travel: flemish fling…

•June 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Coffee tins

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All of the international flights from the Americas dumped into Aéroport Paris–Charles de Gaulle within minutes of each other, as they usually do, when I arrived in the early morning a few months ago.  I shuffled into the immigration hall along with the deplaning masses, a shapeless hoard that defied order, especially since very little was provided.

After a half hour of this incurable chaos, with border guards barking at us like sheep dogs at a herd, and our rather saucy herd barking back in various languages, the crowd suddenly began to move forward at a surprisingly fast rate.  How could this be?  How could the border police possibly be processing that many passports at once?  When I reached the front, I realized that they weren’t.  They weren’t processing passports at all.  The police had opened the gates and were letting everyone through unchecked.

As an American, who has not only practiced law, but has practiced some immigration law, I was horrified.  This kind of reckless laxity would never happen at our borders – and this not from a sense of patriotic superiority.  The United States has many weaknesses, but border control – especially at its international airports – is not one of them.  You will not find more humorless human beings than the employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

By allowing foreigners to pass through unverified, the French police were not only endangering their own national security by opening their borders to shady international characters, but they were also putting the Schengen at risk. Once inside the Schengen, a foreigner can travel through any of its twenty-some member countries unchecked, as I did on this trip.

A little over a week later, as I prepared to return to the U.S., Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared over the South China Sea, raising questions (among many others) about two passengers onboard who were traveling with stolen passports.  In the weeks since, those two passengers have been ruled out as possible terrorists. But the fact that they were able to travel on stolen passports is disturbing.  According to Interpol, “In 2013, passengers were able to board planes more than 1 billion times without having their travel documents checked against Interpol’s data.”

That’s billion with a “B.”

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save the date: kansas city…

•June 9, 2014 • 1 Comment

Justin Cogley and Bryan Voltaggio

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This year marks the sixteenth annual Friends of James Beard Foundation dinner at The American Restaurant in Kansas City, the longest-running fundraising dinner for the foundation in the country.  Over the past decade and a half, this event has brought some of America’s most respected chefs to my hometown to raise money for the James Beard Foundation, including Jean-Louis Palladin, Tom Colicchio, and Takashi Yagihashi in its earlier years, and, more recently, Christopher Kostow, Paul Qui, Joshua Skenes, Michael Cimarusti, Justin Cogley, Bryan Voltaggio, and John Shields.  The list is long, the roster has been impressive.

For the fifth year, I have been asked by the hosting chef – now, Michael Corvino -  to help invite the guest chefs and participate in the event.  Having just finalized this year’s guest chefs list, I am pleased to share it with you now and to announce that this year’s Friends of James Beard Foundation dinner at The American Restaurant will take place on Sunday, September 28, 2014.  Please save the date.

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travel: until tonight becomes tomorrow…

•June 1, 2014 • 3 Comments

Feast.

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When a volley of pink blossoms overtakes Gramercy Tavern and the big, picture-windows on Fifth Avenue begin blushing with brighter, bolder colors; when chefs get grabby for ramps and peas at the Union Square greenmarket, and the walls at casa mono finally swing open to seduce those turning the corner of 17th and Irving with the smell of pork and clams; when asparagus and morels make their vernal debut at Jean-Georges, and the Seussical flock on a field of seersucker and roses at Madison Square Park to lap at a pool of bourbon and mint; when the crowds at Balthazar and Barbuto begin spilling onto the sidewalk, and Central Park fills with rowboats and tourists, I get excited.

New York in May: for eight years, it’s been the only trip that has been permanently affixed to my travel calendar.  What began as a weekend jaunt to attend the James Beard Awards nearly a decade ago has, for me, and for the many who find themselves in the city that first weekend of the month, become an annual excuse to visit New York, to see friends who have gathered there from near and far, and to table-hop high and low.  Although Monday night at Lincoln Center may be the reason for the season, it’s rarely the highlight, eclipsed by the weekend’s lingering lunches that bleed into a succession of cocktail hours, dinners, and assorted asshattery and hot messery, to which I have learned to give a wide berth.

No other weekend brings the restaurant industry together – the bigwigs and we, the insignificant satellites who trace the periphery, alike – for a city-wide eat-and-drink on this scale.  At its best, it’s the greatest culinary social of the year.  At the same time, no other weekend does more to commercialize, commoditize, congratulate, and, often, over-congratulate those in the culinary arts.  After eight years, cynicism has crept in.

Yet, I go. And for as long as I am able, I will continue going, because no other weekend fills me with as much anticipation and excitement, or comforts with as much familiarity as that weekend.

New York in May: for me, there is and will never be anything like it.

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travel: american cool…

•May 29, 2014 • 6 Comments

Colors of Georgetown

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Realizing that I’ve traveled far more this year than time has allowed me to record and report, I’ve decided to set aside chronology and just write.  After a poor posting record in the first half of this year, I’m picking my blog back up with my latest trip: Washington, D.C.

Two weeks ago, I was at the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee (an event about which I hope to write soon) talking with Joe Yonan, the food editor of the Washington Post (and author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook“).  I told him I was heading to D.C. and shared with him my frustration that most of the restaurants I wanted to visit don’t take reservations.  To that point, Yonan noted, Tom Sietsema, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post, was publishing an article the very next day addressing that trend.  (It appeared in the Washington Post online edition on May 15, 2014 entitled “No reservations? This restaurant trend has become harder to swallow.”)

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save the dates: kansas city…

•May 2, 2014 • 2 Comments

There are a couple of upcoming charity events in Kansas City that I’m helping to organize, and I’d like to tell you about them.

One of them – the Harvesters Chefs Classic – I have helped organize for a few years now.  The other one, the Child Protection Center’s Cook for Courage event, is a new one that I helped create this year.

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travel: scatter my ashes at isetan…

•April 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

Salted Sakura Tea

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My friend Tomo knows I have a hard time finding clothes that fit.  So, she took me to Isetan.

Isetan is a high-end department store in Tokyo’s hyper-commercialized Shinjuku ward (the department store is located next to Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world).  The leather and laces lining the walls of its shoe section, alone, overwhelm, not to mention the collection of couture on the rest of the seven floors, which occupy an entire city block.  And that’s just the men’s department.  The women’s department is in a separate building.  Boasting an amazing roster of labels, Isetan is a sartorial wonderland that offers a glimpse into the Japanese obsession over quality, exclusivity, and variety.

While the upper floors at Isetan are devoted to treads and threads, the basement caters to your bec fin.

The food halls beneath Japanese department stores are legendary.  And not surprisingly, the one at Isetan is particularly impressive.  Not unlike the fine collection of stitches assembled on the floors above, on the lowest level are gathered the highest quality food products from around the world: jamon from Spain, seafood from Hokkaido, caviar from Russia, and, because the Japanese have a love affair with the French, a cellar of premier and grand cru wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy (on tap, up to ¥5,000 for a taste), confections from the top names in Paris (you’ll find both Hediard and Pierre Hermé, for example), and more.

You will find counters specializing in rice (you can buy rice with varying degrees of polish), cheese, miso, pickles, kasuzuke (fish marinated in sake lees), bread, sake, shrimp crackers – the inventory is both incredible and endless.  And of course, because the Japanese also love anything that’s cute and pretty, there’s an indulgent sprawl of square footage devoted to sweets, both Asian and European (besides macarons and French pastries, buttery baumkuchen, for example, is wildly popular among the Japanese).

The place is immaculate.  Everything is packaged beautifully and arranged with mechanical order.  Aided by the fact that much of the food on display is represented by odorless plastic models, there are no errant smells.  And the clerks are efficient and incredibly polite.

Every aspect of the Isetan experience is thoughtfully designed with the customer in mind.  The only thing missing is a place for customers to sit and enjoy the food they buy.  But then, I suppose, no one would ever leave.

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the tyrian-tinted…

•April 29, 2014 • 11 Comments

I receive an unbelievably high number of requests for restaurant recommendations.  While I would like to give every one a thoughtful response, it is simply not possible.

For years now, I have tried to think of a solution to this problem.  Having failed to do so thus far, I have, in the meantime, set up an auto-response on my email account that, in part, apologizes for my limitations and advises all who seek restaurant recommendations to consult my restaurant log (although the frequency of my posts has slowed down woefully over the past two years, I keep my restaurant log current).

But, my restaurant log is grossly inadequate as a dining guide.  I have only written about a fraction of the meals that are recorded, so my opinion about the vast majority of dining experiences over my nine years of blogging is incomplete.  Other than my year-end “best of” lists, which simply highlight my favorite dishes and meals of that year, I issue no “ratings” or “rankings” for restaurants.  And that will not change — I find ratings and rankings problematic for a number of reasons, many of which will be revealed over the course of this post.

My restaurant log, therefore, tells little of where I like to eat (The frequency of my visits to each restaurant, which are recorded in the log, gives some indication as to where I tend to eat.  But it doesn’t necessarily give you an accurate representation of where I like eating.), and even less of where I would recommend others eat based on my experience(s).

As its name suggests, my restaurant log is simply that – a record of restaurants where I have eaten.

So, what is the solution?

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