travel: fairytale…

•January 3, 2016 • 2 Comments

Royals victory parade.

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Five years ago today, I walked out of the law firm and into the unknown.

What began as a shapeless but exciting restart on life quickly formed into an unexpectedly self-guided and fulfilling journey flooded with amazing people, places, lessons, and adventures.  Year after year, life has exceeded my wildest expectations.

While I’ve enjoyed getting lost in the busyness of my new life as a photographer and writer, I’m incredibly saddened that it has left me less and less time to be a blogger.  If you’ve been a regular reader in the past, then you’ve been reading with less regularity lately. And I’m sorry for it.  So, before allowing myself to be swept away into the next calendar, I am putting on the brakes, as I have done for the past four years, to regroup, reflect, and record.

Of course, this post is far from being a thorough review of 2015 (although, if you manage to finish reading this post, you might think I gave you one).  The advantages of immediacy have long expired, and so a detailed accounting is not possible at this late hour.  Rather, it is my chance to recite, even if with broad strokes, the moments, places, and faces that have touched me recently.  I want to remember them, and share them, because they have been an important part of my life.

But, of course, more than just a journal entry, this, here, also inaugurates a series of year-end posts that, together, offer a comprehensive look at the very best of what and where I’ve been eating in the preceding twelve months.  In what has become an anticipated tradition on this blog, which I started 11 years ago, and which attracts more eyeballs than all of the other posts in the preceding year combined, the three posts that follow this one will enumerate my favorite dishes, desserts, and restaurant meals of 2015.

But before I do that, let me first tell you about my year, and, as I have done in the past, list for you all the restaurants I visited.

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12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas: kostow… (2015)

•December 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

With the Harlans

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What can I say this year that I didn’t say last year?

Before you read the rest of this post, I urge you to read what I wrote on the twelfth night of last year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.  Even if you’ve read it before, please read it again. Every word and every sentiment in that post I apply to this one.  So there’s no need to repeat or reword it here.

Instead, I will simply say that returning to the Twelve Days of Christmas for a fourth year has been an immense pleasure and privilege.  For four years now, I’ve rushed through the first eleven months with an eye towards the twelfth, when I get whisked away to a magical place called Meadowood Napa Valley to take part in an event that is truly without equal.

For twelve nights in December, the world’s culinary spotlight moves to sleepy St. Helena, California, as a parade of chefs streams in from faraway destinations to cook at The Restaurant at Meadowood. Over the past four years of photographing this dinner series, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to pull back the curtain a little, in hopes of sharing the magic of it all with those who can’t be there.  In my travels, I’m constantly surprised by the number of people, from all corners of the world, who join in the excitement and anticipation of this annual event, which, for so many of us, has become a highlight, an escape, an inspiration and aspiration, and, perhaps, most meaningfully, tradition.

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12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: yu… (2015)

•December 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

6th Course: Beef Short Rib

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A dinner series called the Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by a Jewish chef wouldn’t be complete without Chinese food, right?

Enter: Justin Yu.

He’s the chef and co-owner of Oxheart, a restaurant in Houston where he has earned national acclaim for his vegetable-focused menu.

The last time I was in Houston was in 1988.  So, unfortunately, I haven’t eaten at Oxheart yet.  But, by coincidence, I’ve had quite a few opportunities to taste Yu’s food this year.

In late September, Yu came to Kansas City to cook at a charity dinner that I help organize every year.  Then, in November, I saw him in Carmel, where he cooked at this year’s Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine dinner.  And, if the third time is supposed to be a charm, then Christopher Kostow had impeccable timing in inviting Yu to the eleventh night of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood to fulfill all of our holiday hopes and stereotypes by cooking what Yu and I irreverently refer to as “our people’s food.”  (Yu, his co-owner and pastry chef Karen Man, his cook Sam Chang, and I are all children of Chinese immigrants, causing me to joke that BravoTV has the “Shahs of Sunset,” and The Twelve Days of Christmas have the Mandarins of Meadowood.)

I jest. Sort of.

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12 days: on the tenth day of christmas: tanaka…. (2015)

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

2nd Course: "Camouflage"

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He speaks Japanese, of course.  But he also speaks Spanish, French, and more English than I speak in any of those languages.  His name is Atsushi Tanaka, and I ate at his Restaurant A.T. in Paris last year (here are the photos from that dinner in September of 2014).  At the time, I had not heard of him – I was urged to eat there by my friend Laurent Vanparys (ironically, a Belgian whose Flemish name means “from Paris”).  And, judging by the clientele in his restaurant that night, neither had the rest of Paris.  I think I was the only non-Japanese person in that small dining room.

But in the year since, I have seen Tanaka’s name billed at culinary events around the world, including this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas, where he was the tenth chef to cook with Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days: on the ninth day of christmas: connaughton… (2015)

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sea Urchins
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Single Thread Farms Restaurant & Inn was conceived long before I first met Kyle Connaughton in March of 2014 at the Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine event in Carmel, California.  I know this because I had heard murmurings of it before I heard about it from Connaughton himself.  Now, nearly two years later, the multi-faceted enterprise – which, as suggested by its name, includes a farm, a restaurant, and a five-room inn – is about to open in Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

Having worked for Michel Bras (in Japan), Heston Blumenthal (at The Fat Duck), and having contributed to Nathan Myhrvold’s multi-tomed “Modernist Cuisine,” it’s understandable why Connaughton has attracted so much attention for this upcoming project. So, his timely appearance on the ninth night of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at the invitation of hosting chef Christopher Kostow offered a glimpse into what we might expect from him at Single Thread.

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12 days: on the eighth day of christmas: mchale… (2015)

•December 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Canapé: Oat Chip
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One of the three guest chefs at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas whose restaurants I have not visited is Isaac McHale and his Clove Club in London, England.*  I know of him, of course, from his short stint with his merry band of Young Turks, which included James Lowe (now chef of Lyle’s in London) and Ben Greeno, who left the group to become head chef of momofuku Seiobo in Sydney, Australia (Greeno has since left Seiobo to become head chef of The Paddington in Woollahra, a neighborhood in Sydney).  But neither did I eat at their pop up at the Ten Bells, nor had I met any of them, nor had any of their food.

So, I very much looked forward to this eighth night, when McHale cooked with Christopher Kostow at The Twelve Days of Christmas.

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12 days: on the seventh day of christmas: floresca and ryan… (2015)

•December 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

2nd Course: Rutabaga
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Two more impressive culinary resumés you will hardly find in a pair than Kim Floresca‘s and Daniel Ryan‘s.  (It’d also be a challenge to find two more lovely and generous people.) Between the two of them, they’ve worked at The French Laundry, Alinea, per se, Alain Ducasse NY, and Eleven Madison Park; and together, they worked at el Bulli, Mugaritz, and, most recently, The Restaurant at Meadowood, where she was executive sous chef and he was the pastry chef.  That last stop is where I met the couple four years ago, at the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Since then, the two have left Napa to head their own kitchen and restaurant on the other side of the country.  Floresca and Ryan are now cooking at [one] in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I had the opportunity to eat in 2013.  Sadly, I had not seen them since then.

So, I was particularly happy when I learned that Christopher Kostow was calling them home to Meadowood Napa Valley for a reunion on the seventh night of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

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