Tuesday, October 28, 2008


went to the "chefs/foodies talking about celebrity" panel discussion at the astor center. speaking: mitchell davis from the james beard foundation, andrew carmellini, gwen hyman (his wife), gail simmons (food and wine/top chef) and david chang. moderated by darra goldstein of gastronomica.

let's first start out with the fact darra sucks as a moderator. word to the wise for anyone planning a panel discussion, do not pick as a moderator someone who LOVES to hear themself talk. moderators are meant to disappear into the ether. we're supposed to forget they're there. we are NOT supposed to listen to them asking questions that aren't questions but grand statements. we are NOT supposed to hear them interject and interrupt constantly with useless banter. 

that being said, it was still a fairly enjoyable discussion. darra opened with the terrible, AWFUL proposition that people are now going to cooking school to be famous. i've never heard something so stupid in my life. since palin's last interview. carmellini and chang both agree they got into the business because they liked actually cooking. eureka! that they're not trying to be famous, that fame is annoying, that they're there to cook. the end. what was discussed less was the fact that unless you have a bunch of people following you around and being all culty, you won't get anywhere in this business. backers won't hand money to a chef unless that chef has acquired a following from somewhere. 

davis pointed to the origination of this culty stuff as being the time when chefs started putting their names on doors. "before that, it was all about coming from l'ecole." since then, chefs have started stepping out, making names for themselves. 

again with a lame question from darra: is it harder for you to cook now that people know more about food and food preparation? she listed as an example, two books devoted entirely on knife skills. chang, wisely, "just because you have a book about knife skills doesn't mean you have them." an answer that sounded brilliant after the stupidity of the question. and again, the chefs reminded us that they cook the food they cook because it's what they want to do, not because it's what people want. 

but it's true that eating, and the profile among chefs and restaurants has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. gwen discussed the reactions of shame she'd get when she told people she was dating a cook. that the only cooking shows on television were julia child re-runs. the best line of the evening, because it was both funny and true, came from carmellini: "now, people are taking pictures of their food. you bring over a scallop and they will twitter: 'there's too much salt in my scallop.' seriously." 

another smart line from davis: "knowing where the best taco truck is gives you a certain social capital." that is T.R.U.E. i am positively more popular and cooler amongst my friends because i stay so attuned to the food scene in new york. it helps that i also hang out with people who make enough money to actually go out to eat on a regular basis. i imagine we belong to a fairly small subset in terms of being able to afford caring about shit like what chef is moving where. and luckly my attorney's salary leaves me more than enough to eat out with often. 

on the shift from white tableclothes to a place like ko that has zero service and hard stools: chang discussed what seemed like a defining moment in his career when working at a restaurant that was trying to get 3 stars, he was told that, in order of importance, food came third after service and wine. he said he remembered being really aggitated that food had dropped so low as a priority at a restaurant. and i don't disagree with his resentment though i'm still of the opinion that superior service elevates good food to a level that is just beyond. 

rocco dispirito came up several times as someone who epitomizes the "fameball chef". gail recounted a story that a friend had told her about a conversation that friend had had with rocco. how is that for a huge load of hearsay! but i'll recount it here anyhow. rocco was asking what he could do to re-gain the respect of the food community. the person told him he needed to get back in the kitchen and, you know, cook. rocco's supposed response? "but why would i do that? right now, i make 15 times more money, work 15 times less and have a nicer life with more time to do what i want" the moral of this story is that chefs work long hours, don't get paid nearly enough and the work is damn hard. and that rocco is a pussy. also, i could get better plastic surgery in tiajuana than whatever the hell he had done to his face. off topic but i'm just sayin.

the one complaint that carmellini and chang seemed to have is that the plethora of kids coming out of cooking schools these days seem not to understand that there is a hazing process that one needs to get through. a precedent that needs to be followed if you want to make it into this world. i think the cooking shows, the accesibility make people think that if they like to cook and have money for cooking school that that's enough. wrong answer. memo to new chefs...you have to work your way up, preferably starting washing dishes or slicing potatoes, just like every other damn chef that came before you. also, don't bother asking for a day off. and don't expect to work less than 90 hours a week either. and if you think you'll get this job for more than 25K a year, you must be kidding. 

there was some discussion of cost/benefit analysis and how a chef needs to also be a businessman. which reminds me i need to sift through my el bulli book to find out how the fuck that place stays alive when they have a 2 to 1 ratio of staff members to patrons. does the guy have donors? it blows my mind. the cost of the meal cannot cover running costs. 

chang talked about how much he despised ko's open kitchen which surprised me, mostly because i think it's a huge draw, especially since, as the discussion was based on, chefs are celebrities these days and people are worshipping at their temples. if i'm not getting comfort and i'm not getting service, having that interraction and getting to watch substantial. not that the food isn't good enough for the visit alone (it is) but is it worth the price and an aching ass if i had to sit and look at a blank wall instead? so i actually raised my had to ask about it, but i think i said something like, "how could ko exist without an open kitchen?" and i admittedly used the wrong words. i maybe should have phrased it more like, "do you think it would be as successful without an open kitchen?" so dave gave the extremely unsatisfying answer of, "we had no choice, it had to be an open kitchen. there was no option." which didn't at all address the question i'd meant to ask. 

and he claims he remembers me having come in but i doubt that's true. i never introduced himself, nor exchanged words with him that i remember. we mostly had common conversation with pete who was being lovely and chatty once people left the joint. but then he made a comment about how he's working on the service which made me think he connected me at sight to this blog (since i've absolutely complained about how much i could tell the chefs HATED having to place a dish on the counter in front of me). that would be weird since there are about 5 people in the world who i don't know personally but who would know i wrote here if they saw me. it's a mystery.

at the end of the day if chefs are to be called celebrities, it's because people admire what they do and enjoy the product they produce. my mom fucking loves rahel ray because rachel ray gives her recipes that make her feel like a capable cook. that's justified. and so chang may hate the admirers like myself but i wouldn't be his fan if i thought his food sucked. he should accept the adoration and be thankful for it. there may be people who like him because it's trendy and may not care for his food but those people are few and far between. i adore those who i admire. those who i'm envious of. those who are brilliant at things that i love. and besides politics, there isn't anything in this world i love more than food. i worked jean george's wedding and was on cloud nine for chrissakes. chang is in good company as far as "chefs that im a fan of."

in other news, got yet another rejection letter from el bulli. getting a reservation there is akin to winning the lottery and i am not a lucky person. you could give me 50 scratch off tickets and i wouldn't win $2. suppose i'll try again next year...

Friday, August 29, 2008

blue hill at stone barns

i've been wanting to go to blue hill at stone barns for quite some time. it is what it sounds like: a restaurant in a barn, on a farm. most of the things they serve you they grow and slaughter themselves. for instance, the egg you're served soft atop roasted tomatoes and mixed beans will be plucked from underneath the chicken that morning. they literally call it, "this morning's egg." dan barber (the chef) has a resturant in the city but it's just not the same. conversely, leaving the city (especially without a car) is always a bit of a palaver. but i'd decided that this year, for my birthday, i was going to take myself. i briefly considered eating alone and thought, "i don't want to travel 45 minutes from manhattan by myself so late at night" on the other hand, dinner there is wicked expensive and i didn't want to ask anyone else to spend that kind of money. solution: ask someone and pay for them myself. and who better to go with than justy, my partner in all culinary adventures. my go-to guy for when i get a first night resy at whatever hot spot there is. he always goes with me and who knows if he always wants to spend the money we end up spending at these trendy spots so it seemed just as well that i treat him for going on such an excursion with me. of course, he said he wasn't going to let me pay. and of course i shut up about it and, when justy stepped off to the bathroom,  gave the waiter my card with explicit instructions to let me, and only me, pay. 

the train out to tarrytown was painless and quick. cabs waiting at the trainstation to zip you over to the farm. the room is cavernous but still manages to seem cozy and sleek at the same time. 

the tragedy of the evening was the absolute darkness in which we ate. it was not conducive to any type of photo taking, no matter how much i slowed my shutter down or opened my aperture up. thus, i don't remember half the amuse bouches they brought (there were many, possibly as many as 8). i don't remember all the accompaniments to the meats (and often had a hard time seeing them). and they were aware of the darkness as justin was given a mini flashlight (one of those little guys you pinch that you sometimes find on keychains) in order to peruse the wine list. 

service was impeccable. i don't exaggerate when i say there were 3 people whose sole job it was to watch us and make sure there was nothing we needed, that our water glasses were never more than 1/3rd empty. it was weird being watched so. also, the "head" watcher was taking notes. jotting down times perhaps in order to decide how he wanted to course our meal. maybe to keep track of how many times we chewed before we swallowed. it is a mystery. what i do know is that they were delicate, unobtrusive and we didn't once need anything or look around to ask anyone for anything. whatever we needed just appeared. magic!

justin and i are huge fans for pork belly and so a 1x1inch cube with crispy delightful skin on top was what made me moan loud enough for the people at both tables to hear. other tables on each side of us were getting different foods, which was interesting but also a bit annoying and something i'll have to ask about next time i go. we had turkey, which was fine and good and i was happy with it until i heard the magic words "ricotta gnocchi" being spoken to the table to my right. my eyes grew wide. "did you hear that?!" i whisper to justin. "no," he responds. "they just got ricotta gnocchi! i LOVE ricotta gnocchi!" but alas, no gnocchi was to be found at our table. i thought that maybe they were vegetarians but then they got a fish dish that we also didn't get. so maybe they're that type of vegetarians that eat fish. i'm not sure what that's called but it must have a name. desserts went the same way. someone to my left had something with blueberries. i got some boring chocolate budino. it was a good budino, but it's hard to mess up a chocolate cake with molten center. 

it was also an educational trip. we were exposed to the 13 most popular tomato varieties they grow (of 35, i think) and were shown around a tray and had each one described to us. also, heirloom tomatoes just taste so good. makes me not want to eat any other kind but then i remember i NEED tomatoes in my salad and that i can't expect the deli to carry heirlooms and that i should stop being such an elitist. 

we had a 9pm resy but wanted to catch the 12:12 train back to the city and even though i didn't check my watch once, the dinner moved seamlessly, we weren't rushed and there was a cab waiting at midnight to take us to the train station. a perfect, though expensive evening. next time i need to go during the day. get a tour, see the animals, be able to enjoy the view from inside the restaurant (which had mostly glass walls. 

so i highly recommend this place. also, it makes me feel like i never want to go to ko again. spending the same amount of money for absolutely zero service now seems like the biggest joke ever. peace out chang. i heart you but i'm sticking to ssam bar. 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

graffiti and convivio

graffiti is a gem. it is a teeny place, jehangir mehta is your chef. and your server. and your sommelier. and your waiter. and your busboy. and the guy who washes dishes.

we went there are a group of 10 which, looking back, seems ridiculous. the place is itsy. like, 100 square feet. but somehow, we managed to squeeze in. along with another party of 6, and a couple two-tops. i won't say it wasn't cramped but if we were sardines, we sure were cozy.

jehangir suggested we just let him start sending things over and we were all game. we had the green mango paneer (for every dish, they'll announce what is the savory part, the sweet part and the part that gives the dish some kick), chili pork dumplings, little sliders, duck rolls, chili shrimp and pork buns. and because he knew we were coming for a birthday, he offered to make a birthday cake. it was likely the nicest, most accomodating thing that's ever been done for me at a restaurant.

so 3 hours and 14 bottles of cava later (yes, 14.) we stumbled out of a dinner quite contented.

last week N (a blogger/person so afraid of identification that when people write posts and use his anon blogger name he proceeds to flip the fuck out) and i went out to dinner to belatedly celebrate my birthday. we went to michael white's new place in tudor city called convivio. this place has had a few changes of hands. michael white used to be at fiamma. scott conant was at l'impero. he left to open scarpetta (which i also recently went to and would recommend though i thought it was over-priced but it's in the goddamn meatpacking district so you get what you get) so convivio is in the old l'impero space. got that? let me just say that i fucking hate the east side above 14th st. so if i was going to schlep myself all the way over there, it had better be good. and lo, it was.

$59 for four healthy-sized courses. we would have split all our courses to maximize the tasting effort but N had gotten strep throat. because he made out with a guy. and is, apparently, back in 8th grade because what kind of adults are still getting strep throat from kissing people?! so anywho we had a good bottle of zin which wasn't overly fruity and had a non-existant finish (oh, and was marked up more than i'd have liked), i started with the quail (seved on a skewer, boneless, with tomatoes and porcini mushrooms); got the fusilli next (neapolitan pork shoulder ragu and a cheese sauce made with caciocavallo), the lamb chops (with escarole and white beans) and for dessert, an affogatto (espresso over vanilla gelato). but at that price, dinner was a steal and i can't remember wanting to go straight back to a restaurant the way i was dying to go to this place for a second night in a row...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

ode to eleven madison park

For the past several years, I've made a habit of taking myself out to lunch at Eleven Madison Park for restaurant week. It's how I pat myself on the back, remind myself how sweet life can be.

Those of you not NYC-centered may not know anything about Danny Meyer. In short, he's the city's, neigh the country's, best restaurateur. For a foodie, going to a DM restaurant is akin to great sex. Sex you pay for, though, as more than a few trips his way could possibly leave you bankrupt. (Mr. Meyer is also the man I have to thank for giving me the only decent Chicago dog to be found in this city.)

Of his restaurants, all of which are great, EMP is the one that holds a place in my heart. I've often thought that if I ever get married (to somebody rich) that I'd eschew the traditional wedding and rent the place out so I could have this gem all to myself for 4 or 5 hours. The room is tall and sun-drenched. The colors soft and welcoming. The service? If it weren't so pleasant, it might be downright creepy the way every smile that's directed your way is genuine (or at least faked tremendously well). Walking in means being treated like royalty for the next couple hours. Try not to get used to it though lest the trip out through the revolving door prove too jarring for you as everyone you pass on the sidewalk will not smile and greet you and move out of your way in deference.

I always go alone and I'm never treated like I'm a leper for dining solo. I prefer to go alone, actually, in order to fully enjoy the experience. I'd think dining there with a guest would be like having a masseuse who chats constantly with you during your 1 hour rub-down. It would be distracting. I'm weird, I think. However, I've never dined there for dinner. It's a combination of it being fairly pricey (and so I doubt I'd find someone to eat with me) and the fact that having a some 10 course meal while alone might be overdoing it. 1 hour lunches are cake to handle alone. Plenty of light to read by, etc. 3 hour dinners = a different story. That being said, I'm totally trying to finagle Justy into going with me to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my birthday (though I've already decided that if he won't go, I'm still going to go by myself...out to Tarrytown! Scary!).

Anyway, the food is fantastic. I don't mean that as an afterthought even though it sort of sounds like one. I suppose I just assume that any great restaurant starts with great food. And some end with great food as well,see Ko for an example of that. As much as I enjoy Ko, there's something to be said for the level of service found with good 'ole DM. The pampering. Servers so gentile and comforting that I feel I may want to take them home so they can tuck me into bed the way mother never did. Seeing Danny (as I do every time I go) standing at the edges of the restaurant, surveying his baby with a knowing father's eye, I also kind of want to bring him home too so he can tell me to do my homework or, "no TV before dinner." And I'm not even a student...nor do I watch TV.

I'm rambling. If you're ever in New York, just go. It might hurt your wallet but you won't regret it.

a meal there = happiness.

post script: i've just been informed by my favorite street jewelry seller ricky that dave chang will be on charlie rose tonight! huzzah!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

more chang!

my boy dave chang is taking the country by storm.

i was actually out to dinner with katie and some family friends of hers from bumblefuck. somewhere out in that empty spot between central and upstate new york. katie was making fun of my Ko debacle and the kid says, "oh, david chang! of the noodle place!" and to answer my look of confusion he followed up with, "i read Gourmet."

and now there's a whole profile of the darling in my cherished new yorker.

as if reservations at Ko weren't hard enough to get, now they'll obviously be even worse. 

but i came, i saw, it conquered me. when it did that to me, i knew somehow, it had to be...

so i'll keep trucking. i'd like to try back in another month and maybe i'll get lucky. both with the reservation AND with the cute skinny blond chef with wire-rimmed glasses...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

momofuku ko

so that little eensy restaurant i was giving myself anxiety attacks about?

the clusterfuck that was obtaining a reservation is detailed here, summaryhere. that i got a reservation is a miracle. a bloggy miracle! and i brought poor poor peter on the ride with me. frantic e-mails, begging him to reload the site while i was out if he was going to be home and e-mailing him my credit card info to use to make my resy if i wasn't home for the site debut. not only did he NOT use my card to buy $4,300 worth of escort services, but after the panic of getting the resy he said, "i'm a little spent now. i need a cigarette" (he doesn't smoke) and i knew how he felt. i could have used a massage after the whole ordeal.

justy, not only one of my favoritest friends but also one of the only people who enjoys food as much as i do and doesn't mind spending some money on it, was my date.

food porn can be found here, thanks kathryn for the beautiful photos.

the place was serene and cozy except for the intermittent passersby who stopped in to ask, "how long is the wait for a party of six?" or "can i get a takeout menu?" justin and i smugly chuckled at the ignorance of those foolish people. then we let out a wee evil laugh.

justin and i hadn't had alone time in months so we had a lot of catching up to do. the couples on each side of us barely exchanged words all night which resulted in justin and i being a full 3 courses behind those who sat down AFTER us (we were in the second seating, nobody was waiting for our chairs otherwise, i promise, we would have kept pace), but the chefs took it all in stride. food was every bit as good as i expected it to be. the oysters and pork belly in kimchee consommé was my favorite dish...i think. but then there was the foie that was fluffy as new snow but savory and buttery and melty right when it hit your tongue. i kind of wanted to swim in it, like, all the time. and the amuse of teeny english muffins with pork fat and butter that, later, the chefs topped with slices of boiled egg and caviar as a snack. and just when i thought i might explode, the fried apple pie came and was so much lighter than it looked that i thought i might actually want a second helping.

wine/sake pairings were better than decent. a rioja that i hadn't had before (i didn't know such a thing existed) rocked my world. the sancerre cut just the right way during its course. some house made sparkling malbec? was amazing (though a bit tough on the nose, in the mouth it somehow worked).

justin and i lingered (we were actually the last table to leave) and shot the shit with the chefs. david chang was behind the counter for all of 4.5 minutes of our 3.5 hour dining experience. though the legend wasn't there to entertain (and he's SOOOO not the smiley pillsbury dough boy that he appeared to be on the cover of the dining section this morning, but rather more of a distant slightly cocky thing), the chefs he had in his stead (notice the cute lanky guy with the glasses in the background of aforementioned photo and another delightful shy guy who wasn't in the photo, probably because i bet he'd rather be speared than be featured in a photo in a major newspaper) were collected and graceful. also, ridiculously friendly.

afterwards, we sat around with chang (who seemed infinitely looser and happier sans patrons) and the other chefs for a bit. JW black on the rocks in hand, we chatted about the ease with which their first night was executed. snacks were made, things tidied, budweisers consumed. one chef was a bit disappointed that i knew what every course was going to be before it came but, seriously, anyone who had the ambition/luck/unbridled obsession to get a resy at this place HAD to have known a million intimate details about the spot first. in fact, at one point, i reminded them all what their day off was. "it's tuesday, not monday! and i'm a freak that i actually know that, sorry."  when all is said and done, i enjoyed that we were normal people, not critics or people with "ins", and were still able to dine there on their very first night. huzzah to democracy in action! i'd also like to take some time to thank my right hand index finger. without its rapid taps on that F5 button, i wouldn't be here telling this story today.

in all, an incredible night that i wish i could do over and over again. and would, if it weren't for the cost and the fact i'd look like a beached whale in a matter of weeks on that diet. i'll certainly be going back but i'll give them a few weeks to rotate the menu a bit. no sense in duplicating courses...(that is assuming i'll ever be able to get a reservation ever again).

you can't see me but i have a very content grin on my face at the moment and doubt it's going anywhere any time soon. and luckily for me, neither is Ko.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

why i'm crushy on dave chang

check out his posts over at eater.com

he's obviously talented, if he has a huge ego he has enough tact to appear self-effacing (in public, at least), is very funny and extremely hard working.

but, he's a chef. and i kind of love chefs, but i these days prefer to like them from afar. they're just impossible to date. you never see them and even when you do, you never want them to cook for you, seeing as they do too much of it during the day as it is. for as good as you know they are with their hands, they can be clumsy in bed. and for as much as i like cooking, there's nothing that makes me feel more inadequate than cooking for someone who actually knows how to do it. (i will note that i make some awesome lentil soup. and braised lamb shanks are SO my thing.) 

but we both really love pork. and, in the end, isn't that what really matters?

eater dropped the news today that he'll be leaving his places in capable hands while he pursues other ventures. he claims he'll still be in the kitchen, but i think the days are numbered on my secret fantasy of him sending out some comped hamachi and asking me out to dinner during a late night visit to ssam bar. 

sigh. we'll always have pork.