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 Seattle

The interesting thing about food in Seattle is that a random amble through the historic Pike Street public market might give you the impression that you can eat just about anything in Seattle so long as it’s salmon, whereas the “emerald city” is actually delightfully diverse and remarkably authentic. Other than the bewildering abundance of coffee bars – each promising a unique blend, a deep roast and a meticulously slow brew, there really isn’t a dish that is typically Seattlish at all. Instead, the rain-soaked metropolis on Puget Sound seems to evoke originality and individuality from chefs who might never risk as much in a more competitive market. Laotian, Vietnamese, East African, Malaysian, Bhutanese, Italian, French and schools of sushi bars make it tough to pigeonhole the local cuisine.

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Grilled House-smoked trout, Marmite

 

Chef Bruce Naftaly opened the Franco-Mediterranean inspired Marmite (pronounced Mar-meet) after 27 years of slinging pots and pans with his wife Sara at the beloved Le Gourmond. Set inside an old auto chop-shop, the rugged red brick-walled room with 30-foot ceilings and the oddly ornate Spirit within the Bottle bar at the edge of a cluster of wooden 4-tops, the space feels more like an invitation into the Naftaly home, rather than their business. Customers are treated like guests, and the experience is immensely personal. Everything is made from scratch, right in front of you. No shortcuts. No smoke. No mirrors. No fussy plating. No mysterious hail-Mary’s brought in from some “other” kitchen.

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Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Marmite

The small to large, 15-dish menu includes an astoundingly zingy Dungeness Crab Cocktail over a face-cream-smooth avocado mousse spiked with horseradish and the cheddar-iest bread stick ever. It was a tough choice between the sumptuous Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with braised tongue and bacon crumbs over a water cress salad, or the clams and nori stuffed Squash Blossom tempura – both smothered in melted cheese.

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Beouf Paupiette, Marmite

I almost bit off one of my fingers that got in the way of the wondrously flavor-forward Boeuf Paupiette – a super-tender butterflied filet stuffed with briny olives, fresh herbs and roasted garlic, seared for a minute and then finished in the oven, before being set against a tangle of sautéed zucchini ribbons.

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Rice-pudding Beignets, Marmite

Despite repeated protests, arms were finally twisted to sample a bowlful of the yummiest, crunchiest, steaming-hot Rice-pudding beignets with home-made preserves.

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The London Plane has to be one of Seattle’s coolest brunch spots. Overlooking the historic Pioneer Square with its ivy-covered brick and stone walls, Matt Dillon has hopped onto the eat-drink-read-browse-shop train. For some chefs, the battle with this concept is how to prevent the trinkets, flowers and books from overshadowing the main event, but Dillon manages this masterfully with shelves of bespoke groceries, a stellar patisserie with breads, nut meringues, cookies and the flakiest Cultured Butter Croissant in the country.

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The London Plane

The spectacularly diverse sit-down menu features eggs, crepes and sandwiches laced with harrissa, labneh, za’atar and other middle-eastern flavors.

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Baked Eggs, London Plane

There are many rules about what constitutes a real Japanese Kaiseki dinner. It’s an elegant but rather rigorous structure that starts with absolute punctuality, as the meal cannot begin until the entire “sitting” is sitting! The 7 or 8 (or sometimes more) courses are presented without substitution or preference. There is usually a starter, an appetizer, a soup and a sushi followed by braised, grilled and rice dishes and then ultimately a dessert.

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Wa’z

In Seattle’s Belltown, Wa’z chef Hiro Tawara and his conscientious crew of 3 perform double-duty not just as fastidious toques, but also as entertainers. Imagine having 9 pairs of eyes glaring at your every stir, shake, swish, splash, ting, tang, tong and sprinkle? I could never work under those conditions, but this trio delivered persnickety perfection in magnificent dish after magnificent dish, where a bowl would be rotated just a couple of degrees before being presented – just so that the most agreeable part of the floral decoration would be encountered first.

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King Crab and Chrysanthemum Leaf Salad, Wa’z

Some of the standout dishes included the Bay scallop Tempura which literally burst open upon contact to release a marvelous ocean spray; a couple of heavenly slithers of A5 (the highest grade) Wagyu Miyahaki beef sushi blow-torched and soaked in ponzu sauce with garlic chips that literally melted away; a robust and creamy Grilled Black Cod with butter-sauteed mushrooms, mirin wine and geoduck, and an astoundingly refreshing Pear Mousse with buckwheat tea ice-cream and fresh grapes and figs.

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Hassun: Assorted Appetizers, Wa’z

After repeated bowing and smiling, all 9 diners left the very sleek, feng-shui-appropriate and rather colorless room, but then without realizing we could still see them from the street, the crew threw off their aprons and high-fived one another in relief and celebration in an unusual glimmer of human imperfection in an otherwise perfect world.

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Just across the water in Fremont, chef Mutsuko Soma is churning out the freshest Soba noodles at Kamonegi. So fresh in fact, that I had to stop myself from reaching out and grabbing a few strands as they were rolled, shaped and cut individually from a big ball of buckwheat dough.

But first we did some damage to the outrageously magnificent tempura. Light, crispy, delicate and without a trace of oil. The diagonally sliced Japanese eggplants with mushrooms and shredded purple radish bathed in the most slurpily salty and wonderful dashi broth.

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Eggplant Tempura, Kamonegi

We also sampled the sublime Shrimp and the salty ocean explosion from the Uni Shiso Bomb – which is a single tempura leaf topped with a few coils of raw sea urchin.

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Impossible tan tan, Kamonegi

Soba dishes can be enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce (seiro), or in a hot broth (nanbun). We opted for the hot version of their signature Kamonegi with duck breast, duck meatballs and leaks, and the Impossible tan tan as a cold salad with sesame, chili oil and crushed peanuts. Both unspeakably wonderful.

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Tempura Oreo’s, Kamonegi

And just to prove that tempura makes the world a better place, in a rare nod to his new American roots, chef Soma throws a couple of Oreo cookies into the batter for dessert.

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Unlearn everything you ever knew about restaurants and chefs before you head into Nue – a little wooden box crammed with communal tables and quirky roadside bric-a-brac on Capital Hill. Chris Cvetkovich, the founder/restaurateur found his way into the food business as a 3D animator who travelled the globe, and then decided to open a bistro that recreated the best street food he ate along the way. And I’m so glad he did.

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Pineapple Cornbread, Nue

The gob-smackingly delicious menu spans the planet from the familiar to the peculiar to the outright bizarre. Things start off simply enough with a slice of south-sea-island-inspired Pineapple Cornbread, topped with a heavenly dome of toasted coconut that spills all over your lap as you wolf it down like cake. The Syrian Kale & Carrot Salad has a tangy citrus pomegranate dressing with bits of dates for sweetness, fetta for saltiness and toasted almonds for crunch.

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South African Bunny Chow, Nue

Being from South Africa, I had to order a plate of the nostalgically authentic and utterly amazing Bunny Chow, (which like several other South African dishes like Monkey-gland steak, has zero connection to the animal implied in the name) with a chicken curry masala poured inside a quarter-loaf of Pullman bread.

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Chendu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings, Nue

The vertical stack of dry Chengdu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings wasn’t nearly as blistering as I’d expected. With the fish sauce, lime, chili, basil and mint flavoring, these tasted much more Thai than Szechuan, but who the heck cares when they’re that moreish?

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Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Nue

And finally, the delectable flavor of the Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs is like a song I just cannot get out of my head. Marinated in an Indonesian mix of garlic, lemongrass and chilies, this rack of phenominal fall-of-the-bone smoked pork is cooked sous-vide and then lathered and slathered in a yummy Kecap Manis glaze while grilling. (If you’re wondering what classified as “bizarre”, we took a rain check on the Pigtails, Water Beetles and Fertilized Duck Eggs.)

So, while some people might be sleepless in Seattle – they definitely won’t be hungry.

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Nue

 

https://www.marmiteseattle.com/

http://www.thelondonplaneseattle.com/

https://www.wazseattle.com/

https://www.kamonegiseattle.com/

http://www.nueseattle.com/

 

Good eating in Dallas

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Bullion

In a world dominated by mega franchises and celebrity-chef chains, it’s refreshing to see a handful of new and original dining options emerging deep in the heart of Texas. Dallas might be proud of her storied reputation for Barbecue, but I stumbled upon a couple of culinary standouts that are taking the city of big hair to even bigger heights.

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Bullion

Curiously suspended in mid-air like a golden-tiled hornet’s nest clinging for dear life to the 3rd floor of a downtown office tower, is an oblique chocolate box that is home to Michelin star chef Bruno Devaillon’s newest bistro – Bullion. It’s hard not to wonder what a French bistro might be doing just a block-and-a-half from the Kennedy assassination site, and after overhearing a fellow diner climbing down from her white Yukon Denali proudly exclaiming: “I eat French food all the time. French fries. French toast. French bread. All of it!” I couldn’t help wondering just how much chef Bruno might have to “Tex-ify” some of his Franco masterpieces. But my fears were unfounded. After ascending the spiral stairway, you leave Texas behind you for an hour or so, and find yourself in a cruise-ship styled cocktail lounge that leads via the pastry rack to an ornate, yet unpretentious dining space with dark woods and golden trims, somewhere along the border of cosy and chic.

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Bullion

The menu reads like any you’d find along la rive gauche with a few contemporary items wedged between stalwart classics like a hearty saffron and tomato Bouillabaise with a mix of seafood shells and scales served with shards of grilled country bread, and an immaculately charred Foie Gras Torchon complete with berry marmalade and squishy brioche. But nothing gets a table arm-wrestle match going like a bowlful of the most amazing Gougéres au Gruyere. These caramel colored puffs are lighter and fluffier than a cheerleaders’ pom-pom. And as they go about their miraculous disappearing act, it feels like a kiss to the lips from a cheese-dusted feather.

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Gourgéres de Gruyére, Bullion

I was intrigued by the notion of a leek salad and so had to try the Poireaux, which features a regimented row of steamed leeks trying their best to impersonate white asparagus, dotted with soft goat-cheese and roasted hazelnuts in a super light truffle vinaigrette.

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Poireaux, Bullion

Even though this is grill country, the sumptuous Tournedos filet mignon with potato gratin and a trickle of mild oxtail au jus is an extraordinarily smooth cut that submits its salty umami without resistance.

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Tournedos, Bullion

The Cabillaud & Brandade awash with a tart tomato and caper confit is just light enough not to kill the subtle cod flavor, and the Agneau is an incredibly toffee-tender lamb loin, very gently accented with a sparkle of anchovy vinaigrette, accompanied by a bright and crunchy summer succotash. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, there was enormous restraint from over-flavoring the food – true to the kitchen’s mission to prepare dishes that don’t overshadow the key ingredients. Even the table-side flambéed guava and coconut ice-cream centered Baked Alaska is meek, mild, subtle and delicate.

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Baked Alaska, Bullion

Foxyco, chef Jon Steven’s latest effort in the Design District, is anything but meek and mild. His 6-week old second act following nearby neighborhood darling Stock & Barrel is a bucking bronco of runaway flavor. He coyly describes it as “modern American”, but that seems far too reticent for his brave, adventurous and (dare I say) aggressive approach to breaking rules and ignoring conventions. Even as you walk into the monochrome open space flanked by a massive mural that could be the result of a toddler’s paint party or a wannabe tribute to Jackson Pollack, you smell wafts of hickory coals emanating from his open kitchen. He’s obviously having loads of fun flexing his dexterous abilities with a mélange of cooking styles ranging from sous-vide to wood-fire grilling, to both at the same time!

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Foxyco

The menu is a tornado of way too many “must try” items like a red curry and Thai basil Warm Crab Dip, or a Farro Risotto, or perhaps a crab and hazelnut Squid ink Spaghetti (which will hopefully still be there on a return visit). I finally landed the plane on two starters, a main and a vegetable.

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Foxyco

First to emerge was an astoundingly delicious row of 4 cubes of crispy rice-cakes supporting a mound of miso-marinated Big Eye Tuna Tartare topped with basil, cilantro and a grate of lemon.

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Big Eye Tuna Tartare, Foxyco

Just as I was recoiling from the electric jolt of Asian flavors, a gorgeous snowball of scrumptious Burrata sailed in, surrounded by a bed of harissa and orange blossom infused olive oil. But the deal-clincher was the sprinkling of mint, salt flakes and honey-comb on top. That’s it. From now on, everything I eat will have to be topped with mint, salt and honey-comb.

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Burrata, Foxyco

As I waited for my Wagyu Short rib, contemplating how slowly it must have cooked in a sous-vide bag for 72 hours before being espresso-rubbed and then flame grilled to fall-apart perfection, the three strands of saffron continued to stain my Canary gin and kaffir lime cocktail a soft and rosy shade of gold.

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Wagyu Short rib, Foxyco

Needless to say, the combination of shaved horse-radish with pickled onions together with an anchovy salsa verde elevated the incredibly beefy flavor of the Wagyu – just the way meat used to taste in the olden days. Switching back and forth between the short rib and a heap of corn-flour dusted florets of Fried Cauliflower anchored in a spectacular cilantro-heavy green goddess dressing with parmesan and shaved dates felt like juggling between diamonds and rubies.

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Fried Cauliflower, Foxyco

So next time you’re passing through the big “D”, consider a bold detour from in-room dining. Because there’s more than oil in them there hills.

www.bullionrestaurant.com

http://foxycodallas.com/home/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating my way through Charleston

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Breakfast biscuits, Poogan’s Porch

Since its inception, Charleston, South Carolina has been called many things. Originally  “Charles Town” or “Chuck town” in honor of King Charles II, and more recently the “Holy City” thanks to the proliferation of almost every denomination of church steeple, but I prefer to think of it as “Charmtown” – the city of warmth, charm, hospitality and phenomenal southern cooking.  Because a large part of the myrtle tree lined cobbled streets lie several feet on the wrong side of sea level, many local menus refer to their recipes as “low country” cuisine – which incorporates soul food concoctions of local grains, greens, poultry and seafood – not to mention a nirvana for any barbecue pit-master.

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Shrimp & Grits, Husk

There are several “must-try’s” on every newcomer’s list to the city: Shrimp and Grits (a gritty porridge dotted with cooked shrimp bathing in some form of roux; Pimento Cheese (a pimply pale paté of soft cheese, pickled pimentos and mayonnaise often dolloped over fried green tomatoes); Barbecue (pork, beef, catfish and poultry – usually open-pit-smoked with vinegar-forward rubs and sauces); She-crab Soup (a creamy chowder from the legs and claws of female crabs) and Fried Chicken (no explanation required!).

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F.I.G.

Food establishments are as casual as they are abundant, and every Charlestonian (from Uber drivers to baggage handlers) will recommend their favorite, but securing a table (one of the few still using white cloths) at Mike Lata’s F.I.G. (Food is Good, est. 2003) is still tougher than a hamster sandwich. The kitchen at this all-time favorite local bistro in Ansonborough is run by executive chef and James Beard Award winner Jason Stanhope, who should be thanked for averting local riots by loyally reprising several menu standards.

 

 

Top of the list has to be his velvety smooth, rich and incomparably wondrous Chicken Liver Paté, served with shards of toasted brioche, a bracing Dijon and a pile of sour pickles. Next would be a cluster of impossibly fluffy Ricotta Gnocchi with the most delectable lamb Bolognaise that could easily summon 100 angels (from wherever it is that angels need to be summoned from.) We had also hoped to sample the much-blogged-about Tomato Tarte Tatin, only to be firmly but politely corrected by our dapper apron-clad waiter, that everyone knew it would be three more weeks before tomatoes were at their most flavorful. (Did I mention that this town runs on locally sourced, available ingredients?) So, we opted for one of the highly requested seafood dishes – the Fish Stew Provençal, which beautifully merges French and Southern cooking styles into one heavenly pot of mussels, local white shrimp, squid, fish and Carolina Gold rice.

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Shrimp & Grits, Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is an enchanting, family-run establishment set inside a double-story house with a generous porch, where you can people-watch the iPhone bungling tourists go by, while enjoying the Best Shrimp and Grits in 2016. Their secret? They add cheddar to the grits to give it a tangy creaminess, and their roux is a Tasso ham gravy with sausages and peppers.

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The Grocery

You will, without doubt, stumble upon former vegetarian chef Kevin Johnson’s The Grocery on several Charleston Top 10 lists (and via many a personal recommendation too) mostly because of his reliance on the freshest local farm produce. The daily menu is dictated by whatever appeared on the back of the truck that morning, but rest assured, the sublimely spicy Roasted Carrots in Harissa is a staple. The curiously wide space (formerly a furniture showroom) comprises a series of incongruous areas with and without views of the elaborate and high-octane kitchen. We wolfed down the house-made Charcuterie Platter, and savored an amazing mustard and au jus Glazed Duck leg confit with German potato salad and a sharp turnip kraut.

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Glazed Duck leg Confit, The Grocery

You could easily spend a year sampling every take on Fried Chicken in town without repetition, but faced with a time budget, we opted for the lonely pink cinder block box surrounded by a cluster of weeds on the side of a road just north of town called Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Thrillst® just embraced it onto their America’s 31 Best Fried Chicken spots list, and you won’t get any arguments from me. True to the adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – this windowless room hasn’t seen much in the way of upgrades over its thirty-year history.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Label-free, sticky, hot-sauce bottles pin down the hand-scribbled menus, which would otherwise be strewn across the 7 floral, vinyl-covered tables. The only sounds above the whirring of dueling electric fans are the enthusiastic shrieks of anticipation from the crowd of persistent regulars waiting patiently in line. The silverware is plastic, the dishware is Styrofoam and the linen is dispensed from a roll. But the chicken is…to…die…for.

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Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Mac ‘n Cheese and Cornbread, Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Cooked, served and cleared by two feisty sisters who offer you a choice 3 sides (some of the best collard greens, mac ‘n cheese and corn bread in town) to go along with their moist, tender, golden and candy-apple-crisp portions of dark or white meat. The salty-peppery batter is just thick enough not to pull away from the chicken, and when all is said and done, neither plate nor fingers yield a trace of oil. Be warned though – the Sweet Tea is sweeter than a honey-bee’s butt.

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Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

There’s another crowd standing in line just a few blocks away at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Mr. Scott brought his James Beard Award winning “whole hog” technique to town after a very successful run in Hemingway, SC. Alongside the airy red, white and blue dining room is a not-so-airy pit room where hogs, chickens and large sections of beef are slowly and meticulously smoked.

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Spare Ribs, Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

The service is counter-style, and the food arrives in little red baskets lined with butcher paper to soak up the oozy, yummy, vinegary, sweet-and-spicy sauce. Popular favorites are the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a generous helping of lean strands of smoked pork between a soft, white bun, and the amazing dry rub, melt-in-your-mouth Spare Ribs that yield their dark, rich and woody flavors from years of crafting and perfecting.

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Husk

Sean Brock is probably the most notorious chef to draw attention to Charleston’s food scene. After a career under the influence of toques from multiple styles, the “Mind of a chef” starring, James Beard and Daytime Emmy Award winning southern boy opened the now legendary Husk in 2010. Set in a charming 1890’s house on Queen street with a fancy Bourbon barroom next door, Brock dedicated the menu to his strict devotion to southern produce: “If it ain’t southern,” he used to quip, “it ain’t coming in the door.”

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Pimento Cheese Bruscetta, Husk

He elevates Shrimp and Grits with a medley of cheeses for extra creaminess, and douses it in a mind-blowing tomato and shellfish broth. By now everyone has heard of his utterly amazing Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps.

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Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Husk

In reality they are a fresh leaf of butter lettuce clutching a few crispy, crackly twigs of what our waiter described as: “if bacon and pork belly had a baby,” with soft pickled cucumbers, onion slices and a spot of Togarashi sauce for some heat. But nothing can beat the pure, simple joy of his classic Cheeseburger.

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Cheeseburger, Husk

A pair of chuck, bacon and brisket patties held together by a slice of melted American cheese, a swipe of secret sauce, a sprinkle of shaved onion and 3 or 4 pickles crammed into a golden, squishy sesame bun. Uncomplicated. Unfussy. Unbelievable.

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McCrady’s

But don’t think for a hot and sticky southern second that Sean Brock can’t do fussy. Just take a seat at the U-shaped counter at his revamped McCrady’s for a serious, focused and flavor-intense degustation experience. The gold pressed-steel ceilings and exposed brick walls help warm the 18-seat dining throne at the edge of an all-induction, sous-vide kitchen with no open flames. A diverse group of line chefs labor theatrically and animatedly with tweezers, needles and miniature tongs to surgically assemble, prep and plate thirteen of the most beautiful micro-portions of amazingly fussy food. The two and a quarter hour savory thrill ride is rather like a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, with daring surprises, immaculate choreography and a story arc that builds slowly with several culinary high points, before a series of sweet endings gently lower you back down to earth. The grey seersucker-vested waiters provide all the jokes, anecdotes, punctuations and explanations, but no-one will reveal what’s coming up next.

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Royal red shrimp and Savoy Cabbage, McCrady’s

Part of the suspense includes Brock’s highly curated musical “soundtrack” to accompany each course, with selections from The Wild Club and Massive Attack, (which at times makes hearing the dish descriptions a tad challenging for these old ears) but it’s all part of the uncompromising “dinner party” experience that Chef Sean was after.

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Uni and Cucumber ice-cream, McCrady’s

Each dish is revealed in a unique way, in its own unique vessel, accompanied by a uniquely carved wooden rest that houses each unique piece of articulated cutlery. The menu updates regularly based on seasonality, fresh produce availability (noticing a theme yet?) and tons of experimentation. Some of the recent highlights included an ice-cream made from Uni; a delicious Ossabow Pork Pie (that was truly the size of a licorice all-sort); a sous-vide Royal red shrimp and Savoy cabbage mousseline splashed with Kimchi butter and topped with Osetra caviar; a marvelous risotto made from Nostrale Rice (aka Charleston ice-cream) with puffed cereal and a foamy egg custard; pan-seared Mahi Mahi covered by a thatch of thinly sliced white asparagus and New Zealand finger limes, served under a splash of chamomile and spring onion tea; and a Banana Caramel with coconut gelato and black lime zest.

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McCrady’s

With only so many meals a day, the larger question is where didn’t I get to eat? That list would have to include notables like The Glass Onion, Chez Nous, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Bertha’s Kitchen, Charleston Grill, 167 Raw, Zero, Stella’s, Lewis Barbecue and The Ordinary. Looks like I’ll be back in “Charmtown” real soon. Y’all take care now!

https://eatatfig.com/

https://www.poogansporch.com/

http://marthalouskitchen.com/

http://www.rodneyscottsbbq.com/

http://huskrestaurant.com/sean-brock-2/

http://mccradysrestaurant.com/

Unpacking Meal Kits

Now that the meal kit delivery business has sautéed into a $1.5BN industry, with room to rise threefold in the next few years, it’s no surprise that every few weeks another cook enters the already crowded kitchen. The first pioneer was Blue Apron, and then in less time than it takes to slice a hot knife through soft butter, we have Home Chef, Green Chef, Chef’d, Peach Dish, Purple Carrot, Takeout Kit, Terra’s Kitchen, Just Add Cooking, Sun Basket and of course Martha Stewart’s Marley Spoon. They all follow a similar premise: For around $8 – $12 a serving, you’ll receive a weekly kit with step-by-step photographic recipes and all the necessary fresh ingredients, pre-measured and portioned out (except for salt, pepper and oil).

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Budda Bowl – Green Chef

No shopping. No schlepping. No waste (aside from disposing of a deluge of packaging). And for 30+ minutes of deliberate action, virgin cooks have sprouted up all across the country. Some say it’s the choice of a new generation who want to be empowered to cook with confidence. But perhaps these kits are just as appropriate for any knife-skill-deprived newlywed as they are for every empty nester, or for those suffering from terminal recipe rut or incurable ordering-in-fluenza.

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Meatloaf – Blue Apron

In my case, it was the thought of pruning back my Saturday morning chores (planning the week’s menus, compiling a lengthy list, schlepping to two or more grocery stores, making on-the-spot compromises due to inventory issues, standing in endless check-out lines, schlepping everything home, packing it all away…) and my curiosity for how well these services deliver on what I refer to as the EFR: the effort-to-flavor ratio. Did all the chopping, stirring and zesting actually yield a delicious dish, or have I just spent the past half hour trashing my kitchen for a ho-hum prison yard meal?

Blue Apron

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While some of the other services were still being conceived of, Blue Apron cartons were already showing on doorsteps all across the country. Starting from a perfect score, big blue lost points in my book for burying steps within other steps. Just after I’d doused the entire contents of a perfectly darling little bottle of white vinegar onto the salad I was assembling, did I read further to notice that I needed to save half of it for step 8. Really? They lost another point when the spinach I was sautéeing shrank and shrank until I was left with a portion scarcely big enough for a Barbie picnic. And I found it more than irritating that my end-product didn’t come close to resembling the mouthwatering photograph on the recipe card. Two more points gone after taking well over 45 minutes to complete a 30 minute recipe, and the near-divorce inducing cleanup for requiring a pot, a frying pan, 2 chopping boards, a zester, a grater, a strainer and a handful of mixing bowls. (Not surprisingly, Blue Apron quickly put up a kitchen appliance microsite as an added revenue source. Duh.) The final straw was due to my own boredom with the über-reliance on lemons as the main (and sometimes only) flavor ingredient for meals 1 through 8.

EFR (Effort-to-flavor ratio): 8:3. Moving on.

Plated

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Responding to a promo coupon in the mail, I tried the more flexible alternative to Blue Apron. Plated permits more of a say in terms of what you prefer to cook and how many meals you might need per week. We also enjoyed the superior quality of the proteins, but once the newness (and the initial promo offers) wore off, reinforcements were sent in, in the form of an armada of carbs to crowd the plate, fill the stomach and grow the bottom line. Still way too many steps, with not much more than a limp handshake of a flavor profile.

EFR: 8:4. Next!

Hello Fresh

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So the big attraction with Hello Fresh was that Jamie Oliver was supposedly behind this service. Turns out, only some of his recipes materialized – nearly none of the time. But the upside was a larger variety of menu options with a 3-point sliding scale of difficulty, (i.e. mess, more mess and most mess!) Good news on the packaging though, these guys inserted all the ingredients required for each recipe into a single carton, reducing some of the environmental threat. But the only adjective I can call to mind that best describes the taste would be “unmemorable”.

EFR: 7:5 B’Bye!

Green Chef

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Although many of the other services claim to deliver pesticide (friendly), hormone (lite), (virtually) free-range and (scarcely) GMO produce – only Green Chef offers a guarantee that every single ingredient is USDA certified Organic. Here the meal options are for Ominvores, Carnivores, Vegevores, Paleo’s, Vegans or Gluten-freebies. Most of the packaging (and there is still a monsoon of it) is either compostable, reusable, recyclable or chewable. I was initially intimidated by the sheer number of ingredients I kept unpacking from the box, but when I started reading the labels, I realized that Santa’s little green helpers had taken care of a ton of the prep work for me already. Sauces, dressings, infusions, drizzles, toppings and dips arrive ready to cook. The various grains, flours and breadcrumbs all have secret spices included. The edamame are already steamed. So is the corn. The sweet potato turns up mysteriously diced, and the cabbage and carrots have already been shredded and wedded together. With less than 5 minutes of chopping, and a brilliant utensil re-use strategy, the entire ordeal is well under 25 minutes to dinner. We decided to start with the vegetarian meals, and will probably stick with them due to the incomparable dimensions of flavor, inventiveness and originality, (and to give my cardiologist a better night’s sleep). I had no idea how little I’d miss lamb after tasting a Portabella Souvlaki, or a Meatball made entirely from beets and bulgur wheat. The only downsides are the variety of fritters that require deep-frying, and the fact that none of the recipes reveal the actual measurements of each ingredient – keeping the recipes shrouded in unrepeatable secrecy.

EFR: 4:10 Now we’re talking.

Vegan-Alfredo

Vegan Alfredo – Green Chef

Not sure what my next step will be after this, but if I was pressed to pick an Act 5, it would probably be Martha’s Marley Spoon. After that…I’ll probably resort to the old school of sweating over a hot phone until I get my hands on that prime-time four-top at Le Coucou.

http://www.blueapron.com

http://www.hellofresh.com

http://www.plated.com

http://www.greenchef.com

http://www.sunbasket.com

http://www.terraskitchen.com

https://www.purplecarrot.com

 

 

 

 

American Flagship Dining – an aviation first

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American Airlines Flagship Lounge – JFK Airport

Is it just me who finds it rather bizarre that even though the Wright brothers pioneered flight on these very shores, or that the world’s first commercial airline began operations in this country, why then are US carriers so embarrassingly dominated and overshadowed by their international counterparts? Whether it’s the aircraft livery design, crew uniforms, cabin interiors and comfort, or service in the air and on the ground, United/Delta/American seem stuck in a decade-long taxiway before finally pulling up to match that ever-rising standard. There’s hardly a passenger who would disagree that the worst part of air travel starts and ends at the airport: You can miss at least one birthday standing in the bounty of lines. There’s nowhere to sit. None of the phone chargers work. Vintage dust abounds. There’s never anything to do when your flight is delayed. And who can tolerate those dysentery-inducing food-chain options?

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American Airlines Flagship Lounge – JFK airport

Well, there certainly is a better way to get through it all. For those flying first class on American Airlines transcontinental or international routes out of JFK, the airline unveiled their new Flagship Lounge today, which will elevate the nations’ largest carrier to share similar airspace with the popular British Airways Concorde Lounge at Heathrow, or Cathay Pacific’s The Wing at Hong Kong International.

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Semi-private pods – American Airlines Flagship Lounge

The Flagship Lounge is replete with the expected comforts and conveniences, like a separate check-in facility, charging stations never more than an elbow away, the latest in electronic barista stations, a self-service bar, a perpetually refreshed buffet with 5 hot and more than a dozen cold dishes, a quiet room, a fancy cocktail station and a wide variety of seating from loungers to diners to booths and even a row of adorable, semi-private beehive pods. But unlike some international lounges, you’re not going to find a private cabana, a shoe-shine, a haircut, a massage (or any other indulgent services of a personal nature).

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Showers – American Airlines Flagship Lounge

Despite the fact that the décor is almost entirely color and warmth deprived (would it have killed someone to shlepp in a palm or a vessel of succulents, or anything green other than that bottle of Chartreuse between the Campari and the Bourbon?), it certainly makes up for in space and light. The generous, but highly considered variety of textures and finishes from leather to mosaics, bright woods to shiny pressed metals are all offset by the pervasive plethora of durable fabrics (in what seem to be limitless shades of gray, fawn and brown), built to withstand the impending avalanche of traveler abuse. And while the 8 bookable showers are spotlessly modern, I challenge the design team to find somewhere to spread their belongings out, while washing away a virtual thrombosis after 13+ hours of mid-Atlantic turbulence.

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Flagship First Dining – JFK airport

But none of that should overshadow the real moment of truth in what is without doubt another aviation first: American Airlines has dared to install the first ever, fully functioning restaurant kitchen inside an airport terminal. In a nutshell, there is no better meal to be had in any of the 8 terminals surrounding JFK airport than Flagship First Dining. With (mostly) locally sourced ingredients and a menu that extolls the virtues of regional flavors with some international destination-inspired dishes, chef Scott Keats has created the first gourmet airline dining experience before you even leave the ground.
There has been endless dialogue about the state of our taste buds at 35,000 feet, prompting airline catering programs to introduce highly sophisticated flavor profiles that continue to push the envelope within the limitations of what can be re-heated in the galley of a 777. But let’s say your flight is delayed until the storm passes and you are stuck at the airport for another 3 hours. You snag one of the 10 single seat window-facing tables or a 4-person booth and sit down to real cotton linens and regular sized flatware as you peruse the menu of a dozen options – all complimentary, of course!

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Smoked Duck Breast – Flagship First Dining

It only takes one bite of the perfectly tender Smoked Duck Breast with a deep, rich, woodsy flavor, wonderfully accented by the fruity-jammy au jus and punctuated by the chef’s take on a colorful succotash to realize that this dish wasn’t cooked last month, flash-frozen and trucked in from Minneapolis. The roasted tomato coulis anchoring three Arancini is delectable, but the “rice balls” (as the waiter referred to them) could do with a sprinkle of seasoning.

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Arancini – Flagship First Dining

Chef Keats makes a passionate argument about environmental impacts and sustainable farming, but then the other shoe drops when the magnificent Loch Duarte Salmon gets flown in daily from Scotland! He presents it medium-rare with a splash of broth along a soft pudding he calls “cauliflower risotto”, which is nice and rich and indulgently cheese-laden, but probably requires more of a spoon than a fork to reach the mouth with any dignity.

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Lentil Cake – Flagship First Dining

While there is only one vegetarian entree, it’s a damn good one. I used the last remnants of what was one of four bread roll options (that were offered without name or description) to mop up the delicious ginger sauce surrounding the Lentil cake covered with sautéed mushrooms and baby corns.

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Flagship Burger – Flagship First Dining

And probably the most traditional of all entrees – the one that’s impossible to serve at altitude – will become the signature dish on all future Flagship First Dining menus in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas and London – the Flagship Burger. “I really wanted it to be…unctuous,” Keats proudly declares of his moist, 1.5” thick sirloin patty, cave aged cheddar melt and immaculately sweet-and-spicy maple bacon marmalade.

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Flagship First Dining – JFK airport

Despite the unavoidable first day service jitters with wait staff who have yet to find their hands, feet, eyes and ears: when to refill a glass (before it’s empty), when to serve the condiments (before the dish has been consumed), or when to remove the silverware (not moments before they are about to be needed), this first foray into gate-side dining is bound to catch on at supersonic speed. I also predict some edits to the menu based on popularity and demand. (Did I hear someone ask for a pasta…?)

http://www.aa.com

https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/dining/flagship-first-dining.jsp

 

Eating my way through Japan

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Bento boxes from Kyoto railway station

The myriad preconceptions about Japan and its culinary reputation are always consistent no matter who you hear them from:

  • It’s just as difficult to secure a reservation as it is to have a bad meal.
  • There’s much more to Japanese food than sushi.
  • Tokyo is home to more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world.
  • Japanese chefs generally focus on one singular style of cooking before perfecting it.
  • Prepare yourself for a ton of seafood – even for breakfast!
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Steamed Beef buns

All true, but there is a whole lot more to it before you finally snap your hashi (chopsticks) apart. For the average westerner, the Japanese kitchen scores very highly under the following criteria:

Presentation – probably the most attractive and appetizing works of art you will ever see on a plate – from 3-star tasting dishes to pre-packaged bento boxes. It’s always absolutely, reliably, unbelievably Instagram-astic.

Ingredients – Everything you will ever eat in this country will be of the freshest and highest quality in the world. The notion of foodborne issues never crossed my mind – even if I was eating raw eggs. (See below).

The next few, however, are where things start to become a little iffy for the less-adventurous:

Location – It takes a little while to reconcile the notion of climbing down into a small, windowless, sign-less, basement box of a room to enjoy the most excessively expensive (and enjoyable) dinner you’ve ever eaten. Or that one of your more memorable meals might be found in, at – or under – a train station.

Flavor profile – Let me put this as simply as I can: it’s different. Foods that normally carry a bonfire of spice back home, tend to be oddly muted in Japan. Not that that’s bad – it’s just different. Conversely, when you prepare your palette for the subtle flavors of seafood you’re accustomed to, it could feel like you just bit into a 100-year old anchovy from the darkest recesses of the ocean. Again, not bad – just different.

Texture – while Japanese foods tend to run the gamut from “crispy to crunchy”, you’d do well to prepare yourself for “sticky to slimy” as well. (Hey, I’m just puttin’ in out there.)

Surprise – This is where we separate the men from the boys. In a world where English is rarely spoken (particularly by restaurant servers or market stall cooks), what do you do when you have neither the slightest recognition nor comprehension for what it is you are holding between your hashi? Hmmmmm.

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Traditional Japanese Breakfast

All my efforts to research a multitude of websites, blogs, articles, and personal recommendations to hand pick 4 good restaurants out of the 82,000 that Tokyo offers, were largely a waste of time. Those that were truly top of my list were either not bookable by foreigners, required multiple pre-departure phone calls well after midnight, were booked out more than 4 months in advance, or I am still waiting to hear back from them. And so I was left with my 2nd, 3rd and in some instances 4th tier choices. On the other hand, and without exception, every one of the spontaneous snacks and lunches I stood in line for at crowded train stations, noisy food markets or prolific department store food halls were so beyond exceptional, that in retrospect I regret not having taken even more advantage of them. But here are some of highlights (and lowlights) with my own star ratings.

Butagumi (Tokyo) 5-stars

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Tonkatsu, Butagumi

This charming little wooden house with moon-shaped windows and creaky floors, cranks out nothing but Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets). The menu consists of several pages of an anatomy lesson in all things pig. Not just cuts of pork, but also the different breeds with details of their diet, size, exercise, fat content and heritage. As simple as our choices were, the table was then bedecked with sides, sauces, salads, curries and spices – not forgetting the ubiquitous Japanese pickles and rice. The cutlets themselves were sliced and served on a copper wire stand with an impossibly delicate, cotton-candy fir of crispy panko that literally melted on the tongue as the flavorful, tender and moist meat succumbed with ease. This is a perfect example of a single dish notched up to such a high level that any self-respecting Austrian Wienerschnitzel chef might hang up his apron for good.

Seizan-Mita (Tokyo) 1-star

A Kaiseki meal is a traditional sequence of several formal courses that includes an appetizer, a sashimi, a simmered fish, a grilled dish with rice, a steamed dish, a soup and a dessert. The fundamental problem with Kaiseki is that unless you are in reliably English speaking hands the surprise factor goes off the charts, which is precisely where we found ourselves in a quirky little sub-street-level, angular, disconnected and rather lonely room. Each time one of the servers would deliver us a plate, all he was told to say was something that sounded like: “Tsanchwangdo-ma!” Despite our litany of desperately probing questions, (Is it a river fish? Is it a sea-fish? Is it a fish???!!) all we got was “Tsanchwangdo-ma!” The only dishes that needed no translation (and which turned out to be the most memorable) were the raw shrimp over peanut tofu sauce and the delicate potato fritters stuffed with shiitakes. After the third or fourth nameless slither of fishy fish in an insipid broth, one couldn’t help but wonder when those two well-hidden Michelin stars might finally reveal themselves.

Sushi Tokami (Tokyo) 5-stars

Given that Tokyo is home to the Tsikiji fish market, the largest fresh fish auction and distribution center in the world, if you’re going to eat sushi in Japan, you have to do so in Tokyo. Chef Hiroyuki Sato is a toddler by sushi-celebrity ratings, but he has focused his formal training into a unique Michelin star experience in an intimate 9-seat basement space. After a delectable “welcome” Hand-roll of Tuna tartare, “…from behind the head!”, chef Sato proudly exclaims as he points to the back of his neck, there followed a series of small cooked items like grilled Baracuda, Bonito sashimi with three delicious mustard toppings, a wonderfully tart smoked Sardine and the almost sweet baked Lemon Fish. Then came the sushi. His signature red-vinegar-reduction soaked rice, served at body temperature, accompanies about 15 very different fish, from Kohada to Perch to Toro, Shrimp, Squid, Snapper, Smelt, Roe…to his unique Hot and cold Sea Urchin – yielding a thrilling salty temperature contrast between the left and right of the mouth. He rounds out the meal with what he calls a Japanese omelet, but is in fact a sweet, baked-custardy egg tart.

Craftale (Tokyo) 3-stars

Shinya Otsuchihashi’s formal French training under Joel Rubichon shows through his very detailed set menu dinner. Located on the 2nd floor of a building in the midst of a quaint suburban neighborhood street lined with cherry blossom trees and a small stream, the all-in-one-room restaurant and kitchen churns out a variety of meat and fish dishes, the gimmick being that each one is accompanied by a different type of bread or muffin to mop up the heavenly sauces. I could have done with a 19th helping of the delicious slither of Bonito sashimi with toasted shallots and a ring of black burned onion powder in a ponzu broth. Equally delectable were the slightly scorched Barracuda and the Spanish Mackarel with boiled peanut sauce. The medallion of tender rabbit with shaved freeze-dried foie gras flakes was pleasant enough but perhaps a tad too rich for one dish, and despite admiring the pork knuckle still roasting in its cast iron pot with nothing but straw and peanuts in their shells, it failed to deliver much flavor and was as tough as fresh bamboo.

Ramen Street (Tokyo) 4-stars

Who would have thought that standing in line to order Ramen via a vending machine in a crowded train station, and then waiting for the diners ahead of you to finish slurping theirs down until a seat became available would be such a runaway sensation? The deliciously rich and salty broth with hand-pulled wheat noodles, eggs, pork slices, scallions and croutons just so happens to be that amazing.

Kitchen Street (Tokyo) 3-stars

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Shrimp tempura, Kitchen Street

Also housed within Tokyo’s train station are a few bright and boisterous bistros that serve fresh tempura. Battered and fried in cottonseed oil right in front of you, everything from fish to vegetables to leaves to shrimp are all total home runs. (I can’t help salivating just thinking about it now.)

Abura Soba (Tokyo) 5-stars

Arguably one of the best lunches in all of Tokyo, the only options at this 15-seat noodle bar chain are the portion size and spiciness of their one-and-only fresh soba “oil” noodle dish. Once you manage to get a seat and grab your bowl of broth-less soba with pork and scallions, the instruction card tells you to first squirt three circles of rice vinegar, followed by three circles of chili oil, a spoonful of chopped onions and then thoroughly mix the contents to free up the secret sauce from the bottom of the bowl. The perfect texture of the noodles and the staggeringly rich flavor of the ingredients is beyond yummy and umami, rendering all of us speechless for 15 solid minutes of slurping.

Cafe de L’Ambre (Tokyo) 5-stars

For as much green and Matcha tea they serve in Japan (there is also an obnoxiously large industry that produces Matcha cookies, candles, soaps, chocolates and even soft-serve ice-cream) they sure do love their coffee culture too, and nowhere more so than this little post-war cafe in Ginza that roasts its own vintage beans in-house – some of them dating back two to four decades. Each of their specialty coffees involves careful weighing of beans and sugar (on a real scale with sliding weights), and a variety of other interesting additions, followed by patiently grinding, brewing, stirring and pouring through fabric sieves into non-matching, fine-bone china. The classic Royale is stirred into a cocktail shaker and then hand chilled alongside a large block of ice with a very careful topping of thick cream into a champagne glass, or the Cafe Oefs which involves a raw, beaten egg yolk poured into hot, sweet coffee that has to be drunk quickly before the egg starts to cook. #showstopper

Mikaku (Kyoto) 4-stars

Teppanyaki has always been an entertaining way to have your food theatrically tossed, seared and sliced on a steel griddle right in front of you. It somehow always seems to taste better after watching each ingredient wilt, sizzle and color right before your eyes. But when your chef uses wafer-thin, certified Kobe beef (and we were presented with the official paperwork stating the animal’s ancestry dating back three generations along with his nose print!) the process only takes 20 seconds, but the pleasure of enjoying the most marbled, flavorful, roasted-marshmallow tender steak will stay with me forever.

Iroha Kitamise (Kyoto) 1-star

The process of Sukiyaki is fairly simple: thin slices of Kyoto beef are seared in a heated pot built into the table. Sugar, soy sauce, scallions, sprouts, noodles and chilies get added and once ready, you dip it into a bowl of beaten eggs. I can now say that I have tried it, but the overly sweet glaze, combined with the raw eggs were two stops beyond my realm of personal enjoyment.

Okonomimuro “Ron” (Hiroshima) 3-stars

Hiroshima might be known for where the first A-bomb was dropped in 1945, but it is also home to a really tasty and fun local meal known as Okonomiyaki. Wedged in one corner on the 3rd floor of a 4-story building with nothing but Okonomiyaki grills side by side, “Ron” (with her curiously long eye-lashes) concocts a wide variety of this popular meal. First she pours a thin circular pancake onto the griddle with some fish spices. Then comes a mound of fresh cabbage, bacon, sprouts and scallions, before it all gets flipped over. Simultaneously she warms a portion of cooked Udon noodles alongside, before flipping the pancake on top of them. Next comes a fried egg on top of that before the final flip over and a sprinkling of cheese that gets flame-torched over a dollop or two of a salty brown sauce. Voila – your heavenly Japanese pancake-enchilada is ready.

Owariya (Kyoto) 4-stars

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Cold Soba Platter, Owariya

Owariya is Kyoto’s – and probably Japan’s – oldest restaurant serving the best Soba (buckwheat noodles) in the city for more than 550 years. The dish to order is their Cold Soba Platter with a tower of four individually portioned plates of the nutty, chilled, gray noodles, alongside a plethora of toppings like pickles, tempura vegetables, seaweed and sauce. The tray includes a teapot of some of the treasured Kyoto water that the noodles were cooked in, which has to be drunk as a broth with a little soy sauce “to enjoy for good health.”

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Ice-cream cake, Glaciel

Desserts in general tend to be even less familiar than other dishes, (with the exception of a few specialty dessert houses like Glaciel in Tokyo who have rewritten the book on ice-cream cakes). The most popular flavor or filling for pies, ice-creams, pastries (like the über-prolific, fresh-baked, maple-shaped Momiji Manju cakes) and (believe it or not) Kit-Kat varieties is red bean paste. If this is the ultimate in highly desirable sugary indulgences, then I guess it’s no wonder that no-one in Japan will ever be overweight!

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Momiji Manju cakes, Miyajima Island

http://www.butagumi.com/nishiazabu/about.html

http://sushitokami.3zoku.com/12about.html

http://www.tables.jp.net/craftale/

https://tokyocoffee.org/2016/05/29/cafe-de-lambre/

http://miner8.com/en/5551

http://www.okonomimura.jp/foreign/english.html

https://honke-owariya.co.jp/en/whatisowariya/

Surprisingly sensational summer secrets

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-3-46-48-pmBest-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver penned the phrase: “Cooking is 80% confidence”, but for whatever reason she never got around to divulging the rest of the equation. So if it were me I would add: “… and 20% reading”, i.e. if you can read – you can cook! But there is a distinction between faithfully following a recipe, and creating something entirely new, inspired by your memory, guided by your tongue or compromised by the limitations of your grocery cabinet.

There are two reasons why I seldom (never) post recipes on my blog:

  1. I don’t want rogersdigest to turn into a re-publishing link for recipes that have debuted elsewhere.
  2. If I happen to invent a dish, a large part of me wants it to remain a secret.

What to do?

Well, maybe it’s the weather or maybe I’m just in a curiously generous mood, but I thought I’d share a couple of surprisingly successful – yet simple dishes that have come dangerously close to “hit” status this past summer.

The first comes in the form of a challenge I frequently set for myself – whereby I try (with mixed success) to recreate a dish I’ve recently enjoyed in a restaurant. Using the smattering of ingredients they list on the menu (rarely the whole story) and my ability to decipher the proportions (with varying accuracy) in the hopes that eventually I might get lucky. This creamy, yet ridiculously light and refreshing rendition of a Cucumber Gazpacho is within sipping distance of its original from the Little Beet Table on Park Avenue.

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Cucumber Gazpacho

Cucumber Gazpacho – Serves 4

  • 4 large cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup green, seedless grapes
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk (if you can’t find unsweetened, then leave out the grapes)
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • 3 – 4 Tblspn white wine vinegar (to taste)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • ½ cup roasted Marcona almonds for serving (or for snacking while you cook)
  • 1 Tblspn Chili oil (optional but highly recommended) *
  1. Peel, seed and roughly chop the cucumbers. Discard the peel and seeds. (Did I just write that?) Add the first 6 items to a blender (i.e. stop before you get to the salt) and puree thoroughly until smooth. Season with salt and feel free to juggle extra vinegar, salt or grapes to balance the sweet:salt:sour ratio. Don’t stop until you’re happy.
  2. Use a spatula to press through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove all the solids.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours until well chilled. (If you don’t have 3 hours don’t add ice cubes. Leave the mixing bowl in the freezer while you’re making the soup.)
  4. Divide into serving dishes and toss in a few Marcona almonds. Dribble a few sparse freckles of chili oil on top and serve immediately.

* You can make your own chili oil by adding 1 Tblspn crushed red pepper flakes to ½ cup olive oil. Simmer over low heat in a small saucepan until fully absorbed for about 20 minutes. Strain and discard the chili flakes and let the oil cool to room temperature before using.
This shamelessly simple, down & dirty but delicious Crunchy Caramel Peaches was the result of a desperate think-outside-the-cereal-box moment when a crowd showed up with an unmistakably “what’s for dessert?” look on their faces. In less than 6 minutes, I whipped up whatever I could find before it became the most frequently requested dessert of the season.

 

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Crunchy Caramel Peaches

Crunchy Caramel Peaches – Serves 4

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • 2 Tblspn butter
  • 1 Tblspn Dulce de Leche *
  • Vanilla Ice-cream
  • Granola (The nuttiest one you can find. i.e. full of nuts – not crazy! See recipe below)
  1. Halve, pit and dice the peaches. Discard the pits. (There I go again.)
  2. In a large skillet at medium-high heat, melt the butter and sauté the peaches until they soften slightly and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (You’ll know you’ve gone too far when they start to disintegrate and you have the makings of peach marmalade in your pan. If so, discard and start over at #1.)
  3. Add the Dulce de Leche and continue to cook, stirring constantly until well blended for about a minute.
  4. Dollop a healthy spoonful of the peach mixture over one or more scoops of Vanilla ice-cream, and top with a handful of granola. Serve right away.

* Don’t use Caramel sauce or the sugar will crystalize. If you can’t find Dulce de Leche, you can either curl up in a corner and weep for 20 minutes, or you can make your own by boiling an sealed tin of condensed milk submerged in a deep pot of water for 2 hours. (Oh, and you might want to remember to top up with extra water as it evaporates from time to time or the tin will explode. Trust me. I’ve done it before. Took nearly 2 months to clean up the mess. And let the tin cool completely before you open it, or you will have 2nd degree burns and stalactites of molten caramel dripping from kitchen ceiling. #notfun, #betterthingstodowithmytime)

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Have you ever noticed on the label how much sugar they add to store bought granola? It’s insane! And not surprisingly, the better they taste -the more sugar/syrup/honey they add. And those that are supposedly “good for you” just have insipidly dry, boringly beige oats. For me, granola has to be choc full of rich, dark, brown, sticky clusters of nuts, so that when you make your way through the crunchy deliciousness, you get a mélange of flavors from hazels and pecans and almonds and pistachios with every bite.

This recipe comes with a strict warning: Keep out of reach of habitual in-between-meal snackers, or you’ll have nothing left for breakfast!

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Sugar-free nutty Granola

Sugar-free nutty Granola – About 12 servings, depending on whether you lock it away or not

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw coconut flakes (unsweetened)
  • 1 cup pistachio nuts that are roasted, unsalted, shelled and talented
  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts chopped in half – big pieces, not crumbs
  • ½ cup raw pecans
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tspn salt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup Blackstrap molasses (see, no sugar/syrup/honey here)
  • ½ cup dried tart cherries
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Combine the first 9 ingredients (all the dry stuff except the cherries) in a large bowl.
  3. Warm the oil and molasses in a small saucepan and stir constantly until combined.
  4. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir well. (Except the cherries. That comes later.)
  5. Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a latex baking mat.
  6. Place in the center rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Stir the mixture around and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool completely. This is where everything becomes nice and sticky so don’t rush this part. Go do something else. Read a book. Binge watch House of Cards. Practice the piano. Vacuum the drapes.
  9. Evenly distribute the tart cherries into the granola as you pour it into an airtight container. #yum.

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https://www.thelittlebeettable.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 38 Restaurants in New York City

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After much begging, pleading, mooing and meowing, I finally succumbed to share a list of my personal favorite food haunts in New York City. And because not all meals are created equal – nor are all palates or pockets, I took the liberty of dividing the list into 7 convenient categories to help you retrace my foodie foodsteps. But before you proceed to cut-and-paste, there’s a caveat we need to be clear on:

While none of my restaurant or meal recommendations mentioned here are “one-dish-wonders”, I cannot accept any liability for sub-par experiences due to off-nights, falling standards, menu omissions, inflated hype or chef dismissals. The food was amazing when I ate there! Just sayin’.

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Le Bernadin “Egg”

In the new year, the only thing higher than legend-busting rents (au revoir Union Square Café, Barbuto, Costata etc.), will be the highest minimum wage for restaurant workers in the city’s history. So if someone else is footing the bill, let’s label the first category as EXPENSE ACCOUNT EXCESS.

Daniel $$$+

An immaculate, flawless and unforgettable experience. The service, the presentation, the food itself and (as sincerely as only he can muster) the traditional table-side greeting by Chef Boulud himself.

Eleven Madison Park $$$+

Daniel Humm finds the right balance between shi-shi molecular gastronomy curiosities and one of the best meals in the city today. Not your average cup of tea, so make sure your party can handle Carrot foam and Carrot Tartare.

 Le Bernadin $$$+

Also clutching his 3 Michelin stars, chef Eric Ripert is the consummate host and venerable architect of so many dishes that have inspired the careers of two generations of toques. His legendary “Egg” – while no longer on the menu is a must-have.

 

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Svizzerina (bun-less burger) from Via Carota

The next group of restaurants are literally mood-altering locations, that the mere thought of eating there instantly puts a smile on my face. These are my ALL-TIME FAVORITES

Upland $$

Great space, great vibe and the menu is replete with hit-makers, but the Duck Wings are to die for.

Via Carota $

Very vibey face-brick room decked out with antique shnick-shnack as a typical West Village backdrop for some sensational and affordable dishes like the Svizzerina bun-less burger.

Buvette $

I absolutely adore this little French bistro with Barbie-doll-sized tables, stools and dishes. Jodi Williams cranks out the most astoundingly delicious French mini plates. Great for brunch.

Momofuku Ssam $

Some might say this is David Chang’s ATM, but the guy puts an unbeatable Korean spin on anything he touches. Fun, friendly and flavorful. Great for lunch. Steamed pork buns were pretty much invented here. Spicy Pork Sausage rice cakes are also sensational.

The Musket Room $$

Only in New York can a big, beafy, tattoo-shmeared New Zealander use Kickstarter to open a chef’s favorite haunt with the most delicate and robust flavors. Berkshire Pork done two-ways, Southland Lamb done two-ways and the Passion fruit Pavlova are outstanding. (See earlier review)

Estela $$

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about this unpretentious hit-maker. Even the Obama’s have to stop in every time they’re in town. Beef Tartare with Sunchokes, Mussels escabeche, Burrata with salsa-verde, Lamb ribs and Rib eye. (See earlier review)

Marc Forgione $$

Dark, moody and filled with regulars. The Bell & Evans Chicken under a brick for 2 in this TriBeCa landmark is legendary.

Little Owl $$

With more dishes on anyone’s favorites list than any other kitchen of its size (and too many to mention here), this simple room of 20 or so seats is tough to get into, but well worth the wait.

Narcissa $$

Ask for a table on the kitchen side, so you can see the army of Veg-forward chefs put the final touches on the 5-hour Rotisserie-crisped Beets, or Carrots Wellington or Barley Risotto with Baby Clams. (See earlier review)

 

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Braised Halibut with Pink Peppercorn Sauce from The Clocktower

Creating a unique and unforgettable menu in tough enough, but when the location itself is dripping with drama and atmosphere, you have to be at a place that is COOL, HIP & HAPPENIN’

The Nomad $$$

Daniel Humm does it again. Each of the four lavishly gawdy rooms feels like you’ve just stepped onto the set of “La Traviata.” Don’t miss the incomparable (and pricey) Foie gras, black truffle and brioche stuffed Roast Chicken served two ways.

The Clocktower $$$

Wow! Talk about making a statement! UK native and Michelin winner Jason Atherton has created a deliciously sexy space with a whole host of unstoppable dishes like the Dressed crab with uni and apples or the Hand chopped Steak Tartare au poivre or the Braised Halibut with pink peppercorn sauce as well as a collection of knockout signature cocktails.

Betony $$

The funny thing about Manhattan’s midtown is that even though it is the central focus of business and tourism, you can sometimes count blog-worthy restaurants on one claw. Bryce Shuman however serves up picture perfect dishes in an intricately carved space that feels like you just climbed into a plush picture frame. The chef’s tasting menu is an experience. (See earlier review)

Beauty & Essex $

I love bringing out-of-towners here. It’s impossibly irreverent, ridiculously popular and surprisingly satisfying. The door on the far side of a pawn shop opens into a sumptuous and heady lounge where you can barrage yourself with a litany of tapas plates including the Roasted Bone Marrow on toast, Grilled cheese and Tomato Soup dumplings and the Lobster Tacos.

 Untitled at the Whitney $$

The Whitney Museum’s recently unveiled, clean-lined, glassy architectural new digs is also home to Danny Meyer’s latest jewel in the crown which has become as popular and eye-catching as some of the artworks upstairs. What it lacks in views, it surpluses in modern dishes. Try the Roasted and Fried Chicken and the Lamb Meatballs with peanut sauce.

 

Jerk Chicken WIngs at Ma Peche

Even with 20,000 restaurants to choose from, New York still manages to squeeze out a newcomer every other day. But there are a handful of locales that for years and years have set unwavering standards without compromise, that constantly deliver on being SOLIDLY RELIABLE

Perry Street $

Jean-George protégé (and descendant) Cedric Vongerichten still packs them into this über-modern, airy space right on the Hudson river. The Perry Street Fried Chicken is remarkable.

Locanda Verde $$

The perpetually-popular Anthony Carmelini and Robert De Niro partner shop is one of the best bets in TriBeCa. The Sheep’s Milk Ricotta is one of a kind, not to mention the Duck Arrosto and the all-time favorite Paccheri with Sunday night ragu. (See earlier review)

Ma Peche $$

David Chang’s midtown Korean dim-sum palace looks a bit like an army med-evac tent, but when those little Dim-sum carts come rolling past bearing Jerk Chicken Wings, Roasted rice-cakes or the Habanero Fried Chicken, you remind yourself not to judge a book by its cover. (See earlier review)

Marea $$$+

The epicenter of Michael White’s Altamarea group anchors Central Park at this standout Italian-seafood showpiece. It’s a bit posh, but the food is very real. The Fusilli covered in red wine braised octopus and bone marrow is what it’s all about.

Dell’ Anima $

It’s intimate, packed with regulars and at times rather smokey, thanks to the all-in-one kitchen-dining room. The daily specials are always amazing, but the Bruschettas are legendary.

ABC Kitchen $$

Of all the all-natural locovore palaces in town, this one set the bar early and high. Jean-George’s spacious room continues to draw a crowd for dishes as varied as the days of the week.

Hudson Clearwater $

There are a bunch of cute, atmospheric bistros in the West Village, but few of them are as unpretentious as this one. Small menu, exceptional service, great food. I love the Grilled grass-fed Hanger Steak or the Pan-seared local fish of the day.

Annisa $$

Anita Lo’s little shop that could – always does. Very intricate dishes, brimming with flavor and imagination that span the globe like the Seared Foie Gras with Soup dumplings and Jicama or the Duo of Rabbit.

 

 

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Cosme’s Husk Meringue

In the NYC melting pot, it’s not surprising that chef’s from all over the globe abide by the adage: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it in Singapore, Vegas, London, Shanghai and Beverly Hills” Here are my current favorite authentic INTERNATIONAL KNOCKOUTS

Cosme $$$

It was no surprise that Enrique Olvera’s first foray in the US would be a sell-out hit, but I doubt even he realized just how nuts we would all be over his hyper-authentic, gourmet Mexican cuisine. If you’re feeling generous, splurge on the Duck Carnitas, and the (beyond incredible) smashed Husk Meringue. (See earlier review)

ABC Cucina $

On the north side of the block from ABC Kitchen, Jean-George points his magic compass towards the Iberian coastline for a super-sophisticated tapas bar with much curb appeal. I adore the Chipotle Chicken Tacos and the best Patatas Bravas in town. (See earlier review)

Bar Jamon $$

Just around the corner from Casa Mono, Mario Batali & friends’ incredibly authentic Spanish bistro is one of my favorite (and alas not so secret) mini wine bars in the city. Specializing in a broad range of known (and not so well known) Spanish wines, they also hand-carve a delectable Jamon Iberico along with any number of other traditional favorites.

El quinto Piño $

There are a curious number of adorable little Spanish bistros in Chelsea, that range from tragic to traditional. This is one of my favorite spots that is super simple, but the food is full of flavor without the fuss. Everyone loves the Uni Panini or the Bocadillo de Calamar. (See earlier review)

Babu Ji $

Curiously enough Jesse Singh’s authentic Indian cooking is attributed to his Grandmother who hailed from Bombay, but his business is a replica of his hugely successful curry shop in Melbourne, Australia. It’s nothing more than a jumble of a room in Alphabet City with a “serve yourself” beer fridge in the corner, but the food is beyond inspired. I recommend the Chef’s Tasting Menu which highlights with vegetable filled puff-pastry balls called Pani Puri, a Lamb Raan, Butter Chicken and end off with Kulfi ice-cream bars flavored with cardamom and honey.

Haldi $

Of the forty or so Indian restaurants that comprise “Curry Hill”, Haldi is the reigning champion. The menu boasts just enough traditional Calcutta fare, while leaving room for a plethora of gourmet dishes never before seen on South Lexington Avenue menus. The Chicken Tikka Masala is legendary, while the Creamy Shrimp with carom seeds is stunningly surprising.

Bar Bolonat $

Ainat Admony’s modern Israeli-Arab menu is chock full of mega hits. Whatever you do, bring an appetite for the Jerusalem Bagel that you dip into oil and Za’atar spices and the equally delicious teardrop-shaped Hudson Street Kibbeh or the Shrimp in Yemenite curry, but leave room for the Fried Baklava Ice cream which melts out and mixes in the pistachio syrup. (See earlier review)

Han Dynasty $

Searing hot success story from Philly, the Szechuan peppercorn-heavy menu won’t disappoint. The Dan-Dan Noodles are a must, and if you can stand the heat, you have to try the mouth-numbing Dry Pepper Chicken Wings. (See earlier review)

Tuome $

A micro-bistro with Asian influences from an accountant turned chef. Try the Egg – which is panko fried with pickles, or the Pig which is a checkerboard of delicious pork morsels, or the duck-fat infused Rice. (See earlier review)

Carbone $$

The Torrisi Food group’s masterful red-sauce restaurant is close enough to Little Italy without feeling like a carbon copy of any other Italian restaurant in the city – and there are hundreds! Order the Caesar salad and the Veal Parm or go home. (See earlier review)

Marta $$

If you love thin-crust pizza, then you will adore Marta almost as much as me. Nick Anderer (via Danny Meyer)’s double pizza ovens seem to hold up the roof in the open-plan lobby of the Martha Washington hotel. The pesto flavored Arancini appetizer and the Potate alla Carbonara pizza are my favorite orders. (See earlier review)

Khe-Yo $

Intimate, dark and full of atmosphere. Chef Schwader (Marc Forgione protégé) shows off his Laotian prowess. If you like flavor forward, you’re in for a treat. The Sesame Beef Jerkey, Chili Prawns and Berkshire Pork ribs are a must, and don’t be shy to re-order the Sticky Rice. One helping is just not enough. (See earlier review)

Wallse $$

Kurt Gutenbrunner has a network of Austrian bistros all over town, but the best Wiener Schnitzel in the city has to be had at Wallse. If you want to savor the best in Viennese coffee bars, try his Café Zabarsky inside the Neue Gallerie for a Große Braune and a slice of Sachertorte.

 

 

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Fried Chicken Sandwich with Fu-ket Peanut sauce and slaw by Fuku

My expectations have no relationship to the size of a dish. Even a between-meal munchie or an informal, inexpensive supper needs to be the best there is. Here are some that offer QUICK, CHEAP & CHEERFUL

FukuFried chicken sandwich

Bianca – A cash only, no reservations, super inexpensive treat. Lasagne to end all Lasagnes.

Mile End – Canadian style Smoked Beef Sandwich bar with a delicious Poutine

Smith and Mills – Little plates and cocktails in a former carriage house

Salvation Taco – Gourmet tacos

Umami Burger – (See earlier review)

 

 

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Chef’s menu platter from Babu Ji

And finally because there are only three meals a day, many of which I choose to cook myself, I find myself collecting an ever-growing STILL “TO-TRY” LIST

Batârd

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fair

Contra

Dominic Ansel Kitchen

Little Park

Lupulo

Mission Chinese Food

Oiji

Russ & Daughters Café

Sadelle’s

Sushi Nakazawa

Salvation Burger

Santina

Semilla

Shuko

Hudson Street Kibbeh - Bar Bolonat

Hudson Street Kibbeh from Bar Bolonat

http://www.danielnyc.com

http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

http://www.le-bernadin.com

http://www.uplandnyc.com

http://www.viacarota.com

http://www.ilovebuvette.com

https://reservations.momofuku.com/login

http://www.themusketroom.com

http://www.estelanyc.com

http://www.marcforgione.com

http://www.thelittleowlnyc.com

http://www.narcissarestaurant.com

http://www.thenomadhotel.com

http://www.theclocktowernyc.com

http://www.betony-nyc.com

http://www.beautyandessex.com

http://www.untitledatthewhitney.com

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com

http://www.marea-nyc.com

http://www.dellanima.com

https://www.abchome.com/eat/abc-kitchen/

http://www.hudsonclearwater.com

http://www.annisarestaurant.com

http://www.cosmenyc.com

http://www.casamononyc.com

http://www.elquintopinonyc.com

http://www.babujinyc.com

http://www.haldinyc.com

http://www.barbolonatny.com

http://handynasty.net/east-village/

http://www.tuomenyc.com

http://www.carbonenewyork.com

http://www.martamanhattan.com

http://www.kheyo.com

http://www.kg-ny.com/wallse

 

 

Truffle Hunting in Umbria

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a thing for truffles. Half of it must be their mystique and the other half – their incomparably subtle aroma and uniquely distinctive flavor. By definition, a truffle is a parasitic fungus that grows onto the roots of certain trees. They are fiendishly fussy about altitude, moisture, soil, foliage, wind and weather, and unless everything is as pedantically perfect as a banquet table at Buckingham Palace, they’ll refuse to grow. But to make matters trickier, even if they thrive, they are invisible to the human eye. So, for centuries, farmers in France and Italy enlisted the help of pigs to sniff them out of their subterranean hiding. But that’s not the worst of it. Turns out, pigs find them just as much of a delicacy as we do. And so after many a farmer lost many a finger trying to pry summer blacks or winter whites out of the throats of swine, they started training man’s best friend to do the work instead, with fewer casualties and more rewards.

That brings us to Umbria – the Italian capital of black truffle farming. In many of the forests along the olive-grove hilltops somewhere between Montefalco and Norcia lies a charming industry just a couple of inches below the dirt, (not to be confused with the truffle oil industry, which not only sells artificially flavored ersatz truffle infusions, but one that is also systematically wiping these farmers off the map).

Outside the tiny hamlet of Pettino, Mac, a farmer from the south island of New Zealand (I know, not exactly what one would expect in these parts), and his Umbrian wife Francesca welcomed us onto their 700 year old family farm – and when I say family, I mean the entire la famiglia (in-laws and outlaws) to spend the day finding, cooking, eating, enjoying and celebrating truffles.

One morning's harvest

One morning’s harvest

The first thing you notice as Mac releases the dogs from a cage on the back of his truck, is that while they might look like very ordinary farm dogs, they are trained to sniff, dig and retrieve the “black gold” from the forest floor in exchange for tiny treats. Mac had barely enough time to explain how important it is to keep these working dogs separated from regular domesticated pets for fear of them “becoming lazy” and loosing their hard-learned skills, when the first truffles are already discovered. For the next hour or so, the process repeated itself over and over. Run, run, sniff, sniff, dig, dig, arf, arf, wag, wag, chomp, chomp, bene, bene!

Next on the agenda was a ride up to the top of the hill with a spectacular view of the valley, just as the resident sheep family munched their way across our path. Our hosts quickly whipped up a snack of farm-fresh scrambled eggs and a few slithers of wondrously creamy, home made sheep’s milk cheese, all topped with shavings of our recently discovered harvest, plus a flute of Prosecco. (Sigh!)

Shaved truffles over Sheep's milk cheese

Shaved truffles over Sheep’s milk cheese

Meanwhile back at the farm, Nonna (Mac’s round-shouldered, smudge-bespectacled, hands-on-hips mother-in-law) stood hunched over a mound of flour and a few fresh eggs in the stone kitchen.

With nothing but years of practice, her bare hands and a long rolling pin, she transformed these two ingredients into heavenly ribbons of tortellini right before our eyes.

Francesca put the final touches on our lunch: her New Year’s Eve signature, red wine-infused Truffle Frittata; a deliciously tender Braised Guinea Fowl flavored with local tomatoes, sweet prunes and fresh herbs; a sublime Truffle Pesto to accompany the tortellini; a garden salad with home-fermented red wine vinegar; Garden Peach Tarts bursting with juice and begging for a scoop of gelato.

Fresh tortellini with truffle pesto

Fresh tortellini with truffle pesto

Then in a series of trips down to the long, wooden table under a shady pergola, we all sat down to an unforgettable lunch – farmers, dogs, hunters, tourists, cooks…and every member of la famiglia! Buckingham Palace, take note!

http://www.montefalcomob.com/wild-foods-adventure