Category Archives: Restaurant Report

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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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Pride & Gastro-Chauvinism in the Global Kitchen

This piece was written for the program at Terroir 7, a symposium on food and hospitality in Toronto. It was the topic of a panel I organized with Montreal Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman, Guardian critic and World’s 50 Best co-founder Joe Warwick from England, Toronto chef Tobey Nemeth of Edulis, and husband-and-wife restaurateurs Rae Bernamoff and Noah Bernamoff of Mile End in NYC. The panel and the subject were reported on by Ann Hui in the Globe & Mail.

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The panel at Terroir Symposium 7. From left, Rae Bernamoff, Noah Bernamoff, Tobey Nemeth, Joe Warwick and Lesley Chesterman. Photo by Kate Krader (@kkrader) of Food & Wine.

In the increasingly global world of gastronomy, chefs criss-cross continents like rock stars on tour. As manufactured destinations, Las Vegas and Dubai welcome outposts of famous chefs to help them establish food cultures they can call their “own.” But even cities with dynamic restaurant scenes have become landing pads for gourmet globetrotters building empires of fine-dineries that stretch around the world.

From one perspective, the arrival of an acclaimed chef from another city can validate the local food culture. So important on the world’s dining map is this place or that, an epicurean empire can’t be complete without an opening here or there. But from another perspective, the arrival of a famous chef in town to lay down restaurant roots can smack of culinary patronization.

In the midst of a trend toward local ingredients, how are diners to view the arrival of foreign chefs on the local scene?

In an interview with Food & Wine magazine, French critic François Simon of Le Figaro famously called out the ever-expanding Alain Ducasse, describing the celebrated French chef as “a sleek atomizer—spritzing his brand over you from a plane on his way to New York or Hong Kong.” But long before Ducasse, French chefs found their way abroad, to Japan most notably, a place with an incredibly rich and discerning food culture. None of those chefs lost their luster. In fact, having a deal in Japan came to be a mark of success for certain practitioners of the Nouvelle Cuisine.

Of late, Toronto has received the attention of two famed chefs from New York City, the beloved reactionary Asian-fusion chef David Chang, whose Momofuku empire practically doubled in size with the opening of three restaurants and a cocktail lounge in the new Shangri-La downtown, and Daniel Boulud, who brought his beloved Café Boulud from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the new Four Seasons flagship in Yorkville.

Whether you think these are the greatest restaurants the city has ever seen—as critic Chris Nuttall-Smith deemed Momofuku Shoto in his review for the Globe & Mail—or you think they have a lot of improving to do—as critic Amy Pataki concluded about Café Boulud in her review for the Toronto Star—the question of how to feel about these newcomers is complex.

Toronto’s longtime love affair with New York City complicates matters further. Writing on her blog for Montreal”s Gazette, critic Lesley Chesterman weighed in decisively, “Did it really take a chef based in New York who was handed millions to play with to put the Toronto restaurant scene ‘back on the map?’…To me, the idea…is an embarrassment.”

How do you view these events? An embarrassment or evidence of having arrived on the culinary map? Don’t decide until you hear me, Chesterman, and our other special guests discuss this topic during what is sure to be a fascinating panel conversation.

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Some of the Best Food I Ate in 2012

Every holiday season we poll James Beard Foundation staff for the best dishes they enjoyed during the year to write a post on the Foundation’s blog Delights & Prejudices. In anticipation, I keep a running list on my iPhone. I am fortunate to be able to enjoy plenty of delicious food. Too much, really. More than can fit on any list, in fact, and only one or two ever make it onto the composite JBF post. Funnily, this is the first year I realized that I could write my own list and publish it on my blog. Duh! The process is wholly unscientific. On the one hand, you can presume that if I actually remembered to pull out my phone and record something I ate, it truly stood out. But it’s possible I was simply eating alone or bored at the table and therefore had time to jot down it down. I know there are wonderful things that were set before me that are missing from this list.

radio

This beautiful fish dish from Radio in Copenhagen didn’t find it’s way onto the list. It was certainly delicious, but I didn’t write down the details.

Where’s lunch at Le Bernardin? The Cochon 555 Competition? My dinners at Torrisi and Daniel and Blanca and Northern Spy and Brushtroke and Eleven Madison Park? Anything from my memorable meals in Copenhagen? The bread from Bien Cuit? The soft pretzels from Stork’s? The food at our wedding and on our honeymoon, especially dinner at Frenchie? The delicious things Laurent Gras cooked in the studio for our ebook and in our kitchen at home? I must have enjoyed the company or the wine too much to take notes.

One note of apology for the varying quality of the photos, all of which I took. In an attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible on other guests, I don’t use a flash in the dining room. As the sun sets, so does the quality of my images.

Onto 2013…

January

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Where Has the Time Gone?

This isn't me, but it's how I've been feeling lately when I look at my email inbox.

Okay, so I’m a lousy blogger. It’s not for lack of wanting to comment on things I see and taste, or because I don’t want to keep people up to date on the goings on in the food world and in other worlds and in my underslept, overfed mind. It’s just that life has gotten away from me. A summer of travel (to Japan, to Vermont, to Toronto, well, Orangeville really, to Maine, to Copenhagen, to San Francisco) has made me fall behind on work and emails and all sorts of planning and projects. If I owe you an answer to something, please don’t take it personally. I’m working my way through the back log.

I had built a week into my flight schedules in August to catch up, and then I got called to be a judge on a new series on Food Network that took up a good 20 hours of each day for about a week, and then I was off to Maine from the show’s set. I would tell you all about my fascinating and exciting entry into the world of reality food television, but according to a nondisclosure agreement I signed, that would set me back a fine of $100,000. And believe me, it isn’t that interesting. You’ll have to wait to see for yourself when it airs next May. Divulging the details of a guest spot I taped on a special that will air around Thanksgiving could cost me $1,000,000, so you won’t be hearing about that either (but you won’t have to wait as long to see it). These TV people take their secrecy very seriously.

Anyway, one project I was working on that I can share is a review of The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro that I wrote for Gastronomica. Although the book came out last year and I think I wrote the review at least a year ago, it’s in the current issue. Its timing couldn’t be better because I am busy making travel plans with friends for a week at a stunningly beautiful, historic house in France we are renting over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s in the Dordogne, sometimes called Périgord Nord, but known more widely as “foie gras country.” By November it will also be “truffle country,” and when those two countries come together, you know there is going to be one delicious feast. Okay, so we’ll be the sort of Pilgrims who will be eating duck instead of turkey, but we will certainly all be thankful.

I can also tell you about a few things I am doing that you can actually come to see and/or participate in. On September 23, Continue reading

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Food for Thought: Two Restaurant Trends that Intrigue Me

Dinner last night at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare Kitchen and tonight at ABC Kitchen underscored two (unrelated) trends in restaurants that intrigue me lately—besides using the word “kitchen” in the name. The first is actually a combination of two trends we’ve seen before, the Benihana chef show that debuted in the 1960s and the chef’s table that became popular in restaurant kitchens in the 1990s. Let’s call this trend “Chef Front and Center.” The second trend is also something old that’s new again. It’s the return of the piece of pie or cake for dessert. I’ll explain.

Chef Front and Center

The dinner setting at Brooklyn Fare Kitchen.

One of the things that struck me on my first visit to Japan about 10 years ago was the way the Japanese molded other cuisines into their own dining format. I ate in an English style steakhouse and a Mexican restaurant that were both set up as a sushi bar would be, with the chef preparing the food to order in front of guests who were sitting at a bar watching. The chefs also served the guests.

Master sushi chef Jiro, outside his restaurant in Ginza.

I remember thinking then that if I had to weigh the value of paying $500 for a meal which the chef actually served me from his or her own hands, or $500 for a meal in a large restaurant where the chef was four or five layers of service hierarchy away from me, the former would win. At arguably the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, the master literally fed me from his own hands.

Of course Benihana wasn’t exactly Jiro, Continue reading

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Travel Log: The Taste of London

If my food experiences last week in London are any indication, hundreds of years of jokes about how awful the food is in England should be shelved. I ate my way around that beautiful, fun town, and the eating is very good, indeed. Not only are many of my favorite foodstuffs from France on offer—Poilâne and Ladurée bakeries have London outposts; Pierre Hermé has a kiosk in Selfridge’s and a stand-alone shop is opening July 10! There are several Pauls, a Maison du Chocolat, and more French purveyors, j’en suis sûr—but the local breads, cheeses, and produce are superb. And the restaurants are creative and exciting. Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin in New York who was in London for the first time, is having a blast. “I had no idea how great this place was,” he told me. During a dinner cooked for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy by Alain Ducasse (who has one of only two Michelin three-star restaurants in London) and Joël Robuchon (who has a London outpost: thanks for the update, Johnny), Ripert chatted with the celebrated French chefs. He mentioned how much he was enjoying London. “Are you kidding,” both Ducasse and Robuchon said. “London is so much better than Paris.” Well, there you have it.

What makes it special? Continue reading

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