travel: one million calories…
Thirty days. Four states. Nearly seventy restaurants. Over twenty-five Michelin stars. Hundreds of plates. And the most extraordinary cast of characters.
I had a great month.
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My tour began with a brief stay in New Jersey, where I visited some of the Garden State’s more charming corners, including an eighty-eight-acre farm owned by Sir Richard Branson. I also rolled through the ivy-covered town of Princeton, where I finally made it to Scott Anderson’s kitchen table at elements.
Then, to New York City, where I parked and plumped for three weeks. There were pop-ups and parties. There were the James Beard Awards, and the attendant all-night keggers afterward. There were multiple meals in one day, multiple dinners in one night. Tacos, burgers, brains, pastrami, fried chicken, steak, tofu, pasta, caviar, chicken butts, pizza, pizza, pizza, gelato, sushi, pad thai, doughnuts, eggplant with chocolate, egg creams, bibimbop with foie gras, ramps, ramps, ramps, morels, morels, morels, white asparagus, white asparagus, white asparagus, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, and coconut. There were the E, F, M, L, J, and Z trains, all new to this boy from Missouri. And there were guilt-induced, morning runs around Central Park, fueled entirely by butter, fortified by cream.
Chicago was next, where, the annual N(ational) R(estaurant) A(ssociation) convention was in full swing. I side-stepped that cluster and spent my days picking the eyes out of smoked salmon heads straight out of the smoker at Calumet Fisheries, and sopping up plates of stewed goat at Birrieria Zaragoza with a long-lost college buddy. At night, I was transported back to Paris, 1906 in a silver duck press, and fell down the rabbit hole to the deafening blare of Slayer, Shellac, and das Racist (care to guess where?).
My sojourn ended in Pittsburgh, where I went, principally, to eat at notion, a new restaurant opened by David Racicot in the sleepy township of Oakmont on the city’s outskirts. I also tacked on a dinner at Salt of the Earth, and picked up a french fry-stuffed sandwich at Primanti Bros.
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Generally, I ate very well, though I note that one of the meals on this trip was so disappointing that I won’t be sharing the details of it with you on this blog.
Highlights? There were too many to count. Here are a few:
1. The coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in Williamsburg – it’s just as good as the joe dripping at its home office in San Francisco.
2. Touring the test kitchen at Saveur Magazine’s headquarters in New York. It’s gorgeous, spacious, unexpectedly homey.
3. Duck. It’s everywhere. And most of it was very good.
4. Is America having a pastry moment? I think it is. I had some amazing desserts on this trip, many of which totally eclipsed the plates that preceded them. If duck is the meat of the moment, then coconut is the darling of the dessert world right now. I had coconut cream pie at The Dutch, coconut sorbet at SHO Shaun Hergatt, again at Corton, and then again at aldea. Coconut also showed up in an ice cream sandwich at Cafe Boulud, in a icy capsule full of saffron cream at avenues in Chicago, with lemongrass in tapioca at The Modern, and swirled with rhubarb sorbet at Jean Georges.
5. Getting asked by a security guard to remove myself from Millennium Park. How was I supposed to know the park closes at 11 p.m. (no, I didn’t see the signs)? I just wanted to take a peaceful walk with my tripod.
6. Thanking Frank Stitt in person for his magnificent 7-layer coconut (there it is again) cake recipe on page 311 of his “Southern Table” cookbook. I’ve made it many times, and I’ll make it many more. In fact, I’m making one tomorrow.
7. Getting an intimate tour of James Beard’s house.
8. Randomly bumping into no less than five college friends whom I haven’t seen in a decade on the streets and in the restaurants of New York City.
10. One gluttonous day: Russ & Daughters -> Katz’s Delicatessen -> Ray’s -> Donut Plant -> Otto -> keste -> Spotted Pig (for brunch) -> wd~50 (dinner number one) -> Empellon (dinner number two) -> Chef’s Night Out Party. I am Mr. Creosote.
11. Lingering in Madison Square Park on a number of perfect, spring days.
12. Taking a moment to admire Pittsburgh at night, from a look-out on Mount Washington.
13. Thomas Keller’s “Death” and “Glory” slippers at the James Beard Awards.
14. Returning to my home in Missouri, thankful to find it intact. There were many moments of worry during my trip for family and friends under the threat of tornadoes. Thankfully, no one I know was hurt.
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Take your statins before proceeding.
Birrieria Zaragoza (Chicago)
Calumet Fisheries (Chicago)
Davanti Enoteca (Chicago)
graham elliot (Chicago)
Lao You Ju (Chicago)
next “Paris 1906” (Chicago)
Ninety Acres (Peapack)
ABC Kitchen (Manhattan)
aburiya kinnosuke (Manhattan)
Bar Masa (Manhattan)
Bon Chon (Manhattan)
Breslin, The (Manhattan)
Cafe Boulud (Manhattan)
Del Posto (Manhattan)
Doughnut Plant (Manhattan)
Dutch, The (Manhattan) (once, twice, thrice)
Eleven Madison Park (Manhattan) (once, twice)
Hotel Griffou (Manhattan)
Jean Georges (Manhattan)
Katz’s Delicatessen (Manhattan)
keste pizzeria (Manhattan)
Meatball Shop, The (Manhattan)
Modern, The (Manhattan)
momofuku “duck bar” (Manhattan)
M. Wells (Queens)
per se (Manhattan)
Peter Luger (Brooklyn)
Russ & Daughter’s (Manhattan)
SHO Shaun Hergatt (Manhattan)
Spotted Pig (Manhattan) (once, twice)
Sushi Yasuda (Manhattan)
Yakitori Totto (Manhattan)
Primanti Bros. (Pittsburgh)
Salt of the Earth (Pittsburgh)
Photos: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Mount Washington; Jacques Pepin and Kevin Zraly, two James Beard Lifetime Achievement awardees at the James Beard Awards, New York, New York; Millennium Stage at Millennium Park – after hours – Chicago, Illinois; Gilt Taste launch party, New York, New York.