Very Pithy

May 25, 2018

“I’m a curator not a chef,” says Jonah Reider of his supper club, Pith.  “All the plates – even the music – were done by friends of mine.” 

You may remember Jonah as the Columbia student who captured the imagination of the entire city by running a restaurant out of his Columbia dorm room.  At one point he had a waiting list of thousands. 

Jonah’s a few years out of school now, and running his supper club out of a very ritzy Brooklyn home. (The owners, he says, “are like the rich parents I never had.”)  It’s an ideal set up – beautiful dining room, great kitchen, really lovely back yard near the Brooklyn Naval Yard. What he’s offering is more than dinner: it’s a great party (that you happen to pay for). In a lonely city, it’s also a perfect evening out.

There are seats for just ten people at the table. But first you gather in the garden to get to know each other over simple hors d’oeuvres.  A couple of nights ago there was grilled lamb, sardines, pickled fiddleheads and ramps, an airy foie gras mousse with a hint of maple syrup, steak tartare…. And these beautiful radishes topped with shredded dried scallop.

The group was one you’re happy to sit down with.  Here was the former Executive Chef of Nomad (he’s about to open his own restaurant), and his wife. Like Jonah, James Kent started early; he says he was working at Bouley at fifteen. A former Twitter executive. A woman working at a tech start-up.  A couple of on-line editors. A writer…. Every one of them was someone I wanted to know better.  The conversation, as at any lively party, roamed widely as each guest picked up a thread and embroidered the evening.

Jonah’s food tends to be light, very seasonal, relying more on the combination of interesting flavors than on tortured technique.  This starter – lovely young peas in a puddles of tangy sheep’s yogurt, trout roe, crisp pistachios and a little curl of rhubarb – is a perfect example.  The textures sizzle, the flavors are gentle.

Wahoo with a burnt-onion miso sauce. Sturdy fish, righteously powerful sauce.

Halibut with asparagus and almond milk. A few fennel fronds, a few blossoms. The essence of delicate.

Duck with dandelion and black currant. A little sweet, a bit bitter.

Maybe my favorite course of the evening – rhubarb, figs, and meringue dusted with fennel pollen. Such an unexpected and joyful mix of flavors.

A bit of chocolate with frozen milk.  Ice and fire.

There’s an optional wine pairing.  The wines were all new to me, but the evening was extremely well-lubricated, making all that wine a $45 bargain.


You have to admire Jonah.  He’s certainly press savvy – you can read about him here,  and here – and that’s just for starters. But he knows what he wants, and he’s figured out exactly how to do it. Good for him. As for the rest of us, it’s nice to be along for the ride.


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Speaking of Tongue

May 24, 2018

It was meant to be a joke: to celebrate my friend Peter’s birthday I braised him a tongue.  He and I both love this deliciously soft and seductive meat, but it makes everyone else we know remarkably squeamish.  Which, I will admit, kind of delights me.

I went to a local farm and purchased the tongue, thinking I would serve it in all its gruesome glory.

To begin, I braised it, cooking the whole tongue slowly in water, herbs, and onions for a long time (about 6 hours).  When it was entirely soft, I pulled it from its bath and peeled off the outer membrane.  Even as a child I found this extremely satisfying; it shrugs so easily out of its coat  Then I put the peeled tongue back into the pot and let it cool a bit, pulling it out just as the guests arrived. I set it on a platter and watched the reaction: most people went visibly pale.  A cooked tongue retains all its essential tongueness. 

Peter, however, was happy.  I sliced the tongue and served it with a rich and pungent sauce gribiche.  The meat was soft, tender, completely beefy. Sadly, few friends were game enough to take a taste. 

Their loss. Tongue keeps well. I wrapped it in plastic and left it to brood among the onions and the eggs in the refrigerator for a few days. 

Then, when nobody was looking, I chopped it up, slicked a pan with a bit of oil, and crisped the cubes of tongue.  I set them on warm corn tortillas, covered them with a chunky spicy homemade salsa, added a few strips of avocado, a squirt of lime, a sprinkling of cilantro and served them all around.

“What are these delicious tacos?” everyone cried.  “What kind of beef is this?  These are the tastiest tacos we’ve ever eaten.”

“Oh,” I replied casually, “they’re a classic Mexican dish.  Tacos de lengua. So glad you like them!”

Tongue Two Ways.

Braised Tongue with Sauce Gribiche

1 cow’s tongue, 2 to 3 pounds

1 onion, cut in half

1 carrot peeled

1 stalk celery

Few stems of parsley

1 bay leaf



Put all the ingredients in a large pot, cover completely with water, and bring it to a boil.  Meanwhile, cut a piece of parchment paper just large enough to cover the entire surface of the pot.

When the water arrives at a boil, turn it down to a simmer, cover with the parchment and cook for 4 to 6 hours, until the tongue has gone completely soft and tender. Add more water as needed.

Life the tongue from the pot and set it on a cutting board.  This is the fun part; with your fingers, pull the top membrane off the tongue until it is completely naked.  Put the tongue back into the liquid until you’re ready to serve it.  (It’s good hot or at room temperature.  You can also, once it has cooled, wrap it in a zip lock bag and keep it for a few days in the refrigerator.)

Strain the liquid and save it for stock.

Slice the tongue and top it with sauce gribiche.


Sauce Gribiche

2 tablespoona Dijon mustard

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons capers

4  cornichons, chopped

2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Salt, pepper

Mix the first six ingredients.  Add salt and pepper, and taste for seasoning.  Just before serving,  mix in the parsley.


Tongue Tacos

1 cooked tongue


Fresh lime

Avocado slices

Corn tortillas


Rougly chop the cooked tongue into half inch or so cubes.

Slick a skillet with a bit of neutral oil (you don’t need much; there’s a lot of fat in a tongue), allow it get hot and cook the tongue until the pieces are browned and crisp.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve on tortillas with accompaniments.

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Simple Scallop Ceviche

May 2, 2018

My friend Serge, chef/owner of Serevan, likes to fly.  About once a week he rents a small plane and flies to Provincetown to pick up oysters, clams, scallops and mussels for his restaurant.  Our house is on his way home and he sometimes stops in to let us share the bounty.

He came by last night when a few friends were here, and we stood around the kitchen opening the oysters (they were Chathams), eating them with nothing more than lemon.  Just out of the water, they were fresh, briny, brimming with juice, each a joyful shot of energy.

Then Serge decided to make ceviche.  The scallops were so fresh – just hours out of the water – that he simply sliced them.  Then he took a dive into went my refrigerator and pulled out some jalapenos which he shredded into slivers, along with chives and bits of blood orange.  Grating orange rind across the top, he added a bit of salt and showered the scallops with blood orange juice, which lent them a slightly exotic flavor.  A splash of lime and a few glugs of olive oil.

I have to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Incidentally, we both agree that the common practice of discarding the adductor muscle is a big mistake; not only is it sadly wasteful, but that bit of chew is a fine contrast to the silky texture of the scallops.

And here is the end of the oysters…..

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Mourad, Again

April 30, 2018

I wrote about lunch at Mourad a few months ago, (you can read about it here), so all I’m going to do now is give you a brief description of my most recent dreamlike dinner at the San Francisco restaurant.  It was a birthday celebration for someone I’ve known and loved for most of my life.

Dinner began with the table covered in delightful little tidbits- like the sparkling little tarts above and these adorable little flower-covered cheese boats

and then went on to this….

Caviar. Need I say more?  It was followed by this astonishing concoction of squid shaved into ribbons and pared with translucent slices of vegetable, green charmoula, arugula blossoms…

and then this single shining scallop, gently seared, nestled against a heap of kohlrabi with the sneaky aroma of vaudovan perfuming the air.

Next up was this egg, with blue foot mushrooms, purslane  and rumors of coffee floating through the sauce

and then Mourad’s take on foie gras, which involves strawberries, pink peppercorns and papaya encircled in a garland of greens.

It was followde by the most astonishing take on duck – just a few fine rich bites, almost electric in intensity

short rib with green garlic

and butter-braised couscous with flowers dancing across the top.

Finally, something sweet, all crunch and crackle.

Another gift?  The restaurant is quiet, comfortable and a perfect place to talk. I can’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate someone you really care about.

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Charter Oak

April 24, 2018

One of the hallmarks of new California cooking might be called “The Mallmann Effect.” (Francis Mallmann, the Argentinian superchef, is famous for his open-fire cooking.)  Walking into many new restaurants means approaching a wall of flames.  These aren’t merely grills, they’re true hearths, massive displays of firepower that chefs use in all sorts of innovative ways.  You see it at Hearth and Hound in Hollywood, and the nearby Gwen. It’s remarkably comforting, a reminder that we all began as cave people, huddled around our fires.

The new Charter Oak in St. Helena is yet another example.  The former Tra Vigne has been handsomely refitted, and the first thing you notice, beyond the high walls and beautiful tables, are those dancing flames in front.

Avocados are tossed onto the fire – to astonishing effect. So are short ribs – or rather one massive short rib, which has been pre-cooked to tenderness then thrown over old wine barrels and seared in the flames.

It’s a smokey, tender, irresistible piece of meat.  Lurking behind it are beets, which have also seen the heat.  Their texture is remarkable – somewhere between fresh beets and beet leather.

I didn’t want to order this dish. The waiter insisted.  “Really?” I said.  You want me to try a slow-cooked turnip on pumpernickel rye porridge?  It sounds terrible.”  But that turnip – roasted in the embers and then quickly charred – was a revelation.  As was the sweet porridge, a new take on congee and utterly satisfying.

Not everything is grilled.  I loved the house-made mortadella.

Especially with the fine, warm bread.

And these littlenecks, in an intriguingly smoky poultry stock

This salad of broccoli, broccoli rabe, broccoli flowers with a few puffed grains, some sunflower seeds and ricotta – is a bit much for a single person.  You get tired of chewing.  But it would make a fine side dish for 3 or 4 people.

When the dessert cart rolled our way we said that no, we couldn’t possibly.  And then we did.  If you go, don’t miss this buffalo milk ice cream with its burnt apple caramel sauce.  The ice cream has the most astonishing texture – the closest I can come is frozen velvet – and it was such a pleasure that I took one bite after another, absolutely unable to stop.

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