Maison Yaki, review

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Maison Yaki

It’s always endearing to hear someone speak with a foreign accent. Even if the words are right, they somehow take on a more interesting nuance. (How do I know? I speak English without an American twang.) But when a foreigner speaks an even more foreign language than their own, it becomes a whole different lobster meatball. Take Maison Yaki for instance – far more than just a gastropub with an edge, it’s like a pedigreed Frenchman who speaks perfect Japanese.

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Baguette with yuzu kosho chili butter, Maison Yaki

You’ll know what I mean when you bite into a chunk of Parisian baguette smothered with whipped butter infused with yuzu kosho citrus chili, which instantly reminds you that your table is located right in the best of both worlds, as chef Greg Baxtrom marries them together masterfully. His skewers feel, look and taste authentically Yakitori-esque, but they get an elegant upgrade with an assortment of classic old-school French sauces.

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Clockwise from top left: Lamb leg & Herbes de Provence, Scallops & Sauce Maltaise, Lobster & Sauce Américaine, Duck a l’orange, Ribeye & Bordelaise, Pork belly Dijonaise, Maison Yaki

The chop-stick-holder menu offers snacks, app’s and skewers, where nothing rises above $9. The service is chop-chop, and the delights emerge as they are cooked. The portions are small, flavorful and utterly delicious, and if you’re not careful you can end up ordering practically everything. (We did!) From scallops to lobster, chicken wings to duck breast, lamb loin to pork belly…all draped in astonishingly complimentary sauces like Dauphine, Maltaise, Américaine, A l’orange, Dijonaise, Herbes de provence and Bordelaise. Incroyable!

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Pommes Dauphine, Maison Yaki

But it does beg certain questions regarding the need for the one or two gratuitous bistro items on the otherwise unique list of bites. (Will Escargot seriously slither onto menus again? Will Frog’s legs leap back into vogue? I doubt it.)

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Salmon Mimosa Tartare, Maison Yaki

The lively, colorful and compact bar-bistro with a back garden feels more like an homage to the back-alley Yokocho’s in Shibuya, versus a white-aproned-waiter-with-an-attitude bistro on the left bank. Located right across from his sensational breakout success Olmsted, Baxtrom is clearly on a mission to elevate Brooklyn’s Park Slope into the next dining destination in New York. But what might be good for Park Slopers, is tough for Manhattanites. Most of the knowing crowd are walk-in’s, with an area slightly larger than a pack of Gauloises Blondes for reserved tables that are pilfered up to a month in advance.

http://www.maisonyaki.com/

Palermo – at street level

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Finding Sicily on a map is as easy as bumping into a tourist with a selfie-stick. It’s the brioche-shaped soccer ball being kicked in the tuchus by the boot of Italy. And to add insult to injury, due to its highly desirable location between Africa and Europe, the largest island in the Mediterranean had to endure an abundance of wars and rulers. But there was an upside: whether it was the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans or the Romans, as each civilization fled, they left behind an indelible culinary influence which has set Sicily apart from the rest of the world. And even by Sicilian standards, the mecca of eclectic food is concentrated on the streets of Palermo.

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Tuna sausage bruschetta

Salva, our guide for the evening’s munch march, welcomed us to the “carb civilization”, and then whisked us away from the iPhone-wielding throngs to a web of back-alleys. Our first stop was to sample three popular bruschettas. The fist was topped with a yummy, creamy, dreamy almond and basil pesto. The second – a tart and tangy local olive tapenade. But the third was tough to guess. What looked like dried black forest ham was actually a slither of tuna sausage! (Probably the first time you’ve ever seen those two words together, but long before cattle farming became commonplace in Sicily, the only source of protein was from the sea.) A complex mix of meaty umami with a very faint hint of salty anchovy, brightened by the segment of lemon and shredded mint – Sicily’s undisputed preference over parsley.

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Potato crochettas and Panelles

Our next treat was more than just a street-food snack. Panelle (chickpea fritters) reappear as a side dish in countless Sicilian restaurants. The gloriously golden discs of delight (often shaped by the bottom of a square olive oil can) are usually served with a portion of potato crochettas, or a half-n-half mixture of potato and chickpea crochet-ters. The perfect companion to a chilled bottle of Birra Moretti.

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Pani câ muesa

Having been invented on the island, I thought it was merely a matter of minutes before we’d be munching on an array of aranicini. But because the cocker-spaniel-colored rice-balls stuffed with meats and cheeses are as pervasive as espresso bars, we didn’t really need much help finding them. Less abundant (and clearly less tourist-friendly) are the pani câ muesa. But before I translate this, Salva’s family stood watching him on his sixth birthday as he bit into his first pani câ muesa. “It was like a right-of-passage. My Palermitan bar mitzvah!” Then, in a dramatic gesture, he raised his hands and sank to his knees on the cobble-stone streets in praise for whichever of us was brave enough to try the veal spleen and lung sandwich. First boiled and then fried in lard, the thin offal shreds are stuffed into a sesame bun. Even though it looked a little like a lamb gyro sandwich, the spongy, chewy, oily texture devoid of much taste (beyond the lard) hardly warranted a second bite. I believe the word is…”interesting”.

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Pani câ muesa (spleen and lung sandwich)

The mozzarella in carozza, however, required no coaxing or convincing at all. Imagine biting into a crisp-battered, deep-fried, soft-bread sandwich stuffed with bechamel-smothered mozzarella and ham? An unparalleled thrill in every smoky, salty, cheesy, molten morsel. (Not sure I can ever look a regular croque monsieur in the slice again.)

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Sfincione

Focaccia (a derivative of the word “fire”) is one of the oldest fire-grilled breads in Italy. Even older than pizza, (in fact, pizza is an evolution of focaccia), the sfincione is a fluffier, spongier version of focaccia topped with a simple sauce of tomato, onion and anchovies. According to Salva, not only does the dough have to sit for 12 hours to oxidize, but like all Italian sauces, the topping has to be prepared the day before as well – which is astonishing given that this absolutely delicious Sicilian Christmas snack can be devoured in under 12 seconds.

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Gelato burger

If you had anticipated some sort of cannoli to conclude the tour, you’d be in pretty good company, but it is considered a faux pas for Sicilians to eat cannoli’s in the summer. Not only do the sheep have a harder time finding fresh grazing – which yields a very intense ricotta, but the gelato is just too darn good to ignore. Instead, we gorged on what American tourists refer to as a “gelato burger” – a sweet brioche sliced open with two scoops of the creamiest, smoothest, most dangerously addictive gelato ever. Salva’s only rule: we could pick any two flavors – so long as one of them was pistachio!

Crown Shy, review

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If you live in New York and you still have a pulse, the terms: Nomad and Eleven Madison Park will indubitably mean something to you, but I doubt very much if you could conjure up much recognition for the name, James Kent. Pity. What you don’t know is that Mr. Kent was the executive chef at The Nomad and chef de cuisine at 11MP before going it alone at Crown Shy. But if you think his first solo venture on the darker side of Wall street is anything like his prior kitchens – think again.

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Crown Shy

I’m hesitant to add any additional commentary to that head-scratcher of a name, but suffice it to say that Crown Shy is not a reference to a reluctant member of the royal family, nor is there anything remotely bashful about this newcomer to the Manhattan food scene. Located on a narrow FiDi side-street anchoring an impressively well-preserved art deco temple, you pass through a lobby clad with an entire quarry of ornamental marble framed with brass trimmings and lanterns before stepping into a subdued, contemporary (hip-as-hell) loft with concrete floors, 16-foot ceilings and windows that stretch out between them. Despite the oodles of bold design choices, nothing seems to fight for dominance here. The granite bar is really cool, but so is the open kitchen, but so is the brushed leather seating and so are the exposed steel columns. A quick scan of the menu might also seem like the 16 or so dishes are about to stage a knock-down, drag-out fight for attention, but they end up proving to be a harmonious and complementary ensemble of colorfully cosmopolitan characters from every corner of the globe. Only the UN represents more nationalities on a single page.

 

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Olive Tapenade loaf-let, Crown Shy

The evening’s sole impediment was our more curt than courteous server (probably a symptom of catering to the buy-low sell-high trading-floor crowd, versus the plenty-of-time-to-kill Sunday-night-laid-backers). While she might have thought of a dozen other places she’d rather have been, we on the other hand were thrilled to have landed a much-coveted booth and hoped to prolong the experience indefinitely. But her chagrin was quickly overshadowed by colorful dish after colorful dish that descended from the darkness above. The first being the much-blogged about bread “loaf-let”. As shiny and brown as a new Ferragamo oxford, this adorably box-shaped challah is not only topped with dried olives, but someone had conveniently sandwiched olive tapenade in between each doll-sized slice.

 

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Gruyere Fritters, Crown Shy

While sharing “family style” becomes ever more de rigueur, what restaurateurs don’t realize, is that it initiates a dreary game of “Who has the most manners?” where everyone stares at the food and waits for someone else to go first. Crown Shy smartly delivers their dishes in batches of three or four at a time, encouraging diners to start digging into whatever is closest to them while everything is still hot. Speaking of sizzling, I doubt if a single table has ever been turned without at least one helping of Gruyere Fritters. These finger-length churros, oozing with melted cheese and a dusting of lime and chili are a little bit French, somewhat Mexican, entirely delicious and unavoidably Instagram-able.

 

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White Bean Hummus, Crown Shy

Another crowd pleaser is the smooth, pale, creamy and passport-bursting take on a middle-eastern White Bean Hummus, spiked with spicy, red blobs of Spanish ‘Nduja sausage to be scooped up and enjoyed with a trio of tear-apart Indian Puri bread balls.

 

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Romaine Salad, Crown Shy

Of the two salads we tried, the stack of Romaine leaves luxuriously slathered with tangy green-goddess dressing and toasted breadcrumbs felt more flavor and texture perfect than the pleasant but unremarkable Tomato and Peach salad with dots of feta on a puddle of basil puree.

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Charred C arrots with Razor Clams, Crown Shy

I did wonder if pairing a row of tangy Charred Carrots with razor clams might be a little on the brave side, or that the one would overshadow the other, but the lemon-thyme flavored bubble bath they all sat in provided a perfectly neutral playground for both to yield a sapid layer of salty umami. Similarly, adding sweetcorn to accompany the candy-shaped, goat-cheese stuffed Caramelle, kicked an otherwise neutral chanterelle-butter sauced pasta into an entirely different universe of satiny delight.

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Roast Chicken,  Crown Shy

And despite this city’s obsession for the best roast chicken, chef Kent has dared to move the goal posts yet again. His version of a tarty, zesty, grilled citrus-marinated half-bird, (almost as brown as the one paraded around at The NoMad) proves to be several notches more moist and tender than any other in the tri-state area. Most of it arrives obscured under a leafy green and pink radish camouflage, with just the claw creeping close to an auburn dollop of home-made, spicy, sweet, sour, tangy hot sauce, which I would happily apply to anything and everything I might ever eat again. Even ice-cream.

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Satsuma Orange Ice-cream, Crown Shy

Much like chef Kent, dessert maestro and fellow Eleven Madison Park alum Renata Ameni reaches for flavors and textures with little concern for their origin or expected preparations. Her tart and tangy Satsuma Orange Ice-cream is topped with a shaving-foam puff of toasted meringue, which adds warmth, softness and height, while a side of crispy, crunchy, toasted honeycomb delivers an extra layer of sweetness. She also uses yoghurt in her Cheesecake, which is shingled with a ring of cherry farthings, a pistachio crumble topping and a hidden surprise of sorbet somewhere beneath.

And just like that, with the clang of the closing bell, Manhattan just gave birth to its newest foodie neighborhood.

https://www.crownshy.nyc/

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Caramelle pasta, Crown Shy

What (not) to eat in Nebraska

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Scottsbluff, NE

When I told people I was headed to western Nebraska, first came a chorus of raised eyebrows followed by the deduction that it must be to sample those unbeatably succulent Omaha Steaks. While the nations largest family-owned distributor of the best cuts of farm-raised Nebraska beef all across the US, the medium-rare irony is that none of them get left behind for local enjoyment. No matter where I sat, the grill-striped puck in front of me was either a gnarly maze of uncuttable, unchewable gristle, or a flavorless mush of sawdust.

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Rib-eye, Sizzlin’ Sirloin

Instead, the locals get to pick from an abundance of highly processed foods and practically anything fried. One quick glance at a restaurant menu in western Nebraska looks pretty much like the kids’ menu everywhere else. It’s burgers, dogs, fingers and fries from the bluffs to the prairies and back. Although rare to stumble upon a salad, but if you do, it’s bound to be doused in Dorothy Lynch, the all-time favorite apricot-pink French dressing, with tomato soup and sugar as its top two ingredients.

If southern cooking is considered “comfort food”, would it be fair to assume that all one could find out here is “dis-comfort food”? Not entirely.

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Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe, Harrisburg, NE

Laura Lee’s Double L Country Café in Harrisburg is a charming road-side diner in an out-of-the-way sort of way, serving fresh, home-made pies to die for, and avocado, jalapeno, whiskey cheddar, blue cheese burgers to die from. But at every whip-stitch, Nebraskans clamor for their beloved Cabbage burger, which is a fistful of minced-meat and shredded cabbage baked deep in the heart of a soft, white bun.

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Cheese Runza

Fast-food chain Runza still churns these out with drive-thru regularity, but were it not for the taste of a dribble of processed cheese, you might as well chow down on a bushel of laundry.

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Chicken-fried steak, Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe

Another Laura Lee favorite (although not exclusive to these parts) is Chicken fried Steak. For those unfamiliar, this is not a steak that was fried by a chicken, but rather a pounded beef schnitzel, which (when I ordered it) was snugly wedged into a sesame bun. Flawlessly crisp, tart and delicious, but also size-appropriate for the hands.

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Union Bar, Gering, NE

Gering’s Union Bar on the other hand, prefers to push the envelope on human dining abilities. They offer a Diet Burger, which is equally impossible to handle, bite or survive. A tower of 3 patties and a full pound of bacon are somehow stacked between 2 grilled cheese sandwich buns!

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Grebel, Mixing Bowl, Gering, NE

On the sweeter side, it is a safe assumption that no matter where you are, donuts will be donuts. They generally show up glistening under multi-colored frostings or with the occasional jam filling, but are all largely loyal to the formula of fried dough with a hole in the middle. (The hole being a 19th century addition to remedy the often uncooked center). In this part of the world however, local pasty-shops like Gering Bakery seem to have opened a can of worms  with a litany of oddly delectable interpretations and variations.

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Hog on a Log, Gering Bakery

There’s the Long John (stretched-out sausage-shaped with crème fillings), the Hog on a Log (a Long John covered with maple glaze and a strip of bacon), the Bear Claw (baseball-mitt-shaped and stuffed with cinnamon), the Apple Fritter (bits of grated apple baked in with the dough), the Grebel (if a beignet and a donut were to have a baby and bury it in crystallized sugar) and the list goes on.

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Beef Tacos, Taco de Oro, Scottsbluff, NE

It’s relatively easy to find the things you’d expect to be deep-fried as well as the one’s you don’t: (Snickers, Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Ding-dongs), but Nebraskans also keep their oil hot for ground Beef Tacos, which go down astoundingly well with pepper sauce and root beer at Taco de Oro in Scottsbluff.

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Cherry-dipped Cone, Dairy King

Another popular sugar-rush comes from a Cherry-dipped Cone – a hard-shelled, soft-served ice-cream from Dairy King. It emerges from the molten goo, gleaming like a new Ferrari, but getting beyond the hairspray and nail-polish aftertaste probably takes a lifetime.

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Minatare, NE

Back in the day, farmers would physically “work” the land and eat fresh, seasonal, locally grown and hand-raised produce. But thanks to automation, fast-food chains, feed lots, corn-syrup, big food consortiums and unpronounceable preservatives, eating has become the most affordable Olympic games of recreational activities in the mid-west. Not surprisingly the outcome has led to endless fleets of motorized wheelchairs straining under their cargo of the most extraordinary calorie collections imaginable.

And so, after noticing the rather curious state tourism slogan that actually reads: “Nebraska. Honestly, it isn’t for everyone!” I couldn’t help considering the appendage: “…and neither is the food.”

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Cherry, Rhubarb and Strawberry Pies, Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe

https://www.lauraleescountrystore.com/

https://www.runza.com/

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Eating my way through Copenhagen

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Amass herb garden

Ok, so I couldn’t get a table at Noma. I tried multiple times under multiple pseudonyms, using any number of different email addresses at ridiculously inconvenient times of the day – but all I got was older. So instead, I made do with a handful of Rene Redzepi’s many talented proteges who have all crisscrossed the Danish capital to create their own successful versions of New-Nordic cuisine.

 

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Turbot with toasted barley and lemon peel oil, Amass

For the unfamiliar, New Nordic principles include: Foraged or home-grown ultra-local, seasonal, organic ingredients that are sustainably raised by the chef’s own hands (or by the hands of those they trust). Gallons of bottling, pickling, fermenting, curing, smoking and preserving from bountiful seasons past, plus any number of animal, vegetable or mineral oils, not to mention a very staunch stance on repurposing any left-overs – even burned wood and coffee grinds. The good news: there’s no trash for anyone to throw out. The bad news: it’s up to the chefs to figure out how to repurpose it over and over.

 

And so, the main difference between the 4 restaurants below, is the extent to which their toques applied unique twists and turns to re-spin and re-jigger the identical ingredients in outrageously different ways. So, prepare yourself for a Danish version of Iron Chef played in very slow motion.

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Amass

Californian-born Matt Orlando spent 2 1/2 years as chef de cuisine at Noma before opening Amass in 2013. It took him less than an hour to catapult the mural adorned, cinder-block loft onto the World’s Best 50 list. The 20 tables are luxuriously scattered yards apart with views of the open kitchen below the staircase, and the prolific herb and vegetable garden out back. Thanks to the generous spring harvest, the majority of the staggering 13-course Amass Menu was green forward with a couple of seafood photo-bombs. Instead of waiters, each dish is presented by a different member of the cooking staff who sported accents that ranged from Sicily to Sydney to Singapore.

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Flame grilled green asparagus, Amass

The highlights included a flame grilled green asparagus in a deliciously creamy, salted lemon-skin sauce with lobster oil, which was covered by a what looked like a giant mushroom. As we smashed our way through, it turned out to be a cracker made from fermented “left-over herbs”. There was somewhat of a lengthy pause before we received a chilled, salty and savory curry-oil broth with magnificently crunchy young peas and sea snails, and without saying a word, the kitchen seamlessly adapted to our embarrassingly unbeatable pace, and shifted their prep and cooking into roaring high gear for the rest of the evening.

 

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Fermented potato bread with rocket lettuce spread, Amass

I lost count after we received the umteenth serving of untouchably hot, yet astonishingly morish fermented potato bread, paired with the most scrumptious onion, sunflower seed and rocket lettuce spread in the north.

 

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Danish mackerel, Amass

A fragrant slither of torched Danish mackerel arrived on a crisp cracker (yesterday’s potato bread, I’m told) with pickled borage flowers, yeasted citrus and a mere hint of heat from clementine chilies. Not just pretty – but pretty amazing too. There must have been at least 3 different twists on the turbot, but the one I still can’t quite get over, was a show-stoppingly flavorful horseradish-spiked turbot and mushroom broth. And what did they do with the fish bones, you might ask? Chef Orlando cooks them down for hours and hours, blends them into a mush and then somehow magically transforms them into ramen noodles. Same taste. Same texture. Brilliant execution.

 

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Milk ice-cream with rhubarb juice, Amass

Equally mystifying was how they candied the slimy “mother” from their home made kombucha into a sort of chewy, sweet-and-sour gummy-bear buried inside an almond sorbet with smoked malt. And a special mention for the ubiquitous and refreshing rhubarb juice which was infused into milk ice-cream, topped with a yummy crumble made from acidic yogurt and yesterday’s coffee grounds.

 

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108

32-year old Kristian Baumann worked his way up the Noma ladder from intern to business partner. And in 2016 the Korean-born protege opened a Michelin star winning kitchen at 108, sporting a surprisingly short menu in a design-ery casual-chic room with bulbous light fittings suspended from a concrete ceiling. One of many interesting aspects of the Copenhagen food scene is how each restaurateur dispenses silverware for each course. Baumann commissioned a gorgeous custom-leather pouch from one of Denmark’s foremost design schools – just snug enough to hold a couple of knives, forks and spoons, but just too large to become a pocketable souvenir.

 

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Monkfish with elderflower, 108

I came close to making an entire meal of their house-made crispy, fluffy, brown sourdough bread with salted cream – which has to be the frothiest, smoothest, most magnificently whipped butter you could ever stab a designer knife into. Being mid-season for white asparagus, Baumann served his 2 ways: thinly shaved and raw, covering a cooked version with a delectable sturgeon cream, pickled fennel and pumpkin seeds. More asparagus showed up with monkfish in a sumptuous sauce of elderflower, garlic and fennel.

 

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Lobster claw, 108

The only major miss for me was the highly recommended lobster claw, which despite having its subtle flavors bolstered with lobster oil and lobster sauce, was completely out-punched by a disc of Instagram-ably beautiful, but pungent raspberry vesicles, which felt a bit like trying to hear a violin solo during a hurricane.

 

 

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Ralae

Two Noma acolytes who decided to look further afield than Copenhagen’s backyard to augment their supply chain are Christian Puglisi and Jonathan Tam. Relae, their 9-year old team endeavor with its heavy “lean into green” tasting menus, incorporates Italian olive oils and other bespoke items from foreign soils, is also on the World’s 50 best list.

 

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Relae

Their unique utensil-dispensing system via a secret under-counter drawer within reach of each diner, snugly houses a napkin, menu and bottomless supply of silverware in adorably carved-out cubby’s. The slightly-below-street-level corner bistro space feels intimate and charming with brick and dark wooden accents and picturesque views of an inner courtyard garden. Perched at one end of the prep area, we had a good vista of the goings-on (and off) of the young, energetic and international line crew.

 

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Raw Kohlrabi, Ralae

First over the serving hatch was a deceptively tasty, crunchy, salty and refreshing raw kohlrabi, very simply marinated in lemon balm and olive oil.

 

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Lemon Soles marinated in Coriander oil, Relae

After staring at the raw food assembly line as countless lemon soles marinated in coriander oil were plated, we had a pretty good idea of what each savory and delicate layer would taste like, but the combination of just these few ingredients was where acidity meets sweetness in a heavenly marriage.

 

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New Potatoes with barley and coffee oil, Relae

Other magnificent highlights included a miniature cannonball stack of new potatoes cooked with barley and then topped with a yummy, creamy barley sauce, spiked with a highly unexpected (yet thoroughly sapid) dribble of coffee oil.

 

 

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Rhubarb compote, Relae

Rhubarb made a couple of anticipated appearances. First as a compote with a delectable mousse concocted from an almost hay-tasting woodruff and then topped with a rhubarb gelée. And in a Nordic twist on the Lisbon classic Pasteis de nata, it sat on top of the tartlet made with choux pastry for an extra flaky crunch and a splash of balsamic vinegar, which sent it into another dimension of the deliciousphere.

 

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Kadeau

Unlike his fellow Danish toques, Nicolai Nørregaard did not fall from the Noma family tree. In fact, he opened his first version of the now legendary and 2-star Michelin Kadeau on Borhnholm Island, about 100 miles off Copenhagen’s coastline. Having already set up a sustainable supply-chain of fresh and foraged ingredients on the island, he now ships them in to his very understated 10-table bistro in Christianshavn.

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Kadeau

The 2 ½ hour, 18-course tasting menu was as surprising as it was entertaining, where (once again) an attractive and cosmopolitan team of fastidious chefs presented bite after bite from the mundane to the exotic, mixing and matching seasonal meats, fruits and vegetables of the land and sea – a tribute to the smells, tastes and textures of his island heritage. To say that everything was perfection on a plate is an understatement (but at $325 a seat, it probably better be!)

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Danish squid and Lardo, Kadeau

Standout servings include two skewers of Danish squid and lardo, a duet I would never have matched on the same plate – let alone on the same twig.

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Porridge Pancake, Kadeau

Equally heavenly was something called a porridge pancake (think – Danish taco), smeared with beef fat and splinters of steamed king crab, sprinkled with aged goat cheese, toasted flowers and herbs which had to be rolled up and then gulped down.

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Horse mussel, Kadeau

In retrospect I wish I would have taken even more time to savor the monumentally flavorful 2-year old Horse mussel from Faroe Island, that had been brined in salt for 2 days, then smoked and fried in brown butter with cider vinegar before being decorated with dollops of preserved beets and pine fir. Both Michelin stars, right there.

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Roasted pork loin, Kadeau

Can’t not mention the 4-week aged slow-roasted pork loin with a magical pesto of black garlic and pumpkin and the most staggeringly delicate sauce from roasted chicken wings.

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Smoked wood-oil créme fraiche and raspberries, Kadeau

Of the 5 desserts, a thunderous applause for the smoked wood-oil crème-fraiche and raspberries laced with golden raspberry and gooseberry juices plus a few splashes of walnut Akvavit for the back of the throat, but a standing ovation for every crumbly bite of the warm honey cake served with acculturated butter. OK, and maybe the milk ice-cream in brown butter toffee too. So, don’t cry for me, Noma.

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Warm honey cake with acculturated butter, Kadeau

 

 

https://amassrestaurant.com/

https://www.restaurant-relae.dk/en/manifest/

https://108.dk/en/home/

https://www.kadeau.dk/

 

 

 

 

 

TWA Hotel, review

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Rear view of “Connie” bar

Does the first 500-room hotel on the JFK property require a fight, flight, or fright response from travelers who’ll do anything to get through security and onto their planes as fast as possible?

One of the many sacrifices of the golden age of flight was the democratization of air travel. In a world where pretty much everyone can travel anywhere, anytime they want, there is less and less incentive to celebrate the anticipation of the journey itself. Thanks also to automated check-in apps, strict loading and unloading zones at terminal entrances and the labyrinth of joyless security checkpoints, most modern airports have shaved the land-side facilities down to skycaps, check-in desks and a partridge in the pear tree. Which begs the question: can a nostalgic hotel, dripping in red retro, reconstitute that glamorous, old-world anticipation – despite our short attention span and even shorter disposable time?

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Solari signs

The whole point of an airport nowadays is to shrink an unpopular experience down to the absolute minimum. Therefore, the notion of a longer linger prior to security makes for an unlikely bet that non-travelers might be lured to an airport when they have better options. Or those who actually have a destination might want to front-load even more pre-departure time before finding their terminal, removing their shoes, fluids and laptops and hiking to their gates.

Let me put it another way: who wants to hang around the dentist’s office for any longer than absolutely necessary? Even if it’s in an architecturally relevant building? Even if they have a great view from the oral hygenist’s chair? Even if they have great reading material in the waiting room? The only people who loiter at airport terminals nowadays are janitors, security, and check-in agents. For everyone else it’s a high-stress, irritant necessity, about as much fun as root canal. And the sooner it’s over the better!

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Eero Saarinen structure

So, along comes visionary developer Tyler Morse with a brave and expensive plan to turn a neglected building on the endangered list into a time machine – convinced it will take us back sixty years with a new lease on life as a hotel. Like mold, hotels have parasitically mushroomed out of just about every conceivable host structure never intended for hospitality. These include train stations, office towers, churches, hospitals, prisons, caves and even giant blocks of ice. So, an airport terminal isn’t entirely out of the question, but that’s hardly the point. One of the biggest benefits of Morse’s endeavor provides a posthumous defibrillation of the TWA brand, along with Eero Saarinen’s curvaceous, pre-jet-age terminal, inspired by a bird taking flight – easily the quintessential architectural marvel of the sixties.

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Connector “tubes”

Long before architects like Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry, Saarinen (hot off his St. Louis arch acclaim) forced plaster and steel to go where none had gone before, to create the largest column-less dome structure the world had ever seen. Restoring and converting the former Flight Center into the hotel lobby was obvious, but then Morse had to build 2 crescent shaped wings with 512 rooms that connect via the original suspended “tubes”.

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Valet parking attendants

Half of the one-way glass rooms have airside views with nonstop airliner action on two runways. The other half stare back at the Saarinen structure, where the TWA baggage-handler overall-clad valet-parkers provide most of the action, in exchange for what will no doubt become an after-dark exhibitionists paradise.

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Hughes Wing rooms

The rooms are nice and bright – but tight, with a handful of curious design choices. Being able to plane spot from a comfy king-sized pillow-top with runway views, just before the point of rotation, is pretty hard to beat, even if a traveler with multiple suitcases might have to decide between standing next to – or on – the bed. The in-room martini bar is a fun idea, but you can’t really make a martini without vermouth. Or olives. Or ice. Or a shaker. I would have happily traded mine in for the oddly absent Nespresso machine as promised on the hotel’s website. Instead of a garbage can, there’s a laminated table-top mat, with one half dedicated to recycling and the other for waste, thereby exposing your junk for the world to see and judge.

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Cupboard “hooks” and Martini bar

Instead of a cupboard, (are they worried I might overstay my welcome?) you can try your luck at the single drawer, deep enough to accommodate two X-rays, or one of the six brass hooks mounted far too close together to suspend more than one item at a time. The electric blackout shades are stellar, but the controls are hidden behind a soffit on the farthest edge of the room. The sugar-cube sized nightstand is just large enough to hold a mobile phone, but there are no USB charging ports in sight. And while the impressive 4-inch thick, floor-to-ceiling glass window wall successfully shields every GE, Pratt & Whitney or Rolls Royce turbine winding up or down, the walls are thin enough to grant me a point of view on an impending custody battle going on in the room next door.

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Main lobby

Speaking of sounds, the (charming at first) nonstop clickety-clickety-clack of the hand-made Solari informational signs in the terminal lobby eventually penetrates the brain like an unrelenting jackhammer. Even if the chili-pepper-red soft furnishing details contrast exquisitely with the ocean of dime-sized, white mosaic.

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Sunken Lounge

Despite all the hoopa-doopla regarding the restaurants, the Lisbon Lounge and adjoining Paris Café both boldly brandish Jean-George Vongerichten’s name as if he’s also about to join the Democratic Presidential race, but on closer inspection, the typical airport junk-food-adjacent menu is cooked by airport operator Tastes on the Fly. And while the mezzanine dining spaces are airy and mod, they enjoy a most unappetizing view of the Terminal 5 parking structure. Make no mistake, even for Queens, this will never become destination dining. The other “restaurants” are 5 shoulder-to-shoulder food truck vendors along a frigid check-in counter wing, that feel about as out of place as a live alligator wandering around Buckingham Palace.

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Gym

The massive gym is without doubt the largest of its kind in any hotel I’ve ever visited. In addition to multiple racks of free-weights and barbells, I lost count at 35 different weight training devices, 15 treadmills, 15 elliptical and stair machines and a 20-bike peloton classroom. The formal changerooms boast terrazzo floors with white marble and ebony details, and a litany of showers and lockers.

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Conference Center

Equally attractive is the subterranean (and hence windowless) conference center and ballroom with museum alcoves displaying dioramas of TWA’s 50’s and 60’s in-flight service. The mosaic, stone and steel finishes are remarkable, but I strongly suspect that every portion of charity chicken, tradeshow turkey or bar mitzvah bread-rolls will have to be trucked in.

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Self-service check-in

Despite high expectations, the May 15th opening turned out to be more bland than grand. It was astonishing to see such a tremendous mountain of PR melt at the woeful unreadiness of the staff and the facility itself. After completing the self-service digital check-in process, where you magnetize your own room key, I asked one of the cheerful front-desk attendants to point me in the direction of my room.

“Your…room…” she mused thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Let me just ask someone else.”

And so began a slow-motion relay race in delightful ineptitude. Even though there were a number of retro pay-phones throughout the terminal and a vintage rotary phone in each room, none were actually working. (And to make matters worse, there is no actual phone number listed for the hotel at all.) Adding to the list of “no’s”: no room service, no breakfast, no wake-up calls, no working bed-side lamp, no toilet roll holder, no shampoo, and the few restaurants that were actually operational were all fully committed. The next best options were the Halal Guys, Empanada Republic and the Earl of Sandwich, with deliveries from Uber Eats, Seamless and Domino’s Pizza as fallbacks.

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Negative edge rooftop pool

The first item on my “must-see” list was the giddying idea of an apron-side rooftop infinity pool facing two runways. Passing an entire trade-union of helmeted workers still hanging room doors on the uppermost floor, the pool turned out to be everything but infinite. The first clue was the sub-infinity water level, and the cornucopia of electrical cords and tiling equipment still very much in frantic operation. Before I could even snap a quick photo, one of (bar franchisee) Rande Gerber’s lieutenants lowered the lid on what was left of my waning enthusiasm.

“Sir. Excuse me. You can’t be here without a reservation?”

“For the pool?” I asked, vexed and perplexed in equal measure.

“Yes. You have to make a reservation.”

“OK. How can I do that?”
He produced a personal business card, and offered it to me with a knowing wink. “Just call this number and I’ll take care of you.”

So, I rushed back down via one of the 3 hours-old elevators with that uniquely addictive new-elevator smell of resin and glue, and quickly dialed the number.

“Didn’t I just speak to you a few minutes ago?” he quipped.

“Yes.” I confirmed. “I’d like to make a reservation at the Pool Bar.”

“I’m sorry, we’re not giving out any reservations at this time.”

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“Connie” Constellation Bar

The way I see it, the only real opportunity to realize Morse’s aspirations of a super-deluxe 5-star hotel on the tarmac would be to up the VIP ante considerably. Provide city-to-hotel vintage limo or helicopter transfers. Enable the front desk to check bags through to any airline at any terminal. Provide white-glove TSA security facilities, concierge duty-free shopping and room-to-gate chauffeur service anywhere across the tarmac. Instead, Morse expects to be at 200% occupancy by double-renting rooms for daytime or nighttime stays to crews, the stranded or early-bird travelers.

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Rear lobby windows

It’s highly doubtful that foreign airlines will accommodate their crews at these rates. Nor can I see any domestic airline putting up their marooned passengers in spitting distance to JetBlue’s Terminal. That leaves the affluent traveler with time to kill, or those aviation geeks who can afford a runway view. Even the avalanche of architecture students who are likely to march through the domed terminal and its adjoining tubes will never part with $260+ just to spend the night. I therefore predict that this elaborate, but static, amusement park ride will find a similar fate to the other no-frills, discount-rated, airport-adjacent Inns, Gardens and Courtyards that have accommodated the bored and bleary-eyed cancellation crowd for decades.

https://www.twahotel.com/

 

 

 

KYU, Miami – review

IMG_9736With astonishing gentrification projects from Brickell and Edgewater to the Design district, and the artsy-fartsy concrete canvasses dotted around Wynwood, there is much more to Miami than the faded bling and gangster-glam of South Beach. But Miami’s recent renaissance isn’t limited to architecture and the arts. The city’s food scene has also exploded into a culinary destination for chefs and foodies alike.

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KYU, Miami

Cuisines range from Latin-Caribbean delights at Michael Schwartz’s Amara at Paraisa to his fresh upmarket flagship Michael’s Genuine, to the authentic Greek-Turkish hideaway at Mandolin, but the most staggeringly impressive entry is the brainchild of Zuma alums Michael Lewis and Steven Haigh who opened a wood-fired Asian-inspired grill called KYU (pronounced “cue”, as in Barbecue). In deference to the neighboring Wynwood walls’ rural murals, a 20-foot vertical garden of mosses and ivy’s aptly contrasts the raw industrial concrete and dark welded steel interior. As you pry open the doors you’ll notice two things – first, the smell of smoky Florida oak wafting over the wooden high-tops affording great views of the high-action open kitchen at one end, and the high-drama artisanal bar at other – both vying for attention. Second, you can’t help noticing the friendly, unpretentious and rather jocular vibe that builds on the concept of a neighborhood joint that doesn’t want to take itself too seriously. But there are no happenstances when you’ve been voted Florida’s best restaurant by Time Magazine, or nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best New Restaurant. No, my friends, this is one very carefully curated and perfected experience from host to toast.

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KYU, Miami

The food and service are a fair fight for top billing, that by the end of the night we weren’t sure whether to wrap up and take home some of the leftovers, or a couple of the waiters instead.

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Whole roasted Cauliflower, KYU Miami

The menu is a lengthy tumble of Korean, Japanese and American flame-grilled treats of all sizes. Despite the pervasive veil of “simplicity” with “no more than a couple of ingredients per dish”, like the much-photographed and utterly scrumptious Whole Roasted Cauliflower with dollops of creamy goat cheese to add some funk to the already magnificent shishito herb vinaigrette, or the heavenly refreshing Avocado Salad with lemon, crispy ginger matchsticks and house-made feta, it is the abundance of intricate preparations that has earned chef Lewis his unique signature, which is everything but simple.

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Korean Fried Chicken, KYU, Miami

As the dishes grow in size, they seem to grow in flavor too, with the Korean Fried Chicken as one of many show-stoppers. Prior to frying, the chicken is first marinated and then smoked, before being dipped into a wonderfully hot and sour gochujang chili sauce. Even the Smoked Duck Burnt ends aren’t just cold-smoked for 30 minutes either, they are then flame-finished on the wood fire with a sprinkling of salt and Japanese shichimi peppers. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear the dish that still calls my name: Crispy Baby-back ribs Yakiniku. The Jenga arrangement of ribs are first smoked, then braised, and then finally fried before being tossed in a deliciously sticky sweet and savory sauce that very mysteriously relocated itself everywhere from chin to nose.

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Crispy Baby-back ribs Yakiniku, KYU, Miami

And to round things out, the chef’s mother’s simple dessert is a great final act. Four layers of delectable Coconut Cake interrupted with a tart cream cheese filling which offsets the sweetness, yet pairs flawlessly with a serving of house-made coconut ice-cream.

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Mom’s Coconut cake, KYU, Miami (and yes, it was my birthday!)

For decades, chefs have tried to demystify the notion of what “simple” or “approachable” food is. And when you peer under the hood of the kitchen, it’s not always as easy as A-B-C. That’s because it might have been K-Y-U all along.

https://www.kyurestaurants.com/

 

Bistro Pierre Lapin – review

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Once upon a time…hit-maker chef Harold Moore opened and closed a hugely popular West Village roast chicken hotspot called Commerce. And then one day…he orchestrated yet another charming mega-hit with Bistro Pierre Lapin. This time, chef Moore decided to focus his kitchen on staunchly Parisian classics to satisfy any Francophile yearning for a nostalgic sit-down at a small table with tall candles. Dripping with charm and oozing with atmosphere, the only thing needed to complete the bedtime storybook view through his rod and gingham-shaded windows of the tree-lined brownstones outside, would be a good foot of snow. But the portraits of Peter Rabbit (the restaurant’s namesake) suffice amiably to set the fairy tale scene.

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Amuse Bouche: home-made baguette, butter, cured olives, country pate, Pierre Lapin

The L-shaped room is about 2 degrees tighter than what I’d refer to as “cozy” or “snug”. Even “intimate” feels a smidgeon too generous, but this is how I imagine a restaurant must look down a rabbit hole. A litter of small tables usurping every possible square inch, requiring considerable effort to hold in your butt and belly as you curl your way around a warren of shoulders and knees, without sending one of the 4 artisanal cocktails careening to the floor, or bumping a steaming chunk of heavenly house-baked baguette smeared with a greedy dollop of creamy house-churned butter, or a chunky slab or house-cured country pate out of a fellow diner’s hand and onto the adorable rose-garnished wallpaper beyond.

 

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Soupe aux Oignons, Bistro Pierre Lapin

But I digress. The all-day dining menu reads like a French Top 20 from Croque Madame to Steak-Frites, or Cote D’Agneau to an overly dramatic, high-angled table-pour of Pomme purée, but the Soupe aux Oignons is probably one of the reasons we’re all crammed in here. A tangle of tart caramelized onions, as dark as Hermés luggage, lie waiting in a sumptuous umami broth until you bore your way through about an acre of melted Gruyere that manages to stretch itself onto every gluttonous spoonful, delivering a creamy, salty and surprisingly sweet bouillon of delight.

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Le Ravier Salad, Bistro Pierre Lapin

One of the incredibly attentive wait staff deftly dodged his way through the maze of chairs to sidle up a tray of seven dish-lets, each containing a different seasonal vegetable dressed in vinaigrettes. The Le Ravier salad includes tomatoes, asparagus tips, celery roots, carrots, marinated mushrooms… A crispy, crunchy rabbit’s feast stolen from Mr. McGregor’s garden!

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Duck a L’orange, Bistro Pierre Lapin

Although not on the menu, the Duck a l’orange is a frequent seasonal guest at Pierre Lapin. The magnificently tender duo of breast slithers served medium-rare with crispy skin and perfectly balanced flavors of juice and Grand Marnier, are a testament to kitchen confidence without the citrus overkill under less capable hands.

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Coq au vin, Bistro Pierre Lapin

I couldn’t help feeling similarly about the astounding Coq au vin – which despite being considered “ruin-proof” by many toques (I should have a mastication medal for every time I’ve made my way through a wine-soaked breast, as dehydrated and flaky as shards of Halva) chef Moore manages to evoke all the flavors from Burgundy to bacon while maintaining a succulent and tender bird that succumbs easily to both knife and tooth.

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Carrot Cake Madeleines, Bistro Pierre Lapin

And looking past the colonnade of calories from the likes of Crème Brulee or Passion fruit Pavlova, we deduced that any good rabbit would probably go all in for a trio of delectable Carrot Cake Madeleines topped with warm frosting of white chocolate as the perfect end to a fairy-tale meal, where no-one ever went hungry, and we all lived happily ever after. The End.

http://pierresnyc.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo at (or below) street level

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Tempura on a stick, Mitzukoshi Ginza

Just because Tokyo has the most restaurants with the most Michelin stars in the world, the unknowing traveler might feel bullied into enduring a quizzically vexing and rather fruitless reservation maze in trying to secure high-brow, high-cost, high-demand tables – assuming that’s where the best food must be, right? Wrong! The overall standard and quality of Tokyo’s food is so high, that even low-brow options are quite simply and utterly magnificent. This includes street-side establishments and those several feet below.  For just a few Yen, you can enjoy the best meal you’ve never had.

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Ramen Alley, Tokyo Station

Subterranean food scares most people. And in most cities, it’s warranted. The carte blanche invitation for pigeons, rats and other vermin to indulge in the culinary trash of their choice so conveniently located next to the subway system is hard to ignore. But for Tokyo, not only do the spotless stations offer the freshest and best tasting options, the longest wait lines are actually one level below. Ramen Alley and Kitchen Street, both located beneath the train tracks of Tokyo’s main station are a hive of popularity from 11am to 11pm every day. Some of the countless establishments are so coveted that foreign travelers – still pasty and stale from an international flight – will endure the barrage of humanity to schlepp luggage down long corridors just for a bowlful of sheer deliciousness as their very first Japanese priority.

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Ramen vending machine, Abura Soba

If you’re in the mood for noodles, head down Ramen Alley. The line for each of the stalls ends at a giant ATM, where you insert cash, punch in your order and hand the ticket to the staff. Then, a steaming bowl finds its way to wherever you are sitting in under 4 minutes.

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Rokurinshu, Tokyo Station

After an eternity of inching forward in the longest line of them all, I finally noticed that I was standing on a large sticker that read: Rokurinshu Tsukemen30 minutes from this point!

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Tsukemen, Rokurinshu

Quick lesson: Ramen usually consists of noodles, meat and vegetables served in a clear or creamy meat or fish-based broth. Tsukemen, (a warm weather favorite) has slightly thicker, cold noodles served separately from the pork and chicken bone-based broth. The idea then is to dip the cold noodles into the hot broth, thereby warming them up as much or as little as you prefer, and then slurping them down with a symphony of surprisingly encouraged sound effects. Mouthful after mouthful of pure umami bliss.

 

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Shrimp, Cuttlefish and vegetable tempura, Tempura Keyaki

Kitchen Street on the other hand has a wider variety of Japanese (and some western) snacks. One of my favorites is Tempura Keyaki. The house-blend of sesame and vegetable oils gently cooks large shrimp, Japanese eggplant, beans, cuttlefish, eel and lotus root to a spectacularly crunchy and un-soggy, golden crisp right in front of you. After you baptize each steaming item into the dipping sauce, your taste buds get a delectable workout in contrasts between soft and crunchy, hot and cold, sweet and salty, yum and yummier.

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Bento Deli – Medium box, Tokyo Station

Still within the station campus but a little closer to the high-speed train platforms, are a warren of Bento Deli’s that produce the most ridiculously appetizing wooden lunchboxes of all shapes, colors and sizes that feature multiple geometric sections containing a bright and colorful smorgasbord of Japanese delights: Sashimi, pickles, edamame, omelet, sushi rolls, breaded meats…and an even more handsome variety of cookies and chocolates all smartly gift-wrapped for your upcoming voyage.

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Mixed Berry & Yuzu lemon vinegar toppings, Expre-su

After a veritable sampling session from east to west, we stumbled upon a rather peculiar dessert bar serving soft-serve ice-cream topped with your choice of something called Fruit vinegar. Expre-su offers a variety of sour dessert syrups including Yuzu lemon, Cocoa, Blueberry, Strawberry and something called Christmas. Talk about an explosive wake-up call for the taste buds when your sweet center recognizes (and appreciates) the ice-cream, but your sour center simultaneously goes into shock mode as the vinegar hits the back of your throat. Yet another sensory delight that had to be repeated. Daily.

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Chicken Yakitori, Mitsukoshi Ginza

Moving beyond the train station, but still well below ground level, are the food halls that anchor each of Tokyo’s major department stores. Daimaru, Isetan, Sogo, Matsuya and many others all compete for the most tantalizing display of fresh and cooked foods to lure the lunchtime crowd, but none are as opulent as the Mitzukoshi flagship in Ginza. Row after row of the most salivatingly cravable bites from abalone to yakitori and everything in between.

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Garlic and honey prawns, Mitsukoshi Ginza

Kimchi crabs, scallion crepes, Asian meatballs, petite sandwiches, beef salads, raw fish, cured fish, smoked fish, shellfish, designer chocolates and so, so, so much more. Our department-store picnic lunch took over an hour to select – but was gone in sixty seconds!

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Nonbei Alley, Shibuya

Just around the corner from the crush, noise and lights of Shibuya Crossing are a series of lantern-lit back alleyways called Yokocho, with 5-10 seat snack bars that date back to the second world war. Among them, the Golden Gai, Omoide, Harmonica and Sankaku Chitai often feature bars that only permit locals, but we ambled through Nonbei (drunkards) Alley to a room no larger than an elevator called Appre Yumiko Sasame.

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Fried rice dough with nori, Appre Yumiko Sasame

The two charming proprietors went to all sorts of trouble to try and translate the names of each dish of Kyoto style appetizers that included pickled Japanese carrots and sweet potatoes, the most delectable slither of fried rice-dough wedged between a strip of nori, and their house specialty – Pan fried duck with Japanese green peppercorn sauce. Fresh, flavorful, salty, umami and utterly amazing (even though we had to vie for some table space between all the pots, pans and other cooking utensils.)

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Abura Soba Shibuya

Aside from Ramen and Tsukemen, my all-time favorite noodle dish would have to be Buckwheat Soba, and no-one does it better than Abura Soba Shibuya. Instead of a broth, the noodles, veggies, shredded pork, scallions and bamboo shoots all sit on top of a thick, secret, spicy-soy sauce that you stir up after adding a few squirts of vinegar, a few squirts of chili oil, a few spoons of chopped onions and some black pepper. Suddenly the noise of the world disappears along with your manners, and you slurp up heavenly bite after heavenly bite of the most indulgent, unbridled food vacation your tongue has ever been on.

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Butagumi

While on the subject of indulgence, no trip to Tokyo would ever be complete without at least one slice of Tonkatsu (pork schnitzel), and the best place to find it is at Butagumi – a curious little wooden house with a moon-shaped window, that just so happens to be on every chef’s must-eat-when-in-Tokyo list. Don’t be fooled – while the building might look like a fairy tale, the Tonkatsu is more Superbowl than 3 little pigs. Here, in addition to picking a species of pig, or where it was raised, you can also select a particular cut (sirloin, tenderloin, shoulder etc.) and your preferred thickness and fat content as well.

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Pork Sirloin Tonkatsu, Butagumi

The result is a flaky, fluffy, crunchy panko crust (without a trace of oil), surrounding a few slices of the pinkest, juiciest, most tender cutlets you will ever encounter in your life. And that’s before you add the special sauce, mustard and slaw.

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Mille Crepe, Yoku Moku

So, never let it be said that only the best things come from above. Sometimes you might be standing right on top of them.

 

 

 

Supper in Savannah

I fell in love last week. With Savannah.

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Lafayette Square, Savannah

Just the name of Georgia’s oldest city has always conjured up so much mystery and intrigue for me. Is she a girl with golden curls who ran away from home? Or the last place a unicorn was ever seen? Actually, the word savanna refers to a grassy wooded area where the tree canopy doesn’t close out the light – which is most peculiar because my favorite feature of the “southern host city” are the abundant live oak and magnolia trees whose limbs are draped in silvery moss that hang like Christmas tinsel forming an almost endless umbrella along the grid of smart avenues, interrupted by 22 green squares. Some of the locals refer to her affectionately as Slow-vannah on account of the unhurried pace of life which unavoidably permeates the culinary scene as well. Many of the must-try spots like Mrs. Wilkes, Atlantic or Cotton and Rye refuse to offer reservations, and instead feature long lines of hungry (yet patient) diners who don’t seem to mind wasting an hour or more along the leafy sidewalks as they wait and wait and wait. My inner New Yorker (just the one) prefers to rely on a table waiting for me rather than the other way around.

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Elizabeth’s on 37th

One of the stalwart establishments, Elizabeth’s on 37th occupies a magnificently illuminated colonial house built in 1900. This proud recipient of a James Beard Foundation award has been serving low-country classics for 37 years. The dozen menu items range from soup to steak (with nowhere to hide if you happen to be a local shrimp or a half-moon clam).

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Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp, Elizabeth’s on 37th

I got stuck into a Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp with bits of crab, green tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms resting on a puddle of green goddess dressing. Everything was there: sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sensational.

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Fresh Scallops, Elizabeth’s on 37th

The Fresh Scallops were seared to perfection and then layered over a soft bed of split peas and tart chives with the odd nugget of bacon for a whiff of southern smoke. But the heat from the Spicy Savannah Red Rice sure done popped my hood ‘some.

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Spicy Savannah Red Rice, Elizabeth’s on 37th

This utterly delicious southern-styled paella of Carolina rice, grouper, shrimp, clams, sausage and okra was as fresh and bright as a sweet tomato bisque, before diving into the depths of a dark and dirty gumbo.

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Shrimp and Grits, The Public Kitchen and Bar

I know one shouldn’t compare the two, but Charleston and Savannah are often thought of as sister cities that some say despite their geographic proximity haven’t spoken to one another for years! And so, it’s not surprising to discover that a great many dishes are shared and borrowed across the state line. I know I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Sean Brock’s Shrimp and Grits at Husk had sent me home starry eyed, but that was before I was ruined by Brian Gonet’s version at The Public Kitchen and Bar. (Please indulge me as I borrow a little inspiration from “Gone with the Wind” here), I do declare, that as God is my witness, I shall never order Shrimp and Grits anywhere else again! Chef Gonet spikes his grits with cheddar and bacon and then he sears chorizo sausage to extract all those piquant and peppery flavors before adding tomatoes with local shrimp before finishing everything off with sweet sherry and heavy cream. Suuuhth’n heaven!

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plethora of pecan-inspired pies, cookies, cheesecakes, bruléés and puddin’s that are as plentiful as horse-drawn carriages. That’s because I was saving room (daily) for a southern mainstay known as Leopold’s Ice-cream, where you’ll find yet another ubiquitous line of congenial Southerners snaking out into the street. My fave’s? Caramel swirl, Tutti Frutti and, of course, Butter Pecan! The 23 flavors were perfected by the original 3 Leopold brothers, and have remained unchanged since 1919.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

But don’t presume for a slow, southern second that this old city can’t do anything new. The abundance of artisanal bakeries like James Beard nominee Back in the Day or hip trinket-eries that serve coffee, cookies, candles and soap like The Paris Market, Australian salad-aries like Collins Quarter or even a counter-style South African sausage-erie called Zunzi know how to harness flawless quality and authenticity with a unique and distinctive charm.

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The Grey

But the proverbial cake has well and truly been taken by former Prune (NYC) toque Mashama Bailey. At The Grey, a meticulously renovated art deco Greyhound bus terminal from 1934, Bailey will forever be remembered as the chef who vaulted Savannah into a new era of destination dining.

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The Grey

Every inlaid wood and brushed chrome detail, every bronze and white glass lamp sconce, every section of custom curved windows and a religiously seasonal menu that changes daily, makes this the scarcest table in town. Showered with acclaim as Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”, one of Time Magazine’s “100’s greatest Places” and a James Beard nominee, Bailey and her energetic team work hard to deliver big city dishes that would easily become house favorites – in any big city. The menu is categorized by the location of the ingredients (pantry, water, dirt and pasture) and the constant blur of the gingham-shirted wait staff creates a lively, expeditious and electric atmosphere in direct contrast to Slow-vannah.

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Steak Tartare, The Grey

The earth-shatteringly wonderful Steak Tartare is butchered from an entire hind quarter, aged for about a month before being chopped and dressed with lemon, a spectacular home-made Worcestershire sauce and pickled quail egg. The house-made buttery Buccatini with Clams was inspired in its simplicity, as was the addition of salty Halumi cheese into an amazingly caramelized tumble of roasted delicate Squash and Spring onions.

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Chicken Country Captain, The Grey

And the only menu item that will hopefully remain a fixture into the next decade is the triumphant Chicken Country Captain, drenched in a sublime and memory-making curry sauce with slivers of crunchy almonds and pocks of sweet currants. I must have blacked out, as I don’t remember lifting the plate to my lips and licking it clean.

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The Diner at The Grey

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that within the next five to seven years Savannah will compete handsomely in the nation’s food scene, luring the next generation of celebra-chefs to crack open a brand-new cuisine called sophista-soul. But before anyone gets too far down the line, no more walk-in’s without reservations y’all!

http://mrswilkes.com/

https://atlanticsavannah.com/

http://www.cottonandrye.com/#intro

http://www.elizabethon37th.net/

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