Looking Backward

January 12, 2018

A little diversion from current craziness.  It’s somehow comforting to know that in January 1981, Gourmet’s suggestion for the meal of the month was this East Indian dinner.  Looks good to me.




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How to Eat an Artichoke

January 10, 2018

Leafing through an old Gourmet – February 1981 – I came upon this vintage recipe for one of my favorite soups, which was a signature dish at The Stanford Court Hotel.

A couple of years later – in 1983 – the Stanford Court would be the scene of the first major multi-chef dinner.  At the time it was considered unthinkable that a group of chefs would actually want to work together.  Or that they’d manage to make a decent meal. Almost every article about the dinner began, “Too many chefs….”

It was, of course, a fantastic evening.  And the start of something entirely new.  If you want to see the menu, look here.


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Robuchon Returns

January 9, 2018

Let me begin by saying that this is the most seductive dish I’ve ever encountered.  Had this smooth foie gras mousse topped with an evanescent swoosh of parmesan foam (the two are separated by a port reduction) been the single thing I tasted at Atelier Robuchon, I would have gone home happy. It’s a Robuchon classic, a small miracle, and every bite makes you happy to be alive.

But all the food at the great chef’s latest New York outpost is impressive. Even the breadbasket. It is extremely difficult to keep yourself from working your way through every morsel.

That would, however, be a mistake. Because you want to experience as much of this food as you possibly can.  (Do not be misled by the waiter’s admonishment that the opening courses are mere bites; they may be small, but they’re so rich and powerful that each forkful packs a wallop.)

Foie gras in a different package.  This one, simply a slab served with toast and a little squiggle of date marmalade, its richness cut with lemon.  Insanely too much for a single person.

The loveliest carpaccio of sea bream, showered with lime and dusted with espalette pepper.

This was a surprise.  I was expecting langoustine en papillote  to arrive wrapped in parchment, but this package is entirely edible. And as gorgeously fried as it would be at Tokyo’s finest temple of tempura.

Eggplant has never felt so pampered.

Lobster – the softest, sweetest meat- bathed in Robuchon’s favorite ravigotte Malabar sauce. Lively and peppery as a samba, it simply dances off the plate.

Caramelized quail. A bit of foie gras. And those potatoes!

Are Robushon potatoes really that good? No – they’re better.  More butter than spud and topped with truffle, these potatoes will invade your dreams.

Duck, lovely duck, dressed up for the circus.

And finally a little edible terrarium of sweets.  What a perfect way to send you laughing back into the world.

My first experience of Robuchon was at Jamin in Paris in the early eighties. It was a quiet, modest restaurant, quite different than the chic, dark, brash, red and black ambiance of the Ateliers the chef has now opened around the world.  But the food was so fantastic that I turned to my companion and said, “I can’t believe this was made by human hands.”

It’s amazing that after all this time – and in so many locations – Joel Robuchon continues to serve excellence. I can’t wait to try the more modest Grill in the bar at the front of the restaurant. (Although “modest” in Robuchon world, is a relative term.)




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Pizza Heaven

January 7, 2018

I couldn’t take my eyes off the woman seated in the middle of  Pasquale Jones.   She looked like one of those aging French actresses – short dark hair, fine bones – and she was eating a clam pizza all by herself.  As she picked up each slice her eyelids would slide closed – almost involuntarily – as she bit into the soft, pillowy dough.  Then the most extraordinary look would cross her face, one of deep satisfaction.

Slowly, methodically, she ate the entire pizza. Watching her, there was no way you would not order one for yourself.

I shared my pie – but it took a certain effort of will. Pasquale Jones’ clam pizza – with its slightly charred crust, its lemon, its cheese and its broccoli rabe – is a thing of great beauty.  And while I was exceedingly skeptical about the cream – that works too. Sprinkle on a bit of chile oil, and this is pretty much pizza heaven.

But I have to say its hard to imagine anyplace I’d rather be on a frigid winter day than this cozy little restaurant with its wood-fired ovens, its lovely wine list and its fantastic food.

Ease in slowly, with a pristine plate of raw fish with radishes.

Have the brilliant braised leeks – which are treated like pasta and tossed with creamy parmesan and toasted walnuts

Order a pizza and then indulge in a few bites of duck-based lasagna

A bit of wine, and you’ll never want to leave.  There is, however, one compensation for leaving this little oasis: walk a few blocks south to Grand Street, go left one block and you’ll find yourself at my all-time favorite store, Di Palo’s. Plan on spending some time there as you buy ricotta, mozzarella, and the best Parmigiano in the city.  This is not the time to rush.

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A Whirlwind Tour of Unusual Pastas

January 6, 2018

Found! A comfortable restaurant where you can actually have a conversation. That makes the new Fusco something of a novelty.

Scott Conant has taken over the old Veritas space, turning it into a little oasis of calm. Look around; sound baffling materials surround you, the music isn’t blasting, you can’t hear your neighbors – and you find yourself relaxing happily into your seat.

The man who’s famous for his tomato ragu is also cooking to a different tune here, making lapidary dishes that look more like jewelry than something you anticipate eating.

Our meal began with these beautiful little bites.  Does it matter what they were? Each was tiny – a mere whisper in the mouth – each a little surprise package of crunch, crackle and smoothness. (I particularly liked this little black rice arancino.)

But the tweezer work doesn’t stop there.  Here’s the chef’s take on bay scallop crudo:

And his hamachi crudo comes topped with chiles, ginger and little pearls of finger lime.

Pastas are equally ornate.  With the exception of pasta al pomodoro (it might more accurately be called butter-tomato pasta), which is as good as ever…

the chef is being wildly inventive, giving us a tour of Italy’s lesser-known pastas in some extremely unusual styles.

Consider squid ink scialatielli  (that would be a thick, short version of fettuccine), which comes embellished with sea urchin, invisible (but very present) n’duja and pork belly whose skin has puffed up into startling little bits of crisp chicharron. It’s a forceful and fascinating dish that changes with each bite.

Spatzle is equally unfamiliar.  Mingled with rabbit, porcini and a hint of mint, the squiggles of dough come topped with foie gras foam.

Casoncelli  (tiny hand-made ravioli-like pockets from Lombardy) are filled with oxtail, sprinkled with fresh horseradish, and embellished with the crunch of  crumbs.  Surprising – and very delicious.

There are also a couple of comforting dishes.  A great soft puddle of polenta is filled with mushroom and topped with a bit of truffle. Nobody has ever invented a better dish for this particular weather.

There’s also stromboli, a little round of bread stuffed with greens, salami and smoked mozzarella, which seems almost embarrassed to appear in this rarified atmosphere.  The wine list leans toward Italy, and is filled with interesting bottles. And the service could not be nicer.

Fusco offers Italy in a different mood; it’s a very pleasant interlude.