Jackets Required

April 16, 2018

When your evening at Restaurant Daniel begins with a cool crisp little oyster topped with sea urchin and caviar, you’re happy from the very first bite. At least I am.

It is followed by this citrus-cured hamachi, tinged with beets, on a jaunty swoosh of chive aioli.

Then this mosaic of poularde (that would be a fat castrated chicken) and foie gras captured in aspic while bits of langoustine, pickled ramps and wild mustard cavort around the plate.

It’s spring, so there will be white asparagus, slicked with hazelnut oil and served with a little puddle of hollandaise touched with a bit of that aged vin jaune from the Jura, which adds a sultry touch of mystery.

And abalone, served on the rocks in its own private shell of puff pastry.

You forget sometimes – or at least I do – about the kind of serious French cooking that requires a platoon of people in the kitchen madly turning and peeling and dicing and saucing – dressing up each morsel of food until it no longer resembles its natural state. And there is nobody who does this particular kind of celebratory cooking better than Daniel Boulud.

A meal at his flagship restaurant is an instant Special Occasion, and even if it’s not, it will become one.

The service is superb. Here comes the captain now, about to strike a match and start playing with fire.

He flames foie gras in mescal, then nestles it into its own private nasturtium garden.

 

And these are just the starters.  Next up is squab, superbly rare, with a wonderfully musky flavor and

surrounded by an entire palate of spring flavors: fiddleheads, fava beans, pea shoots and tiny mushrooms.

Rabbit comes encircled by grapes, chard and daikon in a rich puddle of reduced saba.

I should, perhaps, mention, that there were four of us.  But the food was so beautiful – and so intriguing – we were passing our plates, eager to taste everything. Between sips of a Saint Aubin from Thierry Pillot (Saint Aubin is an often-overlooked wine, which makes it one of the most affordable white Burgundies) and a deep Pelissero Barbaresco, we came to this little treat….

black cod steamed in seaweed in an aged sake beurre blanc.  Is that caviar paving the top? Of course it is! A fantastic conception, and one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  On to sole

with spot prawns, asparagus and seaweed in a saffron sauce.

This is fairy tale food, and it’s hard not to feel like Cinderella. Daniel creates a fantasy for you: for a few special hours you are a pampered person living in a more gracious time.

He knows not to end this story too abruptly.  After dessert there is a basket of madeleines, still warm from the oven, breathing vanilla. And finally adorable little boxes to take home, a gift for the morning, when you can eat your cannele and relive dinner.

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Bubbling Spicy Tofu

April 7, 2018

One of the things I miss most about LA is Beverly Soon Tofu, which I’ve been going to since it really was on Beverly Boulevard (the restaurant moved to Olympic Boulevard thirty years ago).  There is nothing more comforting than a big bubbling bowl of soondobu jiggae.

This is how it works.

You walk into the small restaurant and put your name on the list.  Then you wait for an empty table.

When your turn finally comes you slip into one of the backless stools and decide how you want your tofu stew: there are many permutations- vegetarian, pork, shrimp, even spicy cod roe.  Then you decide your level of heat; go for the hot, which isn’t painful.

Then you wait.

The first thing that arrives are these cool, clean little slices of tofu.

Then the panchan:

Finally you hear a furious boiling, bubbling and hissing and the waitress appears with your sizzling dinner, which spits angrily as she cracks a raw egg into the middle.

And then you eat, slowly and blissfully.

If there is a better $12 meal, I haven’t had it.

 

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Mexican Food with Attitude

April 2, 2018

While I was eating this fish taco, with its cilantro and its astonishingly delicious pineapple puree at Cosme, it hit me that this might be the most delicious Mexican food I’d ever eaten.

And I’ve had a lot.

But the food had a purity I hadn’t expected, and I found myself eating in a kind of daze.

This guacamole, sprinkled with herbs, had a clean sweetness I haven’t experienced before, forever banishing  guacamole fatigue.  (C’mon, admit it; aren’t you tired of tasteless guac?)

The beautiful purple endive, with its bean puree, its hints of avocado and its pinenuts is the best kind of finger food, edging into bitterness.

Hidden beneath the lovely striped cucumber is kampachi, in the most elegant aguachile I’ve yet encountered.

And this may be the tlayuda to end all tlayudas; Cosme’s version of the crisp Oaxcan tortilla is a corn confection so liberally topped with truffles that the aroma wafts across the dining room, making everyone sit up and take notice.

Little lamb tacos – the edges of the lamb slightly burnt – were utterly irresistible.

 

And the desserts! 

Yes, Cosme is expensive. And yes, it’s worth it. If you want a sense of how elegant and flavorful Mexican food can be, you can’t do better.  The next stop, of course, is Mexico City, with its extraordinary restaurant culture.

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Shelter from the Storm

March 22, 2018

The snow kept coming down, relentlessly, beautifully, constantly, but New York City snowplows were snuffling about, keeping the streets fairly clean. Getting around was easier than it’s been for years – there was no one on the road – and cabs prowled empty streets, eager for fares.

What better night, I thought, to try to snag a seat at the city’s hippest new restaurant, the one you can never manage to get into?  I’ve been wanting to go to Legacy Records, and this was my moment.  “Sure they said when we dripped into the restaurant, “come right in.”

I can’t imagine a better place to be in the middle of the storm.

The latest venture from the Charlie Bird/Pasquale Jones people is large, warm, candle-lit and casual. The ceilings are high; you can talk.  Beautiful people keep walking in the door; at one point Pharrell arrived with a large entourage.  Glancing down at the menu, I wanted to eat everything.

To begin: a blood orange spritz.  The perfect antidote to the too-sweetness of Aperol.

You have to pay for the bread.  You’ll be glad you did.  It arrives, all warm and crusty, with both butter and lardo. That sprouted, seeded loaf is soulful, absolutely what bread should be.

The crudo tasting is fantastic.  (It is also, at $25 per person, very  expensive.  Better, I think, to order the dishes individually.)  But you will want them all, from those razor clams with tarragon, to the oysters with their crunch and their heat and their pop, to the truly gorgeous Nantucket bay scallops.

But what you absolutely do not want to miss is that Montauk tuna! It does not taste like any tuna I’ve eaten before; rich, soft and sweet all at the same time, this is tuna with serious character.

You definitely want this salad! Grains, greens, radishes and roots, a glorious muddle of flavor.

You want this cuttlefish pasta too, a little symphony in black and white with the added crunch of crumbs.

I’ll be going back to taste that dry aged rib eye, the roasted chicken, the sea trout. I’m sure they’re all delicious.  But how will I ever manage to keep from ordering the duck?  This is the duck of my dreams –  all crisp darkness on the outside, all rich juicy redness within.  The pears, the endive and the pistachios are perfect partners.

We left reluctantly.  While we were eating the snow had gotten more intense, and we slip-slided all the way home. Which made the entire adventure that much more fun.

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The Perfect Dish for this Cold Winter Day

March 20, 2018

Almost spring, but you’d never know it looking out the window. Snow, snow, still snow.  Bare black branches reaching for the sky. Icy cold.  Except for the hawks, all the birds are hiding and there’s not a deer in sight.

This cold weather makes me long for something spicy – and these rice sticks with shrimp are exactly what I feel like eating.  Perhaps it’s because I first tasted them at Momofuku – and today I read that David Chang is closing Ma Peche.

Spicy Korean Rice Sticks with Shrimp and Vegetables

Shopping list: 300 grams Korean rice sticks, 2 Tablespoons Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), 1 pound asparagus, 1/2 pound shrimp, 3 scallions

staples: brown sugar, cayenne pepper, 3 cloves garlic, vinegar, vegetable oil, 1 onion.

Serves 2.

Korean rice sticks (Ddeok) were a completely new ingredient to me, and I loved experimenting with them.  Left to their own devices they are innocuous and rather bland.  But they play very well with other ingredients.  This recipe offers you the crunch of rice sticks, the joy of crisp vegetables, and the chile-garlic heat that characterizes Korean cooking. 

Rice sticks usually come in 300 gram packages, and I’ve found that they’re best fresh. If the ones you find are frozen, just let them sit on the counter to defrost. Do not buy the kind that are labeled “unfrozen”; they have an odd, almost dehydrated texture and won’t work for this recipe.

Koreans usually eat rice sticks boiled or cooked right in with the vegetables, but to me they taste best pan-roasted, which gives them a delightfully crunchy exterior.  Heat a lightly oiled cast iron skillet over medium high heat for a few minutes and roast the rice sticks just until they begin to brown.  Remove them from the heat, and if you want them in smaller pieces, cut them up.

Make a sauce by mixing two tablespoons of the gochujang (the Korean red pepper paste), with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of  cayenne,  3 cloves of smashed garlic, a splash of soy sauce and another splash of balsamic, sherry or rice vinegar.

Heat a wok, add a bit of neutral oil and toss in a thinly sliced onion until it just begins to send its perfume into the air. Add an equal amount of sliced cabbage, sliced broccoli or asparagus, and a half pound of small peeled shrimp, tossing until the shrimp begin to turn rosy.  Add the sauce and the rice sticks, and if it looks as if it needs it, a bit of water. At the very end, add a sliced green onion, toss well and serve.  

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