travel: until tonight becomes tomorrow…
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.
But sadly, New York in May will be no more. At least not next year.
Shortly after this year’s James Beard Awards, a ceremony that has been held in New York City since its inaugural run in 1990, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced that it will be moving its annual tradition and awards to Chicago next year.
Although there were whispers of this before the foundation’s official announcement, final confirmation of the change was welcomed news to many. For nearly twenty-five years, the JBF Awards have made New York City the undisputed capital of America’s restaurant industry. And many have complained that it’s unfair. That weekend’s proceedings attract the nation’s industry tastemakers, kingmakers, and rainmakers, and monopolize the nation’s culinary spotlight, training it, year after year, on New York’s restaurants and chefs and bringing with it a windfall of press, recognition, and votes.
But, the JBF awards weekend (which also includes the JBF Journalism Awards, a separate ceremony that takes place a couple of nights before the chef awards ceremony and gala) also puts a huge burden on the city’s chefs and their restaurants. The pressure to perform and impress is great. And so is the financial commitment, as hometown hosts flood the city with a sea of bubbles and comps to welcome and fête, one-up and outdo.
As much attention as that weekend brings to their city, I’m sure there are quite a few New York chefs and restaurateurs who are a little relieved that the party is moving on.
Me? Although it is my opinion that no city in the U.S. (right now) can come close to offering as many options – both culinary and otherwise – or bear the weight of that weekend as effortlessly, or with the same sense of tradition and ownership as New York City has, I welcome the change of scenery. Other cities and other chefs deserve the spotlight and the chance to perform, to impress, to one-up and outdo.
But I will miss New York in May, which has carved an irreplaceable mark in my heart’s calendar.
So allow me to indulge in it one last time and tell you about the week and a half I spent in New York earlier this month, filled with traditions, old and new, and perhaps ones long to be repeated again.
Roast chicken and potato gnocchi at Barbuto, with the garage doors up and the sun out; a simple but beautiful lettuce salad shocked with steely vinaigrette to clear the way for short ribs and porchetta at il buco alimentari; olive oil gelato and a stiff espresso with Puccini on the speakers at Otto; and a quiet, mid-day break to meditate, alone, at Del Posto on the superb cooking of Mark Ladner and Brooks Headley, who always offer to cook for me, and who always leave me a little breathless: these are among the New York City pleasures and treasures, dependable and good, to which I gladly return, and return again.
Jean-Georges is an annual joy too, a tradition I hope to keep for years to come. This year, I went with friends who had cause to celebrate. And Jean-Georges did not disappoint. (Disclaimer: they offered to cook for us, which turned into an entire tasting menu at lunch. The bill was discounted.)
And Casa Mono, where I ate three times on this trip, has become a familiar and favored perch in New York City as well. The fideos are a must. And this time, the Spanish anchovies, served on toast with ramps a touch of tomato – “Ibizan lifeguard-style” (a clever reference to Mario Batali’s calamari “Sicilian lifeguard-style,” as confirmed by Diego Moya, a line cook at Casa Mono) – were an easy repeat.
For the sixth year in a row, I met the Wizard of Roz and her husband Mr. RBI for our annual, standing date at Eleven Madison Park to commemorate our first meeting there. It was my eleventh visit to the restaurant and their one-hundred and fifth. They’re regulars.
After seeing photos of my recent dinner there, someone asked whether Eleven Madison Park lives up to its “hype.” Well, I answered, with all due respect to the team at that restaurant, which has achieved much and aspires for more, no restaurant can possibly live up to the amount of hype that has kidnapped all sense and reason formerly attached to restaurants at the high end, like this one.
But, that shouldn’t diminish the fact that Eleven Madison Park is always a classy act. This latest menu turned a new chapter in the restaurant’s telling of the New York story, one that I haven’t always found entirely sincere or convincing. Gone are the strange table-side carrot tartare (I found its connection to New York steakhouses tenuous) and the petits fours card trick (which was entertaining, but ultimately just a trick), replaced now with more organically grown, more recognizable slices of New York culinaria, like the Waldorf Salad. This was presented table-side along with a reading of the recipe out of a first edition copy of “Oscar of the Waldorf Cookbook” (I was surprised to learn that the original recipe only calls for three ingredients: celery, apples, and mayonnaise).
Gone, too, is the Jewish appetizing set of smoked fish and pickles. In its place now stands a fantastic pastrami “sandwich,” a page-turn on Houston Street, leafing over Russ & Daughter’s to its neighbor Katz’s Delicatessen. And gone are the egg cream and the kitchen counter cocktail. Instead, sno cones. The ice is freshly flaked from an old-timey ice shaver that requires a bit of muscle and patience. But the result is fantastic: crisp chips of ice that drink in the wonderful coconut-jasmine flavoring nicely without turning into slush.
Defending Eleven Madison Park against accusations that it’s too much dinner theater, that the program is too talky and scripted (I tend to agree with these charges, by the way), are truly delicious dishes that showcase the kitchen’s chops (now headed by Chris Flint). To the skeptics and naysayers, the Elysian Fields lamb dish I had at this meal stands as a disarming rebuttal. The rosy rounds were full of all of that wonderful terroir that food people talk about when they want a shortcut to describing great, natural flavor, here magnified in a generous rind of melty fat. The lamb was accompanied by little more than a few, neat stacks of roasted lettuce and a little jus. It was the sort of simple but spectacular, and very adult-minded cooking that reminded me of Humm’s first few years at Eleven Madison Park, about which I am now wistful, and for which I now long.
I missed Ignacio Mattos when he was chef at Isa (now closed). And the word on the street about his cooking then and there makes me regret it. Now he’s at Estela, cooking quirky, inventive, and flavorful food that was, the night I went, perhaps best represented in a flotilla of super-crisp Belgian endive leaves that sailed on a chopped mix of anchovies, walnuts and Ubriaco Rosso that, together, wasn’t quite granola or ground meat, and yet, with the endive, prompted a strange and wonderful association to the lettuce cup. There was a cloud of milky burrata on a raft of charred bread in a shallow pool of salsa verde that was more juicy than chunky, and incredibly herbaceous. Into the beef tartare were mixed shards of crispy sunchoke chips that, together with the acid in the dressing, had a lovely salt and vinegar thing going on. And an avalanche of potato chips over pork in a creamy ramp borani was like a meaty chip and dip all tossed together.
Despite warnings from quite a few people that the service at Estela can be wretched (not just bad, but actually wretched), we found nothing out of place. Maybe it was because my (non-industry) friend, who was celebrating his birthday, was acquainted with the chef (who wasn’t in the kitchen by the time we arrived late, around 22.00), or the fact that quite a few industry kingpins – ones who would make any restaurant staff prim and perk – dotted the dining room. Or maybe people just don’t know what they’re talking about. We had a great time.
Contra has perfected the spartan look, both with its interior (it took me a few moments to figure out what to do with the bathroom door, it appearing at first to be nothing more than an outline on a wall) and its simple plating style, which showcases talented cooking and good ingredients. The food wasn’t necessarily exciting, but, weeks later, I still think fondly of the slice of roast chicken I had there, served with little more than some softened scallion stalks. Linda Milagros Violago, the nomadic sommelier, who I met years ago in London when she was working at Viajante, and who has also worked at Charlie Trotters and helped shaped the wine lists at Mugaritz, in de wulf, and, more recently, Geranium, created the opening wine list at Contra (she was also the first person to tell me about Contra, long before it opened). And it has her fingerprints all over it. Having since left the restaurant, Violago leaves a trail of small producers making natural wines that, like the five-course prix-fixe menu at Contra, are relatively affordable. We ordered a couple of bottles of Radikon, a funky, rough-hewn, copper-colored juice that went well with our monkfish and meat alike.
Desserts at Contra were particularly great, especially a softened smear of lavender ice cream paved with jammy, Tri-Star strawberries.
I never ate at Café Pushkin, from which Betony has inherited its winsome interior. Café Pushkin occupied the current, Betony space for a hot, Midtown moment before chef Bryce Shuman and Betony’s general manager Eamon Rockey – both alumni of Eleven Madison Park – took over last year to critical acclaim. The two-story space combines the urban look of exposed brick with Restoration-era curlicue to great affect (I can’t say I was as enthusiastic about the chocolate-brown tablecloth).
Because this dinner was a reunion among industry friends, one of whom – James Kent – was Shuman’s senior at Eleven Madison Park, and the other – Gavin Kaysen – a fellow New York City chef – it was certainly not representative of a “normal” experience, although I am fairly certain that all of the dishes we got were on the menu. However, because Shuman cooked for us, we covered a larger portion of the menu in smaller, tasting portions.
Shuman’s Eleven Madison Park pedigree is palpable. His plating is neat and clean, and so are his flavors. I liked Shuman’s poached black bass, served in a warm, milky bath infused with saffron and fennel, for its unbelievably delicate texture, and loved his grilled short ribs for their hearty char and saucy flavor. Desserts were the weaker link, in my opinion. The flavors were bold and good but became muddled with time, as the softer components puddled together.
I’ll have to go back.
Having cooked in Denmark for some time, Daniel Burns‘s set menu at Luksus is noticeably Nordic. Burns might not want to hear that (or, maybe he doesn’t mind), but it’s an inescapable reference. And, by no means, is it a bad one. His cooking is precise – as seen in an impossibly thin, gossamer crisp that he tented over flakes of buttery hake. And his flavors are true and taut, thoughtfully aligned: kohlrabi and sunchokes, nutty and sweet, paired in a dish that starred a fist of skate; field mustard and spring garlic, spicy and bitter, coupled in another dish that was enriched with shavings of cured egg yolk.
Tender and juicy were the slices of seared beef tongue that Burns served to us as a preview. The dish hadn’t gone on the menu yet, and Burns said that he was still tweaking it. But I thought it was perfect the way it was, served with artichoke purée and a verdant sauce that reminded me of chimichurri. It was, by far, my favorite dish of the night. There was also a daringly spicy ginger sorbet, tangy with lime, that scrubbed out my mouth between meat and dessert. It served its purpose well. I loved it.
If there was one, great culinary coup that Burns pulled off, it was his bread, which was reminiscent of the bread that I know and loved of Denmark. It had a wonderfully high crust-to-mie ratio, and was served with whipped, cultured butter.
Luksus is located at the back of Tørst, a Danish-inspired beer bar (of the same ownership) in Williamsburg from which Luksus gets its terrific beer pairings (they tend acidic and a tinge bitter). Separated from the bar by a sliding door, the shoebox space accommodates six at the open kitchen counter, and perhaps a dozen or so more on the short row of two-tops that line the opposite wall.
When I heard that Georgette Farkas, the doyenne of Dinex (Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group), was breaking off to open her own restaurant, I was confused. She’s doing what?
But now it all makes sense.
Dinner at Rôtisserie Georgette with my friends Hungry Carly (former colleague of Farkas’s at Dinex) and Mango In The Sun was really great. We ordered some roasted leeks and the duck à l’orange for two, which was presented whole, burnished and beautiful. The leeks were thick and melted, smothered in chipped duck prosciutto and red wine vinaigrette. The bird returned to our table, carved, on a silver platter: the meat was rosy and juicy, the skin glazed and glistening.
Executive chef Chad Brauze (who has cooked in both Boulud’s and Keller’s kitchens) filled our table with assorted pâtés (both en croute and mousseline, en gelée), crackling (from both duck and pork), meats, and a variety vegetables infused with the fat thereof (disclaimer: we only paid for what we ordered, which is a fraction of what arrived at our table; also, Ms. Farkas and I had worked with each other, only tangentially, when I was the photographer for the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation). Everything was well-made, well-cooked, and well-presented (much of it on vintage pewter and porcelain). Despite the restaurant’s meaty theme, some of my favorite dishes focused on vegetables, like a bundle of crispy pencil asparagus with blown-out tips that arrived bathing in velvety Hollandaise, or a generous hillock of tender fava beans that rose from a frothy surf of whipped crème fraîche, or a simple bowl of buttered peas. A little dairy fat never hurts.
If, like us, you can only find room for one dessert at the end, make it the chocolate soufflé. It’s fantastic.
From the look and feel of Rôtisserie Georgette, you’d think you were deep in Upper East Side country. The night we were in, the restaurant churned with stock Upper East Side types – the kind of caricatures you’d find in The New Yorker cartoons, worldly and eccentric, some clawing at their fading youth with their wealth – who had descended from on high, skirting their southern frontier to support one of their own and to taste her roasted meats. Ms. Farkas is a consummate hostess and caters to her neighbors well. If they got what I got, their commute was worth it.
Speaking of Daniel Boulud, Hungry Carly wooed me to the lounge at Daniel for a round of Ghaya Oliveira’s desserts. Her menu is bifurcated: fruit-based desserts on the left, chocolate ones on the right.
Oliveira plates in geometric terms, and she tastes in color. There was a Cubist, pastel-green vacherin of avocado, lime, and green apple. It was cool to eat and cool to see. On another plate, rows and circles of peachy-pink outlined a marriage of rhubarb and grapefruit. Together, it was more tangy than tart, and tasted as beautiful as it looked.
The Meyer lemon-Bayahibe chocolate mousse with milk chocolate cremeaux was a study in beige, ringed by a feathered halo of more milk chocolate. Another, darker chocolate dessert, roasty with the aroma of coffee and fragrant with orange, mirrored the restaurant’s interior designer Adam Tihani’s circular motif. My favorite dessert was the dark and sexy “Atome Rouge“: orbs of Tainori dark chocolate, capped with shiny glaçage and paired with red fruits; a revisionist’s Black forest.
And at the end, a basket of mini madeleines, powdered and perfect.
One day, when the sky was particularly moody, my friends and I ducked into The Mercer Kitchen to escape the rain. They each ordered a glass of wine and I, to the great surprise and glee of our server, ordered a strawberry ice cream sundae (with brioche croutons) and another dessert involving salted caramel and bananas brulée. We whiled away the afternoon, huddled around a small, zinc-topped table, watching tourists and shoppers scurry and hurry across the glint of wet cobblestones outside.
Another day, when it was dark and stormy, I met Dana Cowin for lunch at The Gander, chef Jesse Schenker‘s new restaurant in the Flatiron District. Schenker also owns recette in the West Village. The best thing I had there were the two, silky Santa Barbara spot prawns, anointed with some olive oil, that he sent out at the top of our meal.
My college buddy Weissman was passing through town late one night. He wanted to catch up. So I headed first to an early dinner with my friend Gerald San Jose (formerly with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group) to get the latest on his upcoming restaurant Noreetuh, a partnership with Jin Ahn (formerly of per se and Jungsik, and, coincidentally, a former college teammate of mine). It’s getting closer to showtime, he assured me. In fact, if all goes as planned, the restaurant will be opening near Sushi Dojo in the East Village, where we had decided to meet for the $80 omakase sushi tasting that night. I really liked the rice at Sushi Dojo, which was slightly warmer than it is cool, and slightly tangier than not. And the fish was pretty great too, especially for the price. I say it’s a buy.
After dinner, I walked across the street to Empellon Cocina, where I met Weissman for a short round of tacos and the new, five-course dessert tasting that Alex Stupak recently started offering ($45). I can’t say these desserts thrilled me the way his desserts at wd~50 did. But they were all very good, especially one that put pistachios together with Chartreuse, pineapple, and candied angelica stem. That one was awesome.
Before he left town, Weissman met me for a late breakfast at The Breslin, where, I’ve come to realize, I don’t eat often enough. I had the three cheese breakfast sandwich, a steadying start to my day. Not only were the two, generous slices of toast adhered together by a thick layer of cheese, with an egg in the basket*, but the entire sandwich was encrusted with a fine shell of melted cheese that had gone golden-brown and crisp. It reminded me of the griddled sandwiches at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.
I met Wendy Weisman (not to be confused with my friend Weissman above) in Chile last year. We were both invited to speak at FEGAM, a sustainable seafood conference in Valdivia, a city chosen for its proximity to a cluster of independent fishing communities along the rocky coast just north of Patagonia. Ms. Weisman is a researcher who works with small-scale fisheries to find ways of shortening the supply chain and increasing transparency and sustainability in the seafood market.
She called me a few weeks before my recent trip to New York to tell me that she was co-organizing this year’s New York Sustainable Seafood Week. Limited by a small budget, she was in need of a photographer who would be willing to donate time and talent to snap a few pictures at one of the events. She asked if I could help. By coincidence, the Sustainable Seafood Week overlapped my trip to the city, and I told her I’d be happy to pitch in.
The event Weisman asked me to attend and photograph was one of the week’s keystone events, the Sustainable Seafood Shindig, hosted this year by Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortúzar, a native of Chile and chef of Colicchio’s Riverpark, where the dine-around took place. With Colicchio’s support, the event brought some of New York’s culinary giants to cook in teams of two. Each pair focused on a different, sustainably harvested seafood: David Chang and Kerry Heffernan (Atlantic sea scallops); Bill Telepan and Marco Canora (squid); Rick Moonen and Anita Lo (Atlantic salmon), and April Bloomfield and David Pasternack (scup).
I stopped briefly at Chang’s and Heffernan’s counter, where Chang was serving thick slabs of raw scallops in cold, bonji-infused broth with diced pineapples and chives. The broth glimmered with umami, and the scallops were sweet and succulent. But it was the pineapple, with its sunny smile of acidity, that clinched it for me. It made me want to wave Chang over and confess that, hey, two of your restaurants are so crowded and loud that they make me shouty and stabby, and the other one doesn’t let me take photographs (a point of contention about which we’ve joked), but you are one thoughtful and talented mother. I’m being serious. His scallop dish was great.
Only in its second year, the New York Sustainable Seafood Week seems to have generated a good buzz and won some influential champions for its cause. I encourage you to learn more about this organization and this event.
Brunch in New York (or anywhere, actually) fills me with angst and agita, and sometimes anger. But, if one is to eat out on the weekend, it is unavoidable.
Some restaurants head straight to Central Casting, opting for the plain and predictable: pancakes, waffles, and familiar company of egg dishes. Given the popularity of brunch, and the wait times it often commands, it’s hard to justify making the effort for that. At the other end, some restaurants stray into uncharted territory, reaching for creativity with mixed results.
You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.
Maybe that’s why the Clinton St. Baking Co. is so popular. The restaurant hits the breakfast and brunch sweetspot with a roster of basics that are just beyond the willing reach of most home cooks, enticing New Yorkers out of their cubbyholes with things like like fried chicken and waffle; soft-shell crab po’boys; Belgian waffles with roasted figs, strawberries, and toasted hazelnuts under a milky run of freshly whipped cream; and a creamy smoked salmon and cream cheese scramble with chives and a side of greens. Or a tall, frosty coffee-Kahlua milkshake. All of this, and more, my friends and I had one Sunday morning. And all of it was great. But I definitely wouldn’t wait an hour or more for it, which I hear is often the case at this small eatery on the Lower East Side. My friend Adam of A Life Worth Eating secured our place in line. I’ll admit, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone.
Brunch at Narcissa, John Fraser‘s new restaurant in The Standard Hotel in the East Village, was a whole other story. It strayed a little. The bagel chips (served with three spreads – smoked salmon cream cheese, hummus, and ) were nice and crisp, but way too greasy, and the “Box of Donuts” (a gift from the kitchen) was probably more cute than the contents were good – the donuts were a little dry. But the oysters were fat and fresh, and my “Crab Benedict” was pretty good too, although, I hadn’t realized it would be so Atkins friendly. The two poached eggs, smothered in Hollandaise, were served on golden-brown crab cakes (that were, blessedly, more meat than filling), but nothing more. No English muffin, no toast, no biscuit. It wasn’t a bad thing, it was just an unexpected thing.
But, the service was pretty good, and so was the people watching on the restaurant’s patio that fine day. Next time, dinner.
At Osteria Morini, the brunch menu is largely their lunch menu. I like that. I ordered something the restaurant offers regularly, and therefore, presented less of a gamble: a plump raviolo suspended in brown butter and stuffed with fluffy ricotta and a soft yolk. I won the bet; it was terrific.
Hearth, too, stays largely within its wheelhouse at brunch with well-made, comforting Italian fare. The veal meatballs were soft and light, coated in tomato sauce. And the trio of “grilled bread” that I ordered (crostini by any other name…) showcased both the freshness of spring with peas, mint, lemon, and tangy mascarpone, and the heartiness of the hearth with trifolati and milky ricotta. It’s unsurprising that Hearth was recommended to me for brunch by a number of New York City chefs. I pass that recommendation on to you.
I had dinner at marea. The food was fantastic, but the timing was terrible. The restaurant was particularly packed that night, and the staff seemed a bit stretched. Four courses took nearly four hours, and not because we were dallying at the table. Could it have been because our party of six was a half-hour late? Did we throw the staff off their timing? I don’t mean that sarcastically, rather, I’m confessing it sheepishly. Or was the restaurant simply over-extended?
Regardless, the crudi were fresh and delicious, the pastas couldn’t have been better (especially a creamy pool of risotto mounted with sea urchin, gelatinous with halibut fin, and pocketed with nuggets of lobster), and – my gosh – for being a seafood-focused restaurant, they did not make me regret the steak I ordered. The sirloin, roasted and served on the bone, bragged the fine funk of extended dry-aging (50 days). I was not disappointed. I’ll be back for more.
On mismatched plates by candlelight came Dan Kluger’s delicious, spring flavors to our table at ABC Kitchen, at which I reunited and reminisced with an old college friend, Cub, who I haven’t seen in a decade and a half. Kluger’s “toast” dishes are always great, as was the one that greeted Cub and me before we even picked up our menus, slathered with creamy ramp and tangy goat cheese. Kluger also sent out a painterly plate of raw fluke dabbed with acid and splashed with the color and delicate crunch of baby vegetables, shaved and chopped. That was terrific.
Although I love Kluger’s way with vegetables, I am even more impressed by how soulful his cooking can be. His fried chicken, with its ethereal, tonkatsu-like crust, served on a lake of hot sauce butter, and the pork confit, which glistened like a row of knuckles wearing a coat of bacon marmalade, provided a comforting backdrop upon which once-familiar names and places from ye olde alma mater reappeared to delight Cub and me once more.
When I wasn’t eating, I spent most of my time in New York at Bluestone Lane, a coffee shop opened by a couple of Australians. My friend Adam of A Life Worth Eating first led me to it. The original location is tucked inside the atrium on Third Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. But I quickly became a regular at the newer location just off Wall Street at 30 Broad Street in the heart of the Financial District. Twice a day I swung by to have a “piccolo” (a short drink that’s closer to the macchiato than the cappuccino), or a “flat white” if I was feeling for something frothier (steamed milk poured into a double espresso, more akin to the cortado than the cappuccino). In addition to a variety of Australian coffee drinks (at that time, they were pulling Sightglass’s “Owl’s Howl” espresso), the menu offered a short list of casual Australian eats, which read like culinary cartoon characters: the “Brekkie Bowl” (fruit, yogurt, and granola); the “Jaffle” (a panini); and the Avocado Smash (mashed avocado on toast).
The fair-haired, Aussie barista, Ben, who pulled my shots daily told me that he was moving over to the West Village to open a third location of Bluestone Lane in a larger space that would include a more extensive food menu. He told me to look for it come June.
In an effort to offset my caloric crimes, I worked some exercise into my schedule. I went with Adam to my first yoga session. I didn’t understand a word our incredibly flexible instructor said, except that, if I get tired, I should resume the “Resting Child Pose,” which I did not find restful at all. But I tried, and I did sweat. I look forward to more.
Early one morning, I met Nate Appleman at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. His story of weight loss has been incredibly inspiring to me, so I was thrilled to run with him. Despite my reservations about being out of shape, we set a rather fast pace that I miraculously managed to keep. But man, he winded me with conversation – I needed all the air I could get just finish the run (he did drop a great Washington, D.C. dining tip that I put to good use last week). Over to Williamsburg we went, and returned by way of the Brooklyn Bridge. He’s in good shape.
I first met Gavin Kaysen on this first weekend of May six years ago. I was having lunch at Café Boulud with my friends when he came out to the dining room on a routine walk-through. It was a particularly memorable meeting because, later that night, I watched him mount the stage at Avery Fisher Hall, when he was elected the Rising Star of 2008 by the James Beard Foundation. A couple of years later, we were reunited over a plate of spaghetti nero. And from that saucy, spicy plate of pasta, we became friends, and later, colleagues – I, the observer with a camera, and he, along with the Bocuse d’Or USA team that he coached, the subject.
Earlier this spring, Kaysen announced that he was turning in his toque at Café Boulud at the end of May and going home to Minneapolis to open his own restaurant, Merchant.
In one of those moments where life’s orbit crosses itself unexpectedly but purposefully, six years after we first met, Kaysen called me back to the place we first met on the weekend that we first met to help him capture and bid farewell to his team at Café Boulud.
So, on a balmy, breezy day in an early part of this May, I walked across 76th Street, between Fifth and Madison, to where a small crowd of tourists and curious passers-by had gathered to gawk at aprons waving in the wind, and set still a moment that marked an end for Gavin Kaysen, for Café Boulud, for New York, and for me.
I guess the scoreboard now stands at Midwest: 2; New York: 0.
New York in May: goodnight, goodnight. Hello, Chicago.
Here is a list of all of the restaurants I visited on this trip. Each is hyperlinked to the photos of my meal there.
casa mono (once, twice, thrice)
Clinton St. Baking Co.
Eleven Madison Park
il buco alimentari e vineria
Mercer Kitchen, The
Sustainable Seafood Shindig (Riverpark)
* For foreigners (and those who don’t know this culinary reference), an “egg in the basket” refers to an egg that is cooked on the griddle in a hole stamped out of a piece of toast, comme ça.
PHOTOS: A smattering of dishes at Rôtisserie Georgette; the wood-fired oven at Barbuto; ready-to-eat pizzas at the market at il buco alimentari e vineria; foie gras brulée at Jean-Georges; basting asparagus en vessie at Eleven Madison Park; endives on a bed of anchovies, walnuts, and Ubriaco Rosso cheese at Estela; “Lobster Rolls” at Betony; poached skate at Luksus; the duck à l’orange at Rôtisserie Georgette; the “Fleur de Café” dessert at Daniel; strawberry ice cream sundae at The Mercer Kitchen; the open kitchen at The Breslin at the ACE Hotel; April Bloomfield and David Chang enjoy a quiet moment a the Sustainable Seafood Shindig at Riverpark; the veal and ricotta meatballs at Hearth; shaved fluke at ABC Kitchen; the rugby-themed interior of Bluestone Lane in the Financial District; chef Gavin Kaysen and the entire staff of Café Boulud.