Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

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ANDREW & KAREN'S WEB LOG - SEPTEMBER 2005

"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you: I came to live out loud."

Critic and novelist Emile Zola
(1840-1902)


Your first clue that Jimmy's is downstairs at 43 E. 7th St.


Stairs that lead down to Jimmy's entrance at 43 E. 7th St.


Chef Jimmy Carbone chats with his wife designer Pixie Yates


Carne e Verdura at Jimmy's, featuring locally-sold meats


Pasta with chickpeas at Jimmy's


Marcella Hazan's beef stew with red wine at Jimmy's


Jimmy Carbone describes the cheese plate at Jimmy's


Chef Jimmy Carbone and Andrew Dornenburg at Jimmy's

Friday, September 30, 2005 We are happy to report the return of chef Jimmy Carbone behind the stove -- at his new restaurant Jimmy's, which is due to open officially on Wednesday, October 5th. (And you're hereby officially invited to stop by between 6-8 pm that night for a beer and some complimentary snacks, and starting at 8 pm for dinner.)

The former owner of Patio, Carbone is transforming this welcoming downstairs space into a true neighborhood restaurant, serving 10 different beers on draft (and, soon, vintage bottles that are rare finds) as well as sausages and ham from the local Ukrainian butcher around the corner. In the weeks to come, he envisions offering diners a "hot dish of the night" with two beers for $20.

If that "hot dish" is anything like the earthy chickpea stew with meaty spareribs -- or, even better, a recipe out of Marcella Hazan's book (which is Carbone's constant companion in the kitchen) for beef stew with red wine and vegetables -- that we savored tonight, and if those beers include the Oktoberfest or Strubbe (recommended by our very nice server Carmen) that we we enjoyed tonight, it's going to be a steal of a deal indeed.

Except you're also going to want to spring for the wonderful cheese plate, which tonight featured two different cheeses: an aged Coach Farm goat cheese and one from Connecticut's Cato Corner Farm, along with some addictive spiced nuts from Murray's. It's the perfect ending to a casual, homey dinner at Jimmy's -- that is, until Jimmy is able to hone the delicious-sounding ricotta dessert he mentioned he's still working on!

P.S. If Jimmy's friendly face looks familiar, we suspect we know what TV show you're watching: Carbone's wife, fashion designer Pixie Yates, told us that he appeared in this week's episode of Martha Stewart's "The Apprentice," as buying flowers (from one of the teams that had set up a tulip store) and having them delivered to his restaurant.

Jimmy's is at 43 E. 7th Street, just west of 2nd Ave., downstairs, New York. (212) 982-3006.


Rosendale Cement Company restaurant in Rosendale, NY


The beautiful patio where we dined out back


Bucket of bread with olive oil at Rosendale Cement Company


The trio of (orange!) soups at the Rosendale Cement Co.


Fabulous meatloaf with onion sauce, served with carrots


Our view from the patio at Rosendale Cement Company

Thursday, September 29, 2005 If you haven't yet read Steve Cuozzo's manifesto "You Got Served!" in yesterday's New York Post, please do. He makes some excellent points about how restaurant criticism (the subject of our 1999 James Beard Award Finalist DINING OUT) has changed dramatically over the past decade. It begins, "Restaurant reviews are over. History. Outta here. It's time to report on restaurants in a new and better way, and this is why...." To read the rest, click here.

While catching up on email (on which we're rather woefully behind after such a busy past few weeks working to finish our next book), we found one from our friend Lis Wiehl of Fox News (who is newly and quite joyfully engaged to our friend defense attorney Mickey Sherman) which read in part, "In the totally small world category, I emailed my collaborative editor, Bruce Littlefield, a few minutes ago after getting your first email...and he said, 'Oh my gosh, Karen and Andrew were just in my restaurant over the weekend, and had written to Barbara Corcoran about it....' He was over the moon....How funny is that!!"

We've been so busy that we never had a chance to post our write-up of the very charming restaurant owned by Bruce -- whom we've never met, but whose writing we've admired ever since he co-authored one of the world's funniest and most insightful memoirs by an executive woman: Barbara Corcoran's must-read If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails, and Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom. He then went on to work with Lis Wiehl on her wonderful (and also highly recommended!) book Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life.

We've wanted to visit Bruce's restaurant, the Rosendale Cement Company, ever since first reading about it in Bruce's bio on Barbara's book jacket -- and on our drive home from Woodstock after spending a few days writing there earlier this month, we finally had our chance.

It didn't disappoint as an especially charming space on a charming block of what appears to be a charming town. (We would have loved to read the story of the restaurant on the back of the menu, to set the stage! We only read it in retrospect on the restaurant's fun Web site.) Given our travel schedule, we were one of the very first tables there on a Thursday night -- which, since the restaurant is only open Thursday through Monday, explained why the restaurant seemed to be quite understandably still "getting it together" after several days off.

Our first tastes admittedly weren't very promising: The bread (which had a nice texture but was a bit bland and in need of salt) was served with a very light olive oil that lacked much character -- and the glass of Portuguese red wine Karen ordered was served too warm.

However, a waitress cheerfully brought us a chilled glass, into which Karen emptied her wine, which brought it up to a more palatable temperature quickly. We then went on to enjoy two out of the three soups that arrived in a trio of soups on a plate, with more of the same bread displayed at its center. The third soup (was it cantaloupe?) simply needed to be seasoned more assertively.

But the meatloaf, which is trumpeted on the restaurant's menu as "like Mama used to make -- or better," blew us away. It was absolutely delicious, and just the kind of dish you'd want to enjoy in such a homey setting. Both the onions that sauced it and the carrots that accompanied it were cooked perfectly.

While we weren't able to stay for dessert, we promised each other that we'd definitely save room on our next visit to the Rosendale Cement Company -- to which we already look forward to returning. After all, as Steve Cuozzo pointed out in yesterday's New York Post, restaurants change so often and so quickly that you can't pin a star rating on a place and expect it to be the same months, weeks, or even days from now. But even after tasting just a few dishes, we can definitely spot a restaurant with potential, and Rosendale Cement Company's got that in spades.

Rosendale Cement Company is at 419 Main Street in Rosendale, New York. (845) 658-3210. Web: www.rosendalecement.com.


"This Fall, A Woman Will Be President" reads the candy bar
held by Leslie Crocker Snyder (a great candidate herself!)


Bond 45's burrata and homemade mozzarella


The meatballs at Bond 45


Karen Page and Dr. Fred Snyder at Bond 45


"Do they charge for the steak by the inch here?" Andrew
asked Steven Richter, who replied, "No -- by the foot!"


Photographer Steven Richter and Karen Page at Bond 45

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 Karen was invited to attend a private screening of the new TV show "Commander-in-Chief" starring Geena Davis as America's first woman President last night where she met up with two (non-fictional) powerful women: Citymeals-on-Wheels' founder Gael Greene and the Hon. Leslie Crocker Snyder. Afterward, we all joined our respective dates for dinner around the corner at Bond 45, Shelly Fireman's big and bustling Theater District Italian restaurant -- which offers luscious Italian cheese made on the premises. Other highlights included a selection of salads and other vegetable dishes that are on display at the restaurant's entrance, and small dishes such as meatballs and eggplant Parmesan. While Andrew was at the bar, he was admittedly shocked to find himself charged $21 for the single glass of red wine he'd ordered -- but was later just as surprised to find a delicious bottle of Super Tuscan wine on the menu for a mere $49. Overall, we were impressed with the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen, especially given the restaurant's size, and think Bond 45 is a good place to keep in mind if you're looking for a place to accommodate a large group in the Theater District -- and/or craving impossibly creamy burrata and freshly-made mozzarella in Midtown.

Bond 45 is at 154 W. 45th Street (bet. Sixth and Seventh Aves.), New York. (212) 869-4545. Web: www.bond45.com


Karen Page (c.), flanked by actress Crystal Hunt (l.) and
INSIDE's fabulous chef Charleen Badman (r.), with "Snapple
Lady" Wendy Kaufman on her other side


Ruth, Charleen Badman of INSIDE, and Karen Page pose
for a local television camera crew at the SHARE event


Chef Charleen Badman's Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Chicken
Liver on Brioche Toast was our favorite dish of the night


The Queen Mary II sailing past Chelsea Piers was cause for
an announcement at the event -- and quite a sight


Susie, Karen Page, and Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread


Karen Page, Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar, Judy Gold


Karen Page with Ariane Daguin of D'Artagnan, with Karen's
own design of Ariane's "twisted" beaded necklace


Alexandra Raij of Tia Pol and Karen Page at SHARE event

Monday, September 25, 2005 Tonight, we joked, there was no way we were going out for dinner -- not when so many of the chefs of our favorite restaurants were all cooking at Chelsea Piers.

At tonight's SHARE's 2nd Annual "A Second Helping of Life" event at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, Karen was invited to be featured as a "Celebrity Sous Chef." As neither a celebrity nor a chef, she couldn't help but find this incredibly amusing. Still, it was an honor to be able to tout the roasted pumpkin salad with pomegranate seeds and chicken liver on brioche toast prepared by one of our favorite chefs, the fabulously talented Charleen Badman of INSIDE restaurant in Greenwich Village, in this capacity.

The event paired 20 celebrated women chefs (including the aforementioned Charleen Badman of INSIDE) with 20 women not necessarily known for their cooking (but otherwise handy in front of a camera, a microphone and/or a keyboard) as "Celebrity Sous Chefs." In the Green Room, we chatted with Karen's fellow "Sous Chef" actress Leslie Uggams, and early in the evening we ran into fellow "Sous Chef" and author Carol Higgins Clark, whom Karen had first had the pleasure of meeting at the Citymeals-on-Wheels' Power Lunch for Women at The Rainbow Room.

During the group shot of all 40 featured chefs and "sous chefs," Karen was virtually "neck in neck" with actress Crystal Hunt, who was so lovely that Karen had a hard time believing she could play a convincing villianess on "The Guiding Light," as indicated in her bio in the program.

While Charleen Badman's roasted pumpkin salad with chicken liver on brioche toast and pomegranate seeds was our favorite dish of the night (we each had two), we will also admit to standing in line twice for tastes of Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar's lobster roll sandwich, where she was ably assisted by her Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie co-author Deborah DiClementi and comedienne Judy Gold. Other culinary highlights of the night included Ariane Daguin's panini with truffle butter, Anita Lo's broth, Amy Scherber's addictive breadsticks, Sue Torres' flavor-packed chips...and the Catalan red pepper and salt cod salad on a crouton served by Alexandra Raij of Tia Pol.

(And if that last name sounds familiar, it's doubtless because you read our rave of our recent dinner at Tia Pol immediately below this one!)

Our congratulations to SHARE on its successful fundraiser tonight, which will help it to provide invaluable survivor-led support for women with breast or ovarian cancer, their families and friends.

INSIDE is at 9 Jones Street (bet. Bleeker and West Fourth Street, and bet. Sixth and Seventh Avenues), New York. (212) 229-9999. (This is one of our very favorite restaurants in New York, and the one at which we arguably eat most often. When you go, just tell chef Charleen Badman, and/or manager Bill Flatley, that Charleen's "Celebrity Sous Chef" sent you.)

SHARE is at www.sharecancersupport.org.


The quaffable gazpacho at Tia Pol


Blistered green peppers sprinkled with salt at Tia Pol


A special of mushroom "carpaccio" with Manchego cheese


Potatoes bravas at Tia Pol


Squid in its own black ink and rice at Tia Pol


The lamb skewers grounded in bread at Tia Pol


The roast suckling pig with perfectly crispy skin at Tia Pol


Tia Pol's almond cake, chocolate ice cream & caramel sauce


The Summer House and the Colette at Bette

Thursday, September 22, 2005 When you're long-time fans of the best Spanish restaurant in New York City (i.e. Solera, at 216 E. 53rd Street at Third Avenue, for the uninitiated), you're used to being disappointed by other Spanish restaurants -- so much so that you stop seeking them out.

Last night we had long-standing plans to have dinner with James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini (2005 Best Chef: New York), and deferred to his suggestion to meet at Tia Pol, a tapas restaurant that opened last year in Chelsea.

Even our respective jaded palates could sum up our experience at Tia Pol in one word: WOW!

If we had three more words, we'd add: THIS PLACE ROCKS!

We loved everything we tasted, and will never forget the crack! made by the extraordinarily crispy skin of the roast suckling pig when Karen first cut into it. Despite the innate pressures of being a popular tiny restaurant, the staff was friendly and gracious. After sharing a bottle of Txacoli, we were recommended a wonderful bottle of red to accompany our suckling pig and lamb dishes.

Other than warning you that you'll likely have to wait for one of the few tables or seats at the bar (which are worth it!), we'll let the photos above speak for themselves, since we've got to get back to finishing our book. Our compliments to chef Alexandra Raij!

Oh, and as we'd been singing Bette's praises and Andrew C. hadn't yet been there, we stopped in so he could see the room and introduced him to Bette's genial and s-m-o-o-t-h GM Ray Pirkle, whom even Andrew C. could tell immediately was a seasoned pro for welcoming us so warmly despite the fact that there wasn't an open table in sight. Ray miraculously found Karen a seat at the bar so we could introduce Andrew C. to the joys of the Colette (served by Colette!) and a fabulous apricot-peach concoction called the Summer House to cap off our absolutely delicious evening together. We hope to take advantage of another opportunity to dine with Andrew C. before we lose him to the stoves at his new restaurant (tentatively named Orto) due to open later this fall -- where we can't wait to dine!

Tia Pol is at 205 Tenth Ave., bet. 22nd and 23rd Streets, New York. (212) 675-8805.

Bette is at 461 W. 23rd Street, near Tenth Ave., New York. (212) 366-0404. Newsflash: Bette is now serving lunch as well as dinner.

Orto is at 41 Madison (bet. 25th & 26th Streets), New York. This eagerly anticipated restaurant with chef Andrew Carmellini heading the kitchen is due to open in November.


Spinach and mushroom soup at An American Place


Tuna and chicken salads at An American Place


Mini frozen yogurt at An American Place


The Inn at Little Washington's hors d'oeuvres-in-progress


Jean-Georges Vongerichten's hors d'oeuvres at the Relais &
Chateaux event being shot by Michael Sofronski


Ribbon-cutting ceremony at Relais & Chateaux featuring
executives from European Country Kitchens (left) and Electrolux
(center), and Regis Bulot of Relais & Chateaux (r.)


Asparagus topped with a poached egg at Perry Street


Pickled peaches with feta atop our salad at Perry Street


Rice cracker-crusted tuna at Perry Street


Sea bass at Perry Street


Arctic char at Perry Street


Perfectly-cooked lamb at Perry Street


Zabaglione sauce being poured on thick at Perry Street


Strawberry cheesecake at Perry Street


Chocolate pudding at Perry Street


Fig tart at Perry Street


Miniature doughnuts with apricot sauce at Perry Street

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 How many celebrity chefs do you typically encounter in a single day? Now, when the annual James Beard Awards ceremony rolls around, we're prepared -- but yesterday's sheer serendipitous encounters provided an absolute embarrassment of riches.

Having to run an errand around lunchtime at Lord & Taylor, we found ourselves grabbing a bite for lunch at one of the two restaurants run by chef Larry Forgione on the department store's 5th and 6th floors. It turns out that on Mondays, you can avail yourself of a special that includes an entree (which yesterday was a salad featuring both chicken and tuna salads), a beverage, and a mini-frozen yogurt (which the menu claimed was "homemade soft serve") for $13.95. We shared ours, along with a bowl of steaming spinach and mushroom soup. The restaurant is a nice place to stop when you need to refuel while shopping in the store (which now also sells our beloved See's Candies, including its awesome peanut brittle!).

We'd pinched ourselves when we'd received our invitation to last night's cocktail party celebrating the launch of Relais & Chateaux's new offices and demo kitchen developed in conjunction with Electrolux and European Country Kitchens: The invitation indicated that three of the best chefs in the world (not to mention three of our very favorites) Daniel Boulud, Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten would be doing the cooking. This was a must-attend event, and each of the extraordinary hors d'oeuvres we tasted at the party (where we enjoyed speaking with everyone from The New York Times' Florence Fabricant to Bill Boggs and the brand-new Mrs. Boggs, Carol) was more delicious than the last.

Yet as we had long-standing plans to meet our friends Rikki Klieman and Robert Zimmerman for dinner last night at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's latest restaurant Perry Street, we tried to show at least a little restraint at the cocktail party, which required every ounce of willpower we had. It paid off, as dish after dish arrived at our table, each one begging to be tasted. We'd adored the rice-cracker-crusted tuna we'd sampled at the cocktail party (prepared by Jean-Georges and his right-hand Daniel Del Vecchio), and so we'd recommended the appetizer-sized version at the restaurant to Rikki and Robert, who loved it, too.

Jean-Georges himself was there at Perry Street to oversee not only our dinner, but that of other friends in the restaurant's packed dining room: We were happy to get to say hello to chef Kerry Heffernan of Eleven Madison Park (who prepared our last excellent dinner out with Rikki; see our August 28th Blog) and to chef Mario Batali (of Babbo, et al) -- who was out with his wife Susi, celebrating his birthday. (Happy birthday again, Mario!)

An American Place is at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue bet. 38th and 39th Streets, New York. We actually prefer the setting of the casual cafe to the slightly more formal dining room one floor away.

Maison Relais & Chateaux is at 148 E. 63rd St. (bet. Lexington and Third Aves.), New York.

Perry Street is at 176 Perry Street (at West Street), New York. (212) 352-1900.


The chive and shrimp dumplings at Phoenix Garden


The Peking-style pork at Phoenix Garden


The Manila clams special at Phoenix Garden

"[Phoenix Garden] was once the toast of Chinatown, but it has lost much of its luster since moving next door to Tudor City. The Cantonese food is better than that at the average neighborhood Chinese restaurant, but only a little."
--Ruth Reichl, The New York Times (4/98)

Friday, September 16, 2005 After a long day's work today on our next book on food and beverage pairing, when dinnertime rolled around, we both shrugged. None of the usual suspects sounded right. Then Karen had an idea....

"What about Phoenix Garden?" she asked, referring to the Cantonese restaurant around the corner where we hadn't eaten in years. "It's BYOB, and we've got a bottle of cold Alsatian Gewurztraminer in the refrigerator."

"But you haven't wanted to go back because they were so rude last time," Andrew countered.

"But I'm in the mood for Chinese food and Gewurztraminer," Karen counter-countered. And so it was settled.

Before heading out the door, however, we did a quick Google search to see if we could pull up some recommended dishes, since it had been so long since we'd been there. Newyork.citysearch.com came up first, and our eyes widened to read:

"RUDE! RUDE! RUDE!!!! BAD SERVICE!!! The owner is so RUDE!!!!!!! They only recommend the most expensive dish in each category. And they will rush you like crazy! We were still eating but they started cleaning up the table!!!! I will never go back to that restaurant again!!!!!"

But then there were occasional reviews with someone saying something positive about dishes such as the salt and pepper shrimp and the Peking-style pork. However, they were interspersed with not just negative but really negative comments about the service, such as:

"Mediocre food, terrible service...*extremely* rude service."

"WORST SERVICE IN CITY; DON'T GO...I have never ever seen such rude service at a restaurant. They give you attitude when you order--I have even seen them yelling at customers--and they try to rush you out of there...[T]hey are so rude."

"[R]ude service...We will not go back since the owner not only insulted us publicly, he proceeded to talk about us to the next table. Highly unprofessional and rude service!!"

"The people are rude, but you'll be too busy chewing to notice."

Our eyebrows raised, but with our bottle of Gewurztraminer already bagged and our palates salivating for Chinese food, we stood fast, hoping we'd be "too busy chewing to notice" if anything went amiss.

Then, we opened the Zagat Survey to double-check the address, and read, "'BYOB and be merry'...provided you overlook the 'couldn't-care-less' service." Another eyebrow raised...yet we persevered.

After we arrived, the staff cheerfully cleaned off the table for two against the wall that we'd indicated we wished to wait for. Andrew went to the front of the restaurant to take a look at the specials board, and received a few helpful recommendations. We went with one of them, and ordered the Manila clams along with the Peking-style pork, preceded by the chive and shrimp dumplings. We were brought wine glasses and a corkscrew for our wine. The dishes that arrived at our table were flavorful and nicely executed for a neighborhood Chinese restaurant -- even if not quite worth getting excited about. Service-wise, however, perhaps this restaurant had turned over a new, positive leaf?

However, when Andrew's plate was empty, a woman appeared out of nowhere and cleared both our plates -- even though Karen had not yet finished. So, Karen sat open-mouthed, chopsticks in air, finding the rest of her dinner had vanished. Instead of making a big deal about it, we simply decided to order one more dish, and placed our order. The manager Victor then came over to literally scold us that we were not allowed to order any more food after this additional dish, because the restaurant was busy and there were people waiting. We were dumbfounded.

We felt very sad for this poor, misguided restaurant. Apparently, its management is not able to do more sophisticated math than, "If you turn the tables, you can make more money in one night." Because the true math of the situation has to do with the concept of the Lifetime Value of a Customer: A good customer, like the table of four (three guys, and one late-arriving woman) next to us where one of the guys (a foodie after our own heart!) called Victor by name (which is how we knew what it was), may spend tens of thousands of dollars at a restaurant over many years (e.g. $50/week x 50 weeks/year = $2,500 x 20 = $50,000 over 20 years). However, a customer who has a negative experience (e.g. is treatly rudely, has his/her dinner plate whisked away before s/he is finished, is told that s/he is not allowed to order additional dishes, etc.) will not return, and thus the restaurant forfeits those potential tens of thousands of dollars that it would have earned had the customer become a regular. Moreover, certain customers known to be Alpha consumers are key influencers who will let others know about a negative experience, which prevents still others from visiting the restaurant, with the restaurant thus losing out on those potential revenues as well.

Finding ourselves suddenly allied with those frustrated, anonymous CitySearch.com posters, we told Victor that we wished to cancel our order and asked for the check, which we paid, and got up to leave. The woman at the table of foodies next to us told us she couldn't believe what had happened, and asked for our confirmation that she'd overheard correctly. We nodded our heads that she had. She shook her head in disbelief and compassion, looking so sad that Karen was moved to console her, "Not to worry -- we're food writers. We'll have our last word."

And so we have.

NOT RECOMMENDED: Phoenix Garden is at 242 E. 40th Street, New York. newyork.citysearch.com


Andrew Dornenburg and Leslie Crocker Snyder at
our book party for THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF

Monday, September 12, 2005 Since we're pressed for time while on book deadline this month, we're updating an entry from August 30th, which is more relevant today -- and especially tomorrow -- than ever:

We applaud The New York Times' thoughtful endorsement on August 30th of the candidacy of our friend Leslie Crocker Snyder for the office of Manhattan DA.

Its editorial entitled "When to End an Era" begins:

"In the last 30 years, Robert Morgenthau has given Manhattan a world-class district attorney's office. It pains us not to be able to endorse him for re-election. But we believe that there is a limit to how long any manager can stay at one job and continue to administer with vigor and openness to new ideas. Three decades is more than enough time for any executive to accomplish his or her mission."

The editorial goes on to conclude:

"Ms. Snyder is a lawyer of unquestioned ability and broad experience who understands the vast power that prosecutors wield and seems prepared to exercise it with proper restaint. She would come to the district attorney's office with impressive energy, new ideas, and an obvious passion for building on Mr. Morgenthau's record. With due respect for the incumbent's legendary tenure, it is time for a change. We endorse Leslie Crocker Snyder for Manhattan district attorney."

We hope the Manhattanites reading this will join us and The New York Times in supporting Leslie Crocker Snyder in tomorrow's September 13th primary election. She is truly an extraordinary public servant, and an extraordinary human being and friend. You can read more about her on her Web site at www.snyderfornewyork.org.


While tasting the world's finest wines might set you back
four figures per bottle, you can taste some of the world's
finest beers for only dollars a bottle -- as we did tonight


Chimay cheese croquettes with Chimay beer


Steamed mussels and frites at Petite Abeille


Belgian waffle with strawberry coulis at Petite Abeille


Petite Abeille announces its fabulous Monday Special:
Any Belgian Beer at Half Price, from noon to closing

Sunday, September 4, 2005 When we spent a year eating out with restaurant critics across America while researching our book DINING OUT, we learned that The Detroit Free Press had a unique system for rating restaurants: Rather than awarding four stars on an absolute scale (i.e. with special occasion restaurants dominating the three- and four-star categories, and more modest efforts taking mostly one- and two-star slots), the paper meted out stars on the basis of how well a restaurant accomplished what it set out to do. Thus, it was possible to have one-star palaces with Bernardaud china -- as well as four-star hot dog joints.

We thought of that on our first-ever visit tonight to Petite Abeille, on our fourth and perhaps final night in a row of eating out in Tribeca. If we were to leave tomorrow for a week in Brussels, Expedia.com reports that the round-trip flight for the two of us would cost $4,800. For just over 1% of that, the two of us took a trip to Belgium tonight, sampling some of the country's specialty dishes and tasting some of its finest beers. If we'd had this experience in Detroit, it would warrant four stars.

We asked to speak with the restaurant's resident beer expert, and our waitress referred us to the manager Adyl -- who politely demurred any expert status, but admitted that he was a Belgian native. We told him that we'd already decided to order the Chimay cheese croquettes (which were served with a nice salad, for $7.50), and asked which of the several Chimay beer choices on the menu might best accompany it. He wisely tried to ascertain our preference for lighter or darker beer, but after telling him that we wanted to try whatever was most traditional, he recommended the Chimay Bleue ($9), described on the menu as "dark, fruity and spicy strong ale." We also planned to order the Mussels Grandmere (a 2-pound portion of steamed mussels in a creamy bacon and beer sauce, which were served with a plate of fries, for $15.50), and while we didn't expect an ideal match, we wanted to try one of the Belgian fruit beers. Adyl recommended the Lindemans Framboise ($13), which knocked us out at first whiff with the dazzling aroma of raspberries.

The Chimay cheese croquettes proved that Greeks aren't the only countrymen to love their fried cheese (a la saganaki): this deep-fried Belgian version was softer and creamier, with a crunchy crust. It melded beautifully with the Chimay beer -- a +2 pairing for us (on Max McCalman's scale; see below)!

The mussels were exactly as they should be: plentiful and perfectly-cooked (not to mention free of sand), with a delicious sauce for dipping. The liberal accompaniment of chopped bacon paired unexpectedly well (+1) with the Framboise beer, which we loved.

We concluded our dinner with a Belgian waffle dusted with powdered sugar and served with a light strawberry coulis ($4), which was lovely. After his first sip of coffee, Andrew declared it "the coffee I'm always searching for." When our bill arrived, we learned that one of his new favorite cups of coffee was a mere $1.65.

On the chalkboard behind the bar on our way out, we saw that Petite Abeille offers any Belgian beer on its extensive list for half-price on Monday nights. Think of the money you'll save toward your ticket to Brussels!

Petite Abeille is at 135 W. Broadway (at Duane St.), Tribeca. (212) 791-1360. Web: www.petiteabeille.com (which features complimentary Belgian music)


The open kitchen at David Bouley's restaurant Upstairs


Waitresses conferring with the two sushi chefs


Blue fin tuna, scallion, and mustard kyoto miso sauce


Warm goat cheese salad with frisee watercress


The market cheese selection ($12), with the suggested order
of (clockwise from left) Petit Livarot, Dry Jack, English Blue,
Jarlsberg and Locatelli challenging to our palates


Waitress showing us the evening's dessert selection ($6.95)


With tea and coffee, sweeteners served with plastic stirrers


Lemon tart served with green tea and maple ice cream


Two floors down, ready-made cheese plates were on display

Sunday, September 4, 2005 What do you get when you cross a four-star chef with a tiny (38-seat), casual restaurant?

Last night in Tribeca at David Bouley's Upstairs, we got an experience that at times swayed uneasily between formality (e.g. last night's 11:16 staff-to-guest ratio) and informality (e.g. plastic stirrers served with coffee), hits (e.g. our blue fin tuna starter) and misses (e.g. some unpleasant flavor pairings and syntax), as the restaurant seemed to struggle to define what it wanted to be -- yet was not without certain charms.

The first thing we noticed about the restaurant was that it liked things cold: the room was freezing, cold techno-pop house music blared, and the glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Australian Chardonnay we'd ordered were arguably the iciest we've ever been served anywhere. The service itself ranged from cold -- as in inattentive -- to warm and solicitous once you finally managed to capture someone's attention. As mentioned above, at one point last night we counted 11 staff members (chefs, waitresses, runners) while 16 guests were seated, which made it almost comical that we had a hard time getting our order taken.

But once we tasted our delicious starter of fresh blue fin tuna with scallion and mustard kyoto miso sauce, we were enchanted by how well it went with our Australian Chardonnay -- ditto our warm goat cheese salad (served with "a almond dressing," as per the menu) with our New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

We were less enchanted with the glass of sparkling Vouvray recommended to go with our cheese course after we found that Upstairs didn't offer any sweet wines by the glass. On Max McCalman's five-point scale (ranging from -2 to +2), we found that only one or two hit a +1, and the rest ranged from 0 on down. Not helping things was the restaurant's suggestion that we begin with the Petit Livarot, a stinky cheese that is not for the meek, before heading into milder options. (We even skipped the black olive, garlic, and saffron-walnut breads served with the cheese course, not wanting to confound our palates further.)

For two people who are typically turned off by dessert trays (which we often find to be nothing more than an array of stale pastries), this one was one of the most tempting we've ever seen, with a very reasonable $6.95 price tag to boot. Karen really liked the dense, rich, tart filling of our lemon tart, and especially its sturdy, almost cookie-like crust, while we were both befuddled by the choice of green tea / white chocolate and maple ice creams selected to accompany it.

Were we ever to return to Upstairs, we'd probably stick closer to the menu of sushi and Japanese dishes -- which last night's approximately 40% Japanese clientele seemed pleased with -- and sample the Bouley burger (served on an English muffin), which seemed to make the little kid across the room very happy.

Upstairs is at 130 W. Broadway (at Duane St.), Tribeca. (212)
219-1011.


Le Zinc serves a mini-baguette with eggplant tapenade


BBQ Asian Spiced Ribs on a bed of creamy cole slaw


Teriyaki Salmon Burger with Asian Slaw at Le Zinc


Herb Ricotta Gnocchi, Chanterelle Fricasse and Asparagus

Saturday, September 3, 2005 With our February visit to New Orleans -- and our beloved Bayona, Cafe du Monde, and Uglesich's -- still fresh in our minds, our hearts go out to the victims of Katrina, including the people of New Orleans.

We're spending this month finishing our next book on food and beverage pairing, and taking advantage of getting away to various friends' homes offered to us as places where we can focus on our writing uninterrupted all month.

For the extended Labor Day weekend, we're practically living in TriBeCa. On Thursday night, we dined with friends al fresco at Roc, where we tasted an heirloom tomato salad, handmade spaghetti with fabulous meatballs, and seafood risotto. The extensive wine list is not inexpensive, but we managed to locate a few reasonably-priced gems.

Last night, we popped in for dinner at Le Zinc, which is owned by Karen and David Waltuck, who also own the four-star restaurant Chanterelle -- which correctly suggests something about the kitchen's talent and ambitions at this comfortable bistro. It was a pleasure to get to say hello to Karen, who was seated at the bar when we arrived last night.

While we've stopped in to Le Zinc for appetizers and their terrific selection of wines by the glass (including a lovely Monkey Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) at the bar more recently, we hadn't had dinner in the dining room in years. While we remembered that we'd enjoyed it, it was a welcome surprise to taste just how great the food was at this casual restaurant.

Every dish was exactly what you'd want it to be: The baguette was perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The meat on the delicious and satisfying barbecued ribs ($10) virtually fell off the bone. The fries served alongside the juicy salmon burger ($14) were guilt-free in that they didn't taste remotely junk food-ish -- they tasted exactly like freshly-cut potatoes that had been deep-fried to perfection.

To be honest, we only had a few bites of the pillowy soft gnocchi, because Le Zinc's portions are so generous that we simply didn't have any more room. But we're looking forward to "re-gifting" it to ourselves as today's lunch!

Le Zinc is at 139 Duane St. (near West Broadway), Tribeca. (212) 513-0001. Web: www.lezincnyc.com

Roc is at 190-A Duane St. (at Greenwich), Tribeca. (212) 625-3333.

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To us, backlist is extremely important. That's really how we grow and survive. BECOMING A CHEF is an example in which we had one book and from that came CULINARY ARTISTRY and DINING OUT, and now new books are being written by both these authors. Every time we publish a book by these franchise authors, we find a rejuvenated interest in our backlist.
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