Recipes for restaurants

How Old is that Beef?

January 17, 2018

Let me say, right at the top, that I love aged meat. Steak without age- no matter how prime – is just another piece of meat of meat to me.  So when Cote offered steak aged to absurdity – 160 days! – I couldn’t resist.

That alone would be reason to go.  This beef  is rich, primal, funky, with a flavor edging into bourbon and truffles.  This beef is so delicious that a single bite is completely satisfying (although more is even better).  Whoever is aging this beef surely knows their stuff.

It’s not cheap, but as they say in France, vaut le voyage.

But the surprise at this elegant  too hip for its own good restaurant is that the main meal – the “Butcher’s Feast” (everyone orders it), is really a bargain. For $48 a person you get so much food that you leap on the digestif they bring at the end hoping it will save you. If you avoid ordering one of the very fancy and very expensive bottles of wine on the list, this is one of the better deals in town.

Cote, which got a Michelin star right out of the box, is being talked about as a mashup of an American steakhouse and a Korean barbecue. And that would not be wrong. But it is also a brilliant business model of a restaurant, reminiscent of a very high-end Benihana. Everyone is eating more or less the same meal, in the same order.

You could certainly start with one of the appetizers, like the Korean steak tartare above, the cool, slightly chubby squiggles of beef tossed with bits of Asian pear and some sesame oil, topped with truffle and a few extravagant frills of fried tendon. It’s delicious – but not necessary. Because, with the butcher’s feast, you’ll be starting with these delicious pickles as a little palate tease.

And then the meat will arrive. Oceans of meat.

The restaurant chooses which four cuts they’ll serve each night; it might be hangar steak, flat iron, skirt…  But no matter what is on offer, my guess is that the kalbi (the marinated short rib in the top corner), will be the most seductive.

The chunk of fat is to grease the (smokeless) grill. A waitperson will come along and do the cooking, cut by cut.


You take your piece of meat, pick up a piece of lettuce, slather on some spicy ssamjang paste, fold in some of the scallion salad….

and eat with great pleasure. Then you do it again, with the next cut of meat. And again. It’s enormous fun.

By now you’re feeling rather full, but there’s more to come.  Kimchi. A couple of really delicious stews

A delicate souffle of eggs

And the clearest, most delicate broth filled with ephemeral noodles.

There is only one dessert on offer:

Which is served with a tiny bottle of the extremely necessary digestif:

Little wonder that Cote is so successful: the tables are roomy, the service is swell, and it’s hard to think of a better way to spend a few hours with a group of friends.

Not to mention that amazing ultra-aged beef….


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A Day in the Life

January 15, 2018

These are the huevos rancheros at Atla – a pretty great way to start a New York day. I’m late to this party; Enrique Olvera’s all-day restaurant on Lafayette has been getting raves from everyone for months.  So naturally, I expected to be disappointed.

I was not.  Every bite at this small, crowded, but delightfully light room was wonderful.  Even the coffee was special:

(I’m in love with these double-walled Bodrum coffee cups.)

Tortillas were like delicate little handkerchiefs. Sauces were intense.  Avocados were ripe.  And everyone in the entire room looked happy.

These are the most elegant tlacoyos I’ve ever encountered, the little ovals of masa lighter than usual, the pea filling sprightlier than the ordinary beans.  Frankly, I wanted to stay and eat my way through the entire menu.

But I had other meals to eat.  Stopped in at Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer, because I’m so curious about why one of the city’s most talented chefs left high-end dining (he was the much-lauded chef at Del Posto) to serve extremely affordable food.  Fast food, in fact.

It’s served like fast food. It’s fast.  The plates are paper and the forks plastic.  But it doesn’t taste like fast food. This portion of eggplant parmigiana is $2.50.  Take it out of its paper cup, plunk it onto porcelain and it would be completely comfortable beneath elegant chandeliers.

These airy puff paste balls are rolled in garlic butter and dusted in parmesan cheese, and if I lived nearby I’d stop in every day to plunk down two bucks for a bagful. These are what I wished zeppole were when I was a kid wandering through the feast of San Gennaro.

This is not squishy spaghetti.  I don’t know how Ladner gets the texture of the pasta right, but he does.  The tomato sauce is a little sweet for my taste, the meatballs a bit denser than I’d like – but it’s hard to complain when you’re getting a substantial plate of food for $8.75.  (The meatless dishes – fusilli with pesto for example – are only $7.)

The salads are lovely.  There’s wine and beer. For the price of the sad stuff you find in deli steam tables you get a really satisfying meal. I hope more of America’s talented chefs follow in Ladner’s footsteps; this could be the future.

Zarela Martinez, of the late lamented Zarela’s restaurant, pretty much introduced New Yorkers to serious Mexican food when she opened in 1987. She sent me a note saying that Mark Miller was in town and she was giving a little party for him.  Would I drop by around 3?

I’ve known Mark since he was cooking at Chez Panisse, followed him to the Fourth Street Grill (also in Berkeley),  and cheered when he opened the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe.  But it’s been a while since I’ve seen him – and I’ve always admired Zarela.  Of course I wanted to go.

What I did not expect, however, was that I would still be there, sitting around the table, eating and drinking at 11 p.m. I shouldn’t have been surprised; Zarela is a woman who always honors an occasion.

These were the high points of a long and spectacular meal.

The most wonderful tortilla veracruzana – an incredible concoction of seafood, eggs and what must have been mountains of herbs.  I’ll be spending weeks trying to figure out how to replicate this.

A gorgeous beet salad.

Crisped pork in a deep, dense pumpkin sauce.

A layered confection rich with cheese and whole kernels of huitalacoche (that would be corn smut to you).  Truly spectacular.

The most refreshing salad of pineapple, chiles, cilantro and onion. Eat this once and you’ll begin to crave it.

Zarela certainly knows how to throw a party.  And her food is the real thing; if you’re interested in her recipes, she’s written a number of excellent cookbooks focusing on regional Mexican food.

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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.

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