Posts Tagged ‘New York Restaurants’

Momofuku Milk Bar

Posted 08 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Pastry & Dessert, Warms My Heart

Milk Bar Cold Case

Momofuku Milk Bar isn’t fancy. The minimalist design including strand-board casework, small front counter, simple packaging, and chalk board menu suggest a place staged with simplicity and profit in mind. Fact is, I have never been overly impressed with the interior of Milk Bar and probably wouldn’t seek one out except for the fact that I am completely addicted to Chef Christina Tosi’s strawberry lemon cake truffles. Her candy bar pie is incredible too but the truffles draw me in whenever I am within a block of a Milk Bar outlet (usually the one in midtown). My trips to New York always place me within walking distance to the store on West 56th street, lucky peach indeed.

W56th St. Milk Bar

So it was with great joy that I watched Christina Tosi edge out some of the best chefs in the country to receive the 2012 Rising Star Chef of the Year from the James Beard Foundation. The honor is awarded to “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come” according to the foundation web site. That she is so talented, heads a growing empire of stores, is teamed with one of the most recognized chefs in the country in David Chang, and leads a team of folks mostly under the age of 25 is a testament to her talent. That she does all this in one of the most competitive and hyper food markets in the world is monumental. She deserves this recognition (even though I am a huge Dave Beran fan!).

Chef Christina Tosi (2012 James Beard Awards)

On stage, Tosi looked radiant in a black sleeveless dress with red pumps, her shoulder length hair straight and parted. Relaxed, she accepted her award with grace as chef Grant Achatz looked on (he won the award in 2003). She made sure to thank the Beard Foundation and, more specifically, to thank her extended team (as any good leader would). She showed tremendous poise and humility while also exuding great confidence. What a great role model at such a young age.

Congratulations Christina and the entire Milk Bar and Momofuku team…

Milk Bar Cookie Baskets

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle Interior

L-R, Compost Cookie, Chocolate Chocolate, Cornflake Marshmallow Cookie

Candy Bar Pie

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


Donuts, Tarts and Pops

Del Posto Ristorante

85 Tenth Avenue

New York, NY 10011


Jean Georges ~ NYC

Posted 06 Oct 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Sitting here at Jean Georges I can help but think about the impact a three star award from the Guide Michelin has on a restaurant and its chef. It’s a timely thought as this past Tuesday the Guide Michelin released the 2012 dining guide for New York City. In deep Michelin thought I peer around the room and notice again how beautiful and formal Jean Georges is. The walls of glass create a modern feel and I love the soft lighting, sharp linen and the little alcove table for two recessed into the wall. The restaurant radiates simplified luxury and quality in every corner. Taking it in, I consider what may be a fading edge in formal fine dining with the 2012 edition of the Guide Michelin. That the Guide has awarded three stars to the informal and playful Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is proof enough that fine dining in general is loosening up and proof again that Michelin’s criteria is changing too. The American dining public is becoming less formal putting its energy and cash into food, service and comfort with decreasing concern for formal décor a frills. Maybe this shift is influencing Michelin as much as the outstanding food at Chef’s Table is. Perhaps this the dawn of the demise of the formal classically French three star restaurant in place of a new less formal genre?  I am torn.

One force that may be driving this shift is the gain in financial returns that occurs when moving from formal to casual. Simply put casual dining costs less to deliver and doesn’t require a sacrifice in food quality. I recently heard Bill Kim of Belly Shack and Urban Belly rave about the double digit margins he is earning in the fast casual segment claiming that his retail market is nothing more than his inventory on display and for sale thus serving as another conduit for profit without additional labor. This is the same model Brooklyn Fare follows with Chef’s Table, all without a wine list or liquor license. Even Michelin is shifting to casual.

I couldn’t help but think about this while I soaked in the action in the dining room at Jean Georges. It makes me wonder if Jean Georges, Eric Ripert, Daniel Bolud, Thomas Keller, Masayoshi Takayama and, as of this week, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (another new three star) are disappointed that a restaurant as informal as Chef’s Table earned a nod. Having dined at Jean Georges multiple times, I have never had a meal where I couldn’t find a great wine and progression of courses to satisfy my cravings. That Vongerichten and the others have spent millions on wine cellars, remote storage, liability and inventory insurance, staffing and training only to be placed in the same category as a restaurant like Chef’s Table with no wine or liquor service (or inventory expense) must be frustrating. I can only imagine what Jean Georges would be like if the restaurant had none of these expenses and was solely focused on the food. This is even more frustrating when you consider the other outstanding restaurants with great food and extensive wine and beverage lists in New York (a prime example is Del Posto) that Michelin seems to ignore. I take another bite of Spicy Tuna Tar Tar and think WTF. Enough about Michelin, it’s time to settle in, change my focus and enjoy dinner.

My table is attended by three servers. Their performance is absolutely smooth if not a bit inefficient. More than one hot course placed before me waits while the captain runs back to the kitchen to pick up a sauce boat and deliver a pour of hot sauce à la minute. It would have been better if the sauce immediately followed the plate drop. But these are little details that most people probably fail to notice and service doesn’t really suffer. The service ware (I love the JG plates), linen, décor, and cleanliness are nearly flawless and the silver cloche over the butter dish and tight bouquet of fresh roses on the table make for a classic still life on the table. This is the image that comes to mind when I think of three Michelin stars. It’s about more than just the food. Or is it?

You can see from the images below that the food at Jean Georges is well prepared. Aside from a problem with repetition (two courses repeated shrimp and two courses repeated saffron) the food is as good as ever. The egg toast with American caviar and sea bass with roasted Brussels sprouts and apple jus are absolute stand outs. Even better are the desserts prepared by rock star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. Each dessert plate feature four distinct section with unique elements married together by season, flavor or theme. Iuzzini sends out all four examples on his menu and follows with fresh marshmallows from a giant jar and nine different friandise. That our server can identify and describe in detail each of the nine chocolates before us is impressive. Maybe, in the long run, restaurants like Jean Georges will survive along with newer stars like Chef’s Table. Better yet, the selection of Chef’s Table to the three star club may be just the kick Jean Georges needs to go to the next level.


#1 Amuse of Shrimp with Peach, Yellow Pepper Gazpacho, Jalapeño Popper


#2 Egg toast, American Caviar, Brioche Toast, Tender Egg Yolk


#3 Spicy Tuna Tar Tar with Black Olive and Cucumber


#4 Charred Corn Ravioli, Cherry Tomato Salad, Basil Fondue

#5 Shrimp with Chipotle, Kabocha Squash, Saffron Broth

#6 Crispy Skin Black Sea Bass, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Spiced Red Apple Jus


#7 Poached Lobster, Saffron Tapioca, Gewurztraminer Foam


#8 Minted Rack of Lamb, Autumn Mushrooms, Red Curry Emulsion


#9 Autumn Dessert Tasting One


#10 Autumn Dessert Tasting Two

#11 Autumn Dessert Tasting Three


#12 Autumn Dessert Tasting Four


Macaroons on Flying Saucer Plate



Jean Georges

1 Central Park West

New York, N.Y. 10023




Bouchon: Thomas Keller Trifecta

Posted 02 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Full Service


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My three part Thomas Keller Restaurant Group adventure starts at Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center in New York. It’s fall and the city is heading into the holidays. After crashing at a friend’s apartment on the upper west side, a lazy morning lounging, and a quick run through the park before noon, hunger sets in along with curiosity and we head over to Bouchon for a bite.  With a schedule in place that puts me in Las Vegas in a month and Yountville, CA a month or so  after that, I am determined to visit Keller’s cafés and bakeries to get a sense of how they operate, whether they are consistent in food and service, and what the differences are in design and feel. My first stop on this mini tour is Bouchon Bakery at 10 Columbus Circle.

View of Columbus Circle from Bouchon Bakery Dining Room

I enter the lobby of the Time Warner Center and am awed by the enormous colored stars hanging from the ceiling in the expansive three-story lobby. The center is a huge building at 2.8 million square feet. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and cost approximately $1.7 billion to construct. I have always loved the neighborhood around Columbus circle and recall how excited I was when I first heard that the third and fourth floors of the Time Warner Center would house world class restaurants like Per Se, Masa, Café Gray, and (at the time) Charlie Trotter. In prior years, it was tough to fine great food this side of town and our favorite place to dine was just around the corner in at 1 Central Park West, home of restaurant Jean Georges and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  Now, with so many great restaurants this close to my favorite place to crash in the city, Time Warner Center has become one of my favorite destinations  although the energy level in the building was higher when the economy was in better shape.

Bouchon Bakery Bread, Time Warner Center

After a quick escalator ride to the third floor I head straight to a table at the café, have a seat and order a cup of coffee. My server is smiling, offers a menu, makes a few suggestions and floats away. The dining room is open to the main corridor on one side and looks out over the lobby onto Columbus Circle on the other. On the south side of the space there’s a large marble-topped bar serving as a focal point and a large communal table that seats around twenty people in the middle of the room. Although Bouchon radiates the aesthetic and style of Thomas Keller, I feel that the version of Bouchon at the Time Warner Center is something of an adaptive reuse of space that was otherwise unscheduled when the building was designed. Sitting in the dining room, it feels like I am in a lobby not a planned space. Food is expedited from a small closet of a kitchen across the hall from the dining area and I am not overstating when I say they are short of space. But the crew in the kitchen looks ultra professional and the food they produce is excellent for such a small space.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwich: San Marzano tomato soup with grilled fontina & gruyere cheese on pain au lait

I am with a few friends and we order a variety of items. Our two favorite are the delicate and lemon scented open faced Tartine Au Thon (tuna salad) and the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese sandwich. We finish with another cup of coffee, some outstanding macaroons and head toward the door. Although some folks think Bouchon is over rated, aside from the dining area, I love the place and find the food and service consistently good and the prices value oriented for this side of town and for the view we enjoy of Columbus Circle.


Tartine Au Thon:  Tuna salad, Nicoise olives, bibb lettuce and garlic aioli with sliced egg, radish on pain de champagne

Bouchon Bakery Display, Time Warner Center

My next stop is Bouchon at the Venetian Hotel, Resort and Casino. The restaurant is located on the 9th floor of the Venezia tower at the Venetian and is off the beaten path a bit. When I arrive Bouchon is empty but, at 6:00pm, it’s still early by Vegas standards. Rather than sit at a table, I take a seat at the fantastic hardwood and marble bar and order a beer and a half dozen oysters.  The oysters caught my eye after passing a fantastic, perfectly clean iced seafood display in the curved corner of the bar facing the entry to the restaurant.  Next, I enjoy the Poulet Roti; a roasted chicken with glazed celery root, poached apples, herb quenelles, chestnut confit and chicken jus. The chicken is moist, with crisp savory skin and correctly cooked. I like the flavor combination of the celery root and apples and think the dish comes together perfectly. Unfortunately, I forget to grab my camera and lack a photo to post here.

Bouchon Las Vegas is a grand restaurant on a large scale; perhaps too large. After a casual hour of dining I head for the door and see that the restaurant is still slow. At 7:00pm there are half a dozen tables eating and that’s about it. I wonder how the restaurant stays afloat financially. On a positive note, Bouchon feels like it was designed for this location and built with care compared to the afterthought that Bouchon Bakery in New York seems to be. Although hidden away on the 9th floor in a bad location, Bouchon is worth the effort and the food is excellent. Service is great although a bit more casual than in New York in a Vegas sort of way.  


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My trip to Yountville includes seven other chef friends who I assemble with from time to time. Our first meal is at Bouchon and we will follow with dinner at Ad Hoc later in the evening. Although we had reservations for Per Se, we decided to forgo the cost and invest our resources on some fantastic wines and a home cooked meal.

At Bouchon we drag two of the marble top tables together and order a bottle of chilled white wine.  Its 2:30PM and the restaurant is packed but the patio is empty. Bouchon Yountville is located in a historic looking brick building with a bright red awning running along the street side of the restaurant. Just as the tiny Bouchon Bakery in New York and massive Bouchon in Las Vegas fit their locations, Bouchon Yountville fits its setting perfectly and is probably as close to the ideal Keller had in mind when he created his version of such a fine French bistro. We settle in and order a few appetizers.

Bouchon Restaurant Yountville, CA Frog Legs Special

First up is an order of frog’s legs which are featured as a special. The frog’s legs come out piping hot and are tasty but a bit too delicate. I was expecting something with deeper flavor and this dish came up a bit short. However, the Brandade beignets are fantastic and I have to order two more portions to satisfy the table. We also share a rillettes of salmon, another standard menu item, and it is fantastic too. Of all the items we enjoy the side plate of pickled vegetables is the best. They are perfectly blanched, lightly pickled and beautifully arranged on a plate. As I head for the door Chef Keller is just leaving too and we chat for a few minutes. He is surprised that we are there and we let him know that we are on an informal visit, renting a house up in Glen Ellen for a quiet weekend among friends. He smiles and heads on his way and we head over to the bakery to try things out.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue: Cod brandade with tomato confit and fried sage

Rillettes au Deux Saumons: Fresh and Smoke Salmon rillettes with toasted croutons.

My Favorite Bouchon Side Salad

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA

The bakery is in a pastel green stucco building just across the patio from Bouchon itself. My favorite aspect of the bakery is how perfectly executed all the items are. Each item on display is clean, consistent, and outstanding in quality. This was the case at the bakery in New York as well. The display case there was just as stunning and equally consistent. Again, I order a mixed bag of pastel colored macaroons and enjoy them immensely.

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA, Pastry Display

It is clear to me that Bouchon operates on an entirely different plane than Per Se and French Laundry. However, my experience at Bouchon, whether in New York, Las Vegas,  or Yountville was fairly consistent and the food on the standard menu was excellent. Some of the specials we ordered came up short but the pastry we enjoyed was outstanding and the service consistently good. For Keller, having a mid-scale restaurant concept must be a good thing.  Bouchon helps balance Keller’s restaurant portfolio with an option that is less subject to economic cycles compared to his higher end 3 Michelin star properties. I suspect that Keller will continue to expand Bouchon and know that his next Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center will be a huge success.  The more successful Bouchon is the more likely Keller will be able balance his portfolio and finances and sustain Per Se and French Laundry. With this in mind, I remain a fan of Bouchon and a huge fan of Bouchon Bakery.

 Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA


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Bouchon Bakery