Archive for November, 2011

Mumbai Chopstix – Indian Chinese Food in Boston

Posted 30 Nov 2011 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Indian food is absolutely fantastic and I crave it regularly since being introduced to the cuisine by a fellow Doctoral student I worked with from Mumbai back in the 1990’s. She organized a workspace and meals during group projects at a small Indian restaurant called Rangoli and, over the three years we studied together, I sampled everything on the menu a least twice (they had the best Dosa). It was such a fantastic experience exploring the complex yet nuanced flavor combinations and ethnic influences. My friend provided an ongoing lesson in Indian geography, history and cultural diversity as we ate our way around the country from our seats. However, she never discussed nor did we eat examples of Indian Chinese food.  

It wasn’t until much later when I started working with a colleague from Calcutta that I learned about Indian Chinese food and its evolution in that city after large numbers of Hakka, an ethnic group from southwest China, migrated to work in the Calcutta region bringing their cuisine and food preferences with them.  Over the centuries the Chinese adapted their culinary traditions to local ingredients, cooking techniques and flavor preferences creating a fusion cuisine unique in the world. Calcutta’s Sino-Indian minority continued to grow and intermarry with the local population while establishing a large “Chinatown” that still thrives today. As a young girl my friend would visit her favorite Indian Chinese restaurant with family members and order the Gobhi Manchurian, a dish of crispy fried cauliflower florets coated in a spicy and tangy soy, ginger and chili garlic sauce.  When she describes the Gobhi Manchurian her chocolate brown eyes grow wide with delight and a smile comes to her face. As a fellow food lover her descriptions of Indian Chinese food peaked my interest from the very beginning.

Then in 2010, Mumbai Chopstix opened in Boston providing locals and visitors like me an opportunity to sample what is surely an Americanized version of the Indian Chinese cuisine I have heard so much about.  The restaurant is located on Newbury Street halfway between Gloucester and Fairfield Streets and seats approximately 65 guests. My first visit in 2010 was a reconnaissance mission to find the place and see the interior. During that visit I ordered the Gohbi Manchurian as a snack. Although delicious, (I had better at Rasika in Washington DC) my purpose today isn’t to review Mumbai Chopstix as much as it is to ponder the way food evolves and intermingles across specific ethnic populations and geographic regions. That southwestern Chinese ethnic cooking merged with the culinary traditions of Calcutta resulting in a totally unique cuisine fascinates me. There are so many examples of this type of fusion and evolution today that I question whether the few distinct ethnic cuisines that exist now will eventually become extinct as globalization and cultural cross pollination continues apace.

Mumbai Chopstix is a good example of this. The cauliflower used for the Gohbi was probably from the USA and could even have been grown locally in Massachusetts. It certainly wasn’t from India or China. It is likely that most of the other ingredients used in the dish were either locally or domestically grown although if prepared sauce was used it could easily have come from India or China and it is highly likely that some of the spices and chili peppers used were from India proper. Uproot a cuisine from its place of origin like Calcutta, move it to Boston and use domestic ingredients and the cuisine has changed even if you use the correct method of preparation and equipment. Place matters when it comes to cooking.  More important, the customer base I observed at Mumbai Chopstix was extremely diverse and, as such, will gradually influence the menu via their purchasing patterns in a way that is different compared to operating the exact same concept in a location serving a more homogeneous population. It is probable that the Americanized version of Indian Chinese food offered at restaurants like Mumbai Chopstix will mutate into its own form due to factors such as ingredients, customer preferences, and the availability of qualified culinary talent to prepare the cuisine. Even though the Indian Chinese food in this country will be different from the original back in India it will still be delicious.

Indian Chinese food is fantastic. It is dissimiar to the classic Indian cuisine found in most major cities in America and represents an interesting evolution where American diners who were once suspect of something deemed as exotic as Indian cuisine are now comfortable enough with it that demand is rising for regional cuisines of India. I guess we have graduated to the next level when it comes to this massive and complex cuisine. Perhaps next we will see an Indian Portuguese restaurant that features the cuisine of the fantastic Indian western port city of Goa.  I could spend the next decade eating my way across India, such a fantastic, complex and diverse country with an equally fantastic and diverse cuisine!

Crispy Fried Duck Marinated in Indian Five Spice and Ginger

Sweet & Sour Pork with Lychee, Peppers and Onions

Honey Chili Chicken with Sweet Spicy Gravy

Mumbai Chopstix

254 Newbury Street

Boston, MA 02116

617-927-4444

Thanksgiving: Thank a French Chef

Posted 23 Nov 2011 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

It’s about more than Turkey although this guy was cool to look at when he crossed my path

There are so many things in life to be thankful for but today I reflect on and give thanks to those professional Chefs from France who, starting in the mid-nineteenth century, paved the way for modern American gastronomy. My gratitude was triggered earlier this week when I spent time looking through the original reservation book from La Caravelle Restaurant formerly located in the Shoreham Hotel in New York City. La Caravelle operated from 1960 until 2004 but its greatest renown was during the tenure of Chef Roger Fessaguet from opening in 1960 until he retired in 1988. It was Fessaguet who meticulously preserved the reservation books, menus, recipe books and artifacts from La Caravelle that I so respectfully had the chance to hold and review. The first reservation book from La Caravelle is a hefty 10” x 18” with a hard green canvas cover. Inside, written by hand in red pencil on the top of the first page, is the date “September 21, 1960” with luncheon reservations written by hand in blue ink in the left column below and dinner reservations in the right column; some reservations having been highlighted in yellow.  As I flip through the pages I notice that from the day the restaurant opened (a Wednesday night no less) Fessaguet didn’t close once until Thursday November 24th 1960 – Thanksgiving Day. He went 64 days without a rest, surely working fifteen hours a day (50+ covers at lunch, 80+ covers a dinner), every day for two months; a cool 105 hours per week.  Fessaguet was a culinary athlete with an exceptional pedigree and conditioning for the time including more than a decade at the famed La Pavillon.

Chef Roger Fessaguet is last on the right, front row, seated at the table (Vatel Club of New York)

Most agree that the opening of Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a restaurant run by Maître d’ Henri Soulé and Chef Pierre Franey, marked the launch of fine dining in America. When World War II broke out in Europe Soule and Franey, in the U.S. for the fair at the time, remained in New York as refugees. On October 15, 1941 they opened La Pavillon as a permanent restaurant at 5 East 55th Street at Fifth Avenue. Within a few short years La Pavillon was recognized as the best restaurant in the country.  Eight years later in 1949 Fessaguet arrived in the United States as a fresh seventeen year old from France via Liberty Ship and found his way from Baltimore, his place of disembarkment, to the kitchen of La Pavillon in New York. Fessaguet remained at La Pavillon from 1949 until 1960 except for a two year stint serving as a Marine in Korea.

Chef Fessaguet Portfolio (the card titled “The President” was left after a dinner by John F. Kennedy)

At twenty eight years of age he jumped at the opportunity to join Messieurs Fred Decré and Robert Meyzen, also from Le Pavillon to open La Caravelle. Decré and Meyzen chose the name La Caravelle, a wooden boat with three sails used in the 15th century to explore the world, to convey the idea of new promise, an idea fitting when you consider how Fessaguet arrived in the United States. La Carevelle was one of what would be several restaurants that were spawned from La Pavillon in the 1960’s and Fessaguet, Decré and Meyzen quickly rose in restaurant rankings nationally eventually becoming the favored restaurant of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his son President John F. Kennedy too. Within the first three weeks of opening Ambassador Kennedy’s name appears multiple times; he dined for five days in a row during October 1960. That Jackie Kennedy tapped Fessaguet to find a chef for the White House during Camelot isn’t surprising. Fessaguet initially offered the job to a young chef Jacques Pepin but Pepin chose another path and Rene Verdon ultimately received the nod.

La Caravelle Reservation Book, November 24th, 1960

(photo courtesy of Richard Gutman, Culinary Arts Museum, Johnson & Wales University)

So here I sit reflecting on contemporary American culinary culture, the influence of the San Sebastian set and Spanish culinary innovation (all that foaming and spherification), of the great chefs of Italy and the rising influence of Asian and Latin chefs. It seems that French chefs are no longer at the center of things today but their influence is so enduring. The culinary arts are headed to new levels in America and we owe a debt of gratitude to those early French Chefs who stormed our shores in the mid 20th century and remained. Within two generations of their arrival a whole new generation of American chefs were cultivated under their tutelage both here and back in France and those chefs (David Burke, Larry Forgione, Alfred Portale, Barry Wine etc.) took hold of the New York restaurant scene and never looked back. These are such wonderful shoulders to stand on; ones that we should remember, respect, and offer a nod of gratitude every once in a while. Heureux Thanksgiving mon ami. 

Del Posto ~ NYC

Posted 15 Nov 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Chef Mark Ladner is a cool cat. He’s around 6 foot 4 inches tall with jet black hair and those massive signature eyeglasses. But the reason he’s so cool is the quality of the food he and his team produces at Del Posto down on 10th avenue in New York. For years he’s been the right hand to Chef Mario Batali appearing repeatedly as Mario’s right hand on all those Iron Chef episodes. All the while he’s manned the stoves at Del Posto earning a fantastic reputation for his food and for appearing in his long apron, starched white chef coat and paper sailors hat in the dining room. Cool cat indeed.

Chef Mark Ladner

On a recent trip to Manhattan I arrived 45 minutes early to sit at the bar and soak in the room (and a drink or two). Del Posto is a massive restaurant with potential for more than 500 seats (including the bar) although there aren’t nearly that many in the restaurant after Mario and partner Joe Bastianich cleared out a ton of seats a few years back.

The scale of the dining room is enhanced by the two storey interior with seating along a balcony on the second level just above the bar. Colors are beige, red, dark stained wood, granite and leather with hard wood floors by the bar and a magnificent tiled floor through the center of the room. A sweeping stone staircase with wrought iron railings anchors the center of the room. It’s a great room to observe. After thirty minutes sitting at the large granite bar on a leather padded stool, my table is ready.

The table cloth is pressed heavy damask and the glassware absolutely spotless. My server arrives with menus and I waive her off. Chef Ladner appears in his stark white chef’s clothes and asks how many courses to send out. He says “let me know when to stop, I don’t want to hurt you” with a laugh and heads back to the kitchen. His wonderful sommelier arrives and pours the first glass of the wine flight that accompanies the degustation menu. I love his sommelier. Last time I was here she turned me on to this fantastic yet affordable Roero Arneis from Piedmont by Bruno Giacosa and I have been drinking it ever since. The Arneis grape produces such a nice fresh, dry, light, mildly sweet white wine with notes of mineral; it’s perfect for Ladner’s selection of amuse bouche and mini Suppli. And that’s how my meal starts.

A selection of bread is brought over along with cows butter and rendered pork fat. Of course I dig into the light, perfectly tempered pork lard and spread it on crispy slices of bread. It’s delicious. As I sit waiting for the first course to arrive I can’t help but think about all those fantastic video’s Ladner posts on YouTube.  The latest posting of chef making a classic Le Virtu soup, pigs head and trotters and all is a favorite. Ladner regularly produces short two to three minute videos with a pretty high production quality. The secrets behind making several of the items on the menu, including the signature chocolate tree, are posted for all to see. My thoughts fade back into the present and I can’t help but notice how widely spaced the tables are; how quiet the dining room is; and how gentle and unobtrusive the servers are.

An empty wine glass quietly disappears and another appears and is filled with something new. The first course is placed just as the sommelier departs, flatware having magically appeared without me noticing. It’s a fresh crisp salad with beef tar tar essence and truffle vinaigrette. What a perfect light palate cleanser before starting down the path of a nine course meal.

Saffron Suppli with Gold Leaf

Greens and Herbs with Beef Tar Tar Essence and Truffle Vinaigrette

Vitello Tonnato

Salmon with Ciccioli

Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Nudi di Uovo, Bird’s Nest Style (asparagus julienne)

Scungile Due

Veal Braciole, Roasted Porcini alla Cacciatore & Broccoli Blossoms

Passion Fruit Cashew Gelato

Sfera di Caprino, Celery & Fig Agrodolce & Celery Sorbetto

Chocolate Tree

Jellies

Donuts, Tarts and Pops

Del Posto Ristorante

85 Tenth Avenue

New York, NY 10011

212-497-8090