Showing posts from May, 2014

Cobaya Conor at The Dutch

Almost exactly two years ago we did a "Cobaya" dinner – Experiment #24 – at The Dutch. Number 24 was one of only two Cobaya dinners over the course of the past nearly five years that I couldn't attend. It was a tough one to miss – Chef Andrew Carmellini came down from New York and put on a show that many veteran guinea pigs say was among the best we've ever had.[1]

Since then, I've been to a number of great events at The Dutch: the Hurricane Sandy Relief Dinner we helped coordinate in late 2012, a really classy Spring Equinox Dinner that The Dutch's local chef de cuisine Conor Hanlon put on last year with chef Brad Kilgore (before Brad was hired at JG Grill), an indulgent "Trufflepalooza" a few months ago. But what I really wanted was another Cobaya, this one with Conor getting to do his thing. It came together this past week, and fortunately, I didn't miss this one.

We had a smaller group than usual – only 25 – at Conor's request, so that h…

"west meets east" | Azabu Kadowaki - 麻布かどわき- Tokyo

Japan would seem to have a massive trade surplus when it comes to culinary inspiration. From the minimalist lightness of French nouvelle cuisine of the 1970's, to America's never-ending if not always quality-driven fixation on sushi, to "fusion" in so many guises, to this past decade's ramen craze, the traffic in ideas appears to be largely outbound. But Japan also absorbs influences too; and when it does so, it's usually with the same intense dedication to craft that pervades virtually all other pursuits there.[1]

Azabu Kadowaki is a resolutely Japanese restaurant; in fact, chef Toshiya Kadowaki was famed for turning down stars when the Michelin guide first came to Japan, on the basis that “Japanese food was created here, and only Japanese know it ... How can a bunch of foreigners show up and tell us what is good or bad?” (He ultimately relented, as the restaurant now has two of those stars that Kadowaki initially shunned.) But it also clearly bears the mark …

CobayaBalloo - Chef Timon Balloo at Bocce Bar

I love a meal that tells a good story. A meal can be a journey – like Norman Van Aken's menus, traversing the flavors of the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America and Iberia. Some of the best are those that aspire to simply reflect a time and place – the flavor of the here and now, as Blaine Wetzel does to such great success at Willows Inn. Still others are more personal, attempting to recapture a particular taste memory or flavor sensation – that tunnel-vision view into a childhood experience so magnificently captured in the film Ratatouille.

This last type is often the most difficult to pull off, because there is no guarantee everyone has the same memory bank of experiences, or that they were absorbed in the same way. (For more thoughts on "story food" and capturing food memories, read this recent piece by Bruce Palling in "Cutting Edge Chefs Serve Up Food That Tells a Story"). Getting the backstory is helpful, which is part of why interaction can be a key to a mean…

BlackBrick (a/k/a Midtown Chinese) - Midtown Miami

"I'm an unpure purist, something like that." - Keith Richards "Authentic" is a word I try to avoid. I'm just not convinced it means an awful lot. Too often, it's thrown about by one-upping blowhards trying to bolster their own credibility ("I spent a weekend in Cabo so I know all about 'authentic' Mexican tacos."). Even for those with more serious intentions, the definition of "authenticity" is elusive, for reasons I've kicked around before. The executive summary: "So many cuisines, even in their 'native' forms, are capable of so many infinite variations, and so many 'traditional' dishes are actually themselves the result of historical cross-cultural mash-ups that would today go by the sobriquet of 'fusion' dishes, that labeling any one particular iteration as 'authentic' is a fool's errand."

"Delicious" is another word I try to avoid. Like "authentic," I&#…