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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rumination 30: the movable circus…

•April 13, 2014 • 7 Comments

In his article “Dropped,” which appeared on the online magazine Grantland in March of 2014, Jason Fagone pens a biopic about the renowned juggler known as Anthony Gatto. (The subject is fascinating, and the writing is terrific.  I highly recommend it.)  Towards the end of the piece, after discovering that Gatto had left the Cirque du Soleil company, with which Gatto had traveled and performed, Fagone reached out to Gatto for an interview.  Gatto declined, which sent Fagone speculating as to why Gatto seemed content to leave his record-setting career as a juggler behind in favor of running a small concrete business.  (I’m leaving out a lot of information.)

Fagone surmises that Gatto had decided to rest in his skills and talent, confident and content in having secured his place at the top of his field.  He no longer felt the need to please the crowd, a crowd that probably didn’t fully appreciate his abilities.

Fagone writes: “Pure technical jugglers peak in their twenties…  As they get older, they survive by developing personality… Jugglers don’t have to perform difficult tricks to entertain people, because audiences generally don’t know what’s difficult. Juggling five objects is 10 times harder than juggling four, and six objects is 10 times harder than five, but to most people, five objects in the air looks like six, and six looks like five. A truly difficult juggling trick doesn’t necessarily register intuitively as difficult. It just looks like a bunch of weird shit crossing in the air.”

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review: heart of tartness… (willows inn)

•January 31, 2014 • 2 Comments

Thimble berries.

~

Is there a happier summer soundtrack than the splash of cannonballs accompanied by the reckless hoot of youth?

My friend and I arrived at the ferry slip on a warm summer afternoon to the sight of children hurling themselves off the headworks into the cool waters of the sound.  We got out of the car and cheered them on as we waited for the ferry to arrive from Lummi Island.

It’s hard not to romanticize my first visit to Willows Inn last year, which unfolded like a summer flick on the big screen, easy and neat.

After settling into the Aerie, a two-bedroom apartment leased by the inn a quarter-mile down the road, my friend and I took a long walk on the beach.  With the sun warm on our backs, we picked sweet thimble berries as we went – the brambles lining the island’s circumnavigating Shore Drive were quickly closing out their season on these raspberry-like gems.  We played bocce while cooks shuttled back and forth between the kitchen and the small smokehouse nestled in the treeline just beyond our court, which had been smoldering since we arrived.

And we napped until it was time to eat.

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