David Kinch – Manresa – Identity & Place

Posted 19 Nov 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel, Warms My Heart

manresa-dining-room

Reflection is such a powerful process and I constantly grind away comparing what I learn each day with what I assume to already know. It isn’t unusual to find major gaps and sometimes when a gap is filled it leaves me feeling encouraged and moved. Hearing David Kinch describe his philosophy in such simple and elegant terms was such a profound learning moment.  A student had posed a question to Kinch leaning toward what drives him – what inspires him. His answer took us back to an early meal with Alain Chapel that reset his outlook and philosophy. A seminal eating experience that resulted in clarity and purpose – the kind every one of us seeks. Kinch looked me in the eye and articulated that everything they do at Manresa is reflective of who they are and where they are – lessons learned, in part, at Alain Chapel. A powerful lesson about identity and place that Kinch explains so easily – the complexity of his message honed by years of hard work and experience.

The definitions are simple. Identity: the qualities and beliefs, that make a particular person or group different from others[i]. Place: a specific area or region of the world, a particular country, city, town[ii]. Chapel provided Kinch with a gift at a very early stage in his development and, in turn, Kinch offers a road map for how to truly engage our craft. Our hospitality identity is who we are. Discover it early and with integrity and you are halfway there.  Place is where we are in all its beautiful and natural forms – discover this early and you will find your way home. We must know who we are in the hospitality profession – and build on (strengthen) this identity, and we must honor where we are in the world. What a wonderful and insightful message.

Three years earlier I dined at Manresa and visited with David. The meal was one of the top three in my life up to that point. After hearing Kinch’s philosophy in greater detail, the nuances of identity and place presented in that menu are even more profound. It was woven with ingredients from Los Gatos, and the Pacific coast region the restaurant inhabits. Identity was manifest in the classical and modern techniques employed along with hints at Kinch’s Louisiana heritage. Twenty courses of gorgeous cuisine of the highest standard. Such incredible hospitality and service so reflective of the pacific coast aesthetic – of Kinch’s identity and place.

1-black-olive-madeline-with-pate-fuille

Black Olive Madeline with Pate Feuille

2-garden-vegetable-with-yarrow

Garden Vegetable with Yarrow

3-chestnut-truffle

Chestnut Truffle

4-cassava-oyster

Cassava Oyster

5-albacore-puttanesca-lightly-smoked

Albacore Puttanesca Lightly Smoked

6-abalone-with-local-milk-panna-cotta

Abalone with Local Milk Panna Cotta

7-sunchoke-with-caviar-and-brillat-savarin-cheese

Sunchoke with Caviar and Brillat Savarin Cheese

8-belon-oyster-meyer-lemon-seaweed-ice

Belon Oyster, Meyer Lemon, Seaweed Ice

9-autumn-tidal-pool-with-pine-mushroom-and-scallops

Autumn Tidal Pool with Pine Mushroom and Scallops

10-into-the-vegetable-garden

Into the Vegetable Garden

manresa-bread

Manresa Bread

11-mussels-with-gooseberry-emulsion

Mussels with Gooseberry Emulsion

12-spicy-fried-catfish-with-rice-and-egg

Spicy Fried catfish with Rice and Egg

13-boudin-noir-apples-toasted-buckwheat

Boudin Noir, Apples, Toasted Buckwheat

14-vennison-quince-saffron

Venison, Quince, Saffron

15-cheese-course

Cheese

manresa-crackers

Manresa Crackers

16-red-kuri-aged-gouda-casis

Red Kuri, Aged Gouda, Cassis

17-black-sesame-chocolate-lime

Black Sesame, Chocolate, Lime

18-vanilla-ice-cream-goats-milk-caramel

Vanilla Ice Cream, Goats Milk Caramel

19-friandise-of-strawberry

Friandise of Strawberry

20-chocolate-and-chocolate-mint-liquid-center-bon-bonsChocolate and Chocolate Mint Liquid Center Bon Bons

Manresa Restaurant

320 Village Ln,

Los Gatos, CA 95030

http://www.manresarestaurant.com

(408) 354-4330

[i] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/identity

[ii] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/place

The Lost Kitchen – Freedom, Maine

Posted 21 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Travel, Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

IMG_1339Tonight I was surprised – blown away actually – by my experience dining with Chef Erin French at her restaurant The Lost Kitchen way up in Freedom, Maine. This is a restaurant run by a team of women so dedicated to the cause that you can feel the restaurant’s heart the minute you enter. This is more than a dinner, it’s time spent in a family members home where the food and wine is incredible and the hospitality hangs on you like a warm blanket on a cold night. It’s a vibe so comforting and laden with hospitality that it’s hard to leave after dessert is served. Erin and her team of farmers, mothers, sisters, and friends has achieved the nearly impossible – an emotional connection with guests that strikes at your heart and palate. This place is incredible.IMG_1380

The restaurant is 200 miles north of Boston and just a half hour north west of Belfast in the rolling Maine hills some miles adjacent to the ocean. This is mid-coast Maine which remains a place suspended in time economically and one where people have learned to survive the hard way. Many spend the year working fingers to the bone while enduring summers that are all too short and winters that last too long. Freedom is typical – its small (very small) and has seen better days. We find our way down Pleasant Street and over the culvert to the parking lot on the other side of Sandy Stream. After parking the car and a quick walk back across a foot-bridge over the stream we enter the Mill at Freedom Falls.

Inside the warmly renovated post-and-beam dining room the welcome is deep and authentic – each barn-board table perfectly set. The menu is served banquet style and consists of four courses along with additional courses and amuse bouche.  The food is not precious or contrived – instead it dwells in the realm of elegant simplicity. French maintains a light touch and her dishes aren’t overly seasoned or salted. It almost feels like a certain level of restraint flows under each item – and I love her delicate touch. SheIMG_1407 serves 50+ guests a prix fixe menu with just one seating per night. During service she and two assistants prepare every item in a wide open kitchen – cooking on a 60 inch LaCanche range from France. There is no hiding in this kitchen – the kitchen and dining room are one. And French isn’t the type to hide. During the meal, often while foods are searing on the range, she personally visits each table in the restaurant offering warm greetings. She hauls ass – dressed in high heeled clogs, tailored jeans, a black blouse, and white kitchen apron. Her team exhibits care and great joy while floating through the restaurant during service. It’s easy to tell these folks truly appreciate those of us who make the trip deep into the woods for such a great meal. These women (the moms, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and farmers) are reviving the town of Freedom through sheer willpower and hard work and we are, in part, the beneficiaries. This is more than a restaurant, it’s a community movement of the best kind. Pure hospitality flows freely here and this is rare indeed. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants. Heartfelt congratulations Erin.

~~~~~~~~~

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Local Cucumbers, Radish, Butter, Cheese, Gougères, Olives, Cornichon, Marcona Almond

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Pemaquid Oysters with Blueberry Vinaigrette

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Mussels, Rosemary, Lime

IMG_1368

Cold Wild Blueberry Soup, Buttered Croutons, Cucumber & Dill

IMG_1375

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Many Basils, Smoked Ricotta

IMG_1421

Local Lamb Chop, Whipped Feta & Lemon Butter, Fingerlings, Fennel, Tarragon & Peach, Baby Arugula

IMG_1384

Sweet Corn & Vanilla Pot de Cream, Really Ripe Blackberries, Husk Cherries

IMG_1360

LaCanche Range in Full Force

IMG_1445

Plating Heirloom Tomato Salad with Many Basils

The Lost Kitchen

22 Mill St, Freedom, ME 04941

(207) 382-3333

 

Alinea 2.0

Posted 17 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Warms My Heart

Every so often I enjoy an evening of dining that stays with me and this was one of those nights. The recipe for this is always the same: an incredible restaurant, great guests, incredible service, and fantastic food. Our plan was hatched while visiting Vevey, Switzerland earlier this summer. My friend Rochelle Schaetzl of Nestle Professional told me she dreamed of dining at Alinea and that she would be back in the U.S.A. in August – this is all I needed to know! I quickly organized a table for four in The Gallery at Alinea for August and we invited her colleague Alec and Chef Charles Carroll to join us – a well curated group of expert food lovers.

Simon Davies, CDC, Alinea demonstrating The Imperial Shaker (second course)

Though I have dined at Alinea in the past this is the first visit since the restaurant was completely renovated and the first visit for Charles, Alec, and Rochelle. Part of the joy was watching members of my group work their way through the incredible and unpredictable dining experience at Alinea with pure joy and anticipation. From the moment we entered the restaurant to our final crossing of the threshold to the curb the experience was absolutely incredible. When you enter The Gallery at Alinea all the hype and commentary about the restaurant fades and full immersion takes over. To be sure, this is more than a dinner – it’s a multi-sensory event of incredible thought, hard work, craftsmanship, and care. No question the food is mind blowing but it’s equally important to note how stellar the FOH team is. Every member of the service staff knows every course (both wine and food) in intricate detail along with the choreography that goes along with each course. Precision is an understatement. Kudos!

There’s nothing like it in the world and words can’t express how incredible an experience in this space is. I hesitate even attempting to describe it out of pure respect for the restaurant and for Chef Grant Achatz and his team – my narrative will only fall short. Instead – I share images and clips of the experience below with the deepest of respect and awe for Chef Grant Achatz, CDC Simon Davies, and the entire Alinea team.

Truffle - King Crab - Osetra Caviar - Herbs with Pickled Shallot - Egg

Communal: Truffle – King Crab – Osetra Caviar – Herbs with Pickled Shallot – Egg

Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse - Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Shaker/Roll: Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse – Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Scallop with Corn Consommé - Shio Kombu, Nori

Crunch/Paper: Scallop with Corn Consommé – Shio Kombu, Nori

Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, - White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb - Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Contrast/Sparrow-Grass, Swirl: Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, – White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb – Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Fry: Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Yellow: Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Glass: Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Petal: Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Toast: Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Smoke/Bon Bon: Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Bone: Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Cloche: Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Nostalgia: Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Edible Baloon (taffy)

Edible Balloon – Taffy

Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Paint: Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine

Gold: Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine

Incredible!

Alinea Restaurant

1723 N Halsted St,

Chicago, IL 60614

Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier

Posted 26 Aug 2015 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel

IMG_8091

Lake Geneva is spectacular in the summer and Lausanne is one of our favorite places to settle in for a few days to walk the quay, cruise on a boat, and withdraw to the cooler Alps for a hike. The Canton of Vaud, where Lausanne is located, spans nearly the entire north shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) with a break above Vevey that leads up the E27 directly into the Canton of Fribourg, and the towns of Bulle, Broc (home of chocolatier Callier) and the touristy but delightful fortress at Gruyere. A perfect home base to explore, relax, eat and enjoy. We stop in Lausanne to get into the Swiss vibe, soak in the culture, and sample the local cuisine. Though I won’t provide too much about our other incredible dining experiences (yet), I do want to share a summary of our evening at Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier with Chef Beniot Violier and his wonderful wife Brigitte – theirs is a family business. When you walk in the entrance Brigitte blankets you in authentic hospitality and her perfectly groomed team warmly offers greetings with precision, professionalism, and the level of eye contact and delight that the best restaurants always radiate. There are four of us and we are here for Chef Beniot’s Grand Tasting menu of 10 courses with wine and cheese (2015, Menu No 18).

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My interpretation of Beniot and Brigitte’s aesthetic is one of balance – menu items highlight local and regional ingredients from in and around Vaud at peak freshness. Sources are sustainable and grounded in ecological consciousness (something the Swiss have been doing for decades compared to the US). Techniques are modernist with moderation (no fancy gadgets or additives) yet grounded in tradition. His Bubble” of Paudex Tomatoes is a perfect example – a gorgeous vine-ripe peeled and cored tomato filled with a light tomato mousse, oil made from tomato seed, and glazed in a “melt-on-your-tongue” traditional aspic of perfect bloom (I hate aspect that fails to liquefy at or above 36.6c). Chefs’ cuisine also leans geometric including the use of vegetable ribbons as borders (see Rounds of Loctudy Scampi below). His style is uniquely his own. My pictures fail do to the meal justice (with apologies Chef Beniot). The meal was fantastic and Chef Beniot was a generous host whose kitchen was surgically clean and operating like a local precision timepiece. Enjoy the photos and add a visit to Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier to your itinerary the next time you visit Fribourg or Vaud.

Multi-colored light crab Veloute from Cap FrehelMulti-colored light crab Veloute from Cap Frehel

DSC_8994“Bubble” of Paudex Tomatoes in a selection of Ocientra Imperial Caviar

“Mariniere” of Bouchot mussels from Mont Saint-Michel Bay with Mountain safran“Mariniere” of Bouchot mussels from Mont Saint-Michel Bay with Mountain Saffron

Fresh summer porcini mushrooms “aestivalis” and field mushroom with subtle Vintage Porto emulsionFresh summer porcini mushrooms “Aestivalis” and field mushroom with subtle

Vintage Porto emulsion

Golden brown Wild Turbot from les Sables-d’Olonne with citrus fruits and crushed start aniseGolden brown Wild Turbot from les Sables-d’Olonne with citrus fruits and crushed start anise

Rounds of Loctudy Scampi, served in a delicate Colombard Rose jusRounds of Loctudy Scampi, served in a delicate Colombard Rose jus

Prepared Roast rack of lamb from the hills of the Haut Var with Marjoram, Brive Violet mustard jus and potato “spirals”Prepared Roast rack of lamb from the hills of the Haut Var with Marjoram, Brive Violet mustard jus and potato “spirals”

Selection of Fine CheesesSelection of fine cheeses

A Frozen duo of Luizet Apricots and Caramel almonds served with a hazelnut streusel-001A Frozen duo of Luizet Apricots and Caramel almonds served with a hazelnut streusel

Fingers of Mara des Bois strawberries in Tahiti vanillaFingers of Mara des Bois strawberries in Tahiti vanilla

Seasonal MignardisesSeasonal Mignardises

Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier

Rue d’Yverdon 1, 1023 Crissier, Switzerland

+41 21 634 05 05

reservations directly on website

MIKLA Istanbul

Posted 21 Sep 2013 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Travel

Dusk View of Istanbul from MKLA

ISTANBUL AT DUSK – MIKLA Restaurant Roof Deck

Mehmet Gurs is a cool cat in Istanbul. Born in Finland to a Turkish father and Scandinavian mother, Gurs himself personifies the fusion of Asia and Europe. When I catch up with him he is cruising in his Range Rover in downtown Istanbul, we chat a bit and agree to meet later at MIKLA his restaurant perched atop a high rise building near the Beyoğlu distric of Istanbul. I promise to meet him around 8:00 PM and arrive a bit late but in time to see the incredible sky above the Asian side of Istanbul at dusk. MIKLA has a large deck outside the main dining room so we step out into the cool air while Maghrib prayers gently ring from each Mosque across the Bosporus flowing from south to north in sequence.

MKLA Kitchen Window

After a few minutes we are guided to our table just across from Gurs’ glassed in production kitchen. Our server provides us with a ten course tasting menu to review and we sit back ready for a great night. Gurs has a deft way of weaving classic Turkish dishes like Manti with items more than gently pulled toward Scandinavia. He exercises Turkish farm-to-table and can explain in detail the origins of the raw ingredients used in his cuisine and, quite often, the history.

Bread

The meal leaves me in awe not in the same way as my first meal at Jean Louis at Watergate or Alinea two decades later – it’s a different sort of awe, one rooted in the history cemented into the streets and countryside below us and the metaphor Gurs’ cuisine presents on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera hotel so many floors above.  I feel bathed in the ancient and modern at the same time.

 

 1 Lakerda, cured Bonito, Cucumber, Red Onion, Buffalo Yogurt

Lakerda – Cured Bonito, cucumber, red onion buffalo yoghurt

 2. Zetinyagli ~ Vegetables Cooked in Olive Oil

Vegetables Zeytinyağlı

 3. Balik Ekmek Crispy Sardines, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon Mousse

Balik Ekmek – Crispy Sardines, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon Mousse

 4. Dried Beef Tenderloin & Hummus, Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep Paste

Dried Tenderloin & Hummus –Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep Paste

 5. Whole Wheat Vegetable Manti (dumpling), Yogurt, Tomato, Roasted Garlic, Sumac

Whole Wheat Vegetable Manti – Vegetable Manti, Yoghurt, Tomato, Roasted Garlic, Sumac

 6. Dentex (local Turkish Fish), Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Capers, Halhal Olives, Samphire, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette

Dentex – Cooked Dentex, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Capers, Halhal Olives Samphire, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette

 7. Lamb Shank, Trakya Kivircik Lamb, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk, Peas and Chard

Lamb Shank – Trakya Kivircik Lamb Shank, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk, Peas and Chard

 8. Cheese & Honey, Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey

Cheese & Honey – Anatolian raw Milk Cheese & Honey

 9. Sutlac, Rice Pudding wiht Mastic, Sour Apple Sorbet, Crunchy Mulberry

Sütlaç – Rice Pudding with Mastic, Sour Apple Sorbet, Crunchy Mulberry

 10. Apricot & Bulghur, Ihsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots

Apricot & Bulghur – Ihsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots

 MKLA Istanbul

MIKLA
The Marmara Pera
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15
34430, Beyoğlu, İstanbu

http://www.miklarestaurant.com/en

Osteria Francescana, Modena, IT

Posted 09 Oct 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Uncategorized

It has taken almost a year but finally we are on our way to Osteria Francescana after several days of floating with the crows in Florence. The mid-day drive up the A1 is gorgeous, lots of sun flowers and clear roads cruising at 130kmh. We make it to Modena in record time, park along the Viale Vittorio Veneto and walk to Via Stella just a few minutes away. Culinary curiosity sends waves of thought through my mind as we feel our way toward the restaurant with high anticipation after being invited for a visit nearly a year earlier. Massimo Bottura and I met in New York at the 2011 Starchefs conference at Park Avenue Armory. I had been tracking him since Osteria Francescana broke the top ten of Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World. In 2012 the restaurant is ranked 5th (behind Noma, Roca, Mugaritz, and D.O.M. in Brazil).

When Bottura spoke at the Armory he waxed poetic about the food of his youth, of Cotechino sausage and chicken embryos. His deep rooted connection to the culture and foods of his native Emilia Romagna radiated authentically while he spoke. Behind him his assistants used syringes to drain chicken embryos while keeping the exterior membrane intact and refilled them with warm ham broth forming gorgeous little yellow ham juice bombs, a new take on an old favorite. My first impression then was that of a mad scientist evoking culinary emotion; the core theme of Starchefs in 2011. And now we are walking toward the restaurant.

The entry is tucked down a narrow side street and is subdued enough that you could walk right past it if it not for the polished brass signage. Inside the dining room is divided into two rooms with wide spacing between tables and lots of natural light. The first room is small with six tables and seating for twelve. Further back is the main dining room with seating for approximately forty.

Tables are double draped with pressed white linen and napkins and silver tubular single stemmed bud vases. A fair amount of thought must have gone into the design of the dining room particularly the scale and lighting. Light from south facing windows is diffused through frosted glass in some places and white muslin draping in others softening the glow in the room to a bright but muted glow. Chairs are upholstered in black leather and the walls decorated with framed black and white photos.  It feels more like an art gallery than a restaurant interior.

From the moment we enter the front of the house team enrobes us with comfort. They know we are visiting for the first time, that we are American, that we met Massimo in New York, and that we have come to eat. Menus are presented as a formality so we can explore and discuss each item. Curiosities are explored, philosophy discussed and preferences defined. The quality of the food at Osteria Francescana would exceed my word limit but Bottura does a masterful job applying modernist techniques and interpretations to the traditional foods of the region. However the real surprise was the quality of service and the staff’s ability to draw us in and put us at ease. A defining moment came when we were asking questions about the menu and our options and our server stated “we are three Michelin stars but we are not a museum. We can make anything you like in our kitchen and would be glad to make what you want. It would make me very happy if you truly enjoy yourself.” We truly did enjoy ourselves and it was worth every ounce of effort it took to get to Modena. My favorite dish: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano…put this dish on your bucket list.

Here’s a photo record of the 15 course menu we enjoyed!

1.      Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich with Garlic Cream

 2.      Sardine with Eggplant, Olive, Crispy Cracker

 3.      Razor Clam Reconstructed, Essence of Razor Clam Broth, Rice Cracker Shell

 4.      Plate of Salt Cod with Bread Crumbs, Green Tomato, Olive Broth

 

5.      Spaghetti with Brown Squid Broth and Caviar

 6.      Saba Lacquered Adriatic Eel with Mother of Balsamic, Polenta, Green Apple, Burnt Onion

 

7.      Tortellini with Veal and Pork, Parmesan Sauce

 

8.      Tagliatelle with Ragu

 

9.      Pork Ribs with Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Puree

 

10.   Vegetable, Porcini, Black Truffle

 

11.   Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures

 

12.   Compression of Pasta and Beans

 

13.   Wood Pigeon, Red Turnip Sauce, Fresh Radish

 

14.   Foie Gras Crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

 

15.   Oops! Broken Fruit Pie

 

16.   Friandise

 

 

 

 

Osteria Francescana

Via Stella, 22

41121 Modena, Italy

059-210118

Osteriafrancescana.it

WD-50 NYC, Good Night

Posted 31 Jul 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Wrapping up my commentary on a recent trip to Gotham, it’s late at night, or early in the morning depending on how you look at it, and I am bouncing around in the village. On a lark, I head over to see if Chef Wylie Dufresne is at his station at WD50; he’s there. The restaurant is nearly empty and there are seats at the bar so I belly up and relax for a while, enjoy the cool air, and have a quick nightcap before heading up country (to 89th and Lexington).

Wyllie’s’ maître d’ greets me at the bar and after a long shift he’s turned out in a perfect grey suit, pink shirt and salmon tie, hipster hair parted to the side and a huge smile. He’s a musician doubling as a two Michelin star host and carries himself like a mixture of the two. Cool cat indeed. After a chat, I slip to the back kitchen and catch Wylie doing his final rounds before he packs it in (its 1:22 am). His wife is eight months pregnant and he is headed out the door soon. However, there is no pressure for us to leave so I aggregate with a group of folks by the bar. One never knows what to expect late night in New York.

It strikes me as odd that there’s a guy at the bar wearing a tuxedo with real bow tie, French cuffs and L.L. Bean rubber boots. Heading toward the bar I get a full profile of the guy, he’s wearing Phil Donahue glasses with his hair slicked back. Turns out he’s a D.J. visiting with a couple of friends one of which is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia in food science. They came to W.D.50 because of her, straight from one of the D.J.’s gigs.

Now we are all at the bar and Dufresne’ s long time bartender starts making custom cocktails, carbonating them to order using an industrial sized cylinder of CO2. I start with an Averell Damson gin liqueur and carbonated grapefruit. Crisp and refreshing it goes down easy. With a refill, I take one more trip to the back. The kitchen crew is now ending the day with a final round of desserts coming of the pass.  Three pastry cooks shuffle to clean up the station and write a final prep and purchase list for later in the day.  I finish my drink and watch as the lights in the dining room are dimmed, the custom red flame lanterns on either side of the kitchen casting a warm glow through the room. Another restaurant day is ending.

Dufresne reappears in green cargo shorts, black back pack and helmet with flashing red light in front. He unfolds a Swift Folder bicycle, the kind of bike where you pop the pedals off, store them under the front handlebar, pull a pin and flip the thing in half. In New York where space is at a premium, it makes total sense. Headed for the door, he turns on the flashing helmet light, a taillight, and handlebar lantern and heads to the curb. Like a flashing Christmas tree, Dufresne rides off into the city at 2:05 a.m., headed home to his young son, pregnant wife and a short night of sleep before starting it all over again. This is the back end of a restaurant experience that most people never see; the final part of the day when things come to an end and an exhausted team of cooks head out into an existence that runs polar opposite the rest of the word, circadian rhythms upended. Their 2:00 a.m. is your 5:00 p.m., but the world offers nothing this time of night other than an underground world known to professional cooks and others who share this temporal existence. Nowadays I am just a visitor to this dimension and I too head out the door, grab a lonely late night cab and head north, my 2:00 a.m. is still 2:00 a.m.

WD50

50 CLINTON ST. between Stanton & Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side
212.477.2900

Stumptown Coffee: NYC

Posted 30 Jun 2012 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

 

Stumptown coffee serves one of my favorite cups in Manhattan. Located at West 29th and Broadway at the Ace hotel, this location is the only East Coast outpost of this artisan operation. I love the slick design, the huge glass storefront, the minimalist menu and the craftsmanship at the counter. The Baristas are clad with requisite short rimmed fedoras or bowler hats, waiter’s vests and body art; the style of the current era. Customers represent all walks of life.

Open since 2009 in New York, the Portland, Oregon based company has a total of eight locations including five back in the “City of Roses” and two in Seattle as well. Somehow, the company has remained small enough to keep its artisan feel.

Talking with my barista, it is clear that the crew is trained and passionate. We speak about the flavor nuances of the various varietals that Stumptown roasts and the conversation quickly escalates technically to a level beyond my own knowledge base. She knows her stuff and is excited to talk about product.

The menu is minimalist with fourteen items in total with a few (latte and mocha) offered in small, medium and large sizes. Prices are fantastic for this level of quality; a cappuccino is just $3. This is the coffee lifestyle; an ethical cup at the far end of the supply chain handled with skill and care.

Unless you ask for coffee to go, your cup comes in a nice rolled-edge rust colored ceramic cup. I grab a cup from my hipster barista (cash only) and head to the seating area in the lobby of the Ace Hotel just behind the storefront. The lighting in the Ace is low and the crowd so cool that I move up a notch just sitting here.  What a relaxing way to spend a late afternoon.

Stumptown Coffee

18 W 29th St.

New York, NY

10001

Hominy Grill ~ Charleston South Carolina

Posted 24 Jun 2012 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Fine dining in major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco has evolved to a point where, aside from certain local ingredients, there’s a common stylistic and technical thread that ties all these cities together. Great chefs are preparing “local foods” with sustainable sensibilities and fantastic technique in a casual and affordable setting in such a manner that it’s hard to distinguish restaurants in one city from the next based on food alone. This is great except for the fact that the advance of American cooking has also resulted in a gradual demise of the classic regional specialties that once defined these venerable cities. However, deep pockets of regional cuisine remain in the U.S. and my recent trip to Charleston in search of classic as well as modern low country cooking proves that both can exist and prosper.

Hominy Grill sits on the other end of the cuisine spectrum from McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina. Chef Robert Stehling is a master of southern cuisine served in a clean and attractive but classic style.  He’s a James Beard Best Chef Award winner (2008) just like Sean Brock and both deliver some of the best cooking in the country. Hominy Grill looks the part and is smack in the center of Charleston on Rutledge Avenue in a restored storefront and adjacent courtyard. Pulling into the parking lot, guests are greeted by a billboard sized “grits are good for you” painting on the side of the building including a 1950’s era waitress with grits in hand.

The interior is bright with large storefront windows and white paint. I reflect for a minute and consider how this cuisine, although similar to some of the foods served in the deep south including New Orleans, is so uniquely its own. The flavors and sensibilities are different, they’re not as complex as New Orleans nor are they so globally influenced. In a sense, they are lighter although the cuisine itself isn’t light at all. Looking around, the dining room is full and people are happy; low country cuisine couldn’t be more popular.  

Each table is adorned with a mason jar perforated on the top, filled with water and used as a bud vase. The lilies in the jar offer a splash of color against the white painted wooden paneling. Across the room, a set of three large black chalk boards listing menu specials sits on a shelf. Right off the bat I notice a fantastic selection of items including grits, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, red rice, mashed sweet potatoes and okra with tomatoes. Enticing items include a pit roasted beef brisket sandwich but the shrimp bog with sautéed shrimp in a low country rice stew with ham, creole vegetables, cream and sherry has my name on it. This is where I get into trouble with my restaurant visits; I always order way too much. In addition to the shrimp bog, orders are placed for shrimp and grits and shrimp creole. Words can’t express how delicious Stehling’s cuisine is or how friendly and comfortable the setting and service are.

Main Dining Room

Hominy Grill Menu

Shrimp and Okra Beignets

Fried Green Tomatoes

Shrimp and Grits

Creole Shrimp

Shrimp Bog with Cream and Sherry

 Hominy Grill

207 Rutledge Avenue

Charleston, SC 29403

(843) 937-0930

McCrady’s ~ Charleston, SC

Posted 12 Jun 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Last month I bumped into Sean Brock twice; once at McCrady’s in Charleston and again just before the start of the James Beard Awards in NYC as he was setting up his station for awards gala celebration. We had a chance to talk for a bit and he reflected on his trip last year to Japan for “Cook it Raw”, what it was like surrounded by the likes of Rene Redzepi, David Chang and ever opinionated and phallicly focused Anthony Bourdain. Brock was awe struck while quietly confident and clearly on the verge of moving to the highest levels of the culinary profession. His ascension remains on his mind, a sense of positive anticipation hanging in the air as we talk.

Sean is a great guy and the critical acclaim and attention couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. His ideals are as indelibly stamped on his core as the vegetable tattoos on his arms. He isn’t full of crap, seeking fame, or engaged in some sort of narcissistic self-promotion.  Instead, he is trying to create fantastic locally sourced, historically based, low country food from his heart, an approach to food he was engaged in long before it became popular. And so it makes sense that a guy like Sean is headed to the highest echelons of the profession.

 

It has been ten years since I last visited Charleston. Arriving at McCrady’s to catch up with Sean, I nearly walked right past the alley leading to the entrance. Charleston has such a historic southern feel to it and strolling down the brick and cobble stone alley to the restaurant’s front door felt much like walking a back street in eighteenth century London. Once inside I am quickly escorted to the private dining room in the back for a sampling of Sean’s latest inspirations. He joins me at the table to talk and to describe each dish, what inspires him and where he is headed. The influence from his trip to Japan is pronounced and profound.

Crudo of Carolina Striped Bass, Rhubarb, Bullrush, Dill and Ginger

Green Garlic Soup with Fried Oyster

Grilled Local Mussels with Ramps (the mussels were a recent discovery that Sean’s favorite fisherman sourced from local waters)

Salad of Killed Baby Spinach, Pickled Quail Egg, Crispy Potatoes

Duo of Berkshire Pork, Cabbage Roasted in Embers (Brock takes great pride in raising his own hogs)

Laural Aged Carolina Rice Pudding, Citrus, Rooftop Herbs

(the herbs are from the roof top garden and the dish itself the most representative of Sean’s trip to Japan)

Sean’s chioggia beet tatoo and a chioggia beet from my plate too

McCrady’s

2 Unity Aly 

Charleston, SC

29401

(843) 577-0025