Yet Another List: Best Dishes of 2013

Buckwheat soufflé at Saison.

Buckwheat soufflé at Saison.

Only a handful of my favorite dishes of the year made it onto our JBF roundup, so I thought I would flesh out a list of my dining highlights of 2013. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have eaten a lot of things this year—to which the pinching of my waistband would attest—many of them super delicious. Not all of them made it to this list for a variety of reasons, not the least of which might be my hands were too greasy to pull out my phone and take a photo or a note. Here, in no particular order, are the ones that I wrote down. Not all are from places that opened this year, let’s be clear. I have no particular interest in “new,” only “yum.” Let’s hope that 2014 is full of an equal amount of yumminess, too.

I will admit to mildly dreading my first ever meal at San Francisco’s Coi. I was worried it would be long and Daniel Patterson’s food would be too intellectually challenging to be fun. Instead of the ordeal we expected, dinner at Coi was a total blast and the food was totally yummers. Exciting is a better (an actual) word. Of all the beautiful and delicious things we were served that night, the Dungeness crab soup with roots, blood lime, and black tea stood out. If we could have squeezed the bowl to get more umami-rich broth, we would have.

Midtown Manhattan is full of pseudo French restaurants that look exactly like Brasserie Cognac. Pay them no mind. Instead overcome your instinct to pass by this one at Broadway and 55th and plan a breakfast or an early meeting here. During the 10 months or so we lived in Midtown this year waiting for our new apartment to be renovated, this became our go-to place to start the day. And among the memorably buttery French things in the pastry basket, the delicate orange brioche always put a smile on my face.

Vegetable medley at Central Kitchen

Vegetable medley at Central Kitchen

I spent a lot of 2013 eating in San Francisco, always a good food city, but only recently an exciting place to eat. One of the most memorable meals I had this year was at Central Kitchen, where chef Thomas McNaughtan’s use of local vegetables was at once contemporary and creative. One particular vegetable medley (pictured) tasted of the summer harvest and represented his elegant touch.

There’s always something implausibly delicious put in front of you during a meal at Atera in Tribeca. This year, a stand out among chef Matthew Lightner’s creations was a generous dollop of caviar, whose briny blackness was enriched by squid ink and complemented by the grassy flavor of black walnut.

The anniversary dinner Nate and I enjoyed at Alinea was, of course, full of playful surprises. Edible apple balloons, anyone? Most striking among them, though, was Continue reading

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Eating Notes from a Recent Visit to Florence

Tortino with artichokes and white truffles at Buca dell'Orafo

Tortino with artichokes and white truffles at Buca dell’Orafo

If I add it up, I think I’ve spent about a full year’s worth of time in Florence over the last 20 years or so. About six months of that time I must have spent eating. And Florence’s food offerings still charm me with old favorites and new finds. In town a few weeks ago to give a keynote address at the conference Florence: A City of Many Appetites, on the 500th anniversary of the publication of Machiavelli’s The Prince, I was able satiate my own appetites between panels and presentations in a few of my favorite haunts.

First, a few notes on trends spotted on this visit:

Seasonal persimmon gelato at Vestri

Seasonal persimmon gelato at Vestri

Likely due to the economic realities of Italy right now and the outsize success of a few popular holes in the wall, panini shops have taken hold of Florence like cupcake shops in Manhattan. There used to be a few famous places—my favorites were Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale, I Fratellini, by the Duomo, and Antica Noe near the gelateria Vestri—but now you see one on every block. What is sad is that only a few are busy. One, All’Antico Vinaio, is so busy it must be the inspiration for everyone’s hope. Everyone presumes that those that are the busiest must have the best sandwiches and the freshest ingredients. But you really never know. The popular are just the ones most written about.

Also new to me this trip are the glass boxes outside ristorantes and caffès on historic piazzas, which seem to have replaced tents to protect “outdoor” tables and chairs. Especially at night, these illuminated cubes seem like elegant cages in which to view gesticulating Italians having a good time. These see-through cubes may have been a function of the season (we were visiting in November), but sitting inside any of them on the warm, sunny days we were fortunate to have was not appealing.

Food

Buca dell’Orafo
Via dei Girolami, 28r
Tel. +39-055 213619
This is my favorite restaurant in town. Maybe my favorite restaurant in Italy. Nate’s, too. It’s right near the Ponte Vecchio, in a covered alleyway that leads to the Uffizi. It’s an old place, but locals I know wouldn’t go near it because of the location—too touristy—until a gastronomically trustworthy friend insisted. The restaurant, run by Giordano Monni, is tiny and attracts mainly a local crowd. Totally seasonal, classic and creative Tuscan dishes are all prepared with care, most better than anywhere else I’ve had them. From the fritto misto of vegetables to the bistecca alla fiorentina, to the pastas, the soups, and desserts, everything I’ve ordered (which is just about everything) has been great. Other favorites include the tortino (omelet), which is sometimes made with porcini, sometimes artichokes, white truffles in season. The tortino’s delicious flavor and creamy texture defy its few basic ingredients, eggs, olive oil, salt, vegetables. If your are a fan of anchovies, order the classic Jewish Italian dish of plump, anchovies, grilled bread and butter. The pastas are all perfect. Gnudi (ricotta dumplings in browned butter with sage) were excellent, gnocchi were light and delicate. And the secondi are all deeply satisfying, particularly the signature gropa scalopata (layers of rare grilled beef with pecorino, black pepper, fried herbs and olive oil). Desserts, a chocolate cake or a poached pear, are also lovely. And get a bowl of bocconcini Dai Dai, little bites of vanilla semi freddo covered in chocolate and hand wrapped in paper from an artisanal gelateria in a small town not far away. We went to Buca dell’Orafo twice in four days and were sorry we didn’t go more.

All’Antico Vinaio di Firenze
Via de’ Neri, 65
Tel. +39-055 2382723
We finally broke down and got on line with 25 or 30 others to try this, the most popular panini shop in Florence. You will know this place when you arrive because there is always a line and crowds of people crouching on the street eating oversized sandwiches. (Nate called it “the Artichoke Pizza of Florence.” I think it may be more like Magnolia Café.) The hordes come because this former hole in the wall has received a lot of Trip Advisor recommendations (the most in the world, in fact) and because they won a televised street food competition. And honestly, it’s pretty good. They stuff salumi or porchetta sliced to order into warm schiacciata (Tuscan focaccia) and condiment it with spreads of artichoke or eggplant or cheese, and top it with marinated eggplant, sliced tomatoes, and whatever else you want. For five euros the oversized sandwiches are a deal, even if the wait is taxing. Pour your own wine, honor system, two euros for all you can drink.

Club del Gusto
Via De’ Neri, 50/r
Tel. +39-348 0903142
Funny to be recommending this tiny tripe restaurant that’s across the street from All’Antica Vinaio (see above). We went in looking for a quick plate of pasta, assuming that a tripe shop would really only cater to locals, which it does. And the pastas, made to order by the owner, who chops the garlic and squishes the tomatoes once he hears what you are having, are very satisfying. (To me, it’s like the Shopsin’s of Florence.) Rigatoni with pancetta and pecorino were perfectly satisfying. The meatballs in tomato sauce obviously home made and delicious. The surprise is that the primi and secondi are all about five euros apiece. A satisfying lunch for ten euros is a surprise anywhere. That we enjoyed so much is even more shocking. Note, that the exemplary Gelateria dei Neri is just down the street.

Ganzo
Via dei Macci, 85r
Tel. +39-055 241076
Ganzo is an unusual restaurant. Actually, it’s not really a restaurant. It’s a classroom and a private gourmet club run by the students of the Apicius International School of Hospitality. It’s open for brunch and special dinners and aperitivi for members (anyone can become a member) and there’s usually something interesting going on. It’s run by the students, overseen by their professional chef/instructors, who are being graded while they work and learn. There’s a beautiful outdoor lounge area, and some lovely other sitting environments. Stop by and do your part for hospitality education.

Cocktails

Hotel Continentale
Rooftop Bar
Vicolo dell’Oro, 6R
Tel. +39-055 27262
Located at the base of the Ponte Vecchio, this outdoor, rooftop lounge has become our favorite place in Florence for cocktails. It’s atop the boutique Continentale hotel, part of the Ferragamo family’s chain. Even the elevator ride is entertaining. An iPad allows you to take selfies on the way up or you can change the ambient music. On the roof the setting is white and chic, the views of Palazzo Vecchio, the Oltrarno, and Brunelleschi’s dome are amazing. The soundtrack is chill. And the drinks are good. The aperitivi snacks used to be more substantial, but this time all we got was a big bowl of olives. Still, a perfect respite, day or night.

Four Season FirenzeAtrium Bar
Borgo Pinti, 99
Tel. +39-055 26261
The Four Seasons has raised the bar, almost too high, that is, too stiff, perhaps, for a sophisticated hospitality environment in Florence. Previously, you had to take a taxi ride up to Villa San Michele if you wanted such a formal setting for a drink. This is just a 10-minute walk from the duomo. It’s not full of Florentines, but it is full of beauty. During the day, the atrium let’s in gorgeous light, and the gardens of the hotel are magnificent. The whole thing is very grown up, piano music, and all, and the cocktails and snacks are, too. The hotel has a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, too, that’s very good, but pricey.

Gelato

Vestri
Borgo degli Albizi, 11r
Tel. +39-055 2340374
No trip to Florence for me is complete without a stop in this chocolate shop cum gelateria. Signore Vestri is a master. Each gelato is superb, with the chocolate-based ones bordering on sublime. Chocolate mint, chocolate cinnamon, chocolate orange, and chocolate chili (which has a pleasant kick in the aftertaste), are like eating the frozen center of fine truffles. Pistachio is “Wow!” A friend I led there once commented, “It’s so perfect, it seems French.”

Rivareno
Via Borgo Degli Abizi, 46/r
Tel. +39-055 0118039
There is plenty of good gelato in Florence (Carabè, Gelateria dei Neri, Badiani, Grom, Cantina del Gelato). Like Grom, the new Rivareno is part of a national chain. Also like Grom, the quality is excellent. Of particular note is the pleasingly chewy texture of their gelato. Don’t let the sterile space turn you off. Their dark chocolate is like frozen chocolate pudding. Just down the street from Vestri, it pains me to have to divide my allegiances, but they are both really good.

Caffès/Pasticceria

Caffè Libertà
Piazza della Libertà, 26
Tel. +39-055 474978
This is my favorite caffè in Florence, where you’ll find my favorite pastries in town. It’s a little off the beaten path, north of the center, on the Piazza Libertà, but I think it’s worth the trip, and I always go for one breakfast, at least, and hopefully two. Daily life unfolds in this caffè as you sit under the arcade and watch elegantly dressed women in high heels pull up on their bicycles to grab a cappuccino and a pastry on their way to work alongside workmen taking a break from a nearby construction job. And the pastries and salati (mostly panini) are, I think, the best in the city. Don’t miss the sfoglia, a glazed puff pastry turnover filled with vanilla pastry cream, or sweetened ricotta, or chocolate, or chocolate and pear, that may be the best puff pastry thingamagig I’ve ever had. The Florentine classic budino di riso (rice custard tart) is the best I’ve found in town, too They have decent coffee, too. A great place to sit and watch the real city unfold. And they are open (and very busy) on Sundays.

Fedora
Via Guelfa, 116
Tel. +39-055 2658135
Like Ganzo, this jewelbox of a pasticceria is operated by students of the Apicius International School of Hospitality. It’s overseen by pastry chef Simone de Castro, and the quality and beauty of the offerings, not to mention the environment, are on par with the best in town. Maybe better.

One final note, this trip I was intrigued by a new, expensively renovated place near Santa Croce called Cucina Torciacoda. It turned out to be only one month old and not one but five separate food operations in one: a pizzeria, an osteria, a ristorante, a gelateria, and a shop. It  clearly cost a fortune to remodel, and I thought we should check it out. We had lunch in the Osteria. DON’T. It was horrible and will forever go down in history as the only time I’ve been served pasta in Italy that was inedible. Gloppy and disgusting. We regretted we wasted an entire meal time.

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What I Did (Or Rather, Ate) In Tokyo This Summer

Part of the squid snack collection at Muji

Part of the squid snack collection at Muji

OK, so if you follow me on Twitter (@kitchensense), you know that I am in love with Japan. Actually, I love Tokyo more than anything, but the food culture everywhere in Japan is so intense that I can’t seem to get enough. This was my sixth trip. I can’t wait to go back. (This was only Nate’s second trip, and he’s right there with me, though sometimes he finds Tokyo a little overwhelming. And he’s given up trying to like uni.) The problem is that each time I return I want to go to my favorite places from previous visits, but I also feel compelled to try new places that everyone’s talking about. This requires a lot of eating. Usually people go to Japan and lose weight. I gain it.

We are fortunate to have some very close Japanese friends who love to eat and who—more importantly—aren’t afraid to ask even the most ridiculously naïve and sometimes embarrassing questions for their gaijin friends. (That would be us.) This means we are able to have many experiences that we could never have on our own, such as a Kumamoto-style kushiage restaurant where you sit cross legged, the vegetables are listed on the menu with their names in local Kyushu dialect, and the server fries your skewers in a gas-fired, cast-iron cauldron of oil in the center of your table. (It also means our friends can overhear the conversations at the tables next to us, which in the kushiage case included two different tables of men having dinner with hostesses-for-hire.) We eat high and low, from the fanciest mountain kaiseki restaurant (at the Takefue ryokan, for example) to the most ordinary bento or curry chain (there’s almost always a Hotto Motto or CoCo Icihibanya nearby). I’m not afraid to have a meal from a local combini (convenience store), either.

We are also fortunate to have some western friends who once lived in and now visit Japan often so we can get up-to-date details on trends that might be of interest to westerners. I cannot thank Shun and Hidde and Rashid and Marcus enough for all of their help and guidance. We wouldn’t have had half the fun or delicious food had we been left on our own. Here are some of the highlights of our recent trip—new finds and old favorites.

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(Note: At the end of this list of recommendations there are a couple of bonus travel tips that will improve your experience in Japan many fold. But you’ll have to read through to the end to get them.)

(Also Note: You can listen to my visit to Tsukiji Fish Market with a famous Japanese chef, a wholesale fish distributor and a translator on an episode of my radio show Taste Matters.)

Waraku
Tokyo-to Shibuya-ku Shinsen-cho 10-2, Dai-Go Okazaki Bldg. B1F
Tel 03-3461-7871

On our first night, just after our arrival from Narita, our friend Hidde whisked us away to a tiny rathskeller of an izakaya (drinking restaurant) in the ‘hood near his home in Shibuya. It was a lovely welcome. Highlights included a delicious salty sauté of mushrooms and peppers, pork and ginger (a common stir-fry on menus around town), a haystack of garlicky sautéed bean sprouts, sweet grilled fish, fried chicken wings, and ice cold nama (draft) beer. One dish, tuna yukke, we saw on several menus during our trip. It’s raw tuna dressed with soy and sesame and topped with raw egg you mix in before eating that is based on a Korean raw beef dish. Yukke made with beef was outlawed in Japan in 2011 after a deadly outbreak of food-borne illness. Don’t let that scare you. The tuna version has become very popular, almost a trend, and is super yummy.

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Dining + Design: Watch Andrew Carmellini Chat with Roman & Williams

The second installment of the James Beard Foundation‘s Dining+Design series of talks with The New School took place on Monday, May 22, 2013. The conversation, between JBF Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini of The Dutch and Lafayette and celebrated architects Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the husband-and-wife team behind Roman and Williams Architects. The conversation was moderated by professor Fabio Parascoli, director of The New School’s food studies program.

On the scenography of restaurant design: “Just like in film, there’s a script, and everyone knows the intentions. And you have to set that scene.”

On messing with convention: “There’s a lot of common thinking…but sometimes you have to erase some of the common knowledge from your head to make a great restaurant.”

On a chef’s dream restaurant vs. reality: “The dream chef restaurant is 40 seats in the middle of a garden only open for dinner time. In  NYC the fiscal reality of that is often different. It’s all about real estate in New York. You have to design and cater to the space that you get. “

Watch the complete conversation.

The third and final conversation in this series, between me, David Chang and Drew Salmon of Momofuku and Anwar Mekhyeckh of the The Design Agency will be held Monday, June 10. See details. 

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Some Food Highlights from My Recent Trip to Paris

Just back from France and up early from jet lag, so I thought I’d jot down some of the culinary highlights of the trip. We had about 4 days in Paris that bookended a week in the Dordogne. I did most of the cooking in the Dordogne, as we were staying in a beautiful home overlooking the valley with not one but two kitchens. Shopping in French country markets, cooking for a group of food lovers is really paradise for me. But not much to share, besides a few recipes it would be hard to repeat.

With only a few days, in Paris we wandered the streets like fish swimming from food source to food source. The first night we arrived in Paris we were back in the ample, accommodating and very reasonable Hotel de Sèvres, in a great location on the left bank (1 block from La Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marché, which I always visit no matter where I’m staying). On the way home from the Périgord, we spent two nights in a lovely apartment through AirBNB  in the 3rd arrondissement, on the border of the 11th. It was a great location in the center of a dynamic neighborhood, teaming with new, creative shops, designers, galleries, restaurants and food shops. I’d highly recommend it. We enjoyed exploring what seemed to us to be the Brooklyn of Paris, with all the excitement and style, and within walking distance to the Louvre and almost everything y0u want to see.

Some trends we noted were les cupcakes sont arrivés, mon dieu!. Baby choux creams have taken over the pastry shops, and with too much fondant and soggy pâte à choux, they weren’t very good (I prefer them in Japan). There’s been a slew of  one-item stores that have opened up selling jams, olive oils, teas, and other specialties. Despite France’s recession, Paris seemed lively and dynamic. We had a great, delicious time, comme d’habitude. 

My recommendations appear after the mosaic of photos.

Restaurant Jadis
208 rue de la croix Nivert, 75015
Tel: 01.45.57.73.20
A charming bistrot which reaches back into French culinary traditions to present a contemporary and very satisfying meal. (Nate’s first frogs’ legs were enjoyed here.) It’s a little out of the way, but worth the trek. It’s so off the beaten path the owner asked how we found it. (Thanks for the tip Art of Eating.) We were glad we did.

Spring
6 rue Bailleul, 75001
Tel: 01.45.96.05.72
Daniel Rose is an American chef working in Paris who has created a sensation for his simple, elegant, satisfying, seasonal cooking at Spring. His newer location has a whopping 40 seats, so you stand a chance of getting it. It is convenient, just off the Rue du Rivoli, and worth a visit.

La Chambre Aux Confitures
60 rue du Vielle Temple, 75003
We stumbled into this shop because of the crowd that was standing around tasting jams. Just 2 years old, this shop was fun and exciting. The flavors of jams and honeys and chutneys and chocolats fondants was staggering. You can taste them all, box them up and give them as gifts. Although there is and always will be a special place in my heart for Christine Ferber, Lise Bienaimé has created something noteworthy.

La République Pâtissière
57 rue de Saintonge, 75003
Tel: 09.50.40.41.41
Another shop we wandered into, this is actually a pastry cooperative, a retail space shared by four creative, young pastry chefs, who also share a production kitchen in another location. The four are B[n]S Kitchen, L’Angelique, Mademoisselle Proust, and Choo. The shop was lovely, as was the staff. Pretty tasty stuff, too. Particularly surprised by how delicious the mustard collection of macarons was (violet moutarde de Brive, Coleman’s and wasabi flavors).

Méert
16 rue Elzévir, 75003
Another stumble-on, this beautiful, faux-marble chocolate and sweet shop drew us in. Though we didn’t totally love all the chocolates, we did love the baked goods, which included a palet de chocolat and palet dames (together, like a black and white cookie, only better) , a superb financier au chocolate, and a picture-perfect and delicious brioche (which we brought home with us.)

La Grande Epicerie de Bon Marché
28 rue de Sèvres, 75007
I always come here when I’m in Paris to check out the selection of items from around the country and around the world. They also have the best price on Christine Ferber’s jams, though the selection of flavors is somewhat limited.

Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte, 75006
Even though we did a taste test this time with like items from Ladurée, and some of Hermé’s lost, I still love this shop and manage to arrive there somehow at least once a day (sometimes that’s because Nate is navigating). His current “fetish” this time was St. Honoré, and we had classique, chocolate, and lemon, which we loved.

Marché des Enfants Rouges
39 rue de Bretagne, 75003
A fun, covered market with cheap and delicious ethnic eats (Tunisian, Lebanese, Asian) and shops. It was great to walk through. Young, trendy clientele. Hope to come back with more time to explore more. There’s a lovely Provencal olive oil shop there, too, that had some great oils and other products.

Marché Bastille Richard Lenoir
Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 75001
Sunday mornings it’s a must to go to this lively street market, considered the largest in Paris, with a terrific selection of produce of all kinds, from meats and cheeses, to vegetables, fish, Italian items, and specialties from southwest France. The seafood at Lorenzo (at the top of the market) is unmatched in quality. Since most restaurants are closed Sunday nights, we picked up a superb picnic and made dinner ourselves.

Télescope
5 rue Villedo, 75001
Coffee’s third wave has hit Paris in this charming shop in the vicinity of the Bourse. It feels a lot like Brooklyn or Portland in there, only the style of the staff and guests is a little better. The slow pace is the same. And the coffee is excellent. We never managed to get to The Broken Arm in our neighborhood when it was open, but we had high hopes for it, too. Next time, for sure.

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More Talk with Great Chefs, Designers and Others: Join Me at these Upcoming Events

Spring has sprung and so has the season for conversations with great chefs and other experts engaged in making cuisine a culturally resonant  art form. Join me for these upcoming talks with great chefs, designers, architects, ethicists, and others working to improve and elevate our experience of eating. Mark your calendars!

calendar_icon2May 31, noon
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
Trust: In Our Restaurants and in Our Food System

A conversation about the importance and role of trust drawn from the theme of the 2012 JBF Food Conference. With JBF Award Winners Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia and Star Provisions and Linton Hopkins of Eugene, plus Karen Karp of Karp Resources and ethicist Paul Root Wolpe of Emory University.

June 6, 6:30 pm
American Museum of Natural History
Adventures in the Global Kitchen: Exotic Flavors in Fine Dining
A conversation and tasting about the many immigrant influences on NY cuisine with JBF Award Winners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad.

June 10, 6 pm
The New School
Dining + Design: Conversations with Chefs & their Designers
An exploration of the relationship of food and design with JBF Award Winner David Chang and business partner Drew Salmon of Momofuku and designer Anwar Mekhayech of The Design Agency.

June 19, 6:30 pm
The Tenement Museum
Cooking Italian in Today’s NYC
Conversation with JBF Award Nominees Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties, and Parm

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Talking Food and Design with the Team Behind Blue Hill and Stone Barns

first-panel

Dan Barber, Mitchell Davis, Laureen Barber, Susan Ungaro, Peter Guzy, and Fabio Parasecoli (Photo by Clay Williams)

JBF Award winning chef Dan Barber, his sister-in-law and Blue Hill creative director, Laureen Barber, and JBF Award–nominated architect Peter Guzy gathered at the New School on April 22 for a conversation about the relationship between dining and design. Moderated by myself, the conversation was the first installment of Dining + Design, a joint series between the James Beard Foundation and the New School. (You can watch the panel here.) Guzy, who designed both the diminutive original Blue Hill on Washington Place in Manhattan and the stately Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County’s Pocantico Hills, explained how the successful architecture of a restaurant is an extension of the narrative of the cuisine.

Citing an essay in Eating Architecture by professor Marco Frascari,… read more on the JBF blog…

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