A Little Lamb

August 20, 2018

At the Great Barrington farmers market the other day, I stopped to talk to the people from Mayflower Farm.  Then I noticed they had lamb riblets for sale, and I was intrigued.  I’ve been seeing them on menus quite a lot lately (probably because they’re an inexpensive cut), so I thought I’d take a chance.

But what to do with them?  I decided, for a first outing, to try an Asian-inspired recipe.  The results were so delicious I wished I’d made twice as many; we devoured them in a matter of seconds.

Asian Lamb Riblets

Mix 2 tablespoons of coconut or brown sugar with 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and a tablespoon of neutral vegetable oil.  Stir in a tablespoon of Gochujang or Sriracha (any kind of hot Chile sauce will do). Add the juice of half a lime, some freshly grated ginger, and a couple of teaspoons of ground coriander seed.  Mince a clove of garlic and a couple of small shallots, and add those as well.   

Pour the marinade into a large ziplock bag and add a pound of lamb riblets. Massage the bag so the lamb is well covered with the marinade. Allow them to soak up all this flavor, in the refrigerator, for at least 8 hours.  (24 would be better.)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.  Put the ribs, well separated, onto the baking sheet and roast them for an hour and a half,  until most of the fat has cooked away. Baste with leftover marinade every half hour or so.

Remove from the oven, crank the heat up to broil and broil the ribs, 6 inches from the heat, for a minute on each side, until they’re lightly charred.

Serve with this dipping sauce.

Mix a tablespoon each of fish sauce, lime juice and rice vinegar with 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Add a couple teaspoons of soy sauce, and a small clove of minced garlic.  Add a tablespoon or so of chopped cilantro.

This makes an irresistible appetizer for four people.

I suspect that lamb riblets – so inexpensive at the moment – will catch on and the price will soar.  So get them now while you can still afford them.

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The Four Seasons Plays On

August 18, 2018

It’s going to be interesting watching them duke it out.  The new Four Seasons just opened a few blocks from the old one (now part of Major Food Group and named The Pool and The Grill).  Will the faithful return to the tender ministrations of Alex Von Bidder and Julian Niccolini? There are no better front of house people than these two, who know exactly how to seat a room.  The question, however, is going to be this: does it matter any more?  And in this #metoo era, are people going to give Julian, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for groping a woman, a pass?

The new place designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, is splendid, but there’s no way it could possibly equal the grandeur of the soaring space designed by Philip Johnson. A contemporary interpretation of mid-century modern this one’s comfortable (the seats are upholstered in suede), and almost cozy but it’s not the grande dame that the old place is.  The Bar, on the other hand, is really swell. At the original Four Seasons sitting at the bar ale ways had a wistful feeling, as if you had your nose pressed up against the window, looking at the chosen people dining in the restaurant.  Here you drink in a separate room dominated by a glowing sunken rectangle of a bar (which is meant to remind you of the pool you left behind).  It feels both powerful and sexy.

And how’s the food?  It’s no secret I’m a fan of the chef, Diego Garcia.  This is what I wrote about what he was serfing at his last post, Gloria. Here, however,  he’s really in his element.  Consider the skate, which he makes entirely his own, pairing it with a celery sabayon and almost translucent sheets of kohlrabi.  Skate has never looked or tasted so delicious.

And that raw fluke at the top, with its little cucumber and caviar hats, is just what you want to eat in the heat of summer. I loved the giant carabinero shrimp too, simply grilled with lardo.  (The point, incidentally, is to suck all the juices out of the head.  And yet I felt a kind of shock run through the dining room when I picked the first one up in my fingers. Someone at the next table gasped as those seductive juices came spurting out. This is a very polite place.)

There are all the old favorites too – the duck, of course, the steak tartare, the ubiquitous Dover sole, steaks, salmon…  If you’ve read up on the old Four Seasons, you know the drill.

Desserts – at least the ones I tried – were fantastic.  The great Bill Yosses (he worked in the Obama White House) is making a creamy peach tart that is just about perfect…

And a deep, dark, very grown up chocolate confection

And the prices?  If you have to ask, this place is not for you. They are as astonishingly high as they were at the old place – or as they are in the restaurant now occupying that space.  This has never been our Manhattan; it’s the one that belongs to the very, very rich.

 

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The Beauty of Beatrice

August 17, 2018

I remember these restaurants from my childhood, these cozy Village warrens that wind back and back, filled with people who all seem so much hipper than you are, so much more knowing.  It’s so familiar that I am instantly happy to be at The Beatrice Inn.

Then the chef, Angie Mar, comes out and asks if we’d like her to make a meal for us.  I’m a little apprehensive – I’ve heard the place is killingly expensive – but what the hell? – my book is done and it’s time to celebrate.

We start with oysters; the Shigokus from Oregon, all firm sweet plumpness,  blow the drab east coast Blue Points out of the water. They’re almost chewy, with a haunting delicacy.

Then there’s caviar, with butter-soaked brioche. Who could possibly complain?

And this savory plum tart is an almost guilty pleasure. Despite that frill of peppery arugula with its rumors of Parmesan, it feels a lot like starting with dessert.

Then there’s that duck – at $100 the menu’s best bargain (it easily feeds 4) – with its coat of flaming cherries.  The duck is aged, much massaged, roasted – and completely satisfying.  We even get to take the carcass home, so there will be duck soup tomorrow.

The room is dark – great for romance, hard for photography – and I missed most of the subsequent dishes. But take my word that the milk braised pork shoulder is the other don’t-miss-dish.  The pork, braised until it is more like pudding than meat, is so seductive you just want to put down your fork and purr. And the rice soubise – a perfect little puddle of deliciousness – is incredibly hard to stop eating.

Then we had beef, but by then my eyes were glazed, and this wonderful little tartiflette: it is a tiny island of richness, all potatoes and cheese, and a strangely wonderful thing to be eating on a hot summer day.

 

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Til Now, Part 2

August 6, 2018

We didn’t sleep.  We couldn’t.  We sat up, Michael and Nancy and I, drinking wine, worrying about Laurie and the kids until the sun came up.  Jonathan was gone, and it was hard to be half a world away.

And I still had the Basque Culinary World Prize ahead of me.

Michael, kindly, offered to drive me all the way from Umbria to Modena.  It was a long drive.  Passing Florence we said, “we should pull off and eat,” but we weren’t hungry.  A couple hours later, however, we knew we couldn’t make it all the way without stopping for a bite.  As we pulled off, in the little town of  Sasso Marconi, we were feeling foolish: Jonathan would have had a plan, known exactly where to go – even if it meant a three hour detour along a goat path.

The streets were empty.  Not a soul stirred, nor a breath of wind.  And so we went into the first restaurant we found.  To our astonishment the place was packed, alive with life, with noise, with music. The whole town was there, sharing food, indulging in a long leisurely Sunday lunch.

Let me just say that this was instant proof  that every restaurant in Italy does not serve good food.  Jonathan would have been amused to see me scoop everything into my (now soggy) purse and run outside to feed it to a passing dog. We drove on. To Modena, for the Basque Culinary World Prize.

The opening party for the event was at Hombre Parmesan – which not only makes extraordinarily fine organic cheese, but also houses an astonishing collection of vintage automobiles.   This Mazzerati from the fifties is sometimes called the most beautiful car ever made.  With good reason.

 

The food was fantastic. Huge shards of that fine parmesan splashed with Massimo Bottura’s private balsamic vinegar (you can see how thick it has become with age).  Gnocco fritto cooked in great vats of lard, snatched from the cauldron and  topped with prosciutto whose lacy began to slowly melt. Freshly made, still-warm ricotta.  There was more – so much more – but I couldn’t stop eating those crisp, salty, warm gnocco fritti.

Still couldn’t sleep.  Tossed and turned all night, wishing I were in Los Angeles.  Spent the next day deliberating over the prize at the gorgeous Villa Maria Luigia, which Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore are soon to open.

The Basque Culinary World Prize, which is supported by the Basque Government, is dedicated to the notion of gastronomy as a transformative force. Every single nominee is doing something impressive; it makes me proud that we’ve come to a time in human history when we understand that food can be more than something to eat, a time when celebrated chefs do more than  invent new recipes. I wanted to award the prize to every one of these impressive chefs, who are dedicated to feeding immigrants, eliminating waste, inventing new ways to feed the ill, and supporting indigenous populations.  In the end the 100,000 euro prize went to Jock Zonfrillo, who is doing extraordinary work with the native foods of Australia.

Lunch and dinner were both provided by Osteria Francescana – and were both extraordinary. (Massimo’s “Tribute to the Amalfi Coast,” above, may be my favorite form of desert.) For a few highlights from the meals, read this.

The following day was dedicated to a conference called “Transforming Society Through Gastronomy,” a day of fascinating talks by a group of diverse people from the artist JR, talking about the table he set up on the US/Mexico border

to the always erudite historian Bee Wilson, chef Andoni Luiz Aduriz taking us on a stroll through history and filmmaker David Gelb with an interesting take on Chef’s Table.  My subject was meant to be “an edible truth” but when I stood up to speak, all I could think about was Jonathan. Here’s an excerpt:

“I had a speech written for today, a speech in which I was going to talk about what is, in my opinion, the gravest danger facing food journalists today: the danger of telling the wrong stories.  I was going to talk about how much we’ve muddied the waters by relating what seem like truths, only to find out a few years down the road that they were the wrong truths. That we’d been misled by science, by politics, by marketing. And that in the face of all the serious problems today, we have, perhaps, so confused the public that they’re no longer listening to us.

I was going to say that in these times, more than ever, people need real news, news they can use to fix our broken food system.  I think we can all agree that there has never been a time in human history when we were in so much need of the facts each time we sit down to eat. We all keep asking the question _ what should we eat?  Never have the answers been so confusing.

You all know the problems.  They’re the ones many of the candidates for the Basque World Prize are trying to solve: food waste, food distribution, hunger, poverty, obesity, the devastation of the oceans, carbon dioxide in the air, water, climate change, overuse of antibiotics.  Our food is being threatened from everywhere.

But I landed in Italy to such terrible news that I just can’t give that speech right now.  I got off the plane to learn that my longtime colleague and friend, Jonathan Gold, was dying.  That I’d never see him again.  And so for the past few days I haven’t been able to think about anything but Jonathan. Which is probably appropriate to this conference.  Because the mission of the Basque Culinary World Prize is using gastronomy as an engine for change – and I don’t think anyone has ever done that better than he did.”

I went on to talk about Jonathan’s legacy.  And I ended like this:

“Jonathan not only showed us a new way of looking at food, but also proved that you don’t need television or a movie to make an impact. Every time he put pen to paper he proved the power of words.

I know there are a lot of writers in this room. And I hope you’ll all remember Jonathan’s most important legacy.  What Jonathan showed us – more than anything – is what food writing can do. In the hands of a passionate, talented writer, words can become powerful weapons.

Last week I thought that what we needed were more investigative writers telling us the truth.  And that is certainly true. But now I see that sometimes the softest words can make the biggest impact. Jonathan wrote about delicious dishes in far-flung neighborhoods.  He did not write an overtly political word.  And yet he touched millions of people and gave them a new way to experience their own city.  Those of us who want to change the world would do well to remember that sometimes the stories that seem very small are actually the biggest ones of all.”

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Til Now

August 5, 2018

Bologna on a plate….

I landed at Marconi airport a couple of weeks ago – which is, incidentally, a very good place to go through passport control.  Nancy and Michael were there to meet me, and we drove right off to Osteria Bottega.  “Jonathan says its his favorite restaurant in Bologna,” they explained.

It was a hot night, and inside the restaurant it seemed like a thousand degrees.  Or did it seem so hot because they’d said, the minute we sat down, “We have to tell you something”?   While I was flying Jonathan had been admitted to the hospital, and things did not look good.

We ate then, with a kind of desperation. This time last year we were all together – Laurie, Jonathan, Izzy, Leon, Margy, Robert, Nancy – eighteen of us.  We had been so carefree.  Death had seemed so far away. And now we ate, thinking how much Jonathan would enjoy this meal.

Raw pork meatballs.

Taleggio – the best I’ve ever had – with a thick fig jam.

Truly extraordinary artichokes in oil.

Pasta with hare.

And fat, floppy tortelloni, a perfect balance of slightly tangy ricotta, sage and butter.

It was wonderful food, extraordinary food, but like everything I ate that week, it tasted mostly of the past.  Every bite reminded me of some dish I’d eaten somewhere with Jonathan.

The next day we drove to the little walled town of Bevagna.  First we found the most extraordinary fruit shop, the air filled with the fragrance of ripe peaches, apricots, strawberries. I kept adding more to my basket.  Moving on we came to the Maccelleria Cariani; with its air redolent of hanging culatello, salamis and prosciutto it looked like something from the middle ages.  Jonathan would have wanted everything; we bought too much.

The word was beginning to leak out that Jonathan was not just ill, but seriously so, and the gruesome business of obituaries began.  Knowing that Nancy was a friend and that I’d worked with Jonathan on and off for more than thirty years we were both fielding phone calls from all over the world. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it was like, walking through the faux-medieval market they were setting up in Bevagna’s town square while answering questions about Jonathan.  It consoled me that he would have appreciated the image.  And when a man came over, to admonish me to stop leaning on a fake wood pillar, he would have laughed out loud.

We had dinner that night at Villa Roncalli in Foligno. “It’s my favorite restaurant in Umbria,” Nancy said, “but it’s going to be the most leisurely meal you’ve ever had.  There’s only one woman in the kitchen, and she takes her time.”

This was the most astonishing frittata I’ve ever encountered. So tender it trembled, the powerful herbal flavor a lovely contrast to the delicate texture.  Jonathan, who hates eggs, would have shuddered.

The chef, Maria Luisa Scolastra, grows her own vegetables, bakes her own bread, pasta and vinegar. This simple pasta with pesto shows you why her food is worth the wait: there’s nothing to it.  Just pasta, olive oil, herbs.  And yet it makes you want to forget every other version of the dish you’ve ever tasted. It’s a delicate dance of texture and flavor.

We’d been at the table three hours before the pasta showed up.  And then, while we waited for grilled Chianina beef and pork we kept on drinking.  We sat down to eat at 7:30, but it must have been 11 PM when Pete Wells called and the main course still had not shown up. Struggling to talk about Jonathan and how much he meant to me, I thought how he would have laughed to hear how deeply inarticulate I’d become.

We cooked the next day; Nancy had sold a home-cooked meal for charity.  By then we knew that Jonathan had only hours to live, and while I helped Nancy make a dozen different vegetable dishes – grilled fennel, roasted eggplant, gorgeous white beans, roasted tomatoes, onions in balsamic vinegar, ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, tiny potatoes – I constructed an apricot tart.

Once it went into the oven (the secret to all pies, I now believe, is to cook them more than you think you should),  I went out to the garden and wrote about Jonathan.  He would, I think, have liked the fact that I was cooking while I wrote. You can read it here.

Tomorrow, all about Modena and the Basque Culinary World Prize.  We passed this car along the way.  Would any other country have Lamborghini cop cars?

 

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