New York in May. It’s always a feast.
I’ve attended the James Beard Awards, which is held annually the first Monday of the month, for the past six years. For the past two, I’ve had the privilege of photographing the event for All-Clad Metalcrafters (a sponsor), which was the primary purpose of my latest trip.
Last year, my Beard weekend grew to irreplicable proportions, stretching into weeks and onto other cities. This year, I scaled things back, slightly.
I still ate very well, and visited multiple cities, managing to whittle down my bucket list a bit. I also caught up with friends from near and far, and made new ones along the way.
Two weeks, four cities, dozens of meals; here are the highlights:
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Daniel Boulud hosts one, classy after-party. At Boulud Sud, there were whole, stuffed suckling pigs, and yards of charcuterie, cheeses, and more. The restaurant’s pastry chef, Ghaya Oliveira, was nominated for the James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef this year, and she arrived from the gala to find a buffet of her own desserts stretching from wall to wall, complete with an ice cream cart of mini cones. It was generous. It was amazing.
Gramercy Tavern was packed with partygoers, all there to congratulate its chef, Michael Anthony, for winning this year’s Best Chef New York medal. The place was so thick with bodies that I never made it past the tavern room. I heard there were hot dogs in the back.
I ended the night at Eleven Madison Park, perennially the hottest after-party in the city, with speakers pounding and some of the industry’s finest dancing on tables. In the six years that I’ve attended the awards, Daniel Humm and his team have collected just about every medal they can: Outstanding Service (2004), Outstanding Wine Service (2008; John Ragan, formerly the wine director, stayed with the Union Square Hospitality Group when Eleven Madison Park split off with the NoMad group), Best Chef New York (2010), Outstanding Pastry Chef (2011; Angela Pinkerton), Outstanding Restaurant (2011), and this year, chef Humm was named Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation.
Congratulations to all the winners (here’s the final list).
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I ate all over the city.
On the Upper West Side, I visited Stephen Starr’s Caffé Storico in the recently renovated New York Historical Society Museum, where Jim Burke (a Food & Wine Best New Chef, formerly of James in Philadelphia) is cooking Italian food for a dining room (literally) lined with fine china. The chicken liver crostini there is great.
On the Upper East Side, I went to Dragonfly, Cornelius Gallagher’s re-entry into the city. Ever since Gallagher left Oceana in 2006, I’ve been waiting for him to resurface, haunted by his brioche-crusted loup de mer with tamarind curry and basmati rice. Sadly, I didn’t find it on the menu at Dragonfly. But I did find a wonderful coconut curry with shrimp, and a delicious dish of beef cheeks coated in a tangy tomato-tamarind sauce. The restaurant is only a few weeks old. I hope it does well. (p.s. If chef Gallagher is reading, please revive that loup de mer.)
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Also relatively new to New York is Jungsik, in the old Chanterelle space on the corner of Hudson and Harrison in TriBeCa. Not only was I pleased to find an old, college fencing teammate of mine working there as the general manager (We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Jin Ahn was at per se, and Jean Georges before that.), but I was also very impressed by the cooking. I’ll write about it. I promise.
In the West Village, I ate cocas and bocadillos at Tertulia (Seamus Mullens’s newish, Spanish restaurant) and pastas and more at Joey Campanele’s lovely l’Artusi. In NoLIta, I had a delicious meatball sandwich and demolished a spumoni ice cream cake at Parm, Torrisi’s sandwich sideshow.
And in Midtown, I paused for an interview over a slice of crack pie and some pretzel milk at Milk Bar, the one upstairs of Ma Pêche at the Chambers Hotel. My goodness, that was a lot of sugar.
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Gotham Bar & Grill has been opened for nearly three decades. It is, in many ways, the quintessential New York restaurant. I can’t believe I had never eaten there. So, I finally went.
I also finally made it to Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s matchbox in the East Village. While earning her M.F.A. at the University of Michigan, Hamilton had cooked at a restaurant around the corner from where I studied in graduate school. Although we weren’t in Ann Arbor at the same time, that’s where I first learned about her and Prune. It was nice to finally complete the circle with a lunch at her cozy counter one rainy day.
I can never escape returning to some of my favorite restaurants. Inevitably, friends request that I go with them when I’m in town. So, back to The Modern (to celebrate with the Garreltses and Crafts, fellow Missourians with James Beard Award nominations), le Bernardin (for a friend’s surprise birthday dinner), Corton (for Shawn Gawle’s desserts), Eleven Madison Park, Café Boulud, and a couple of others, I went.
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Last November, when Marc Aumont, pastry chef at The Modern, came to Kansas City to cook at an event I helped organize, I had asked him how Butterfingers (the candy bar) are made. He offered to teach me.
This time, I spent an afternoon with him and his pastry assistant, Angela Kim, pulling hot sugar and folding in peanut paste to make praliné feuilleté, the crunchy, peanutty interior of that buttery bar. We coated them with Valrhona Jivara milk chocolate. They tasted great, but we found the praliné feuilleté a bit stiff, not as flaky and brittle as we’d like. So, Aumont and I have a standing date to retry them anon, when I’m in New York next. I can’t wait.
Otherwise, my schedule in New York was so stacked that, that I barely had time to sleep. Somehow, I did manage to make a leisurely morning of Central Park with a couple of friends and their adorable kids. I needed that. And, between meals, I did manage to sneak into the IFC for a screening of my friend David Gelb’s film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” If you haven’t seen it, you must.
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I tweeted this, but I’ll repeat it here again: I want to do violent things to the person who designed Penn Station.
On that ugly note, I left New York by train for Levittown, Pennsylvania.
Do you know Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of Ideas in Food? If not, you should. They are not only great thinkers and talented chefs, but amazing hosts as well. They’ve written one book (Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work), and they’re currently working on a second one, to be published next year.
I spent two days with them, photographing, cooking, tasting, and getting a sneak peek at their recipe development process in their amazing test kitchen.
We had no agenda other than communing with good food before us. Between trips to the farmers’ market for produce and fried chicken, we stopped for ice cream (once in Princeton at The Bent Spoon, and once at OWowCow in Ottsville) and to rummage through antique shops along the way. After a hectic week in New York, it was a needed respite.
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I called my friends John and Karen Shields, formerly the chefs at Town House (sadly, it closed a few months ago), now plotting their next venture in Philadelphia. They joined us at Alex and Aki’s for a pizza dinner one night. Using Ideas in Food’s no-knead dough, we grilled them on firestones. They came out beautifully, with a knobby, blistered rim, and a bubbly middle of meat, cheese, and grilled eggplant.
I woke up to the smell of donuts, both fried and baked (made from a modified version of Ideas in Food’s no-knead brioche dough). Some were tossed in sugar and nutmeg, others were glazed with buttermilk and dusted with lime zest. I’ll be making these at home.
Marbled rib eyes, served with seaweed salsa verde; juicy boar chops, finished in a C-Vap; purple asparagus, grilled on the open fire and showered with pine buds; veal tongue, sous vide for 24 and 48 hours; oatmeal “carbonara,” topped with a steamed egg; strawberry pie; and an unforgettable caramel ice cream sundae doused in hot, buttery caramel: it was an amazing collection of ideas in food, and a good reminder that, with a little effort and creativity (and, in a few instances, some expensive toys), cooking at home can be just as rewarding (if not more) than eating out.
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Alex and I hit the road, and headed south for a two-day, whirlwind road-trip.
In Baltimore, we stopped by Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons, primarily to try Chris Ford’s desserts. We had every one of them.
At Woodberry Kitchen, Isaiah Billington, the restaurant’s pastry chef and right-hand man took us on a tour of their amazing operation, showing us walk-ins full of pigs and shelves lined with preserves. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a beautiful philosophy. Spike Gjerde, the chef and owner, and a friend of Alex’s, joined us for dinner there.
We were in Washington, D.C. just long enough to have a 12-course lunch at Tony Conte’s Oval Room. (I’ll write about this one too. I promise.) Afterward, we swung by The Four Seasons in Georgetown to say a quick hello to Lincoln Carson, the corporate pastry chef for the Michael Mina group. He happened to be in town for a few days working at Bourbon Steak. He and Alex had worked together, opening Olives in New York years ago.
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It was a fast and furious race to Bryan Voltaggio’s VOLT in Frederick, Maryland, where we celebrated Alex’s birthday with 21 courses at the kitchen counter. After a midnight tour of Family Meal, Voltaggio’s upcoming diner (slated to open by mid-June), we turned back to Baltimore for the night, Frederick having already been overrun by the press corps in anticipation of the G8 Summit at Camp David.
On the way out of Baltimore, Caragay took us to a little Mexican restaurant for pambazo (basically, a grilled, chorizo torta glazed with guajillo sauce), tacos, and quesadillas, a final feast before heading home.
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I constantly get asked how I manage to eat so much without getting bored or disenchanted. Hasn’t the magic of restaurant dining worn off, yet? Doesn’t the sameness get tiresome?
No, not really. While I thrill at the novelty of newness, I also welcome the repetition of foods and flavors (I note: I saw a lot of rhubarb and salted caramel on this trip); it enables me to compare and contrast, it gives me more dots to connect. The more I see and taste, the more I learn.
Also, never underestimate the importance of good company. I’m blessed with amazing friends, who challenge and teach, and make me laugh too. I owe a big thanks to all of you who made every meal and every day of this trip new and exciting for me. I hope for many more.
Until I find time to write about these meals, you’ll find the photos linked below.
The Bent Spoon (Princeton)
Eleven Madison Park
Gotham Bar & Grill
Locanda Verde (once, twice)
North End Grill
Ideas in Food (Levittown)
OWowCow Creamery (Ottsville)
Oval Room, The
Photos: The open kitchen at North End Grill in TriBeCa; two Daniels, Boulud and Humm, toasting each other at the James Beard Awards; Wolfgang Puck, this year’s Lifetime Achievement awardee at the James Beard Awards; fancy coat checks at le Bernardin in New York City; Prune in New York City; Angela Kim and Marc Aumont pulling sugar for praliné feuilleté at The Modern in New York City; Ideas in Food’s oatmeal “carbonara”; John Shields and Alex Talbot making pizzas in Levittown, Pennsylvania; flowers and preserves at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland; Bryan Voltaggio at the pass at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland; espresso cups at Spro Coffee in Hampden, Maryland.