March 6, 2017
Yes, that is a mountain of caviar – excellent Bulgarian caviar – in a block of ice. Just one of the many luxurious offerings at the afterparty William Sonoma threw at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival on Friday night. The party felt like a return to the excessive eighties… The chef guests strolled about sipping Champagne while nibbling on an endless parade of sea urchins, giant langoustines, shockingly large lobsters
fist-sized truffles, cured meats, wagyu beef… I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. (These luxuries were sourced by Ian Purkayastha, who is also known as Truffle Boy.)
But the entire festival was a trip on the excess express, a rolling journey of wine, food and fun. A few highlights….
A meal at Husk, which began with two kinds of chicken wings…
and included (along with some fifteen other dishes), this gorgeous pan of cornbread
exceedingly rich shrimp and grits edged with hints of onion…
sauteed shishito peppers
extraordinary fried chicken on a bed of seductively smoky beans…
One of my favorite meals was at the much-loved The Ordinary, which included towers of seafood, piles of shrimp, a fantastic razor clam salad and these tiny uni tacos…
and oyster sliders…
One morning a breakfast for Daniel Boulud at Le Farfalle included a dozen or so courses, including these fried chicken biscuits
and ending with the most luxurious eggs it has ever been my pleasure to eat. Gently scrambled, they were glazed with butter and buried in black truffles.
One of the final highlights of the event was a dinner honoring Chef Boulud. The dishes, prepared by high profile chefs who’ve worked for him were paired with special wines. More on that tomorrow, but here’s a little teaser…
March 3, 2017
Forget Le Pavillon. The hardest reservation in the sixties in New York City might have been Little Kitchen, Princess Pamela’s soul food restaurant. The Princess moved around a lot; at one point her restaurant was in a walkup apartment in the East Village, but by the time I nervously rang her bell she’d moved to a narrow storefront on very east Tenth Street. Princess Pamela didn’t let just anybody in: she had to size you up first, and if you passed muster, she might open the door. That did not, however, mean you got to stay.
When I visited the Princess in the summer of 1971, I was already a fan. I’d found a used copy of her cookbook, Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Recipes, and practically memorized it. I was hoping for something exotic – chitlins maybe – but you pretty much ate what the Princess gave you. In our case, that meant nothing. One of my friends made a joke about “a soul food restaurant with no sweet potato pie.” He thought he was being charming; the Princess was not amused. “Out!” she shouted.
I’ve been thinking about Princess Pamela because her cookbook has just been re-released. The Lee Brothers, who brought the book back, set out to find out as much as they could about Pamela Stroebel. It’s a melancholy tale. Orphaned at the age of ten, she wended her way up the East Coast, working in kitchens until she opened her own place. Then, somewhere around 1998, she simply disappeared. The Lees think she may have been interred at Hart Island, where the city buries unclaimed bodies.
Reading about the Princess in this great Food 52 piece by Mayukh Sen, it’s impossible not to mourn the untold numbers of black chefs whose stories’ we’ll never fully know. It makes me doubly grateful that Princess Pamela’s book has been given a second chance. Here’s her recipe for fried chicken, which she served with Sauce Beautiful (named for her mother, Beauty).
(I see I cut a few things off. That’s “3 tablespoons peach preserves” and “1/2 cup water,” “2 tablespoons brown sugar” and “1 tablespoon butter.”)
March 1, 2017
Fresh sea cucumber. Hairy crab. Cod sperm. Huge live shrimp, legs wiggling. Marinated mackerel. Fresh bamboo shoots…
Yesterday I had a truly memorable meal at the venerable Kiriko in L.A. It’s the kind of meal I wish I could go back and have again today. And I would – if I weren’t on my way to the Charleston Wine and Food Festival.
The Japanese call shirako – which is milt, or the sperm sac of the male cod- “children of the clouds” a euphemism that always thrills me. The substance itself also thrills me. It has an extraordinary texture – pillow soft, tender, almost liquid but yet not – and a rich, gentle taste. That’s it in the bowl above, lightly poached.
Kiriko also sets it on sheets of kelp and grills it. The result is a kind of savory marshmallow; utterly irresistible.
But everything we ate was memorable, from this fresh hairy crab
to these crisp, slightly crunch slices of lotus root
and these firefly squid – no bigger than a fingernail but packing big flavor.
I love the giant shrimp, the flesh translucent, the flavor clean, bracing and yet sweet…
And it’s head, fried, all crackling tentacle and soft fat
Fresh sea cucumber is quite a change if you’re accustomed to the dried version served in Chinese restaurants. This has the most astonishing texture, simultaneously soft and chewy. (It’s all texture, very little taste.)
And if you’re a lover of saba – Japanese mackerel – don’t miss Kiriko’s version.
We had some traditional sushi as well. Wonderful uni. And this sparkling kohada, all shiny silver scales and deep, full flavor.
To finish up? You might opt for the traditional tamago. As for me, please give me a handroll with cucumber, shiso and umeboshi. The perfect finale to a pretty perfect meal.
February 28, 2017
“I want to knock your socks off!” Michael McCarty declared when he opened his restaurant in 1979.
I have a special place in my heart for Michael’s in Santa Monica: before it made its debut I persuaded my editors at New West Magazine that it was going to revolutionize restaurants. It was, I insisted, brash, exciting and utterly new. I then spent a few days a month for almost a year hanging out with Michael and his chefs as they built the place.
It WAS revolutionary: the chefs were all American (unheard of in those days), young (they were all under 25, equally unheard of at the time), and college educated. On top of that they were using American ingredients and showcasing American wines.
There were other innovations: Michael was one of the first restaurateurs to computerize his kitchen. He filled the dining room with great modern art (still there), and dressed his waiters in Ralph Lauren. He created a garden so lovely that eating among the plants was reason enough to entice many people through the door. But the food was the main draw. Michael had an eye for talent: the first chefs – Ken Frank, Jonathan Waxman, and Mark Peel- all went on to distinguished careers.
I’ve been back many times over the years, but my last visit left me with a sinking feeling. Nearing forty, the place felt like a tired old star limping along on its last legs.
So I was thrilled to walk in a few nights ago and find the place packed to the rafters and filled with energy. I was even happier to look at the menu and find that I was eager to taste every single dish. This is the old age we all yearn for: the rooms have been spruced up, but the basic bones are so good they don’t need a face lift. As for the garden – it has only grown more graceful over time.
The energy comes from the new chef, Miles Thompson (he worked at Animal, opened Allumette and then went north to work at Shed). His menu is pure fun.
Consider that barbecued quail up above, the flavors amped up with tangerine, miso and plum vinegar. Plain delicious.
Octopus with lime curd, chrysanthemum and a shrimp vinaigrette: a few irresistible little morsels.
The most wonderful squid, the flavor underlined by a devilish smudge of burnt eggplant puree and the gentleness of maitake mushrooms.
Chawanmushi – but a bracingly clean version – flooded with the voluptuous flavor of crab and sea urchin and sparked by a flash of ginger.
Hiding somewhere under all that greenery are light little ricotta gnudi
The entrees are more straightforward – although they do their best to startle with strangeness. This tiny, juicy little chicken – beautifully cooked – arrives embellished with both head and feet.
A righteous steak: big, bold, meaty. Something for everyone.
This branzino was delicious – but that black carrot puree? Over the top. Addictive. Enough, all by itself, to bring you back.
The excitement over the food has also infused the staff: they’re young, pumped, eager to make you happy. It’s really good to see Michael’s come roaring back.
February 26, 2017
Bought eggs at the farmers market this morning, then decided to make deviled eggs to eat as we watch the Oscars. Problem: fresh eggs are impossible to peel, and these were gathered yesterday.
Solution: steam the eggs for twenty minutes. Put them into an ice water bath. Wait till they’re cool enough to handle. Roll on the counter. Peel.
Worked like a charm: every single egg slipped happily from its shell. No green ring. Bright orange yolks. Lovely deviled eggs.