This May be the Most Interesting Old Ad I’ve Found

October 27, 2015

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“Women: Stand up for your right to sit down at dinner time.”  It’s amazing to think that in 1971 that was actually considered a good ad line.  Things have changed.

That same issue of Gourmet also carried this recipe from Lutece.  This, at least, is worth remembering. FullSizeRender (11)

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Get Beet

October 26, 2015

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This recipe for a beet mousse seems very modern.  I can imagine finding it on the menu of one of the new vegetable-centric restaurants that are popping up all over. But it’s from the February, 1979 issue of Gourmet.  I, for one, can hardly wait to try it. (Other recipes were for beets stuffed with onion, ham, sour cream and horseradish mixture, and a very lively beet green souffle.)

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One Classy Capon

October 24, 2015

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When I first picked up this issue, I was convinced a jolt of light went dancing across the image. I assumed I was hallucinating, opened the magazine, and began reading.

As I would soon find out, and maybe as some of you have guessed,  this covergirl capon is completely covered in gold leaf. This is a roasted and stuffed chicken – chicken Taj Majal – that has been literally turned to gold.

I’ve seen gold leaf used in fancy Indian restaurants, but never to quite this extent.  Some day I’m going to try it.

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A Great Chef Returns – For a Moment

October 23, 2015

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The first time I ate Laurent Gras’ food, I was hooked.  It was at Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria- a ridiculous restaurant which, in those days (the mid-nineties), still had a harp player plucking away at the strings.  But despite the old fashioned setting, I can still remember the precision of the cooking and how fascinated I was by the flavors. I was dazzled.

Not surprising.  Gras was young, but he’d already been Chef de Cuisine at Alain Ducasse’s flagship 3-star restaurant.  He soon left Peacock Alley for Fifth Floor in San Francisco, and then went on to L2O in Chicago, gathering stars as he went.  And then, to everyone’s surprise and disappointment, he left the kitchen and devoted himself to…. riding his bicycle.  Really.

He’s back in the kitchen for a few days at Chef’s Club by Food and Wine, and although I was only in New York for a single night, I made a beeline for the restaurant.  I’m so glad I did.  Gras is still great.

It’s an a la carte menu, and we chose to start our meal in a fairly straightforward manner. You can see it at the top, a delicate clump of freshly made cheese, crowned with a tangle of seaweed.  After that, the flavors became increasingly more complex.

 

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This is Gras’ version of brandade de morue – salt cod that’s traditionally whipped with potatoes to make a kind of wonderful mush.  Gras separates the flavors – and textures – so you have a symphony of sensations that go crashing into each other with startling intensity. The caviar on top frames the character of the humble salted fish in much the same way those elegant smoked gelee ribbons remind you that salt cod is a preserved food, one that’s meant to last.  I couldn’t stop eating, greedily wiping the bowl to scrape up every last bit.

 

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Matsutake mushrooms with green papaya?  Is he crazy?  Not at all. This is a little essay on the nature of the mushroom.  On the right the matsutake have been thinly sliced, dotted with bottarga and interlaced with slivers of green papaya which shows off the  slick, fresh, slightly astringent side of the mushroom’s character.  But the baby mushrooms on the left are left whole and tossed with sliced okra, which brings out the soft cozy side of their personality.  It’s a sly presentation; the basil seeds in the back have been dropped into water, which makes them exude a wonderful protective goo.  Eating it is a reminder that those raw slices of okra are totally lacking in slime.

 

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This sad shot does not do justice to the single finest piece of octopus I’ve ever eaten. Tender. Tasty. And totally enhanced by the scattering of sea beans on the top, the coconut curd on the right and that heap of crisp black olive crumbs. The home-fermented chile paste adds a lovely touch. I don’t think I’ll ever eat another slice of octopus without remembering that coconut.

 

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Chicken.  Just chicken.  But it’s been rubbed with honey and sumac, and cooked until the skin is so crisp it crackles, while the flesh beneath is juicy, tender, filled with flavor.  A chicken that startles you with its sheer deliciousness. And proof, if you need it, that this chef can make even the simplest dish seem utterly new.

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A New York Interlude

October 23, 2015

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Is this destined to be the most-copied dish of the year?  I suspect so.  Nobody who tries it once will ever forget it. The giant mushroom arrives at your table at Upland looking so much like a frustrated hedgehog you can’t help reaching out a tentative hand to pull off a clump.  Squirt it with a bit of lemon, dip it into the lovely clump of cloumage (a fresh cheese), and you suddenly find your mouth filled with sensations: it’s one of the best fried dishes on the planet.  And it’s possibly even healthy!

I love Upland.  There, I’ve said it.  I like the big, brassy room with its lovely light and its high ceilings.  It’s hard not to be happy there.  I love Justin Smilie’s food, which was wonderful at Il Buco Alimentari, but possibly even more assured here on this larger stage.  Consider, for example, the heirloom tomato salad below.

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The tomato themselves were swell, but the crisp little sesame crackers framed them beautifully, adding crunch to their natural tang.  It was almost enough to resign you to the sad fact that it will be a while til tomatoes come our way again.

At Il Buco Alimentari Smilie mastered spaghetti cacio e pepe.  He hasn’t lost his touch. This is among the world’s simplest dishes – which means it’s easy to get wrong. Smilie gets it right.

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And this duck isn’t just a pretty face, with nasturtium leaves and squash blossoms dancing around the plate. It’s been cured in some manner that concentrates the flavor in a really wonderful way.  A duck to reckon with.

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