Recipes for restaurants

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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Is This the Most Beautiful Food in California?

March 3, 2018

The first thing you notice about the food at Mourad is how incredibly beautiful it is. Mourad Lahlou, doesn’t cook; in love with color, shape and texture, he paints each plate.  Something as simple as a turmeric and strawberry drink arrives looking like a southwest sunset, a crescent of blood orange slowly setting in the center.  A dish of olives is strewn with flower petals – instant party – and even though you didn’t mean to, you reach for one.

Chicken wings – chicken wings!- are the loveliest landscape, all soft mounds and melting colors, the tender meat glazed with lemon and burnt honey with broccoli flowers scattered across the plate.

Lahlou coaxes flavors you’ve never imagined out of the most ordinary ingredients, and suddenly you’re somewhere else, Marrakesh perhaps, hearing the muezzin calling in the faithful.

He even contrives to make luxury ingredients seem somehow new.  Caviar, snuggled beneath crisp curls of cucumber, is partnered with neither toast nor blini, but soft warm pillows of bread.

Salmon is very smoky, so smoky it is barely fish but some new substance surrounded by fennel and kissed with blood orange.

Kefta meatballs arrive looking like a St. Lucia wreath, the most delicate lamb you’ve yet encountered.

And Lalou’s version of b’stilla- which speaks more loudly to the mouth than to the eye- is irresistible. It is filled with duck, curry, almonds and…is that a touch of banana?

Desserts- well you have to try them. Pistachio cake, just a small sliver, is crowned with citrus.

And chocolate is a jolt, its dark side coaxed out beneath the sweetness.  It’s the perfect flavor to send you out the door.

 

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Can We Talk?

March 2, 2018

Los Angeles is filled with chefs who are determined to reconsider the whole notion of what a restaurant might be.  Dining at all these experimental places – Vespertine, The Rogue Experience, Maude – has been exhilarating. Dialogue, the latest of the lot, was no exception. 

Dave Beran, who worked with Grant Achatz in Chicago (he was the executive chef at the brilliant Next) thinks about a meal as a conversation between chef and diner; he’s not just feeding you a meal – he’s telling you a story. Each dish is a segue echoing the one before and introducing the one to come.  Although the food is not remotely Japanese, this struck me as a Western version of a kaiseki meal.  Beran’s aim is to take you on a sensory voyage through the seasons.

 We began in winter, with an interactive version of the classic Canadian tire d’arable, where maple syrup is poured onto ice to become a kind of candy.  In this case you twirl it onto a stick of roasted burdock.  The temperature is hot and cold, the flavors sweet and slightly bitter.

Next up, maple again, this time paired with trout roe.  I first had this combination at a breakfast Jose Andres cooked (he served it on tiny pancakes), and I’ve loved the forceful dance of flavors ever since.

This innocuous looking little imp is called “crab in the parsnip snow,”  another textural tango of airy, soft, sweet and cold.

Fermented carrot with a little pillow of zabuton steak.The flavors, after so much sweetness, were a welcome jolt.

This candied leaf of shiso was hiding a little pillow of  rice with caramelized miso, a tender way to move us out of winter into a sprightly spring. 

It was followed by a completely kinetic dish: little mint candies buried in chocolate nibs came to sudden life as the bowl was shaken.  I was so busy laughing with delight I forgot to take its picture.

Mint again, this time with osetra caviar, smoked sturgeon and cucumber.  (I love caviar; not sure I love caviar with mint.  But then I’ve rarely found anything that can beat caviar on its own.)

 

 This lovely little bouquet contains razor clams, geranium, lovage and almonds.  A single refreshing bite; another way of thinking of surf and turf.

 

Another bouquet, another tangle of tastes and textures.  This is poussin, with all the classic herbes de Provence. I kept thinking of twigs breaking beneath my feet in a springtime forest.

The segue here is a leaf of tarragon.  The flavors are rhubarb and l’explorateur cheese.

What do you see here that you’ve seen before? What you have not seen before – and in my opinion do not see often enough – are lily bulbs. They have the most intriguingly gentle taste and seductively crunchy texture.

Crisp little black kale sandwiches filled with avocado.  The avocado toast of the future.

Sunchoke.  Artichoke.  Olive.

Lamb.  Fermented strawberries.  Nasturtium leaves. And on the side, pommes aligot.  Pure. Simple. Delicious.

From spring lamb to the strawberries of summer. One little bite of liquid strawberry and olive oil.  It looks – and tastes – like dynamite.

Have you ever seen anything lovelier?  All through dinner the chef has been plying his tweezers, carefully creating these little tarts of wild fennel and wood sorrel. 

High summer now. An astonishing fizz of raspberry and rose.

And finally a piece of cake.

You go out the door, dazed and dazzled by the journey.  And as you make your way out of this strangely hidden little restaurant (you need a secret code to gain entrance), you do truly feel that you’ve had an almost wordless conversation with the chef.  He’s discovering this new home of his, Los Angeles, and taking great delight in sharing it with you.

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David Chang in LA

February 23, 2018

Every time I texted my friends about our reservation at Major Domo, autocorrect changed it to “major doom.”

I hoped that wasn’t an omen.

But when we get there – a journey through a strange, empty industrial landscape that feels like we’re driving to the edge of the moon – we find the most amazingly vibrant scene. Big, buzzy, loud and filled with young energy, this is, instantly, a place you want to be.

Waiters push carts around, giving it a faintly street feel. This is the first flavor, a water kimchi so refreshing I find myself picking up the bowl and inhaling the brine.

Then there are bings – flat breads with various toppings you dip into or roll inside.

I love them all – the spicy lamb, the eggplant, but most of all the chickpea hozon, a smooth velvety variation on humous that puts all others to shame.

This is sliced kampachi. The fish is delicious. What is better, however, is the bonji that comes with it.  A variation on soy sauce, it’s made of fermented rye. I am deeply tempted to drink the entire bottle or – better yet – pocket it and take it home.  Look for it in your future.

Lots of great vegetables here; I especially like the raw sugar snaps with horseradish and fried shallots.

Black cod is the silkiest, richest fish I know. It’s so filled with fat it’s almost impossible to ruin. Still, I really love this version with noodles, daikon and chilies.

Boiled chicken always looks so pathetic and vulnerable, and the whole one at Major Domo (it easily feeds three) is no exception.  Carved and plated with those two sauces it becomes a lot more attractive.  I especially like the ginger-scallion concoction, which reminds me of the one at New York Noodletown that was so wildly popular with French chefs in the early nineties.

Whole chicken, round two: made into soup with hand-torn noodles.  Simple and totally satisfying.

There are only two desserts: This is the ying, an utterly irresistible mountain of shaved ice, fruit and meringue, a take on a Japanese kakigōri.

And here is the yang: smaller, more compact, and equally appealing, this is a kind of Korean hotteok, little cakes stuffed with a rich mixture of dates and sesame.

As we sit there, eating dessert, we watch enviously as whole plate short ribs – great big bones – are wheeled across the room. They look so delicious.  So does the braised boneless short rib as it is dramatically finished at the table with gooey scrapings of melted raclette cheese. And why didn’t we order the signature Chang spicy bo ssam?

I’ll just have to go back.

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