shell crabs served with pesto, the 2006 Calistoga Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($15) proved to be a refreshing match. Its distinct minerality mirrored the crab's ocean flavors as its lovely pear and lemon fruitiness cut through the richness of the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts.
Thai: Bob Kinkead of Kinkead's has served a crisp Thai-style soft-shell crab with green papaya salad and lime dipping sauce. It inspired the version we paired with the 2007 Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($12), whose tropical-fruit nose and palate said New Zealand more than its native France. It's bright and refreshing, with light grapefruit pith flavors and soft limelike acidity that meld well with Thai flavors.
Though soft-shell crabs may be an acquired taste, adventurous palates are sure to love them when matched with one of the wines mentioned above.
To read more, visit The Washington Post "Food" section here.
Chef Yuhi Fujinaga (r.) and Tidian (c.) of Ed Brown's 81 made
us hand-shaved snow cones — so nice, we had them twice!
Another winner: Shake Shack hot dog and chocolate shake
Realizing Karen was unaware of his presence, photographer
Steven Richter good-naturedly inserts himself in her shot!
Chef serving spun-to-order cotton candy
Tim (r.) and Nina (c.) Zagat were honored at the event...
...as was Citymeals-on-Wheels' founder,
Insatiable author Gael Greene
Sunday, June 1, 2008 — It's really Gael Greene's fault that we set our alarm to wake up at 6:30 am this morning so we could run the 8 am Japan Day 4-Mile race in Central Park. After all, if she hadn't been so accomplished to be honored (along with Nina and Tim Zagat) last night at the first New Taste of the Upper West Side event, and hadn't been so thoughtful as to invite us to attend the event as her guests, we might not have eaten our way through the high-caloric offerings of some of the best restaurants (present and future, including Shake Shack) on the Upper West Side and thus might not have felt such an urgent need to do so!
New Taste of the Upper West Side, held on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets, intends to become an annual event. Web: www.newtasteuws.com. (Interesting to note that of the 24 participating chefs pictured on the event's Web site, not a single one is a woman. Maybe next year?)
Barbara Walters, Beverly Sills, Gloria Steinem, and Liz Smith
at Citymeals-on-Wheels Power Lunch for Women
Speaking of invisible women, the following was excerpted from the May 14th issue of "Fork Play" by Insatiable Critic Gael Greene:
It was only 6:30 a.m. and already my righteous indignation was uncorked. Dear innocent Ben Brantley. "It seems safe to say that no New York restaurant, not even Michael's or The Four Seasons, has seen a power meal to match the one that so exhilaratingly begins Caryl Churchill's "Top Girls," was how the review began. "Nor can Barbara Walters or Tina Brown or any of their high-rolling sisterhood claim to have assembled a gathering of women like those who share rich foods and richer confidences in this imperfect but important play."
Clearly Brantley has never come up with the $10,000 some men pay to join the she-power at Citymeals-on-Wheels annual Power Lunch for Women. We have no problem gathering nuns and courtesans, hell-storming peasant warriors, venerable philanthropists with Victorian airs. Who needs a martyred pope when you have Gloria Steinem, Liz Smith, Barbara Walters, Beverly Sills and Jessye Norman for co-chairs as well as their rolodexes.
On January 4, 1974, even before Citymeals, the Four Seasons hosted a gathering of dauntless goddesses and warriors. One would scarcely miss a martyred pope given Lillian Hellman, Louise Nevelson, Pauline Trigere, Bess Myerson, the Times powerfully biting Charlotte Curtis, and the unabashedly opinionated Julia Child. Soprano Margaret Tynes came even though she was supposed to be resting before "Salome." Sally Quinn brought a team of photographers from the Washington Post. I did the inviting so I got to be there too. From Paris came people-mover and publicist Yanou Collart, and Naomi Barry, then the Herald Tribune restaurant critic, to nibble patissier Gaston Lenotre's sublime "frivolities," mini boudins (tiny truffled white sausages) and croustades of lobster mousseline.
U.S. Customs had seized a haunch of venison, a veal rump and fresh foie gras from chef Paul Bocuse and he wasn't happy with the local veal. "It's lovely but nothing like the ass I lost," moaned the Lion of Lyon, deciding to serve loup baked in seaweed instead. It was also the first time I'd ever heard of red wine with fish. "What a revolution," Bocuse said as the Mouton Rothschild '52 was poured. I actually took it as an insult to women, knowing they'd never serve a red with fish to the Big Cheese bulls of the all-male gastronomic societies. Perhaps the conversation was a bit tame. Hellman did look like she wondered how she'd gotten there. I do so love assembling my heroines.
So there it is Mr. Brantley. We do our Power Lunch in November. If the Times won't let you put a $10,000 donation on your expense account, we might let you in on a scholarship to review it.