Thursday, December 31, 2009

Small Bites

I look forward to another year of good eating with bites both big and small! Happy New Year!

- Anthony Bourdain weighs in on year seven of the past decade, a pivotal point in foodie culture.

- Want to know what the best cheap Champagnes are for your New Year's celebration? Both Slate and Salon have recommendations.

- The Asian version of a spork? A chopsticks, spoon, toothpick combination.

- The debate continues over the health benefits of coffee.

- Is Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel male food porn? Double X considers the "phenomenon of expert gluttony" on view in this show.

- Maybe using ammonia to eliminate E. coli from ground beef isn't so effective after all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Make Bids for Charity

There's still time to participate in Menu for Hope, the annual charity event started by the blog, Chez Pim, five years ago. Tons of bloggers and people from the food world have donated a long list of events and items and anyone can make $10 bids to enter to win in a drawing at the end of the period, which goes until December 31st. The money goes to the UN World Food Programme and specifically to an initiative to help small, low-income farmers.

This year, I placed bids on coffee with Ruth Reichl (knowing I won't win), a set of knives and the grand tasting at Manresa restaurant (again, a hot item I won't win, but it's easier to part with the money knowing it's at least going to a good cause).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cambridge: Friendly Toast Review

The first meal of the day can set the tone for how the rest of the day is going to go. Too often, brunch (or breakfast) offerings are as sleepy as we are when we walk in the door. Almost always there'll be the usual french toast, basic pancakes and some variation on eggs, potatoes and/or meat. What we really need is something to actually bring us to our senses — an abundance of flavor wrapped in the familiar dishes, the smell of more than just grease, things that make our eyes bigger than our stomachs. The Friendly Toast in Cambridge, Mass., knows just how to do that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Say Hello to Bon Appetit

My first issue of Bon Appetit to replace my defunct Gourmet subscription arrived in the mail recently. And they already want me to extend my subscription!

First we'll have to see if I can get into their articles and get past the less sophisticated design that makes some of the content look like ads. I miss the gorgeous photography and well-organized quick recipes of Gourmet.

This issue of Bon Appetit features articles about meatballs, Austrian food and Sriracha (The Washington Post's food blog also recently weighed in on the popular condiment). I'll be back with more analysis eventually.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

My Christmas Eve dinner: Serious Eat's Pumpkin Chili (with pork instead of turkey).

and cornbread.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

How Menus Control You More Than You Realize

The Times dining section this week ran a story about the psychology of menu design. After eating at Alinea a few months ago and encountering their unconventional menu structure, and after reading New York Magazine's feature breaking down Balthazar's menu, I had planned to pen a piece on my observations about menu designs (this is what I get for procrastinating). After all, it mimics my main job, as Sarah Kershaw says here:

"Menu design draws some of its inspiration from newspaper layout, which puts the most important articles at the top right of the front page, where the eyes tend to be drawn. Some restaurants will place their most profitable items, or their specials, in that spot. Or they place a dotted outline or a box around the item, put more white space around it to make the dish stand out or, in what menu researchers say is one of the most effective tools, add a photograph of the item or an icon like a chili pepper."

When we ate at Alinea, the menu was presented to us at the end of the meal in a black envelope. For someone looking to remember every detail of the meal just consumed, the spare list of ingredients left me wanting. Not only did the bubbles represent the size of the dishes, but the waitstaff explained that the position along the left-to-right spectrum indicated the savoriness or sweetness of the dishes. The farther left, the more savory; the farther right, the sweeter. Alinea had this luxury because diners didn't need to rely on it for ordering purposes. It was a dismissive hand wave to the traditional menu structure.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Small Bites

- Should we now worry about the ethics of eating plants?

- Is there anything wrong with men in the kitchen? It's always a funny thought to me that the stereotype is of women in the kitchen because, besides my grandmother, it was my father who was the main cook in my house. And it seems among many I know, the man is more the cook than the woman or at least an equal cooking partner.

- Does eating less make your stomach shrink

- The White House assistant chef shows kids around the White House garden as part of an after-school program to teach kids about nutrition.

- And some of D.C.'s top chefs spent time preparing holiday meals for kids in juvenile detention.

- In defense of the fruitcake. And the transformation of the cheese ball.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sweet Inspiration

If you're looking for other baking ideas after reading about my holiday cookie-making, check out the Holiday Cookies and Recipes feature from The Times. It's a collection of reader-submitted photos and recipes. Who would have thought to make meringue mushrooms?? There are lists of cookie possibilities floating around everywhere. Here are a few others: The Washington Post's list, cookie memories plus recipes from The Los Angeles Times and a gathering of everything cookie and sweets from Serious Eats.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Busy as a Bee

I don't really need excuses to indulge in dessert, but the snowy weather and a coworker's recent annual baking frenzy led to my own afternoon of cookie-making. As my eyes are always bigger than my stomach, one type of cookie would not suffice. So, we ended up with four types: chewy ginger cookies (they turned out more crispy than chewy but after some time next to the spongey pumpkin cookies seemed to soften up), pumpkin chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip and oatmeal cranberry chocolate chip. In all the cases, we slightly altered the recipes we had, whether it was to suit our purposes or for personal preferences.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold Weather Comfort

With a strong chill in the air, it's a good time to pick some foods to indulge in to warm our stomachs. Start with a sweet drink that will melt away the frostbite: NYC Food Crawl has a hot chocolate crawl this Sunday on the west side of Manhattan. A friend also mentioned to me she was craving soondubu, a hearty Korean soft tofu stew. This is a great wintertime option — a stone pot of tofu, boiling hot, and spicy if you so choose. Serious Eats shows us how to make it at home, but if your culinary skills aren't a match for this, climb the stairs to Seoul Garden in K-town. Maybe it's time to load up on carbs in the form of mac and cheese; if so Macbar is giving away mac and cheese to the first 300 customers this Saturday afternoon beginning at noon. Or go for a classic chicken pot pie. Whatever you do, eat well!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Department of Health Makes a Mistake

Midtown Lunch reported that the Department of Health had banned street vendors from selling seafood. But it turns out the DOH was imprecise with their language and actually only meant to ban the sale of raw seafood, like ceviche, not cooked seafood. They intend to rewrite the regulation. Oops.

Small Bites

- Jonathan Safran Foer shares his Brooklyn restaurant suggestions for vegetarians.

- Serious Eats summarizes a recent discussion between Frank Bruni and Foer at the Jewish Community Center on what role food plays in our culture.

- Midtown Lunch informs us that New York City's Department of Health has banned street vendors from selling seafood.

- Anthony Bourdain is coming out with a followup to his book, Kitchen Confidential. It will be titled Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.

- Doughnut Plant has some fun holiday doughnuts like pomegranate yeast and cranberry cake. Serious Eats taste tests them.

- The story of the man behind Shake Shack and the burger joint's wild success with a great quote from Danny Meyer:  “The whole experience is to cram people into a cookie-cutter space, to feed them as many unhealthy calories as possible — then get them to leave. That stripping away of human experience? That is where fast food went astray.” The article also includes the news that more Shake Shack branches are coming in the future to the Upper East Side and Midtown (44th and Eighth!).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allegretti Visual Review

The only decent last-minute Saturday night reservation I could get for my family was at Allegretti, a restaurant specializing in food from the south of France, in the Flatiron district. My father has high standards and is often hard to please when it comes to new restaurants, but he seemed quite pleased with what Allegretti had to offer. The dishes offered interesting combinations of ingredients and managed to pull them off well.

Octopus with  chickpeas, crispy prosciutto and anchovy sauce 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Anthos Upstairs Review

Michael Psilakis might well be considered New York City's premier Greek chef and he has been working hard to steadily expand his reach. He has three restaurants in the city: Anthos, Kefi and Gus and Gabriel. His cookbook, "How to Roast a Lamb," was also released recently.

Earlier this year, he made a move that has become popular in the recession — he converted part of his expensive, upscale restaurant Anthos into a more casual and affordable mini-restaurant known as Anthos Upstairs. Everything on the menu is $15 or less and offers decent-sized portions.

I previously tried Anthos during Restaurant Week a couple of years ago and enjoyed a delicious, filling meal in an elegant setting. So, Anthos Upstairs seemed promising, extending upon the principle of good cooking at a lower price point. On the night I ate here, it wasn't exactly "upstairs" because that area was closed for a private party. But the restaurant was offering the Upstairs menu in the front bar area. This meal echoed my first experience — delicious and affordable in a modern, stylish atmosphere.

A complimentary set of Greek taramosalata made from different types of fish and served with pita chips. It's always nice when you feel like the restaurant isn't treating the bar customers like second-class citizens. This was a perfect starter, speaking to the restaurant's Greek influences.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

It's the first night of Hanukkah. What better way to celebrate than with latkes! Before you fry up your potatoes and onions in lots of oil, take some tips from Joan Nathan, an expert on Jewish food. You can also try for a healthier version, though it likely just won't taste as good. For an alternative take on latkes, make them Indian style. And if you just can't stand the heat in the kitchen, let Russ and Daughters in the Lower East Side satisfy your Hanukkah needs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Bites

- New grass-roots food groups are bringing people together in San Francisco.

- Rolling Stone — yes, the magazine — plans to open a restaurant in Hollywood.

- A new vaccine is being tested on cows to prevent E. coli and make food supplies safer.

- Some food bloggers and Gourmet magazine mourners have started a site called Gourmet Unbound in homage. It is starting by posting readers' favorite Gourmet recipes.

- Is sustainable dining actually sustainable?

- Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia, talks to Salon about her new memoir, Cleaving.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

In the Kitchen With Grandma

This fall, a book called the "Asian Grandmothers Cookbook" was released. I love the idea of this cookbook. Most people I know (and even ones I don't) admire, appreciate or yearn for the cooking of their grandmothers. Grandmothers seem to be synonymous with good cooking. Maybe it was because many of them came from a time, place or culture where cooking was a necessity to survive, when there were fewer other distractions, where it was just a natural part of life.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Corton Review

Another very belated restaurant review.

Corton is an upscale restaurant in Tribeca with lofty culinary ambitions. It takes after Alinea and the other molecular gastronomy powerhouses, striving for a modern, revolutionary take on food. But where Alinea brings us to new heights, Corton stays a bit too grounded.

Paul Liebrandt, touted as a talented young chef, originally from Britain, is Corton's bold leader. He opened Gilt restaurant and has many accolades to his name. Frank Bruni's verdict on Corton was three stars.
My meal here came shortly — and perhaps unfortunately — after my Alinea experience.  Alinea was like a time machine that showed me a glimpse of the future in its food. Corton, on the other hand left too much up to the imagination. The dishes at Alinea may have been wacky, but they generated a real, glorious flourish that left a lasting impression. Corton quickly faded from memory.

The restaurant suffers from ambition gone awry. The room is pretty but so formal as to feel pretentious and stuffy. The host was unwelcoming. The servers are so stiff and unfriendly they act as though they have been abused and are afraid to commit any misstep. (Liebrandt has been known to be temperamental.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Stumptown Coffee Review

Following on the tails of my visit to The Breslin, I stopped in to Stumptown Coffee, also attached to the Ace Hotel, for a cappuccino. It's one of the much-ballyhooed new coffees that arrived from the Pacific Northwest, specifically, Portland, this fall.  As you can see, these guys are serious about their coffee, swirling a fancy pattern in the foam for the cappuccino AND in the hot chocolate. The strong coffee is very good, a heavily roasted flavor but not too bitter. And the hot chocolate was perfect, chocolatey but not cloyingly sweet or rich.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Small Bites

- Iran gets its first U.S.-style supermarket.

- It's a rough season for oyster harvesters in Texas, coming a year after Hurricane Ike. It's so bad that some harvesters may go out of business.

- Bagels can be a dangerous food.

- Although it seems like street carts in cities across America mostly have enthusiastic support from customers, they face many bureaucratic nightmares

- Some restaurants are bartering free food for services like repairs and pest control.

- Daniel Gross, a columnist for Slate, asked readers why he couldn't find any chocolate in China. Turns out, there IS chocolate in China.

- The debate over charging obese airline passengers extra, which I wrote about in June, has been renewed by a photo posted on a blog showing a passenger so large he was spilling into the aisle.

- Do you prefer your sandwich cut into triangles or rectangles?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Breslin Review

The owners of gastropub Spotted Pig opened The Breslin not long ago in the barren stretch of lower Midtown Manhattan at Broadway and 29th Street. It only began serving dinner last week. But not too long ago, I sampled the lunch offerings at this dark, upscale gastropub. The decor is mostly black, giving the room a heavy, curtained feel. The calorie-laden food matches. We arrived on the early side of lunch hour - exactly at noon - and the place was mostly empty, but by the time we left an hour later, it had filled up. This would be a good pit stop before going into hibernation for the winter.

Malt Vinegar and Sea Salt Chips.
These chips were presented in a cute way, introducing themselves in a clear, plastic package with a "Hello my name is" sticker. But it also felt somewhat cheap. Because they came in a package, they had more in common with chips you would buy in a store, packaged and shipped in bulk, rather than something homemade. But the sticker indicated that these chips had been "born" just two days earlier. I used to hate salt and vinegar chips; they were personally an acquired taste. The vinegar on these was puckering at first, but I came to like them. And once I got past that, they were addictive!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Shake Shack's December Custards

December's custard calendar is not that appealing. Bring back pancake batter!

Monday: Roasted Chestnut
Tuesday: Figgy Pudding
Wednesday: Panettone
Thursday: Eggnog
Friday: Pomegranate
Saturday: Candy Cane Crunch
Sunday: Gingerbread

With Regret

At the end of last week, I received this card in the mail confirming that with the demise of Gourmet, the rest of my subscription will be replaced with Bon Apetit magazine. I had more or less planned on being an infinite subscriber and renewed continually, so I'm not quite sure how many more years were left on my subscription. But this random spokesperson "For Gourmet" has informed me that I may opt out of receiving Bon Apetit and instead choose to receive a refund on the remainder of my subscription. To give it a chance or just take the money back and run? What to do? 

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Kyochon Takes Baby Steps

The pending branch of Kyochon, the Korean fried chicken chain, on the corner of 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue is making slow progress, it seems, just keeping pace with the change of seasons. And they know it. They're at least keeping their patient future customers amused with some fun plywood. I look forward to trying this "Chicken like you've never had before."