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Caen and Bayeux

4 days in Caen and Bayeux, in April. Looking for both fine dining and more casual options, as well as bakeries, cheese shops, etc.

Feb 25, 2014
IrnScrabbleChf52 in France

First time in Paris

Will be in Paris for the first time (ever) in early January, staying in the 3rd and 11th for 6 days. Likely to return 3 or 4 times over the next year, so it needn't be a bucket list trip, but do aim to eat and drink as well as possible on a modest but not shoestring budget. So advice would be appreciated on where to drink coffee, wine / bars (no clubs), cheese / charcuterie shops, bakeries--in central Paris. Also, am hoping to hit a few hip bistros.

(And bookstores!)

Dec 21, 2013
IrnScrabbleChf52 in France

Torrisi Italian Specialties 20 course tasting report

finally made it here for the 20 course. this is definitely not worth the $150. if you haven't done it yet, i would strongly advise against it. at the point where "pretzels," like 10 mini pretzel bites divided between 2 people, counts as a course, you really start to wonder. how dumb do they think people are? in fact, at least 9 of the 20 courses are snacky, insubstantial things, and two of the courses are served simultaneously--we were asked to share the foie gras newberg and the tartare, i'm not sure whether that's the treatment everyone gets but if so that's, well, just a travesty of fine dining or good eating or whatever you want to call this messed up genre. I would pay $75 for this "20 course" meal. maybe more like 10. if you're being generous.
super fast run down.

"our americano"--a virgin americano. why. (i mean, i know why it's virgin here, but why serve this at all.) lame beyond belief.
the quail's olive--quite good though too derivative/not original
pretzels--a sign of bad things to come
sable cigarette--quite good though too derivative/not original
oysters--the pepper mignonette blew out the oyster flavor
little neck clam--pickle flavor blew out the clam
buckwheat caviar knish--this was awesome. ridiculously good wow.
rabbit terrine--no opinion. didn't get enough to eat to form an opinion.
easter egg--what? this didn't make any sense. a gold easter egg filled with sabayon and random garnish. totally incoherent.
cashew chicken--haha? not amused
everything above the line was essentially a 1 bite course

pasta primavera--why would you pulverize perfectly good morels and then soak them in acid. my brother compared the 'pasta' to a popchip covered in pringle's pizza seasoning. the only redeeming element was the pine nut butter.
mackerel in crazy water, atlantic aqua pazza [SIC]---why (i found myself asking this question a lot) would you cut mackerel into a thin rectangular block? bizarre. the acqua pazza was excellent, I wish they had just served that...
foie gras newberg--I liked this a lot. i wish I didn't have to share a 1-2 oz portion with another person. i call BS
delmonico steak tartare--the potato crisps they served with this blew out the beef flavor. i would suggest, if you go, eating the tartare without accompaniment. the bearnaise egg was a fail--pasty, not as good as an actual egg yolk.
sheep milk ricotta gnocchi--best part of this was the chamomile blossom served alongside. at this point, i saw a connection to the french laundry aesthetic, including faux witticism--here, the technique isn't nearly strong enough to carry the concept, though
octopus spaghettini--maybe the strongest dish of the night. super flavorful, saturated, perfect pasta, tender octopus
ravioli caruso--filled with chicken liver. grainy grainy grainy. in st. louis we have a chain called pasta house. it's chain red sauce italian. this reminded me of Pasta House ravioli, which i like. haha.
jewish lamb--why ruin good meat with a sticky sweet manischewitz glaze. tiny tiny portion. sunchoke garnish was really good.
cheese danish--they try to suggest to you that this is like a bagel and cream cheese. that is, your server says, organically, this reminds me of a bagel and cream cheese. then on the menu, it says 'bagel shop,' indicating that this is all some sort of grand mindf***. i thought this was really good, a buttery pastry flecked with poppy seeds and covered in a tangy cheese (nettle farms or something? who knows). so stupid that they come back and ask if you want another piece. so stupid.
ginger italian ice--loved it.
maraschino float--this was terrible. almost inedible. tasted like cherry medicine. the root beer component+cherry syrup tasted like medicine. an epic fail.
pastries--my god, some of these were awful. i actually gagged on a seaweed salt water taffy. it was like a prank candy you buy for halloween or something. and a little tart shell filled with peas and some vile pastry cream or the like. nightmares. "herbal" "medicinal" were dominant adjectives bandied about

when I pay $150, I expect better service and at least some comfort. the seating is supremely unpleasant. too crowded. you're rubbing shoulders and ***es with couples on the left and right. the music selection is strange, but not intrusive. just strange. likewise, the menu is incoherent. i felt like i was reading a string of unrelated sentences, some of which made sense together, others, not so much. i'd also just like to add that the food looks nothing like it does on white-adjusted dslr. the lighting is so yellow that all the food is really, really washed out and unattractive. without a zoom lens, it also looks really, really small. I cannot believe that this is what is considered a cutting-edge, must-visit restaurant experience in New York these days. (background: i eat at this price point about once a month-2 months) I have been doing a good job of avoiding restaurants I suspect that I won't like, but after looking over some menus, I thought this would be a winner. But the menu tonight felt more appropriate for April than June (easter egg, pasta primavera, lamb dish), the portions were extremely small, false advertising on 20 courses imo, and much of the food was at best "good" (as in neighborhood restaurant level good) and at worst horrible.

Jun 16, 2012
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

The Flushing Experience for noobs

thanks for all the recs! we started at corner 28 for peking duck sandwiches, went to golden mall--ma la rabbit and spicy double-cooked pork at chengdu heaven, spicy cumin lamb burgers at xian, lamb soup at nutritious lamb noodles. finished up at soy bean chan which was the real wow moment for me. super peaceful in there.

Golden Shopping Mall
41-28 Main St, Queens, NY 11355

Corner 28
40-28 Main St, Queens, NY 11354

Soy Bean Chen
135-26 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11354

The Flushing Experience for noobs

definitely 1.
haven't been to flushing mall in over a year, so will do. is there anything else in flushing mall that you would consider a must?
3) not gonna lie, I didn't love white bear on my last visit, maybe will give it another try.
4)--do you know how late soy bean chan is open? we'll be going at night/early evening.
5) will probably skip only because i just had the liang pi at the bayard location earlier this week.

on new world mall--the last time I was in flushing, I stopped here and was totally overwhelmed, just ended up getting dessert at the sweets spot (don't know what it's called), which I wasn't really impressed with. the super market was def cool though.

The Flushing Experience for noobs

going to flushing with two people who have never ever been before and barely have any experience even with Manhattan's chinatown. that being said, both will eat whatever is in front of them--organ meats, super spicy, whatever whatever. on a 1-10 level of familiarity with flushing, i'm at about a 3-4. I think we're going to have a better experience not going to a sit-down restaurant, although I was thinking about Golden Palace. I was thinking about doing 90% of our eating in Golden Shopping Mall, which is my favorite. I think we will also stop at that Peking Duck place on the street corner just for the sake of novelty/the experience. Any other recommendations that will wow my friends? Specifically looking for good bakeries, because on my previous trips to flushing I've been disappointed every time.

Brunch at the Dutch

it's supposed to be painfully spicy. if it didn't taste like tear gas it wasn't spicy enough

Nov 28, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Brunch at the Dutch

spices in the batter, especially cayenne/paprika, are very traditional in certain parts of the south (nashville). i suspect it was drawing on that convention, not overthought/worked

Nov 21, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Avenues (Chef's Bar)

We enjoyed our meal at Avenues. Pictures here:

These are the second dog days of Avenues.

After two weeks touring the South—Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee—I drove north to Chicago. Before collecting my sister from her summer program at Northwestern, my family stopped downtown for dinner. Alinea stands at the center of Chicago’s dining scene—since 2005, Grant Achatz has trained a legion of “modernist” or “molecular” culinarians, all of whom share a common aesthetic lexicon. Visit Michael Carlson’s Schwa or Curtis Duffy’s Avenues and the food seems a logical extension of the “Alinea school” (which owes much to both The French Laundry and El Bulli). Duffy will leave Avenues sometime in September to open his own restaurant; Avenues lost Duffy’s predecessor, Graham Elliot, to a similar wanderlust.

For this generation of young (and ambitious) culinary professionals, the impulse to establish a persona supersedes the impulse to establish a legacy. In order to construct a celebrity personage, the chef eventually requires a studio, a place for free experimentation and artistic integrity. Legacy—the monumental history of the individual artist—follows from the personality of the chef. And in order to express personality, the chef needs his own space—to control, to dominate, to own. Even though Duffy crafted his own legend at Avenues, he operated in another man’s theater, painting in the fading tracery of another man’s palette.

Despite Duffy’s misgivings about staying at Avenues, his style reflects a mature personality and an impressive eye for poetics. Crab comes obscured under a transparent sugar cookie: iridescent orange trout roe and kalamansi gel hover above cucumber broth. The mechanical tension between each component resolves with a forceful tap; the tuile shatters, seasoning the crab soup. A sphere of ice cold sudachi juice, encased in a cocoa butter shell, erupts between closed lips. Mounds of shaved truffle settle on parmesan crisps, all balanced on a shooter of truffle soup. In these compositions—and they are carefully composed, constructed with architectural intention—Duffy exposes the ephemerality of his food. For each dish, there is a decisive moment from which all bites evolve. Break open a hollow cylinder of frozen coconut. As a sweet pineapple custard flows out, the liquid thickens and warms, enveloping slices of banana and melting the coconut ice. Photographing Duffy’s dishes only once betrays their beauty. Their fragility belies a capacity for orchestrated change. Like a whirligig or clockwork toy, eating follows a preordained program. Duffy winds up the doll; the diner just starts the machine. This kind of extreme precision never lapses into robotics. Every geometry gleams with Duffy’s spirit, and an original animation pervades every artifice.

In these last, static months of Duffy’s tenure, he surely anticipates future productivity and growth. The tenacity of Duffy’s legacy at Avenues remains unknown. He need not worry, however, about developing a stronger persona. If Grant Achatz has been his culinary generation’s Stein, then Duffy may be its Hemingway yet. Under Duffy’s direction, the techno-intimidation of “modernist cuisine” can become an elegant—and unabashedly masculine—rendering of the exotic and the everyday.

eta: a little more detail about the food
amuse: uni w/ rhubarb--the uni tasted a little off, there was a bitter aftertaste and unpleasant, definite fishiness

Alaskan King Crab (golden brook trout roe, kalamansi, lemon mint)--this is one of Duffy's "signatures" and it's absolutely wonderful. Sweet crab in a cucumber soup, the sugar tuile on top supports the kalamansi gel and the roe, so when you break the tuile the different components season the crab.

Cortez Bay Scallops (romaine marmalade, white poppy, nasturtium)--this was nice, the scallops themselves were a little bland, I enjoyed the smooth, sweet taste of the white poppy milk that gets poured over the scallops, the romaine marmalade gave a little bitterness.

Truffle on a parmesan crisp and truffle soup--wow, very generous helping of truffle (this wasn't on the menu but i'm pretty sure everyone got it as a mid course


Grains, seeds, nuts (amaranth veil, sultana, sunflower)--another of Duffy's standards, this was less successful for me. It was a very cerebral experience, texturally challenging with the chewy, crunchy seeds, a strong onion flavor, and the sweet raisins.

Hamachi (lardo, yuzu, rainbow chard)--the least successful dish of the night, I don't love hamachi ordinarily, but the main problem here was that there were way too many components on the plate: toasted cardamom marshmallow, carrots, carrot foam, yuzu tapioca pearls, a weird miso tinged rainbow chard braise, hammy lardo--just a mess of flavors and textures.

Wagyu Beef Ribeye (spring onion, smoked paprika, garden mustard)--this was even better than the crab, the beef was super tender, reasonably "beefy"--the morels, mustard, potato, and kind of charred paste on the plate had to be eaten all together for the full effect.

Sudachi (togarashi, nepitella mint)--a ball of cold sudachi juice encased in cocoa butter. shocking even if you know what to expect.

Coconut (pineapple, freeze dried saffron, vietnamese balm)--waay too sweet. yellow pineapple/saffron custard in a hollow frozen coconut cylinder. the cook in front of us told us that originally they used vodka to keep the center liquid, but have now switched to sugar to futz with the freezing point. with banana on the bottom of the plate, it tasted cloying.

Sambirano Valley Chocolate (brown butter, mandarin, stevia)--the combination of huckleberry and orange on the plate really made the chocolate pop. the chocolate looks like a 50-60% cacao but tastes +75

some chocolates at the end (they were fine).

there's a nice bread pairing w bolillo, pretzel, some sort of biscuit, and a waffle along w herb olive oil meyer lemon olive oil (emulsions) and some nice butter.

the experience of the chef's bar is highly recommended, although be warned that it's impossible to converse with your entire party because the seats are so far apart. I could only talk to the people immediately next to me.

this is also a spectacular value ($135) compared to nyc

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Graham Elliot
217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Jul 30, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Chicago Area

not to miss in nashville

I will be in Nashville in a week or so for 2 days. What are the restaurants/food things to do in town that are absolutely "do not miss" ?

Southern BBQ recomendations

This would be similar to going to London and expecting to experience haggis, or going to Milan and looking for Tuscan food, or going to Paris and looking for choucroute garnie. Just because you are specifically looking for something in a place where it's not usually particularly good doesn't mean that you should be looking for it. I would encourage the OP to experience the incredibly rich and diverse wealth of NYC food first (bagels+lox, nyc pizza, contemporary american fine dining, pastrami, harlem soul) and then the interesting ethnic neighborhoods (flushing, chinatown, arthur ave, woodside, jackson heights) and then if there's still time do barbecue.

I would recommend against Hill Country, because the food is uneven, and blue smoke, because it's more of a barbecue-style/southern restaurant. For the best bbq experience in the city (in my estimation), go to RUB early in the evening--before 6:30 probably-- get the burnt end dinner w/ beans and greens and ribs.

Hill Country
30 W 26th St, New York, NY 10010

208 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

Jul 11, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Southern BBQ recomendations

I'm not sure what you mean by "southern" style--alabama, mississippi versus kansas city, memphis etc.? The best barbecue restaurants in New York are RUB BBQ, Rack & Soul, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Hill Country, and Blue Smoke. I'm not sure how long your trip is, but I would suggest focusing on the foods New York is know for and does best before you start looking to barbecue.

Hill Country
30 W 26th St, New York, NY 10010

208 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

Rack & Soul
258 West 109th St., New York, NY 10025

Blue Smoke
116 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
777 W. 125th Street, New York, NY 10027

Jul 10, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Butterscotch Pie

Pictures of the butterscotch pie project on the blog:

some preliminary notes:

I made a butterscotch pie using the standard egg custard as the base and adding brown sugar and butter, the base ingredients of butterscotch flavor. The egg custard flavor was immediately evident, so I did not get the “Hershey’s” style butterscotch, the cloying, saccharine, sticky butterscotch. Instead, the butterscotch flavor emerged from the background, more of a rich aftertaste than an anvil of flavor falling from the sky.

Since the egg custard did not need baking, I had to fully pre-bake the crust. I ran into some issues with shrinking and cracking. Next time, I’ll try refrigerating the crust instead of freezing it for twenty minutes. Maybe the crust was too cold and the rapid temperature change caused it to expand and crack.

This was a very khaki pie: tan dough and tan butterscotch. It was sand colored, but fortunately tasted much better than ground up beach silica.

Jun 15, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Home Cooking

Big Apple Barbecue 2011

The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party 2011 was this weekend. It was a crazy scene--crazy crowded and crazy fun. Here's my report. On the blog, there's a short video I made:

“Barbecue is getting big baby.” Outside Ed Mitchell’s traveling sideshow, two cooks go at it with cleavers. As bits of pork fly in a flurry of pornographic flesh, the cashier grins and points down the avenue, still quiet at 10:20 a.m. “In 30 minutes, the line will be to Madison,” he predicts, and when the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party 2011 starts, 200 fanatics are already waiting for a taste of Ed Mitchell’s meat. I arrived an hour early and finagled a prime position near the front. Clad in overalls and plaid—his “Farmer John” outfit, the cashier explains—Mitchell presides over his stand with dominating charisma. He is the Santa Claus of barbecue, a man with a big smile and a bigger belly. Poking a turkey to check for doneness, Mitchell nods, makes the slightest gesture to his team, and the biggest barbecue show on Earth begins.

Big Apple Barbecue brings together pitmasters from across the barbecue belt: Pappy’s from St. Louis, Missouri; The Salt Lick from Driftwood, Texas; Ubon’s from Yazoo City, Mississippi, to name a few. Along with the out-of-towners, New York boasts four participants this year, including Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and Rack & Soul. This carnival of barbecue pitches a big tent—the collection of meats is catholic, the variety of styles representative, if not comprehensive. Aficionados and novitiates fill the boundaries of Madison Square Park; foodies and families and barbecue expats spill into the streets, jostling for a taste of Tennessee whole hog (Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint) and smoked sausage (Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q). Over a 48 hour period, 120,000 New Yorkers will pass through the park; it is an educational experience of gluttonous proportions, an opportunity to stuff the belly and the brain. Besides a series of free seminars—much more entertaining than your college variety class—the Southern Foodways Alliance brought their oral history project to the festival. Most pass up the untastefully educational activities—but Big Apple Barbecue covertly indoctrinates all into the principles of regional barbecue. Wander from North to South Carolina in a matter of minutes, then head to Dallas and across to Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The Big Apple team has assembled a cross-section of American barbecue; this event allows for effortless travel on a minimal budget: $8 a plate is a price I’d pay any day to sink my teeth into Ed Mitchell’s whole hog without leaving Manhattan.

Judging from the carnivalesque crowds and their willingness to brave multi-hour lines, barbecue is indeed getting big in the city. The uptick in interest follows renewed attention to Southern and Soul food—traditions that originated in the country and migrated North in the 1920s. During that Great Migration, blacks brought their culinary heritage to northern cities, where they served up homestyle dishes to an insular community of other southern migrants. In fact, southern black communities transplanted to New York often clashed with those groups already established in the North. The processes of assimilation centered around two social worlds: the restaurant and the church. Thus, New York barbecue did at one time inject country values into the metropolitan consciousness. Recreating the foods of their southern lives allowed blacks to resist and infiltrate a conflicted and impenetrably complex system of city morality. At Big Apple Barbecue, however, the essential problem of urban barbecue becomes manifest: city dwellers consume barbecue in order to escape to some pastoral fantasy; to leave the metropolis behind and embrace a simpler way of life; to retrogress to a pre-industrial, agrarian world; to rediscover a golden age. Yet, as Raymond Williams so provocatively notes, the escalator of history never stops. The “golden age” to which we urbane barbecuers retreat is a myth. Country life and the barbecuing life are both inextricably intertwined with a metropolitan cosmos of production; they are both invested with physical labor, deprivation, and hardship; and they both, in the urban mind, alternatively imply provincialism and rugged simplicity. After I engorged myself on excessive helpings of pork shoulder and ribs, I wandered the crowd and watched barbecue fantasies spin out in real time. “I got barbecue sauce on my jeans!” One Brooklyn-bound woman wails. “It’s getting all over my hands,” another fashionista mutters, befuddled. “A fork won’t cut through the meat,” her friend observes. You can bring the country to the city, but you can’t make the city country.

If you ever happen to drive through North Carolina, look up Ed Mitchell. His whole hog sandwich (on squeezable Pepperidge Farm buns) sets a new bar for barbecue. A moister pillow of pork is unthinkable. No sauce necessary other than the pig’s natural juices. At a panel presentation on Joe York’s short film To Live and Die In Avoyelles Parish, Mr. York explained the sensation of eating a cochon de lait’s tenderloin. “I don’t like to talk about food like this,” Mr. York said, “but eating that tenderloin was a transcendent experience.” Maybe it was my morning hunger, but that first bite of whole hog was transcendent, too.

Hill Country
30 W 26th St, New York, NY 10010

Rack & Soul
258 West 109th St., New York, NY 10025

Blue Smoke
116 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
777 W. 125th Street, New York, NY 10027

Jun 13, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Peanut Butter Cookies

Sometimes cookies don't end up looking just right, but I like to post pictures of even the most malformed ones!

Everyone likes a good peanut butter cookie. When I say a good peanut butter cookie, I mean that there should be no healthy ingredients included. These particular cookies involved two sticks of butter, brown sugar, white sugar, and peanut butter.

Ah, a delicious cookie, well proportioned, with the traditional grid pattern on top. When one asks for a peanut butter cookie, one expects such a paragon example.

Personally though, I appreciate the malformed, imperfect cookie just as much as a perfect cookie. On most food blogs, the cookie below wouldn’t have made the cut, wallowing in its deformed obscurity. In real life, every cookie is not a circle, some are… torpedo shaped. Yes, I admit my fault, I crushed that cookie. Baking is an endeavor of imperfection, just like the baker.

Even so, the mutant example tasted just as delicious as the above cookie. That just goes to show that if I add enough butter, even a lumpy mass of unattractive dough can taste amazing. The only thing that can improve peanut butter straight off a spoon is peanut butter combined with a lot of sugar and butter in the form of a baked patty.

Jun 09, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Home Cooking


A few thoughts on the snickerdoodle, along with pictures here:

Along with the "Whoopie Pie," (which is actually a sandwich cookie), the Snickerdoodle is one of my favorite cookie names. This whimsical dessert is a simple sugar cookie coated in cinnamon and sugar.

The only difference from the average sugar cookie is the leavening material. Many snickerdoodle recipes call for baking soda (a base) and cream of tartar (an acid) instead of baking powder. These two combinations both leaven using an acid base reaction to produce carbon dioxide bubble, making the cookie lighter. The only difference is the acidic taste of the cream of tartar. This gives the snickerdoodle the bite that separates it from a sugar cookie with some cinnamon on top.

Snickerdoodles should have that distinctive cracked surface for an alternately crispy and chewy bite. You can easily increase or decrease baking time to vary how crispy or chewy the cookies are. Also, I refrigerated the dough before rolling it into spheres to make it easier to handle and to get it to pick up more cinnamon-sugar mix.

Jun 03, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Home Cooking

Salmon, Young Garlic, Yellow Oyster Mushrooms

So I'm cooking out of a small dorm kitchen I share with probably 20 other people. No refrigerator, 8 burners, 2 ovens, strangely small sink. My "tools" are minimal, as is my capacity to store ingredients. I still try my best though.

(pretty bad) pictures on the blog:

In my closet, I keep a cast iron pan, a Dutch oven, a Pyrex baking dish, a spatula, and a spoon. I have easy access to a kitchen this summer, and I intend to use it. My cooking implements, which will hopefully last through the next year, cost $80—I brought my knives with me from home. Stocking my pantry was similarly simple: olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, brown sugar, kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ancho chilies. Ironically, now that I have a kitchen there’s no fridge in sight. Perishables must be procured within a short window of opportunity. With that list of basic ingredients and a willingness to brave Westside Market’s crowded aisles, I should be able to cook most of my repertoire.

At home, I exclusively use cast iron. This is a habit I acquired from my dad, who taught me to appreciate its heft and durability. I cheated though, due to time constraints and sheer laziness. I bought a Lodge cast iron pan at Williams Sonoma that came pre-seasoned. Not that seasoning is a particularly complex process. I just wanted to cook myself dinner Sunday night and needed cast iron stat.

On Sundays, Morningside Heights hosts a greenmarket just outside Columbia’s gates. Samascott Orchards, Meredith’s Bread, Beth’s Farm Kitchen, and a semi-regular group of mushroomers, fishermen, and butchers line up between 114th and 115th streets. I bought young garlic at the Samascott stand, a third of a pound of yellow oyster mushrooms, and m’smen—a Moroccan bread—at Hot Bread Kitchen. Later that day, I bought a half pound salmon fillet at Westside.

This so-called recipe should prove that dorm cookery can be elementary and rewarding. Begin with the young garlic—immature garlic plants that have not yet developed full bulbs. Cut off the upper leaves, saving only the nascent bulbs and the light green shoots. Peel off the tough outer skin and wash off the dirt. Chop the garlic into small, one centimeter square pieces. Wash the oyster mushrooms. Sever the thin mushroom stalks from their woody base. Pour about one tablespoon of olive oil into the cast iron pan, and heat until the oil is just smoking. Add the garlic and the mushrooms, a good scattering of salt, and a shake or two of pepper. Allow the garlic and mushrooms to caramelize, then drizzle enough apple cider vinegar over the top to moisten them. Lower the heat and cook until tender, then remove from the pan and reserve on a plate. Turn up the heat. Take your piece of m’smen and throw it on the pan. Warm it on one side, and then the other. Drape it over the mushrooms. Pour more olive oil into the pan and again heat until just smoking. Liberally salt and pepper the salmon on both sides. Cook skin side down for three minutes, or until the skin tightens. Carefully flip the fish and cook for another two minutes. The salmon will still appear quite rare, but that’s alright, assuming you like to eat fish on the cooler side. Gently perch the salmon on the m’smen. Eat however you please, preferably with a plastic fork and knife, or some utensils. Fingers will be needed for the meal’s final moments.

There is something intrinsically satisfying about cooking, whether for one or for a crowd. Crunching through that salmon’s (rather incredibly) crispy skin, I finally felt like a bona fide dorm chef. If you don’t mind exuding garlic for hours after eating, this dinner makes for a relaxing Sunday night supper.

Apologies for the poor photo quality. I shoot with an iPhone, and am frankly not concerned with any aesthetic principles. Whatever gets me to the food the fastest. Also, you may note ancho chilies in the mushroom mix—I found their fruity, smoky heat incongruous, and so eliminated them from the recipe.

Jun 01, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Home Cooking

Sheng Wang (Hand Pulled Noodles)

While wandering around Chinatown Friday night, I stumbled upon Sheng Wang (which Sietsama apparently adores). I thought the House Special Soup with tripe, intestine, and some other gnarly bits was quite good. My experience with hand pulled noodles is comparatively limited, but I'd go back to Sheng Wang, especially to try their peel noodles. Link and full text follows.

New York is a city that has been overmapped and over-recorded; few corners remain that have not been passed over by some historian’s gaze. Within the collectively known city, however, a personal city slumbers: the individual worlds we construct that fit into the broader sense of a place: the individual cartographies we draw that trace our physical and social movements through the urban space. So even though New York City has been digitally archived and preserved, it remains possible to walk outside the margins of the mapped world.

Canal Street dips low into the underbelly of Chinatown. Past the Manhattan Bridge and its triumphal arch, Canal leaves behind the touristed Chinatown alleys. By the corner of Eldridge Street, exposed brick shines through chipping paint; a luncheonette sign swings on its hinges, lazy in the late afternoon sun. For it is still afternoon at 6′oclock on Friday, when working men start heading for dinner. At 27 Eldridge, Sheng Wang swallows up a few lonely workers; they stop in for Fujian noodles, either hand-pulled or peeled off a block of dough. Cysts form in Chinatown around which the rest of the city blithely expands. Sheng Wang occupies one such pocket, suspended in a field of dense fluid: it bathes in its own special soup, a broth that tastes more like animal than any one particular animal species. It is a battered, happy place that has been left behind.

The thwacking call of noodles slapping counter tops punctuate a slurping silence. Rolling dumplings between her hands, a woman sits at a table next to the cash register. Each movement is precisely measured. She kneads the yellow dough, tears a piece off the mass, flattens it with her fingers, scoops an oily meat pulp into the center, folds the package, and effortlessly conjures a perfect sphere. There are hundreds of balls lined up in rows on trays; she has been rolling dumplings for some time.

One order of hand pulled noodles with house special soup comes in a metal bowl. A bone rises from the steaming liquid, bits of flesh and cartilage still resolutely clinging to the surface. Along with a tangle of noodles—still chewy, of course—stomach and intestine sop up the soup. Plastic spoons are the cutlery of choice. This is not Hung Ry, where publicists nibble artisanal products served with style. In Sheng Wang, there is no style, only atmosphere—a literal humidity that coats the plastic tables and promotes vigorous spiritual inventory. It is humbling to eat this soup. To make hand pulled noodles, one piece of dough expands into many strands, stretched thinner and thinner with each looping swing. And here, one sip overlaps with many other lives—the countless grocers and porters and cooks who have passed through Sheng Wang on their way to fulfillment have tasted this broth, too. Among the many, I have become another—a member of an unknown community.

Sheng Wang now straddles the margins of my personal map. This summer, I intend to expand the edges of my cartographies, to make known what was before, to me, invisible. If novels, as Raymond Williams claims, are essentially knowable communities, then the diachronous records of our lives are knowable communities as well. I will enter, invade, infiltrate, and explore New York’s unknowable food communities—and in doing so, I will become, if only marginally, a part of them.

Sheng Wang
27 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

Hung Ry
55 Bond St, New York, NY 10012

May 29, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Strawberry Pie

Strawberries are fantastic right now, and we made a dazzling pie from a few quarts. Here's the full post with a ton of pics:

Text (most of the text is captioning the pics):
Strawberries are in season, so my Mom requested a strawberry pie. I made this pie with only nine ingredients: flour, butter, shortening, sugar, salt, strawberries, corn starch, nutmeg, and some whole milk brushed on the top crust for a golden brown finish. (Pics after the jump


I almost always use Pyrex brand glass pie pans. They distribute heat more evenly than the aluminum pans so you don’t get an undercooked bottom crust; plus, they’re reusable and durable. I lightly greased the pan to allow for easy slice removal in the event of some filling leakage.

The recipe I used required four cups of strawberries, not difficult to find considering that they’re in season. Some chefs extol the merits of frozen fruit. Personally, I think that fruit pies just turn out better (in flavor and texture) when their respective fruit is in season. While this may mean that your hankering for strawberry pie in January may go unfulfilled, such disappointment means that the summer strawberry pie will taste all the sweeter.

The filling was as simple as you could get really: strawberries, sugar, and cornstarch (I added some nutmeg as well since the recipe recommended it, but the pie would have been fine without it). You have to let the filling sit around 10 minutes for the corn starch to work its magic.

I use a half and half ratio of butter to shortening in my crusts. The butter gives it a richer flavor, and the shortening gives a flakier texture. A lot of people swear by lard for the best flavor/texture combination, but I’ve never had the opportunity to try that out. I’ve tried the all-butter crust, and it comes out with amazing flavor, but dense. In contrast, all shortening crust is the paragon of light pastry, but has little flavor. Thus, the half and half ratio works best in my opinion.

I roll out the crust on some wax paper to make the transfer to the pie pan easier, the dough peels right off.

I refrigerated the crust-lined pan for fifteen minutes before I put the filling it. This step adds another layer of protection against a soggy bottom crust.

The edge was not a perfect circle, so sue me. The trend in desserts nowadays is to use precise measurements and ratios. I find the “That Seems About Right” school works just fine.

There, see, I fixed the edge with a little bit of water and a fancy doodad I like to call a fork.

I cut a few too many vents in the side though, there was some filling spillage.

An up close look at the wound. My strawberry concoction boiled over a bit, but it didn’t make a difference in the end.

Next time I will definitely use at least another cup of strawberries, since the filling reduced in volume more than I expected. In the end, its hard to go wrong with such a simple pie, but fruit pies can be a harsh learning experience.

May 21, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Home Cooking

Best Thai in Manhattan


2686 Broadway, New York, NY 10025

Apr 10, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Mei Li Wah Bakery Report

thanks for everyone's kind words!

Mar 27, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Mei Li Wah Bakery Report

Here's a report on Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Mei Li Wah Bakery. Pictures on the blog:

After living in New York for nearly two years, I still feel like a tourist when I wander into Chinatown. With its precariously curling streets and crowds of shoppers, Chinatown seems to extend infinitely in all directions; all the city seems to recede from the viewer, leaving only an alien microcosm. Indeed, I am a foreigner here: I do not speak the language, I cannot read the signs, I stand outside the world and look inwards. There, I find mysterious spectacle and the exotic, submerged history and the terribly familiar. Subway, Citibank, and Häagen-Dazs stand next to vendors hawking grapes the size of bull testicles, dried mackerel, bean curd, and dragon’s beard candy—hand-pulled threads of sugar folded into wispy bundles. Constantly expanding, Chinatown colonizes nearby neighborhoods while falling victim to the colonizer, too; even as it swallows up the last scraps of the Lower East Side, Chinatown faces its own parasites: the homogenizing gaze of the multinational corporation, the sanitizing wipes of wealth, the sterilizing wash of “assimilation,” “incorporation,” and “post-industrialization.” These bugs carry their own peculiar disease, a variety of forgetting that erases the physical remnants of the past. Where history has been inscribed on the cityscape, McDonald’s rewrites; where the past pokes through layers of urban sedimentation, a new condominium sandblasts history smooth. Finding outcroppings of history in Chinatown proves more difficult with every chain store and supermarket that emerges.

Doyers Street squiggles south off Pell Street, a narrow jumble of barbershops and restaurants that seems liable to unhinge itself from the map. On a Sunday morning, the street is quiet save for the snip and buzz of Yi Fa Hair Salon, Toy Apple Beauty—dusky interiors neon-lit at 10:30 a.m. Pork and fried dough saturate the atmosphere; hair cut, a shave, and breakfast for the men kibitzing on the corner, dogs straining against their leashes to taste the air.

At number 13, Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been around since 1920. In 2008 and 2009 the restaurant shut down for months at a time due to Department of Health violations. Earlier this year, Wilson Tang took over for his uncle Wally. Wally Tang worked at Nom Wah for 60 years; now, Wilson intends to bring the restaurant into the 21st century with a Facebook page and an updated menu.

Although he intends to keep the new menu close to its predecessor, he has introduced additional dishes that appeal to a more modern clientele—think roast pork buns and ribs. Nom Wah’s ambiance, however, remains the same. Checkered tablecloths, golden good luck cats waving in the window, pictures of old Chinatown haphazardly hung on the walls—the interior vibrates with an energy thrust beneath the surface. Decades of gossip palpitate, barely visible—the woodwork crawls with eyes long abandoned by their rightful, voyeuristic owners. Canisters of tea are stacked on shelves instead of books. Like an old-fashioned soda shop serving chrysanthemum tisane rather than chocolate malts, Nom Wah preserves a Cold War aesthetic. Charmingly dated, never atavistic, the room welcomes diners to sit and sip awhile. A tranquil activity cuts through the clatter of metal teapots and a swinging kitchen door: the nagging sense that this restaurant has seen more life than a library’s worth of documents could contain. Uncluttered and spacious, Nom Wah bursts at the seams with its collection of spectral lives. They never quite precipitate, remaining suspended in a solution of not-quite-amnesia.

For dim sum, diners mark their selections on a paper menu. No carts here—the kitchen cooks everything to order. Preparing dishes in the kitchen for dining room delivery is a contemporary style, currently popular in Hong Kong and Vancouver. The dishes arrive fresher, hotter, less stale—a little novelty is lost for the sake of quality.

Bean curd skin with pork and oyster sauce tastes like farmhouse cooking, a rustic cluster of firm pork hidden in a slick white slipper. Knobbly chicken feet would feel at home eaten on cracked earthenware—my mother remembers eating these with her grandmother, a woman intent on bringing Eastern Europe to the American Midwest. Transposing these gelatinous, perfectly soft feet from the old country to a concrete wonderland is jarring; and just a few blocks from this ancient tea parlor, futuristic marble banks cower under Section 8 housing.

Lustrous sesame balls are fried without a trace of grease. These, flawless gems crack open to reveal a kernel of red bean paste. Similarly, roast pork buns almost split of their own volition, spilling out char siu filling. Barely browned shrimp and chive cakes erupt in spurts of oniony jus. The shellfish tastes like a purified hit of shore air and sand: glassy and green.

Following a sixth cup of tea, we stagger to Bayard Street and dessert. Mei Li Wah Bakery is our destination, a shabby storefront that houses a few booths and a counter stocked with racks of pastries. A lotus paste bun is standard, as is a custardy pineapple bun. We came for the egg yolk buns though, little miracles of sugar and dough. Just bigger than golf balls, the buns look like engorged river stones, absolutely smooth. The first bite releases a gush of bright yellow paste, eggy like sunshine and luminescent like a country morning. I sigh, savoring this bite, this moment that is historical for its sheer pleasure. Gloomy march mornings rarely yield such beauty. But the wonder of playing the tourist, of exploring newness and finding joy in the mundane and happiness in the minutiae of everyday existence, is not so uncommon on these uncountable streets. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” Walsh says at the end of Polanski’s Chinatown. Here, however, Chinatown is about the antithesis of forgetting: remembering the now forever.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013

Mei Li Wah
64 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

Mar 23, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Russ and Daughters report

Here's a write-up on Russ and Daughters with a little background info and thoughts on photography and the food.

Lots of pics on the blog:

In 1914, Joel Russ, a German Jewish immigrant opened his first store, selling Polish mushrooms, herring and salmon. Nearly one hundred years later, Joel’s shop still flourishes on the Lower East Side in New York City. Over time, this neighborhood’s demographic has changed multiple times, from the original Germans, to Yiddish speaking Jews, and more recently to Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Although the Jewish community has dwindled, its presence can still be felt through institutions like Russ and Daughters.

No one said anything when I took out my camera in the crowded shop, but I felt cowed nonetheless. I felt the reprimanding gazes of one hundred years worth of overbearing Jewish relatives, telling me to put away my newfangled toy and eat my fish. I shot some pictures anyway, but I did feel rather anachronistic with my digital camera, while walking among the various cream cheeses and traditional cuts of salmon.

Back in 1914, Joel Russ had sold his wares from a pushcart and a horse and wagon for several years before he could buy his shop. Here I was, walking around his family history with technology he had never dreamed of. I can barely even remember the period before digital cameras became mainstream, let alone remember a time before automobiles.

In Russ and Daughters, the digital photographs I took were insignificant next to the century of perfect fish sandwiches all around me. Everything about the Lower East Side had changed in a hundred years, while this shop had merely changed who worked the fish counter. I wondered how my photographs could possibly mean anything in comparison to that legacy.

Instead of mulling this problem over, I decided to spend more time eating my lox and bagel with cream cheese. Often eaten over brunch with relatives in my family, I thought I knew pretty much everything about how to spread some cream cheese on a bagel and slap some lox on there. How incorrect my youthful assumption was.

Sliced exquisitely thin, the salty lox practically melted on contact. Pure cream cheese liquefied and moistened the crunchy bagel underneath. Crisp tomato and fresh onion at last graced the scene, completing the symphony of flavors I thought I knew so well.

Just as Russ and Daughters shared an interpretation of its history in the form of a delicious sandwich, I hope to be able to share a personal view of my heritage through photographs. Although the digital image may not have much historical clout now, maybe in another century, someone will compare their images taken with the newest technology with mine. Maybe they will look through my eyes for a moment and feel historically inadequate. I hope they don’t linger on that feeling too long though, and enjoy their sandwich.

(On a side note, we also bought some delicious halvah, which can be made out of sesame seeds grounds into a paste and combined with sugar to make a dessert/snack


Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

Mar 21, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Marc Forgione Review (and a comparison to Café Boulud)

For pictures, see the blog:

Full text:
My brother and his camera make excellent dining companions. One is an amiable conversationalist, the other a means of verifying my visual impressions. A student of studio art and art history, my brother refuses to adjust the color balance in his photos or otherwise alter them—his artistic philosophy (or perhaps theology) demands a Spartan approach to food photography. At Café Boulud, his photos illustrate an encyclopedic meal that touched on Indian, French, Italian, and Japanese cuisines (to read more about that meal, click here). During his three day jaunt in New York before returning home, I took my brother to two notable restaurants, both with one Michelin star, both bearing the names of culinary luminaries. Although both Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni awarded Café Boulud three New York Times stars, Sam Sifton dropped a deuce on Marc Forgione. Different times, different critics. Sifton lauded Marc Forgione for its honest, brash American food—for Marc’s adherence to the Forgione family name.

Larry Forgione, Marc’s father, was a celebrity chef before the term existed. Embracing the farmer’s market, Larry Forgione focused on sourcing his ingredients from regional producers and fostering a distinctively American culinary aesthetic. Working during what Tom Colicchio called the “golden age of American cooking” (see David Kamp’s book The United States of Arugula for more historical detail), Forgione still runs a restaurant called An American Place. Located in my hometown, St. Louis, An American Place serves as a temple to American cooking of the ’80s. While Marc Forgione has made a name for himself as Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef,” he started out in An American Place’s kitchen as a 16 year old kid following in dad’s footsteps. Today, Marc Forgione has developed his own culinary style, a blend of the elder Forgione’s commitment to American culinary traditions and his own rock ‘n roll aesthetic.

Previously known as “Forge,” the restaurant opened in 2008 and changed names following a lawsuit. The original name makes more sense—the interior feels like a village tavern or hunting lodge, all roughened wood and crudely illuminated glass. Knicknacks, books, and odd photos line the wall—as sundown turns into night, the space transforms into a rustic respite from the industrial cityscape.

From its design to its menu, Marc Forgione’s aesthetic feels purposefully fake—a “real” fake, an imitation meant to look like an imitation, not the authentic item. But there is nothing hipster about this simulacrum of an American place. Instead, the restaurant acknowledges its own artifice and nods with a half-way smile. Marc Forgione is not about America, but rather about Americana: a collection of simulations, parodies, and otherwise distorted curiosities, brought together to illuminate the hopelessly disfigured landscape of contemporary American cooking.

Even before an amuse arrives, potato rolls hit the table, steaming hot with some onion-speckled butter. Slicked over with that butter and gulped down while still warm, the roll is unbearably wonderful—this is bread to serve a starving man, to grace an Ozark dinner table after days spent farming gravel and dust. Two tiny bites follow the rolls: “chip and dip” and a muddled mixture of sriracha with some sort of jam. Unimpressed, we order more bread.

The “Sunday Supper” deal offers three courses for $44—a few dishes cost extra dough, but almost everything is available at the discount rate. That discount amounts to around 20%, making Sunday nights a good excuse to hitchhike downtown.

Like Café Boulud’s menu, Marc Forgione’s tends towards the overly eclectic. Nevertheless, an “American cooking ethos” guides Forgione’s kitchen, whereas Café Boulud embraces diversity without an obvious, underlying structural principle. At Marc Forgione, the menu privileges eclecticism over coherence, but that heterogeneous (and sometimes confusion) amalgamation of cuisines defines a new order: a structuring of the eclectic into “American food,” a wild but controlled celebration of difference. This schematic makes Marc Forgione’s menu more accessible (to a certain demographic) than Café Boulud’s.

Tortellini de avanzi, stuffed with a meaty melange—don’t worry, it’s beef, not mystery meat—smells of black truffle and tastes of mama’s meatballs. Meaning the remains, scraps, or leftovers, avanzi describes the pasta’s filling—a kind of Italian meatloaf, albeit elevated far above Lunch Lady Land.

Despite a decent dose of bottarga (cured fish roe), the dry chunks of tuna confit scattered throughout a knotted mass of spaghetti taste perversely beige—if it tastes like overcooked chicken, and isn’t chicken, then it might actually come from a middle school cafeteria. Forgione’s spaghetti alla bottarga doesn’t necessarily disappoint, but a smattering of shriveled currants and a conspicuous uni absence do provoke confusion.

In an overt nod to Americana, Forgione serves “Duck Elvis Presley,” a mimetic representation of Elvis’ favorite sandwich. Plastered with greasy bacon bits and resting on pine nut butter, the duck arrives just over medium rare. With a squiggle of banana something (A gooey paste? A crude reduction? It’s brown and sweet.) the duck tastes like Graceland on LSD. Imagine running around the Jungle Room with a giant bacon banana monster hot on your heels. Then add a fatty foie gras ravioli (which my brother nearly spit out in revulsion) dancing in the background. Needless to say, the “Duck Elvis Presley” recreates a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich in technicolor. The effect is not unpleasant per se.

Charred on the outside and velveteen on the inside, skirt steak comes with a load of mushrooms a la Greque and exactly three fries. Poking out of an empty marrow bone, the fries taste fine, but the precisely calculated (and quite meager) quantity make this either a steak frites satire or a dish for the Atkins diet. Fry counting aside, this dish reminds me of mosquito-ridden summer evenings in soupy St. Louis, eating steaks on the back porch. With a dab of St. Louis style barbecue sauce, this dish would bring me back to Tribeca for seconds.

If copious quantities of butter and beef fat fail to satiate, Marc Forgione’s generously portioned desserts will. Pecan bread puddin’ rises from a ramekin like a balloon of pure sugar ecstasy. Better yet, a Meyer lemon “pie” sundae occupies an entire soda fountain glass. Saccharine meringue, lemon ice cream, pie crust pieces, and a sour, custardy jam: strata of citrus bliss.

Queasy and saturated with enough simple carbohydrates to last till summer, we staggered out of Marc Forgione into the New York night. Transitioning from Forgione’s faux lodge to the industrially chic Tribeca streets shocks the senses. Inundated with the best (and worst) of American food, we felt dazed: eating at Marc Forgione leaves one dazzled with flashbulb flavors, hyperintense configurations of fat, salt, and sugar that reduce humans to frenzied eating machines.

Comparing Café Boulud and Marc Forgione seems like a futile project. The two restaurants serve highly divergent cuisines and cater to distinct demographics. Instead of wearing the “youngest diners in the restaurant” dunce cap, we were typical patrons at Marc Forgione. There, a classic rock soundtrack loops through The Beach Boys and waiters chat about Billy Joel.

Gavin Kaysen competed on (and lost) season one of Next Iron Chef (2007), far before Marc Forgione’s 2010 victory. And however unfair it might be to juxtapose Café Boulud and Marc Forgione, Marc Forgione wins my vote. I will readily recognize my personal biases—including my preference for relaxed, congenial service. In fact, I usually hate restaurants like Marc Forgione—the whole contemporary American conceit repulses me, and I especially detest hyperreal conjurations of food genres and typologies. Marc Forgione, however, engages in no deception: it is fake, but it is a “real” fake, an imitation or simulation with an independent status and identity. Marc Forgione manages to make silly and stupid gestures genuine and endearing—the food, the music, the milieu bring a (lemon meringue smeared) smile to my face.

Ultimately, Marc Forgione achieves what it sets out to accomplish more effectively than Café Boulud. Therein, Marc Forgione proves a more enjoyable dining experience on the whole, at least for the young, the brokenhearted, the Midwestern heroes left out on the avenues searching for home. Twenty-somethings and baby boomers toast to the kitschy and the cool; Marc Forgione is Graceland for the new era of celebrity chefs. By contrast, Café Boulud is like Schloss Charlottenburg, a sometimes beautiful relic that collects within its walls a fragmented selection of bad art. As a Midwestern boy and an Americana aficionado, I’ll take Marc Forgione and its potato rolls, please.

Marc Forgione
134 Reade Street, New York, NY 10013

Mar 09, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Cafe Boulud review

this kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth

Mar 08, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Cafe Boulud review

new $125 7 course--which is actually 6+canapes. I'm not sure whether the canapes are served to all diners, or were part of the 5 in the 5 course tasting

Mar 07, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Cafe Boulud review

Here's the full text of a review of Cafe Boulud. For pictures, click over to the blog:

“You’re the youngest people here,” the woman says, leaning over to congratulate my brother and me on our fine taste in restaurants. Although no official census data on Café Boulud is forthcoming, we most certainly occupied the “youthful” end of Café Boulud’s demographic spectrum. Park Avenue dowagers and Wall Street doyens fill the room, nibbling at chef Gavin Kaysen’s carefully crafted food. The crowds tends towards the palimpsestic; a collection of ultra-wealthy grandparents and their furs. Strangely enough, Kaysen’s cuisine is not that of Le Cirque or La Grenouille—there is a playful vibrancy, if restrained, in the menu, which leaps between France and India with ease. Suitably refined for East Side palates, the food still feels young, a quality that undoubtedly appeals to a certain set of upper management types.

Rather than the stolid tasting menus of many New York restaurants that serve a fixed set of dishes to everyone, Café Boulud’s tasting menu changes for every diner. The kitchen spontaneously constructs a different meal for each individual, sending out smaller versions of dishes on the regular menu. For instance, my brother and I enjoyed 15 distinct tastes. This concept permits a single meal to cover kaleidoscopic culinary territory, traversing the entire menu with startling depth.

The meal starts with a trio of canapes. A single oyster hovers on a bed of crushed ice: cold, briny, and ordinary. In the next ceramic depression, a teaspoon of crab sits on celery root remoulade with whole grain mustard and a vivacious hunk of green apple gelée. Much less ordinary, this singular bite hints at Kaysen’s piercing culinary vision, an ability to construct precise compositions. Finally, a seared short rib dumpling in a soy-tinged, scallion spiked vinaigrette. Other than the far too tough dumpling skin—I had better for lunch at Wondee Siam V—the canape tastes fine, an acceptable but not particularly arousing opening note. Both the crab and the dumpling appear on the regular menu: order the former, but not the latter.

Next, two cold fish dishes: beet cured Scottish salmon and hamachi crudo. A plaque of rosy orange, the salmon looks like a fire opal and tastes like lox. Although the beets contribute an intriguing undertone of musky sweetness, the miniature forest of roasted beet pieces, horseradish, and orange peel brings little to the plate other than visual appeal. Better on a bagel with cream cheese than in a Daniel Boulud venture. Incorporating a bevy of Japanese ingredients, the hamachi crudo works better—the yellowtail’s distinctive pliable, meaty mouthfeel benefits from a crispy rice puff, a nutty smear of edamame, and a little vinegar. On a black slate tile, a line of togarashi stands out as violent red slash. Too spicy for the blushing fish flesh, the Japanese spice powder feels overthought and out-of-place.

After the appetizer comes soup. Sunchoke velouté, soft and dense, needs more vanilla oil to break up the tedium of homogeneous spoonful after spoonful. And a wild mushroom and farro soup tastes like a barely fancified version of a rustic staple. Of course, the farro soup hails from the “La Tradition” section of the menu. One does, however, expect more complexity and richness from a stock-based broth.

The pasta course proves more polarizing. Although sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi possess the ideal texture—almost insubstantial, like a melting mouthful of snow—red wine risotto is the night’s first true failure. Gritty and undercooked, the rice lacks the tumescence of properly prepared risotto. Instead of inhabiting that liminal space between fluid and solid, this dish suspends still solid rice in a thin, acerbic liquid. Even a sensational hunk of braised oxtail can’t rescue this bilious disaster.

Fortunately, the evening’s best dish followed the worst. Tandoori spiced Chatham Cod, slow baked until flaky, feels whimsical when paired with an undersized samosa. Filled with brandade, that samosa achieves the Platonic ideal of fusion cuisine, a seamless integration of disparate ingredients and technique, generating a product better than the its individual parts. With dabs of spiced squash and a geometrically perfect spinach subric, the cod speaks to Kaysen’s potential. A veteran of the Bocuse d’Or, Kaysen inflects pure technique with intense injections of creative energy. Yet, the cod’s partner, a piece of pan seared striped bass, illustrates Café Boulud’s primary problem. Served with cubes of transcendentally jellied pork belly, a dense white bean cassoulet, and a classic Bordelaise sauce, the bass tastes fine—too salty and soggy under the weight of so many heavy components, but nonetheless absolutely acceptable. In a French bistro in the West Village, this dish would satisfy hordes of young publishers and whatever tattooed pseudo-hobos wander cross-town. In an upscale French restaurant on the Upper East Side, this dish does satisfy hordes of old publishers and whatever tattoo-removed ex-hipsters (now reformed and working for blue chip firms) wander across the street. Cafë Boulud’s menu, however, is hopelessly fragmented between “La Tradition” (which includes this particular striped bass), “La Saison” (seasonal dishes), “La Potager” (anything inspired by the farmer’s market), and “La Voyage” (world cuisine). The restaurant feels like four different conceptual projects operating under one roof. Rather than a harmonious chorus though, this polyphony devolves into fatiguing noise. Moreover, the lack of focus damages the quality of each individual menu, detracting from the pursuit of perfection. Kaysen would be better off reframing Café Boulud as a coherent restaurant of one particular type, not a heteroglossic menagerie.

Despite the discombobulated menu structure, Kaysen and his team manage to put together artful, thoughtful plates. For example, a portion of New Zealand venison loin—gamey, not at all like the sterilized product often served in New York—needs its custardy, aerated sweet potato flan for a light counterpoint. Shallot confit and juniper berry sauce tie the starch and protein together, sketching a tranquil March glade strewn with winter detritus. Similarly, a shockingly sweet stack of rutabaga slices accompanies rib eye and braised short rib. Like a basso continuo that elevates and complicates the melodic line, the root vegetable is an integral component, not an addition for addition’s sake.

Pastry chef Noah Carroll outfinesses Kaysen—his baba au rhum tastes like a vaporous cloud of alcohol and vanilla. Topped with a crunchy slab of macadamia brittle, the baba seems in imminent danger of collapse—but withstands the pressure with an invisible strength. Acidic pineapple swims in rum sauce around the baba’s edge, a meteor storm of sparkling sour ice. In stark contrast, a weighty bar of butterscotch gateaux explores a darker range of dessert flavors. Sandwiched between a chocolate biscuit and bourbon glaze, the butterscotch gets a sprinkling of salt. Although salty desserts tend to make me thirsty (and regretful), the salt here accents the interface of caramel and cocoa. Marscapone cream and a mild brown sugar ice cream provide playful distractions from the main event: a reason to return repeatedly for yet another spoonful of gateaux.

Dinner concludes with a basket of madeleines, puffy, bronzed, and impeccably fluffy. Paired with a cup of coffee, the cookies extend the evening, dragging the culinarily comatose through a dreamland of Parisian fog and New York puddles. I’ll skip the Proust reference. (Paralipsis much?


While Café Boulud offers diners an escapist tour across the known culinary universe, serious mistakes plague an otherwise pleasing menu. More importantly, age and class boundaries inform the Café Boulud experience—for younger, supposedly less experienced diners, Café Boulud (and its patrons) affect a certain attitude of condescension. Surprisingly, Café Boulud is not an opulent palace of gastronomy—the banal carpet and spackling of modern art feel more dentist’s office than luxury den. A place becomes that which is imagined, however, and Café Boulud is exclusive by virtue of attitude, not reality. Pleasant and sometimes pleasurable, Café Boulud is an interesting experience for those not initiated into a certain social circle. Feeling young and being young are not mutually exclusive—but my return to Café Boulud is delayed until I am old but want to eat young.

Cafe Boulud
20 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

Park Avenue Cafe
100 E 63rd St, New York, NY 10021

Wondee Siam
792 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

Le Cirque
151 East 58th Street, New York, NY 10022

Mar 07, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Bar Room at the Modern (non-RW) Review

thanks, glad you liked the review.
I just think the menu format is intentionally confusing and intended to drive up the average check total. There are probably some conceptual forces behind the organization. but they're poorly thought out. That said, the Bar Room is one of my "go-to" restaurants too and one of my most heavily recommended restaurants to tourists.

Feb 09, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Bar Room at the Modern (non-RW) Review

these were my comments on Fish Tag's menu: "Unfortunately, the menu design is asinine. Ordered from lightest to heaviest dishes, the menu ignores conventional “appetizer” and “main course” categories. Instead, smaller plates appear in red, larger plates in black. Did I mention that brackets subdivide the entire menu into suggested drink options, from sparkling wines at the top to peaty scotches at the bottom? But some of the brackets overlap, meaning that those dishes work with either intersecting bracket. Intended to facilitate drinking–and probably extreme inebriation—the menu concept needs serious work. If the wait staff tries to explain the concept four times to a table, something is not quite right."


Fish Tag
222 W 79th St, New York, NY 10024

Feb 09, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan

Bar Room at the Modern (non-RW) Review

Idk, there is "rutabaga choucroute" and salmon-in-riesling lol

Feb 09, 2011
IrnScrabbleChf52 in Manhattan