Thursday, December 30, 2010

Small Bites

- A Taiwanese restaurateur reveals what makes his noodle dish the most expensive in the world

- The debate over restaurant critic anonymity is revived when a Los Angeles restaurant aggressively outs the Los Angeles Times critic.

- LA Weekly interviews departing Bon Appetit editor Barbara Fairchild.

- The rapid spread of coupon sites such as Groupon and Village Vines, which offer dining discounts, has restaurant owners debating whether they are advantageous or bad for business.

- The Rungis International Food Market, the world's largest food market which has operated since 1110, is still going strong.

- A dispute with the Los Angeles Film School over parking is endangering the Hollywood Farmers Market.

- Madhur Jaffrey, the queen of Indian cooking, hasn't always had a life that revolved around food.

- How did black-eyed peas become a New Year's tradition?

- Now that Christmas is over, you could turn your tree into your next meal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Must Eat: Lamb Burger

Often, I recommend restaurants that I've had good meals at because I think the food I've had is good overall and the atmosphere is right for the occasion. Less often, a particular dish I've had stands out and merits returning to a place just for that one thing. But those are the things that I become evangelical about, foods that people just must try. 

Last year, I visited April Bloomfield's Breslin restaurant for the first time and liked it. I have been back several times because the food's pretty good, and the location and hours are often convenient. But since trying the signature lamb burger there, it's become one of my favorite dishes in the city. The thick, juicy burger is served medium rare on a grilled bun with a slab of feta cheese and slices of red onion. When you cut through it, the pink juices spill out and drain into the moat of the cutting board-like plate. Eating it nearly quenches a thirst. Sinking your teeth into this burger is a satisfying effort and your tongue is humbled by the deep, smooth flavor of the lamb. The fat fries are crispy and addictive. They come with a cumin mayo on the side. It's a complete winner of a dish. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leña Latin Grill Review

After passing by Leña Latin Grill nearly everyday for months since it opened this summer, I finally went in and tried one of their "wraps." Wraps are one of my least favorite things to eat, but Leña's versions are more like burritos. In fact, I had the impression that this fast food place was not unlike a Chipotle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Small Bites

 - The Wall Street Journal explains the importance of a cheesemonger.

- Not only have Americans gained weight, so have cookbooks.

- The Freakonomics blog examines the relationship between price and taste among wines.

- Though business slows down in the winter, many food trucks have no choice but to keep turning out in the cold weather.

- Francis Lam indulges in Drake's cherry fruit pie.

- What is the impact of grass-fed beef on the environment?

- New York City restaurant owners feel the pressure of the grading system.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mmm...Enfes! Review

Thanks to a post by Midtown Lunch that a friend alerted me to about gözleme being sold at the Bryant Park holiday shops, I was able to indulge in memories of my trip to Turkey several years ago. Food is a great lifeline to the past, to nostalgia because it stirs your senses — you're connected to the smells, the atmosphere, the people and the place. The taste of new experiences can be strong.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Community Food & Juice Review

A weekday midmorning breakfast is what I'd like to think of as a peaceful domain, fewer crowds and a time of leisure, for those lucky enough to have the hours free. At Community Food & Juice, this was not quite the case. It was perpetually packed with diners and by lunchtime there were people crowded at the entrance waiting for a table. This neighborhood restaurant specializing in organic, sustainable food was opened by the owners of Clinton St. Baking Company, which should have been my first hint that its popularity would not heed the bounds of common rush hours. Despite this, the restaurant did not rush us and generously allowed us to set our own pace, which in our case was rather slow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

El Guyaquileño Cart Review


I was in the mood for something ethnic for lunch, something with some heavy spices or flavors, something to warm me up from the inside and keep the chill out. I thought about returning to the Dosa Cart to try something different, but then I remembered a cart I had seen often on my way to work, parked in Midtown on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 37th Street — El Guayaquileño.

After reading Midtown Lunch's review, I thought the goat stew sounded like the perfect remedy for my cravings.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Small Bites

- The government's lack of action in regulating the egg industry may have contributed to the salmonella outbreak that led to the biggest recall ever of eggs.

- President Obama signs a child nutrition bill, something the First Lady has shown much support for.

- The Zagats weigh in and provide some good background on the disputes that several prominent restaurateurs are having over tips and fair wages.

- What the opening of Hooters in Japan looks like.

- Could thinking about the foods we really want to eat make us want to eat them less? It could be the ultimate diet. But on Francis Lam argues that it would take away from the satisfaction of eating.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Adventures in Southeast Asia Part 4

Our visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia, fell in the middle of the trip, sandwiched between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Its rural, tropical feel was a nice break from the big cities. Sadly, we didn't have any good meals in Vietnam. So, this lunch on our second day in Siem Reap was our first truly good meal. After touring a couple of temples, our tour guide took us to Eat at Khmer, a roadside restaurant across from the old royal swimming hole. It was a place that was clearly hosting only groups of tourists. With every vehicle's unloading, children swarmed, singing out "Madam, take a look," in an attempt to sell cheap souvenirs to you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adventures in Southeast Asia Part 3

My time in Bangkok was limited; with just a day and a half, I wanted to make the most of my few meals in the city. So as soon as we arrived, I had a place picked out for our first lunch: Khrua Aroy Aroy. The Lonely Planet guide only listed the intersection of two streets as the address, so it was a bit of a challenge to find, especially when I had little sense of what type of restaurant I might be looking for. It was across from an Indian temple and had a worn awning with a room that seemed to merge into the sidewalk. Entering this cozy spot was disorienting — we turned heads when we entered and I wasn't sure that anyone spoke English or that there was room for us. But the excitement of trying some real Thai food had my heart beating hard. After lingering for a moment of discomfort, one of the waitresses motioned for us to take a small table at the back to which they had to add a stool or two.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Adventures in Southeast Asia Part 2

Bangkok is rich in its street food culture, but the next best thing seems to be the small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, simple affairs that are spare and family run. Any basic research on food in Bangkok turns up the name Chote Chitr, a tiny restaurant that has been around for 90 years. There are tons of recommendations for it, but as with any popular place, also many mixed reviews. But nevertheless, I put it down as a must-try, to find out for myself.

After touring Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, I successfully guided my skeptical family to the shadowy doorway of Chote Chitr. The place was empty but for a woman sleeping with her head down on a table — my heart sunk. And it was then I noticed the sign posted on the door: Closed for renovation until Dec. 1. That was the next day. So, that would have to wait until my next visit.

With the Lonely Planet city guide in hand, I tried to find a replacement lunch spot on Thanon Tanao, along which the guide suggested an eating tour. I struck out on the first couple, which appeared to no longer be there. But we managed to find Kim Leng, a place specializing in the food of central Thailand. It was filled with locals who all turned to stare when we stepped inside. A short, round man pointed to the only empty table in the middle of the room, still topped with dirty dishes from its previous occupants. He came over and asked what we wanted, but not being quite that well versed in Thai food, we asked for a menu. He brought over a few, but kindly recommended two dishes — mee krob and the minced catfish with shrimp paste. So we ordered those along with a few tame dishes.

The mee krob was a sticky jumble of sweet, crispy noodles. A few pieces of tasty shrimp hid among them. On its own it was a bit too sweet, but it helped to tame the heat of the spicy catfish.

The minced catfish was fried and tossed with incredibly hot chili shrimp paste and topped with some fried basil. A little bit with rice was tasty, but my lips were soon burning.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Adventures in Southeast Asia Part I

If you've been paying any attention in the last few weeks, you might have noticed a lack of posting. In that time I was traveling to in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand on a family trip. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip with just a couple of days in each place and what felt like constant traveling. I was extremely excited for the food in the region and hoped to have some good reports upon my return. Although I had some tasty meals, much of this trip unfortunately fell prey to tourist traps and a lack of an adventurous spirit on the part of my traveling companions. Also, I have to say that it reinforced for me just how good the ethnic food that is available in New York is. But, I'd still like to highlight the best of my eats abroad.


The streets of Thailand are amazingly rich with food vendors and where I most enjoyed the food. Despite nearly every block being occupied by some form of edible fortification there isn't as much repetition as there is with the dirty water dog and kebab carts on every other New York street corner. Exotic fruits, Thai candies, fried foods on sticks fill the tame end of the spectrum; wok-fried noodles, pots of stews and many other colorful unidentifiable foods call out to the more daring eaters. Dabbling in street food in foreign lands is always a risky prospect, especially when facing plane rides in the near future. I had heard and read mixed opinions on the safety of Bangkok's street food — it's such an integral part of the culture, how could I not try it? Yet, I did not want to be left bowled over in pain. Been there, done that.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Small Bites

- The Senate passed a new food safety bill.

- How food recalls affect consumers' buying habits of those products.

 - A former New York Times restaurant critic weighs in on a reader's complaint that The Times caters to the wealthy by reviewing expensive restaurants.

- The Village Voice interviews Amanda Hesser, founder of Food52 and a new cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.

- Slate takes cues from Rene Redzepi's NOMA cookbook (Redzepi is the chef of NOMA, which has been dubbed the best in the world) to guess what might soon show up in American cooking.

- In case you ever wondered what it would be like to go on a 60-day potatoes-only diet, this man is finding out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

DBGB Revisit

It had been over a year since my first visit to DBGB. I returned with a dining companion who was new to the place. The food on this visit was a notch better than last time, but it still seemed like a place to go to primarily for the sausages; the other food is incidental.

To balance out all the meat in the meal, we chose the simple butter lettuce and chive salad with radishes and garlic mustard dressing. The large leaves were lightly coated in the mild dressing, making the flavors feel well integrated rather than overwhelming. It's the way a salad should be done, if the dressing isn't served on the side.

If you plan on sampling different flavors of sausages, ordering the duo of sausages entree is a good option. We got the crumbly Beaujolaise (pork, mushrooms, onion, bacon & red wine) served with a side of lentils and the Thai sausage (pork, lemongrass and red curry with green papaya, basil fried rice, chili sauce and a quail egg). Both were good, though I really enjoyed the Thai sausage. The seasonings common to Thai food — basil, lemongrass — were bold. But the Thai sides tasted like they were trying too hard.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Shake Shack's December Flavors

Shake Shack is in the holiday spirit with appropriate seasonal flavors. Thursday's flavor sure is a mouthful.

Monday: Eggnog
Tuesday: Figgy Pudding
Wednesday: Panettone
Thursday: Chocolate Orange Chestnut Swirl
Friday: Candy Cane Crunch
Saturday: Gingerbread
Sunday: Spiced Apple Cider

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Walk with Calvin Trillin

For many, the name Calvin Trillin is synonymous with food writing characterized by a particular voice of deadpan humor. Others are familiar with his work as a longtime contributor to The New Yorker. On a brisk, sunny October morning, it was the allure of having this writer share his enthusiasm for some of his favorite food spots that drew nearly 40 people to a secret meeting spot in the West Village.

The Come Hungry tour, part of the annual New Yorker Festival, is a tough ticket.  A few weeks before, the Friday that tickets went on sale, I sat before my computer ready to do battle with the online system, at noon on the dot. In just a couple of minutes it would be over. I had tried to get these tickets each of the last five years with not even a slim moment of hope before the sold out message appeared on my screen, seemingly the same second they were supposed to be available. The spinning wheel, the processing Web page — this time, I had won the lottery.

Trillin is a man of average height. With droopy cheeks, a bulbous nose, bushy, unkempt eyebrows and hunched shoulders, he resembles a St. Bernard. His blue eyes seem twinged with sadness. If you passed him on the street, he would seem unremarkable. It is his writing that makes people take note, his dry sense of humor that emanates from the words on the page, a humor that makes you laugh out loud while reading; to be a part of this tour was to translate that to life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pure Thai Shophouse Review

Hell's Kitchen is so saturated with Thai restaurants that you'd almost begin to wonder if this was a mini Thai town. So the opening of yet another one should elicit nothing more than a groan. But Pure Thai Shophouse has attracted a bit of attention. It belongs to the same owners of Upper West Side restaurants, Recipe and Land Thai. The menu seems to offer several dishes that are a little different from your tired Pad Thai or Massaman curry options.

There's also a board with daily specials and a small assortment of groceries for sale up front.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Restaurant News Roundup

Some noteworthy restaurant news in the New York restaurant world:

- Chef Yasuda is leaving the restaurant bearing his name, Sushi Yasuda. It's one of the best sushi spots in the city.

- Artichoke Pizza, which opened a full restaurant in Chelsea earlier this fall, is about to open another takeout branch in the Village.

- Tea drinkers might be interested to hear that Harney & Sons have put down roots in Soho.

 - And for coffee addicts, Piccolo Cafe has opened a small storefront on 40th Street near Eighth Avenue where it sells pasta, sandwiches and desserts in addition to coffee.

- The owners of The Breslin recently opened the highly anticipated new John Dory, also at the Ace Hotel. The restaurant previously had a home in Chelsea but closed last year.

- Brooklyn Fare's Cesar Ramirez will expand into a new restaurant next door.

- K! Pizzacone is now papered up and there's a for rent sign in the window.

- Il Laboratorio del Gelato's much-delayed larger branch in the Lower East Side has opened.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Small Bites

- One writer doesn't cook for her parents to preserve her food memories.

- An exotic meats enthusiast shares why he likes those meats and offers some advice on how to get and cook them.

- Airplane food today is so bad that, comparatively, there was a time when dining in the air seemed glamorous, but perhaps it's always been bad.

- Google has launched a Yelp-like restaurant recommendation site. Zagat tries to find success among the many online restaurant recommendation options. And the Michelin Guide announces its ratings for Chicago restaurants. Alinea was one of two restaurants to win Michelin's highest rating of three stars.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dosa Cart Review

When it comes to eating in Midtown, many have a knee-jerk reaction that there aren't many good options. Midtown Lunch has done a lot to dispel that notion. And if you are open and adventurous, there's an abundance of places to explore. The area seems to have a greater concentration and variety of food trucks at lunchtime than most other areas. For a while now, I have passed by a dosa truck on my way to work everyday. Today was finally the day for it. I was sick of my cafeteria salads and decided to head over to the truck on Broadway and 39th Street.

Basically all the items on the menu are $5. The cart not only offers dosas but also uttapam and rice dishes.

For my first encounter, I decided to try the basic masala dosa. Dosas are a South Indian specialty, a thin crepe folded over various types of filling. The masala dosa is a mixture of curried potatoes and onions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Burgers & Cupcakes Review

There's a lot of competition for burgers in the Times Square area these days with places like Schnipper's, Five Guys and Shake Shack within a few blocks of one another. Burgers & Cupcakes is slightly farther south of the main hustle and bustle, but sits on restaurant-heavy Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. And it marries two things this city has been crazy for for some time now — burgers and cupcakes.

I'm not a huge fan of beef burgers (though Shake Shack has managed to win me over), so I was glad to see that Burgers & Cupcakes offered other burger options such as turkey and salmon. Beyond lettuce, tomato, onions and a pickle, the toppings come a la carte and you pay $1 for each one. I went for the turkey burger with Swiss cheese and a side of fries. Because turkey burgers are leaner than beef ones, they are more prone to produce a dry patty. But my burger was moist and I liked the soft, doughy roll it came on. I was also excited to see that the fries were thin cut and crispy, a style I love but don't find often.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recent Eats

Perhaps it was the increasing chilliness of the season, perhaps it was just a temporary need for a break from my constant hunt for restaurants that fit the criteria of the moment. It was a week of turning to convenience and comfort, to places where I could confidently chow down. And it was all gratifying.

Good Restaurant

I've sung praise for brunch at this West Village eatery; a meal that seems to bring out the crowds. But on a weekday at midday, Good is relaxed and allows for a leisurely lunch.

The classic grilled cheddar cheese sandwich (you can also choose pepperjack cheese if you prefer) served with tomatoes and a side of mixed greens is large and filling. You're likely to take half of it home.

The harvest salad is a healthy enough portion of mixed greens tossed with aged cheddar, roasted pears, pecans and dressed in apple cider vinaigrette. I added roasted turkey for an additional $4, which seemed a bit steep for three very thin, though tasty, slices of meat.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Bites

- Brooklyn will get its very own Shake Shack, in the Fulton Street Mall.

- Even the most adventurous of foodies have certain foods that are turnoffs. The Village Voice compiles a list of their 10 most challenging dishes in New York City.

- The chefs whom Alinea chef Grant Achatz has chosen for his new ventures (Aviary and Next) answer a few questions for Chicago Magazine.

- Cooks Source magazine makes a stir by plagiarizing and the magazine editor's response makes the situation worse.

- Author Rick Bragg has a deep love of mayonnaise.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Recent Eats

The Cellar Bar at the Andaz Hotel

This spot is tucked away beneath The Shop restaurant at the Andaz 5th Avenue hotel across from the New York Public Library. When you enter through the restaurant, you'll feel lost, but you walk to the back and down a set of stairs. Listen for the noise and head to the unmarked wooden door. When you open it up, you'll find yourself in a wide-open bar with communal tables and booths along the back wall. The place is dark with an open kitchen that looks almost like a performance space. It feels like a cool space, but the service is friendly and the bar isn't as pretentious as it may seem upon your initial meeting.

Mexican Firing Squad:  Herradura Blanco tequila, lime pomegranate molasses, angostura bitters
Perry Grove: Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin, lemon, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, Peychaud's bitters

Potato Torta. This had a slightly off taste, maybe from some kind of blue cheese.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Aburiya Kinnosuke Lunch Review

Aburiya Kinnosuke seems to have quickly worked its way into my repeat visits list. I had dinner there just the other week, but returned recently to check out the lunch specials, which were supposed to be a good deal. Each day, there is a meat lunch, a fish lunch and a chef's special, of which only eight are available. By the time my dining companion and I arrived at 12:45, the chef's special was gone. The specials all come with soup, rice and dessert.

I decided to go with the fish lunch ($16) which came with two plates — a grilled mackerel and simmered eel cooked with egg. The mackerel was plain and simple and extremely fishy, but right up my alley. I loved the eel which was topped by scrambled eggs mixed in with a slightly sweet soy sauce (perhaps the eel sauce that often coats eel in sushi). The set also came with a small plate of pickles and a bowl of jellyfish, providing crunchy counterparts to the fish.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lincoln Review

Lincoln is a new restaurant that opened at Lincoln Center about a month ago in a glass-encased structure among other recent glass-building additions to the arts complex. The restaurant is the product of chef Jonathan Benno, who left his job as chef of Per Se to strike out on his own. There seemed to be much anticipation for its opening, so I was surprised to land a prime-time reservation after calling just a couple of days beforehand.

As you are led into the dining room, you pass a glass wall that affords a clear view into an orderly kitchen.

The space is lovely, with wood-paneled, sloping ceilings and glass walls. The chairs smartly swivel out to greet you and swing you back into place at the table.

The meal started off with bread sticks seasoned with oregano and chili; flat rectangular crackers coated in pork fat and Parmesan, and square crackers with olive oil, white sesame and parsley. They were nice snacks to munch on as we tried to figure out just what to order, which turned out to be harder than expected.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Small Bites

- Jean-Georges Vongerichten plans on selling his sodas at Union Square beginning early next year.

- An interview with restaurateur Danny Meyer on the 25th anniversary of his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe.

- T Magazine's Peter Meehan shares the current status of his relationship with Chinatown.

- Some people don't view foodies favorably.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Recent Eats

Lunch at Lazarra's Pizza. The lunch special fried calamari sandwich with a spicy red sauce. I liked that the breading wasn't thick, but the sandwich was a bit on the bland side, not to mention quite messy, and the calamari wasn't tender enough.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Essex Street Market to Open on Sundays

Besides eating, one of my favorite food-related activities in my free time is exploring food markets. The Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side is a great one with a combination of produce, meat and seafood stands as well as some specialty food sellers, such as Saxelby Cheese (I recommend you check it out if you haven't been). It's also the site of the great breakfast and brunch spot, Shopsin's. There have been many times I've wanted to take people to eat at Shopsin's or just to the market to explore on a Sunday morning, but unfortunately the market has always been closed on Sundays. It didn't make a lot of sense to me because Sundays seem like a day more people would have time to come out and shop. But beginning next weekend, the market will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

November Flavors Are Here

Shake Shack has packed this month with fruit-based flavors. After voting tomorrow, try out Cranberry Cashew or if you missed out on Pumpkin Pie last month, make it your hump day treat.

Monday: Salted Caramel
Tuesday: Cranberry Cashew
Wednesday: Pumpkin Pie
Thursday: Maple Brown Butter
Friday: Banana Bread
Saturday: Shack Shiraz Poached Pear
Sunday: Apple Caraway

Friday, October 29, 2010

Osteria Morini Review

Mario Batali may be one of the biggest names in Italian food in New York, but Michael White is giving him stiff competition as he builds up a collection of impressive restaurants, including Marea and Alto, two spots I've had great meals at. Now White adds Osteria Morini to that bunch. The Soho restaurant has been open less than a month and it's already a bit of a scene, crowded and noisy. The tables are close together and the tables along the wall awkwardly leave the outside diner in the way of traffic. Yet, the service is surprisingly pleasant (although perhaps not quite attentive enough as there were some minor problems). I was so pleased by the food that it trumped any issues on this evening.

My dining companion and I started with the Sformato, parmigiano-truffle cheese custard with wild mushroom sugo. After asking what we thought, one of the servers mentioned that this had just been added to the menu on this night. I say: Make it permanent. The cheese custard was smooth and creamy and balanced the earthy mushrooms perfectly. I couldn't get enough.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Small Bites

- Providing healthy food in vending machines creates unique challenges.

- The Atlantic gives us the history of candy and Halloween.

- Harold McGee, a sort of food scientist, shares his advice for home cooks with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air.

- In an interesting experiment, Test Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Los Angeles, has chefs cycling through every couple of days, creating a revolving door of menus.

- offers ways to avoid wasting food.

- Blue Hill's New York restaurant begins a menu-free night each month, following the setup of the Stone Barns branch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Restaurant Reviews From Around the Country

- The Boston Globe heads to The Gallows, which I reviewed earlier this year.

- Time Out Chicago reviews The Girl and the Goat, opened by Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Season 4. Years ago I ate at her first restaurant, Scylla, and loved it, so this new one will be high on my list when I next visit Chicago.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sala One Nine Review

Whenever my friends and I are trying to decide what type of food to eat, they tease me about my penchant for tapas. I like variety in my meal and tapas is a good way to achieve that. There are several good places around the city, but Sala One Nine in the Flatiron is a good spot for classic Spanish tapas.

Grilled chorizo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Aburiya Kinnosuke Review

I'd long had Aburiya Kinnosuke, a Japanese restaurant in Midtown East not far from Grand Central, on my list of places to go. My impression of it had always been a serious place with Japanese businessmen; it turned out to be a more mixed crowd but with a very Japanese menu (as in, no chicken teriyaki). The menu is wide-ranging with interesting dishes that will intrigue intrepid eaters and simpler comfort food that would satisfy most. The server was helpful in navigating the book of a menu, which can be overwhelming.

My dining companion and I started with the wasabi leaf, small crunchy stalks that had the distinct sharpness familiar to anyone who has eaten the paste served with sushi. There is a brief moment when you taste the leadup to the spicy kick, but just before it reaches that point, it fades out and you feel relief. 

An appetizer sampler came with pickled jellyfish, pumpkin and more wasabi leaf. When the server realized that we had gotten more of something we had already ordered separately, he kindly offered to bring something else. We got a small portion of simple sweet potato.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Small Bites

- Restaurant noise can affect how you perceive the food you're eating.

- Some are boycotting Campbell Soups after a Canadian branch of the company began labeling some of its soups as halal.

- Restaurants use the Internet to research their customers and provide them with better service.

- New York magazine profiles April Bloomfield, of The Breslin and The Spotted Pig.

- Wal-Mart announces plans to get more involved in sustainable agriculture.

- Washington D.C. public schools institute dinner program to help fight childhood hunger.

- Starbucks experiments with transforming its coffee shops into cafes that would sell alcohol.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recent Eats

I recently returned to Hill Country Chicken. This time I decided to try two Mama Els' drumsticks and a classic thigh with a side of creamy fried mashed potatoes. The Mama Els' recipe, a lighter breading, reminded me of Shake 'n Bake. It was slightly bland; the classic breading has more spice to it. I loved the gooey potatoes, which were essentially mashed potatoes mixed with french fries and cheese.

Dessert at Shake Shack — pumpkin pie custard, a fall classic, tasty as ever.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Per Se Revisited

"Respect for food is respect for life, who we are and what we do."
— Thomas Keller

The way I like to eat — constantly trying a variety of foods and places and always looking for something new— reflects the I way I like to live. I like a hole-in-the-wall that churns out tasty food as much as I like a high-end restaurant that meticulously arranges every element on the plate. In New York City, it's hard to get more high end than Keller's Per Se.

Part of the philosophy behind Per Se is that "a great meal is an emotional experience." I could not agree more. It's part of why those of us who like to eat come to such places, well versed in ceremony and the theater of memorable experiences, when we seek to commemorate or celebrate a moment in time. Yes, we pay for it (or, if we are lucky, others we dine with do). I recently had the great fortune to have such a meal a second time. Three years had passed since my first visit. The menu retained some of the same elements, including the classic oysters and pearls, but the price of the nine-course prix-fixe meal had increased to $275 (although supplemental charges had been reduced, service was still included). Jonathan Benno, the chef de cuisine at the time of my first meal had moved on to open his own restaurant; the kitchen is now led by Eli Kaimeh.

The Per Se philosophy also declares that "a great meal is a kind of journey that returns you to sources of pleasure you may have forgotten and takes you to places you haven't been before." It was indeed a great source of pleasure and ranks among my top meals. But I had not forgotten the first time I was charmed by the impressive cooking. This return could have been a mere repeat, perhaps even less exciting given that some of the elements of surprise would no longer exist, but instead it topped the first. Blissful eating ensued, but there was more than just that, there would be a foray into new territory. Before I get ahead of myself, let me take you through our meal.

My group of dining companions and I were gathered here for another birthday weekend for me. As I browsed the wine list, my dining companions gasped in surprise at the menu. I opened my own and saw that each one had a birthday greeting addressed to me. It seems that the special attention I had received the previous week was carrying over. I was in good company once again and from a lovely table by a window overlooking Columbus Circle we dined with the setting sun and the rising moon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small Bites

- Food trucks in Los Angeles will soon be subject to the same letter grading system as restaurants, perhaps a sign that they are going mainstream. And since New York's restaurant grading system went into effect, the health department tribunal has been a busy place.

- A burrito vendor is mourned in D.C.

- Wearing gloves may give the people who handle our food a false sense of hygiene.

- Photographer Jonathan Blaustein's project, "The Value of a Dollar," tries to bring focus to what food really looks like

- At home on a Sunday with Tim and Nina Zagat, the founders of the Zagat guides.

- Sorbet may be inferior to ice cream, but Scream Sorbet hopes its recipe is one for success.

Craftbar Review

I see nearly every meal as an opportunity to squeeze out a visit to a new place. But there are times when I just need a trusted standby to go back to, someplace I can rely on without thinking or that I can recommend in a pinch. I find myself returning often to Craftbar, one of Tom Colicchio's restaurants in the Flatiron district. It's casual but with a nice atmosphere — there's room between the tables so you can comfortably have a conversation without feeling like everyone around you is participating in it. The prices are reasonable and there's a wide range of foods that should suit most palates. And it has a nice cocktail menu as well if you're looking for more than just wine or beer. The only drawback on a couple of visits was an overenthusiastic waiter. Here was one recent meal.

 Polenta Fritters, Jalapeño, Golden Raisin.
These were a bit like hush puppies. The jalapeños gave the fritters a nice kick.

Heirloom Tomato, Fines Herbes, Aged Balsamic.
This was a large portion of various sweet tomatoes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Close Look at Blue Hill's Tomato Burgers

My recent meal at Blue Hill Stone Barns included the tomato burgers as one of several starters. I only now came across a blog post on the T Magazine site detailing how these burgers come together. The version I tried was slightly different still, but I love discovering how things I've tried were made. The post includes an adapted recipe for intrepid home cooks.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Bar Boulud Review

Daniel Boulud has established a large collection of restaurants, nearly all of which sport his name or his initials. I've dined at two of Boulud's fancier restaurants, Daniel and Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach, and though the meals were good, there were drawbacks at both. Lunch at Bar Boulud left me with a similar impression of Boulud's empire as the others had — the food is decent, but not outstanding, not a great sign if you're going to stay afloat among New York's myriad of restaurants.

Though Bar Boulud might be considered less formal than the others, don't be fooled into thinking you're going to be able to taste the esteemed French chef's food cheaply. The prices still represent a white tablecloth dining experience (even outside on the sidewalk) with prices to match. But at lunch, you can stick to the less expensive sandwich section, unless you are looking for heavier meal.

Soupe De Mais: corn and mussel chowder, lovage oil, bacon, potatoes

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Small Bites

- NPR cooks with Diana Kennedy, the "Julia Child of Mexico."

- The Times reviews Ferran, a new book by Colman Andrews about El Bulli chef Ferran Adria.

- A cabbage shortage in South Korea is impacting the supply of the national staple, kimchi, and causing a crisis.

- Complaints that biodegradable bags used by Sun Chips are too noisy mean the company will revert to nondegradable bags.

- The new Michelin ratings for New York City restaurants are out.

- Slate imagines the most expensive meal possible composed of Whole Foods products.

- If you knew what mechanically separated chicken looks like, would you still eat those chicken nuggets? And what does it mean if you like McDonald's Southern Style Chicken sandwich?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Concord Grape Verdict

A Friday night at Shake Shack in October means Concord grape custard. It's an ingredient that used to be seen only in the context of jelly; I'm pleased to see it being used more with other things. But here, the muted gray color of the custard reflected the strength of the flavor — it was mild and just barely detectable. I agreed with a dining companion's assessment that had we not known it was Concord grape, we might have mistaken it for vanilla.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Blue Hill Stone Barns Revist

The seasons had changed, I had grown older —in fact, I had returned to Blue Hill Stone Barns to mark just that, a landmark birthday. But how had the restaurant stood up in the two years since my first visit? My virgin meal took place in early summer, but my return visit would allow me to witness it under the guise of late summer. The season can make a world of difference when the mission of the restaurant relies on fresh, local food. At Blue Hill, the diner must trust the chef as there is no set menu; the chef decides how to compose your meal from what is available at on the farm or from nearby sources. Because of this, a chef must be versatile and able to adapt to changing limitations. The ingredients from which your meal is drawn might determine just how much you enjoy the meal. It was essential to me that my group was an eat-anything crowd —more flexibility and range given to the chef, higher chances to see his full creativity, just a naked look at what might be inspiring him on this night.

In place of the traditional menu, there is the list of possible ingredients, the roulette wheel from which our dinner would be constructed. You can return to Blue Hill and never have the same meal twice (even if you eat more than once in the same season) because the list of ingredients is long, many of which will be unfamiliar to most.

The Concord: fresh concord grape juice, gin, juniper berries

Friday, October 01, 2010

Vandaag Review

Vandaag is muscling its way into the European offerings of the East Village. It has been open for only a couple of months, and though The New York Times has already dropped two stars on it, my take is that the place needs a little more time to work on its promising menu and to refine its spotty service.

The restaurant employs the tactic often associated with fancier restaurants of starting with an amuse bouche and ending with a small end-of-the-meal sweet bite. But in a very European manner, there is no complimentary bread to start; you can pay $6 for it if you covet your carbs. Several different servers took their turns stopping at our table, confusing themselves in the process over what had or hadn't already been taken care of.


B-Side Sling (left): Bols Genever, Roobis infused Vermouth, lemon, maraschino & bitters
Pack Mule: Strawberry Peppercorn Akvavit (this had a strong peppery punch), ginger, Pimms, lemon & Campari

Chinaski: Akvavit, Cynar, lemon & apricot syrup with sparkling Gruner & celery twist