Showing posts from September, 2012

Cobaya 1500° with Chef Paula DaSilva

"What would be your last meal?" Given their line of work, it's a question chefs are often asked - often enough, in fact, that someone's devoted an entire book to fifty famous chefs' answers to that very question. To the surprise of many people on the other side of the kitchen door, who might expect chefs to favor elaborate, extravagant, fancy food, the answers are often very simple dishes. For José Andrés, it's tortilla española and fresh seafood; for Gordon Ramsay, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; for Sean Brock, chicken and dumplings (and, of course, a gigantic glass of Pappy); for Tony Maws, it's either a hot dog or a pastrami sandwich. When you spend your days arranging complicated, fussy plates, it turns out to be, for many chefs anwyay, one of the last things you want to eat when you get off work.[1]

When we do Cobaya dinners, we don't dictate any theme, giving the chefs freedom to realize on their own vision. We push them to give voice to the…

AQ - San Francisco

Three years ago, New York chef David Chang (of the Momofuku empire) caused a bit of a ruckus when he declared: "Fuckin' every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food."[1] It was not quite Biggie-Tupac material, but it did spark something of an East Coast / West Coast rivalry; nearly a year later, San Francisco chefs were still defiantly crafting "figs on a plate" dishes as they thumbed their noses eastward.

While Chang's gibe was preposterously reductivist, it may have stung precisely because there was an element of truth within the hyperbole. With the quality of product available, it's easy to understand why "California Cuisine" is so ingredient-driven: eat a perfectly ripe Frog Hollow Farm peach and you'll wonder if food can ever be better than that. Perhaps as a result, while there are many great restaurants in the Bay Area, using great ingredients, prepared well, it has not always been e…

Cobaya St. Regis with Chefs Richard Gras and Antonio Bachour

In a recent column for the San Francisco Chronicle, restaurant consultant (and former Square One and Chez Panisse chef) Joyce Goldstein bemoans the prevalence of what many pejoratively call "tweezer food." She imagines "an underground team of tiny elves with tweezers, carefully placing tiny little pieces of food in regimented lines across plates all over the country" and rails, "Where is the passion and energy?"

It is, of course, a false dichotomy. Attention to detail and passion are not opposites, nor are they even somehow mutually exclusive. Food that is delicate, or technical, even artful, can and often is prepared with every bit as much passion and energy as any long-simmered braise or sizzling sauté.

There is no better evidence than the dinner that the crew at the J&G Grill[1] in the St. Regis Bal Harbour put together for our Cobaya "underground" dining group earlier this week. The restaurant's chef de cuisine Richard Gras, executi…

State Bird Provisions - San Francisco

I keep lists of restaurants for just about any town I might conceivably visit. I don't get to do nearly as much culinary tourism as I'd like, but it's always good to be prepared. Drop me in just about any major city - several minor ones too - and in fifteen minutes I'll find a good meal.

When I get to the point of actually planning a trip, the list gets even more detailed. For a true dining mecca like San Francisco, which we've visited several times, the difficulty is not in coming up with the list but in paring it down. There are the old favorites, there are the well-known places we've still not yet gotten to, and then there are the waves of intriguing newcomers, and the challenge is figuring out what to squeeze into the limited dining opportunities.

On this particular visit, the paring down process is made both easier and harder by a couple factors. First, we've got very limited time in San Francisco, only three real dinners, in fact, as we're only i…