travel: caricatures and meatsnacks…

Underberg at midnight.

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Hurricane Sandy spurred an inspiring rally rise of support among chefs and restaurant industry folk in New York City.

Overnight, Pete Wells, the reigning restaurant reporter at The New York Times turned his Twitter feed into command central for industry news and exchange (his coverage continues).

Uptown, chefs, like Daniel Boulud, David Chang, and Gavin Kaysen flexed their culinary muscle to bring in dollars for those affected by the storm.

Downtown, chefs George Mendes, Seamus Mullen, Marco Canora, and Andrew Carmellini gathered to cook at Aldea to do the same, despite the fact that all of their restaurants had been closed for nearly a week due to electrical outages in lower Manhattan. Their “Food Flood” fundraising dinner series will continue at Hearth on December 3, this time with Sean Brock and Alex Stupak.

In Brooklyn, Governor, a restaurant, that had hosted a dinner to celebrate the launch of Perennial Plate’s newest season just a couple of weeks earlier, quickly became the focus of charitable events around the country (including this one hosted by Kitchit in Chicago on December 3).  During the storm, the newly opened Governor, in the low-lying DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, was flooded, prompting many to come to its aid, including Jonathan Wu of Wu Pops Up, who popped up with a Chinese brunch menu at Pinkerton Wine Bar in Williamsburg to help raise funds for his friend, Brad McDonald, chef of Governor.

Sandy relief efforts continue.  Next week, Bon Appetit, together with City Grit, will be hosting two dinners to benefit the New York City’s Mayor’s fund for small food businesses.  The line-up is spectacular: thirteen heavyweights, including the boys from Torrisi and Animal, Christopher Kostow, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Andy Ricker, and Naomi Pomeroy.

The New York Times has published a round-up of other upcoming Sandy relief food events here.  Go support them.

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Grinding sesame.

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Pausing only briefly in New York on my way to West Virginia – I landed in the early afternoon and left late the next night – I spent my time in the city supporting restaurants affected by the storm, sticking to eateries in Brooklyn and those located south of the outage latitude in Manhattan. Everywhere I went, I was reassured to find restaurants full and servers upbeat.  New Yorkers are resilient.

Straight from the airport, I met a friend for cold soba at cocoron, a shoebox noodle bar on Delancey Street. Cramming my luggage into the odd corners of the restaurant, we squeezed into a postage stamp table and both ordered natto soba. We ground our own sesame seeds and assembled our own bowl of noodles from the mini buffet that arrived on our trays. It was simple and delicious.

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A garden in Carroll Gardens

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At Mission Chinese, I exfoliated my tongue with numbingly spicy caricatures of Chinese cuisine under the rainbow glow of dragon lanterns and neon lights. Our tiny real estate crowded with plates and bowls: tender cubes of pastrami in a “kung pao” mix; wonderfully elastic “egg egg” noodles, more carbonara than “dan dan” (my favorite dish of the night)*; and salted cod-fried rice.  That fried rice was good.  But if you’ve had the Cantonese dish on which it is based (that 鹹魚炒飯 is one of my favorite Chinese dishes was foretold when my mother so severely craved it when she was pregnant with me that that she flew to Chicago – the nearest Chinatown to Kansas City in 1978 – to satisfy her craving), which involves a version of cured fish that is far more pungent than salt cod, you’ll know why the original is far less forgettable.

Afterward, we piled into a cab and met a couple of friends at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens for drinks and a late-night meatsnack: beef tartare; steak – “rosy within, crunchy on the outside,” a.k.a. “Andrew Knowlton-style;” spaetzle; and apple strudel, chased by shots of Underberg.  We ended that night by candlelight, late and full.

~

Pear

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My friends and I shared quite a few plates (and cocktails), including a terrific Caesar salad and a wonderfully crisp crab tostada, at Gran Electrica. After our brunch there, we strolled down to the water’s edge in Brooklyn Bridge Park to watch the ferry crossings. The sun was out, the air was cool and crisp. It was a happy sight, save the darkened River Café, rocking silently by the pier. It is closed indefinitely due to damages sustained during Hurricane Sandy.  I hope it reopens.

On my way to the airport, I met a couple of friends at Gwynnett Street in Williamsburg for a quick dinner at the counter.  In search of whiskey bread (nobby crust, fluffy interior; the loaves are sliced, hot out of the oven, between tongs), we also found blood dumplings wrapped in ribbons of root vegetables, and a fragrant pear and white wine dessert with pine ice cream. It seemed like a nice neighborhood restaurant, ambitious in the best of ways.

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"Dream Tree"
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This might be the best time of the year to visit The Greenbrier, where I have been photographing the Bocuse d’Or USA training sessions with Richard Rosendale, the resort’s executive chef and our country’s competitor for the 2013 Bocuse d’Or, and his commis, Corey Siegel.  In preparation for the holidays, The Greenbrier’s main hotel has been turned into one big festive present, wrapped in ribbons and wreaths.

Inside, we were greeted by The Greenbrier’s holiday “Create a Dream Tree,” a colorful pyramid of wrapped gifts that -with more than a month until Christmas – already flirted with the lobby ceiling.  I was told that, by Christmas, the entire lobby will be overrun with $1 million in toys for charity.

Outside, I watched a crew lay a net of coolant-filled cables in a bed of sand, the base for an ice rink.

As I wrote in an earlier post about this resort: “Only at The Greenbrier.  Because there, anything is possible.”

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Coaches' session.

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With seventy-some days left on the clock before the 2013 Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, the Bocuse d’Or USA coaches Gavin Kaysen, Gabriel Kreuther, and Grant Achatz – joined this time by Timothy Hollingsworth – reassembled at The Greenbrier to meet with Rosendale and Siegel in the famous Greenbrier Bunker kitchen for two days of intense evaluation and training.

In previous years, the competition meat and fish for the subsequent competition cycle was announced at the end of each Bocuse d’Or in Lyon. For this competition cycle, the organization decided to change the rules.  At the conclusion of last year’s Bocuse d’Or, it was announced that the competition meat for the 2013 Bocuse d’Or would be beef. However, unexpectedly, it was also announced that the competition fish for the 2013 cycle would not be made known to the competitors until November, 2012, just a couple of months before the next Bocuse d’Or.  In addition, the garnishes for the fish platter would have to be cooked out of a limited selection of produce that would be revealed to competitors in an “international marketplace” at the competition.**

So, until now, Rosendale has been focusing on his meat platter.  But, with this past week’s announcement in Lyon that this year’s competition fish will be turbot, and the accompanying seafood garnish will be homard bleu (blue lobster), he and Siegel will begin cranking on the fish platter as well.

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If bowling had a Heisman trophy…

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I still can’t show or say anything about the food that Rosendale and Siegel are preparing for the competition in January.  So, let me turn, instead, to our off-hours activities.

Beyond our daily breakfasts and dinners together at The Greenbrier, the Bocuse d’Or USA team has taken on a tradition of bowling at night.  Our self-appointed team captain, Gavin Kaysen, surprised us this time with our very own Bocuse d’Or bowling league shirts, each embroidered with our nicknames.

To answer the Braiser’s question about the nicknames: Kaysen is “Mr. Nasty,” named after his peculiar (and, I must say, at times, dangerous) bowling move, “The Nasty,” in which he cradles the ball in his right arm, releasing it just short of the runway.  [I linked to a video of him teaching “The Nasty” to Grant “The Sherminator” Achatz (because Sherman is his middle name) in an earlier post on this blog]  His average is shockingly high, given the precarious look of his down-alley delivery.

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"The light fixture has been compromised."

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On my last night in White Sulphur Springs, Siegel (since I call him Boy Wonder, a sidekick to Rosendale, his nickname is “Robin”) took me (who has earned the nickname “H.R.H.”) into Lewisburg, the closest town to White Sulphur Springs, for dinner. It’s a sleepy town with a main drag that lasts exactly three and a half blocks.   Our pickings were slimmer than anticipated, since the Stardust Café, where we had hoped to have dinner, was unexpectedly closed.  So, to Del Sol Cantina and Grille we went for hard-shelled tacos (I haven’t had one in years!) and churros.

From The Greenbrier, I left on an excruciatingly early flight to Savannah, where my travelogue continues in a subsequent post.

Here are the restaurants that I visited on this trip to New York and West Virginia:

New York 

cocoron soba (Manhattan)
Gran Electrica
(Brooklyn)
Gwynnett Street (Brooklyn)
Mission Chinese (Manhattan)
Prime Meats (Brooklyn)

West Virginia

Del Sol Cantina and Grille (Lewisburg)
Draper’s (The Greenbrier)
Forum, The (The Greenbrier)
Jerry West’s Prime 44 (The Greenbrier)

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*  Yes, yes, I know that “dan dan” is not “egg egg” in Chinese.  But “dan dan” is homonymic for “egg egg” and, I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly), that this is the origin of the Mission Chinese name for this dish.

** I don’t know the reasoning behind this change.  But it has a couple of significant effects:

1. In a way, I think it slightly levels the competitive playing field.  Some countries fund their Bocuse d’Or competitors, allowing them to dedicate themselves, full-time, to training for the competition.  This is not the case in the United States.  So, that the fish is revealed so late in this competition cycle, and, that the garnish ingredients for the fish will not be made available until the competition, makes the fish platter a particularly unique indicator of the versatility and raw talent of a chef; and

2. This change casts a “reality” (as opposed to a “rehearsed”) aspect to the competition, making it a more interesting spectator sport.

Photos: Our table at Prime Meats littered with Underberg, Brooklyn, New York; grinding sesame seeds for natto soba at cocoron, New York, New York; the back patio at Frankies 457 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York; pear and white wine with pine ice cream at Gwynnett Street, Brooklyn, New York; the gigantic “Create a Dream Tree” at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; Grant Achatz, Timothy Hollingsworth, Gavin Kaysen, and Richard Rosendale inside The Greenbrier Bunker, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; Gavin Kaysen, mid-Nasty at The Greenbrier Bowl, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; the Bocuse d’Or USA Team: me, Timothy Hollingsworth, Gavin Kaysen, Corey Siegel, Monica Bhambhani, Richard Rosendale, Gabriel Kreuther, and Grant Achatz. in the lobby of The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

~ by ulterior epicure on November 28, 2012.

3 Responses to “travel: caricatures and meatsnacks…”

  1. Love the dynamics in the bowling pic! Just a heads up: the “dan” in “dan dan mian” is not the character for egg. I can read juuuust enough to discern that

  2. @Yao: I know, I know. Read my first footnote. :)

  3. @ue: Well, that’s “dan” on my face, then! Gosh, footnotes… Chuck is rubbing off too much on you ;)

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