Showing posts with label reading material. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading material. Show all posts

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Turns of Phrase - June 2, 2013

Another small measure of appreciation for the work of that increasingly rare creature: the gainfully employed, artfully perceptive food critic:
"The art of the possible is on display."
- Phil Vettel on Next (Vegan) in Chicago Tribune
"But when you pull your car into the parking lot of Lucy’s 24-hour laundromat/wateria, and you make your way up to the truck, you will find that the woman behind the counter is slightly unclear on the concept of tlayudas, but rather firm on the unavailability of carnitas, which sold out almost before it turned dark. You can leave, or you can settle for tacos made with trompas, which is to say a kind of carnitas made with the pig’s snout. You take a step back toward your car. But then you notice that the tacos are made not just with fresh tortillas but with tortillas made to order from little balls of fresh masa, and that the red-chile salsa seems to be hot enough to flush the neck of the tattooed dude who was a couple of places ahead of you in line."
- Jonathan Gold on La Tehuana in L.A. Times
"At first this prim choreography seems tongue-in-cheek, then earnest, and finally almost silly — and all the more charming for it, like much of the orchestrated seduction that is a night at Maison Premiere."
- Ligaya Mishan on Maison Premiere in New York Times
"The food is impressionistic, best appreciated as a series of lovely, fleeting moments rather than the sustained arc that typically constitutes a meal."
- Ligaya Mishan again

(continued ...)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Turns of Phrase - May 26, 2013

Following up on something I started doing last week - some of my favorite passages from the past week's food writing:
"But some tricks, like the disappearance of a marble up someone's nose, can be more curious than delightful."
- Tejal Rao (recently resigned food critic at the Village Voice, following in the wake of Robert Seitsema who was let go last week), on the culinary sleight of hand at Alder.
"Just as you’re pondering how to say “opportunist” in Italian, the food arrives, and it’s great."
- Jeff Ruby on Café Spiaggia in Chicago Magazine.
"It isn’t pretty, this murky brown salad. Take a look at those splinters of green papaya, gnarly rings of fried shallots and clots of air-dried beef. It could be a box of matches spilled in dishwater—certainly too homely for the pages of any respectable food magazine. But we’re evolved eaters here in New York City, too sophisticated to deny ugly things their fair shake. Taste it and understand the moral of a thousand children’s parables about inner beauty: This funky, crunchy bombshell of compulsive flavor might be the most interesting salad in Kings County."
- Jordana Rothman on Nightingale 9 in Time Out New York
"The waiter bends low, in his burgundy tuxedo. “Let’s talk about the process,” he says. He refers to the fruits of the kitchen as though they are his. (“All my veal tonight.”) The delays he does not own: “We are working on the drinks.”"
- Nick Paumgarten on Carbone in the New Yorker

(continued ...)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Turns of Phrase

So much food writing is actually dreadfully repetitive. There are only so many ways to describe a cooked piece of meat, only so many synonyms for "delicious" (though there are a potentially infinite variety of ways to describe a terrible dining experience; it's like a variation on the Tolstoy quote: "Great meals are all alike; every lousy meal is lousy in its own way."). Still, often when I read a  good review, there is a sentence, a phrase, a description that resonates; it captures the ear, the mind, the appetite, maybe even all three.

With talented, dedicated, gainfully employed restaurant critics becoming an increasingly scarce commodity (yesterday Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice was "shit-canned," to use his own words; in the past month or so Michael Nagrant of the Chicago Sun Times and Hanna Raskin of Seattle Weekly were let go; locally, Miami New Times let Lee Klein go last year), I'm increasingly grateful for those who still provide a unique, perceptive, captivating voice.

Here are a few turns of phrase that recently caught my attention:

"This is food at its simplest and most elegant, food that doesn't want to slap your face. This is food that is simply good, and defines a sort of normalcy in eating that no longer exists."

- Robert Sietsema on the diner burger, in his last post at Village Voice.

"Two Guys Walk Into a Bar ..." (just this whole damn piece, as good an ode to Sietsema as there could possibly be, by none other than ...)

- Jonathan Gold in LA Weekly.

"There isn't a plate he won't paint with limp berries or kumquats, smears of pastel-colored sauces, or nests of spun sugar—dishes that look as if they shot through a wormhole from 1993."

- Mike Sula on Vu Sua in Chicago Reader

"Caravaggio is defiantly elegant in an age that sees white tablecloths as a medieval relic whose sadistic power to stand in the way of a good time is second only to that of the chastity belt."

- Pete Wells on Caravaggio in the New York Times.

"For those who have yet to do so: eating these pigs was like seeing an old friend from high school who had lost a lot of weight and now dresses well. You can still recognize them; they are just better now."

- Joshua David Stein on the "pigs in a blanket" at Alder in New York Observer.

"The Caesar salad, the golden retriever of restaurants (friendly, good with kids, dumb), is smartly redone as Caesar nigiri."

- Joshua David Stein again on Alder.

"You might get to thinking that DeLucie is a bit of a carpetbagger, who hasn’t rescued the memory of Bill’s so much as co-opted it—lopped off its balls and sold it back to you at a staggering markup."

- Jordana Rothman on Bill's Food & Drink in Time Out New York (Rothman, the TONY food and drinks editor, is filling in as the restaurant critic on an interim basis after Jay Cheshes, who held the post for five years, recently left).

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Tyranny of Choice

Poor Corby Kummer. As the food writer for a national magazine, he is stuck with the dreadful fate of being forced to endure meals (presumably on the publisher's dime) that most people will never have the chance to experience, meals which even many who can afford them can not obtain access to. Sometimes they go on for so long! And they serve so many courses! And the waiters - sometimes they don't perfectly cater to his every whim, or they're distant, or kind of awkward! But the worst thing of all is that these chefs - the ones who most people recognize to be at the very pinnacle of their craft - they just don't listen! They don't care if he wants his steak medium-well, or if he wants his sauce on the side, or if he'd rather have the tuna instead of the halibut in that next course. Those ... those tyrants!

That is the underlying theme of his latest piece in Vanity Fair: "Tyranny - It's What's for Dinner."

Is it the #firstworldproblems nature of the gripe that rankles me so? Possibly. After all, I understand that not everybody loves tasting menus. Indeed, it's a point of contention even within my own household.[1] But it somehow sounds so much more entitled and precious coming from someone whose job is to write about food. Even more so than that, it's the willful blindness that stuck in my throat after reading it. Kummer fails to consider any reason for these "totalitarian" tasting menus other than chef ego, and is equally dismissive of any possible pleasure for the diner, only seeing "subjugation to the will of the creative genius ... followed, eventually, by stultified stupefaction."

But is Mr. Kummer on to something? Is there really a nefarious and growing trend of tyrannical chefs forcing terrified diners to submit to unwanted, 40-course dinners, like some sort of human gavage? Let's examine the evidence.

(continued ...)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 3)

We're coming in for a landing here: Part 1 and Part 2 of my Best Dishes of 2012 were posted earlier this week. This post wraps up the rest of the year, including a trek to Charleston that just squeezed in under the wire, and made for some of the best meals I've had all year.

These retrospectives are always something of a learning experience for me, an opportunity to reflect on what I really enjoyed and why. But I'll save my deeper thoughts on a year in food for another post, and stick with the food porn here. Again, these are listed chronologically, with links to the restaurants and my posts on each of them, as well as excerpts from my comments on the dish.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Bagel with Lox and Whitefish Salad - Josh's Deli (Surfside) (my thoughts on Josh's Deli)

His cured salmon, sliced to order, is beautifully silky, achieving that uneasy feat of tasting like fish without being fishy. We brought home some of each variety to break the fast on Yom Kippur, and while family members all had strong opinions on which they preferred and there was no consensus, everyone had a favorite (for me it’s definitely the pastrami-cured salmon). His whitefish salad, which I initially quibbled with as too chunky, has grown on me, with just enough chopped onion, celery and hard-boiled egg to provide some contrast to the flaky smoked fish without overwhelming it.

Roasted Cauliflower Gelato - Brad Kilgore Dinner at Azul (Miami) (my thoughts on Brad's dinner)

The primary notes of the first dish - cauliflower and caviar - were a riff on the French Laundry's cauliflower panna cotta with beluga caviar. Kilgore's version started with a puddle of a cold, creamy cauliflower and white chocolate "vichysoisse" Next to that was a generous mound of really fine royal osetra caviar, topped with a quenelle of a darkly caramelized roasted cauliflower gelato, mounted with a few crisped florets to reinforce the notion. This was rich upon rich, but it still found its balance. I loved it.

Anatomy of a Suckling Pig - Brad Kilgore Dinner at Azul (Miami) (my thoughts on Brad's dinner)

There were rounds of sticky, intensely porcine tete de cochon, studded with pistachios and topped with crispy pig ear chicharrones. There was a gorgeous, juicy crown roast rubbed with butter and herbs. There were macarons with delicate pistachio cookies sandwiching a whipped bacon filling. There was the pig's liver, soaked in milk before being poached sous vide, tender and surprisingly mild. There was a fine boudin blanc style sausage, finely ground with apples and nuts and stuffed into the intestine. There was a Mediterranean style roulade of one leg, basted in goat feta and layered napoleon-style between lavash. There were rillettes of the other leg, supplemented with wagyu beef fat and rolled in sheets of daikon radish. There were trotters, all wobbly with gelatin and fat, and stuffed with mushroom duxelles. There were at least three different pork jus based sauces in copper sauciers - butterscotch, truffled, foie gras infused.

It was a truly astonishing display, worthy of "La Grande Bouffe." And not just a visual feast by any means: though the macarons and the tete de cochon were really exceptional standouts, each of the components was delicious.

(continued ...)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 2)

Yesterday I kicked off a rundown of my Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 1), a list of 45 of my favorite things to have eaten this past year. We'll pick up where we left off, with dishes listed chronologically, along with a link to the restaurant and my posts on each of them, as well as excerpts from my earlier comments on the dish.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Rabbit Bulgogi - neMesis Urban Bistro (Downtown Miami) (my thoughts on neMesis Cobaya "Dunch")

If there was a standout dish of the meal, it was this: a crispy jasmine rice cake, topped with shredded rabbit "bulgogi," a poached Lake Meadows Naturals Farm duck egg, and frizzled crispy chives, sauced with an orange and five-spice hollandaise. It was an inspired - and delicious - take on the classic eggs benedict, triggered in large part by the surprise availability of rabbits from a farm in upstate Florida. Everything about this worked, and I heard from multiple guests that it ought to become a regular menu feature.

Corn Ravioli - Bourbon Steak (Aventura) (my thoughts on Bourbon Steak)

(This was an appetizer from Bourbon Steak's Miami Spice menu, which was simply one of the most ridiculous dining values you could find in Miami next to the Joe's Stone Crab $5.95 fried chicken. Tender pasta dough was wrapped around a creamy corn purée, topped with plump chanterelle mushrooms, corn powder and butter powder, all drizzled with a browned butter. So many places skimp on their Spice menus; Bourbon's actually gives me a reason to look forward to next summer.)

Papas a la Huancaina - The Bazaar (South Beach) (my thoughts on Bazaar)

Traditionally, this is a simple salad of cold potatoes draped in a creamy, cheesy sauce spiked with aji amarillo peppers. Bazaar's take makes the sauce - here done all foamy and light - the primary component, studs it with vibrantly hued purple Peruvian potatoes, and then adds a unique touch: several fat tongues of sea urchin. This once again violates my personal uni rule, but shows why rules are made to be broken. The rich, creamy uni makes a fantastic pair with the delicately spicy huancaina sauce, complemented by the earthy potatoes for a little substance. This was a great dish.

Black Rossejat - The Bazaar (South Beach) (my thoughts on Bazaar)

But perhaps the single best thing I've eaten at Bazaar is the "Black Rossejat" ($16). Rossejat, a/k/a fideua a/k/a fideos, is a pasta dish prepared in the manner of a paella. The thin, angel-hair like noodles are first toasted in warm olive oil, then simmered in flavorful stock. Bazaar also infuses them with dark, faintly marine-flavored squid ink, and then tops the noodles - tender, but with a hint of crispness at the bottom of the pan - with tender shrimp and dollops of rich aioli. It is an outstanding dish and, relatively speaking anyway, a fantastic value on this menu.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 1)

I had a couple of my best meals of 2011 during the last week of the year. Unfortunately, I'd posted my "Best Dishes of 2011" recap a week earlier, so none of them made the list. This year I also saved some of the best for last - but I've learned my lesson, and waited for the calendar to roll over before closing the bidding for 2012. And since they got left out last year, the last week of 2011 will be included this time instead.

My "Best Bites of 2010" list included fourteen dishes (even though I called it a Top 10 list). By the next year, the list had expanded to twenty. When I looked back on 2012, I came up with nearly fifty dishes that could be on the list. With a travel itinerary for the past year that included San Francisco, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Charleston,[1] plus many Miami chefs and restaurants stepping up their games, I'm not surprised the list was so long.

Since I've got no editor here, my own use of the red pencil has been minimal: I've "pared" the list for 2012 down to 45, which I'll present here in three posts. These are not ranked, but instead are listed chronologically. I've included links to the restaurants as well as links to my posts on them, together with excerpts of my earlier comments on each.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Here's Part 1:

Chicken Oysters - é by José Andrés (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on é)

One of the joys of cooking a chicken is getting to pick at the best parts. The trilogy of "chef's treats" for me is the liver, the extra skin, and the chicken oysters tucked away along the backbone. This dish got two of the three: a sheet of crispy, well-seasoned chicken skin, with chicken oysters cooked in escabache, topped with a thyme "air." Just a magnificently delicious bite, one of my favorites of the meal.

Chickpea Stewé by José Andrés (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on é)

[A] Chickpea Stew ... was another of my favorites of the night, and again, a dish that relied on no fancy ingredients. The tender "chickpeas" (actually puréed and spherified) floated on a silky, rich jamón ibérico broth (OK, maybe a little fancy), dotted with chorizo oil, parsley oil and olive oil. It was, at heart, a variation on the centuries-old "olla podrida" or "rotten pot," referenced as far back as Don Quixote. It was also a soulfully delicious dish, with a depth and resonance of flavor that belied the delicate presentation.

Kobe Beef Tendon RobataAburiya Raku (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on Raku)

One of my favorite single bites anywhere: Kobe beef tendon robata. Gelatinous, sticky, crispy on the edges, intensely meaty and rich. Great stuff.

MGF&D Bacon Pizza - Harry's Pizzeria (Miami Design District) (my thoughts on Harry's)

Purists who insist that pizza is simply about the perfect balance of dough, cheese and tomato will scoff, but the pizzas at Harry's are mostly about the toppings. That's not necessarily a bad thing, certainly not when you're talking about the MGF&D Bacon Pizza, topped with Michael's house-cured bacon, sliced fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and fresh arugula. It's a perfectly balanced combination in its own way.

Heirloom Tomatoes - Eating House (Coral Gables) (my thoughts on Eating House)

The influences are as much Slow Food as Ideas in Food - lots of local ingredients, lots of creative preparations. A perfect example: local Homestead tomatoes. But instead of a typical salad, Rapicavaoli takes them to Thailand, with lime, ginger, fish sauce, peanuts, fresh herbs, nasturtium flowers, and frozen coconut milk. It's a perfect rendition of the flavors of Thailand in an unexpected format, the frozen coconut milk in particular lending an intriguing icy creaminess to the composition.

(continued ...)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Reading List


Well, I forgot to hang the "On Vacation" sign out before leaving, but indeed I've been gone - in Hawaii for most of two weeks, with too-brief stopovers in San Francisco on the way to and from. Some reports from the islands - Maui and Big Island in particular - will follow. We also ate incredibly well in our few days in San Francisco, starting with State Bird Provisions (named Bon Appétit's "Best New Restaurant of the Year" a few days after our visit), AQ, and finishing our trip with a Lazy Bear underground dinner. Lots of pictures are already up on flickr if you're interested in a preview.

To phase back in gently, here is the tried and true crutch of those lacking the energy to write their own material: the "What We're Reading" list. It just so happens that there were a number of interesting things I read over the past couple weeks which seemed worth sharing (and, it's easier than writing my own right now):

Top 50 Best New Restaurants (Bon Appétit) - by most accounts (and from my experience at State Bird and AQ, anyway) a very solid list.

Vacation (Michael Laiskonis' Notes from the Kitchen) - the mightily talented Laiskonis has been doing a lot of writing lately, and this description of a "perfect" meal is a great example with an apropos title.

What Danny Meyer's Customer Tracking System Really Says About You (Grubstreet New York) - an expansion of a fun New York Times piece on restaurant code (my favorite: "s'ammazzano," or "killing themselves," for a diner planning to propose), explaining how Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group keeps dibs on good - and bad - customers.

Repetition Defines Us (Michael Hung, Inside Scoop SF) - a simple essay on the nature of being a cook that seems to have particularly resonated with those in the business.

Would YOU Want to Have the New York Times Restaurant Critic Over For Dinner? (Adam Sachs, Bon Appétit) - a funny piece about a food writer cooking for present and former New York Times critics Pete Wells and Frank Bruni.

Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You? (Eric Asimov, New York Times) - a smart retort to a Steve Cuozzo column complaining about wine lists that go over his head, advocating the virtues of the unfamiliar and esoteric.

And for some longer reads:

The Raw and the Cooked (Jim Harrison) - I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading Harrison; I'm glad I finally did so. He's a gutsy, passionate writer with a gargantuan appetite for food and life, and a real pleasure to read.

Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami) - not a food book (though Murakami habitually notes what his characters eat for each meal), just a magnificent, surreal, transporting kind of novel that was the perfect reading material for several long flights.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around - Gray Lady Edition

It seems somehow a bit petulant to start a new year off on a sour note. And yet ...

While doing a little archive-diving for an in-the-works review, I stumbled across a New York Times review of Gigi, the Midtown den of pork buns and noodles that opened in the summer of 2010. The NYT review begins:

Many restaurants are born when a chef has a concept. Gigi in Miami’s Wynwood district started with a concept in need of a chef. Last year, the restaurant’s owner, Amir Ben-Zion, placed an ad on Craigslist seeking a chef who could turn out "cutting edge, high performance, Asian-inspired and freshly prepared cuisine" that is "affordable, innovative comfort food for the modern, educated, discerning palate."

Which actually sounded kind of familiar. Then I remembered why. Because nearly a half year earlier, I'd written this:

Sakaya (Richard Hales), Chow Down (Joshua Marcus) and American Noodle (Michael Bloise) each started with a chef's own vision, and were very much personal projects. Gigi came about things from the opposite direction: Gigi was a concept in search of a chef to execute it. Amir Ben-Zion, who also runs Bond Street and Miss Yip on South Beach, Sra. Martinez in the Design District, and the Bardot nightclub right down the street from Gigi in Midtown Miami, placed a Craigslist ad looking for a chef about six months before the restaurant's opening. The ad was not lacking for hype: "Its cutting edge, high performance, Asian inspired and freshly prepared cuisine is affordable, innovative comfort food for the modern educated discerning palate."

I guess since Gigi was stealing its concept from New York's Momofuku, a little inter-city turnabout is fair play?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My 7 Links

One of the consequences of the immediacy and constancy of social media is that content tends to get buried under the neverending avalanche of information. A blog post that is more than 24 hours old won't even be seen in many peoples' RSS readers. Some good writers have given up on their blogs entirely, finding it more convenient and effective to communicate their thoughts in 140-character Twitter bursts, the epitome of ephemera. What any of us were saying last month, let alone last year, often gets lost in the electronic ether.

I'm usually wary of anything that sounds like a chain letter, i.e. "Do this and then ask another five people to do it." But I'm a big fan of recycling, including recycling blog content. I was also honored to have been nominated by Doc Sconzo (one of the people who indirectly inspired me to start this blog) to participate in something called "My 7 Links" started by the Tripbase website, the idea of which is "to unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."

I enjoyed reading Doc's 7 links. Here are the results of my own dive into the archives:

Most Beautiful Post: When I first started this blog, I had very ambivalent feelings about food photography. I'm a writer, not a photographer. Aside from not having any photographic talent whatsoever, I also was concerned with the dissociative effect of taking pictures - that the obsession with getting the right shot can separate you from the experience of actually enjoying a meal. There's also the "douchebag taking pictures of his food" issue.

For better or worse, I've gotten over it. As much effort as I can put into describing food, much of the dining experience is often visual. So even if you can't taste the food over the internet, at least you can see it. And while I'm still a rank amateur photographer, I've tried at least to get to the point that my pictures will not embarass the people who created the food. I also recently upgraded my equipment, and have learned a bit more about how to operate it, and have been excited about the results.[1]

It still pales compared to the work of genuinely talented photographers like Doc, Ulterior Epicure, A Life Worth Eating, and ChuckEats, but I'm not entirely ashamed of the pictures I took on a recent trip to Portland at Le Pigeon:

foie gras profiteroles

Le Pigeon - Portland, Oregon - August 19, 2011

(continued ...)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Route 9 Revisited - What Does It All Mean? - UPDATED

The short version of the Route 9 / Miami New Times review kerfuffle, now that all the facts anyone is willing to disclose (and some they maybe didn't want to disclose) appear to be out: Miami New Times posts a fairly harsh review of a two-month old restaurant to its website; owners complain and note several factual errors, express concern that critic never actually visited or relied on information provided by a chef from a soon-to-open local restaurant; newspaper briefly pulls review from website; the next day, newspaper reposts review with several factual errors corrected; editor acknowledges that critic dined with another chef, that they "are old friends and once had planned to write a cookbook together," but says that concern over influence on review "doesn't hold water;" categorically denies that the critic didn't dine there. Meanwhile, the same day, the Miami Herald posts a fairly glowing three-star review.

Having had a chance to digest, and at risk of prolonging the discussion past the point of utility, I have some further questions and thoughts:

(1) Should a critic dine - for a review - in the company of a chef from another local restaurant? The Association of Food Journalists' Food Critics Guidelines doesn't expressly speak to it. The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics only vaguely says that journalists should "remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility." My initial reaction was that, while it is unlikely to "compromise integrity," it could well "damage credibility." In my day job, it's what we call the "appearance of impropriety."

I'm confident that New Times' critic, Lee Klein, is able to form his own opinions; but I also understand how a restaurateur could feel that opinion was influenced by the presence of "competition" - particularly, competition that had been identified as a "difficult table."[1] The notion that a critic doesn't take into account fellow diners' opinions is unrealistic; any claim that Klein doesn't do so is belied by the fact that he has previously described his dining companions' views in his reviews.

I found New Times editor Chuck Strouse's dismissal of these concerns - because the other restaurant is 20 minutes away, and was not yet opened - a bit too blithe. I might have felt differently if Klein's fellow diner, Chef Klime Kovaceski, worked at an established restaurant that had already been reviewed. But that's not the case: his restaurant, Trio on the Bay, is opening the same week that this review dropped (something he could easily know since he was eating with Klein a week before), and it's not unreasonable to think that any buzz from a positive review for Route 9 might take away from Trio's opening week buzz.[2] Again, I'm not saying that's the case, I'm only saying that it is understandable how such an impression could be made.

But it was interesting to me that in an informal twitter poll, most diners and chefs who responded were not bothered by it. The typical response was that "Integrity, honesty and personal opinion should dictate." With that, I completely agree. Speaking of which ...

(2) Should Lee Klein be writing about Chef Kovaceski's restaurant? To me, this is a no-brainer, but one that has slid beneath the radar as discussion has focused on the Route 9 review. We now know that Lee Klein and Chef Kovaceski are "old friends," and are close enough that they "once" had plans to write a book together (the cached version of Kovaceski's website referred to those plans as recently as a couple weeks ago).[3] Klein has already done two posts on Kovaceski's new restaurant on the New Times Short Order blog: a puffy preview piece back in February, and just a few days ago, a "First Look" promising even more posts next week. Is there any circumstance where a journalist should be writing about the restaurant of an "old friend," without at a minimum disclosing that relationship? Seems to me Klein shouldn't be writing about Kovaceski's restaurants at all. And I wonder, if this all hadn't come out, if Klein would have been writing a review of Trio a couple months from now. Speaking of which ...

(continued ...)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Times' Route 9 Review Takes Some Twists and Turns - UPDATED

Yesterday must have been something of a roller coaster for Paola and Jeremy Goldberg, the young proprietors of Route 9, a humble neighborhood restaurant that opened up in Coral Gables almost exactly two months ago. The Goldbergs, who met while at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York (hence the name of the restaurant, for the area's main thoroughfare) woke up to find a fairly glowing, three-star review from Victoria Pesce-Elliott in the Miami Herald (full version now available here). She described Route 9 as "a cozy and endearing spot," and that the Goldbergs' "greatest talent seems to be creating a welcoming environment with good food and drinks at a reasonable price." So far, so good.

Then, the Miami New Times posted its review (yes, I know: you will get a "Page Not Found" message when you click on that link. We'll get to that. Here, try the cached version a revised version now appears on the site with the statement "This story was removed from the Internet overnight while several factual errors were corrected. We apologize for the inconvenience."), which was not nearly so kind. Though New Times' restaurant critic, Lee Klein (?) (just wait), starts off with the "sweet, old-fashioned story" behind Route 9 and its owners, things quickly go downhill from there. The menu "could have been written in the year the Goldbergs graduated from the CIA" - 1991, according to the review. And just about every dish has some flaw: the chicken wings should have been described as spicy, the poblano peppers stuffed with smoked marlin could have used another component, some of the meatballs were uncooked, the tomato soup tasted like Campbell's. The fish tacos were too expensive, the vegetable accompaniments to the entrées ranged from "meh" to "awful," the pasta was too thick. The menu should have had quotes around "pie" for the banana cream pie because of the sloppy presentation.[1]

No restaurateur likes a negative review. But upon reading it, the Goldbergs thought something wasn't right. Among other things, the facts. You can look at the picture of Jeremy and Paola that accompanies the review and pretty quickly conclude that it's fairly unlikely they graduated from the CIA in 1991. As Goldberg told the Random Pixels blog: "I was 9 years old in 1991."[2] The menu couldn't put quote marks around "pie" because - well, because the pie isn't even on the printed menu, it's a verbal special.

There was something else too: Jeremy Goldberg had his doubts that Lee Klein had even visited the restaurant. Why? Well, it's a small restaurant (about 40 seats), Jeremy is pretty much always working front of house, and it probably wouldn't be too difficult to recall a repeat customer who had ordered the items mentioned in the review. And, in fact, Goldberg eventually did recall a recent customer who had ordered many of those items, and was, as Jeremy described it to Random Pixels, "a difficult table." But it wasn't Lee Klein. Rather, it was Klime Kovaceski, formerly the chef at Crystal Café in Miami Beach, and recently tapped to be the chef at the about-to-open Trio on the Bay. Goldberg suspected that Kovaceski either wrote the review, or provided the information to Lee Klein from which he wrote it. Sound crazy?

Goldberg called New Times' editor, Chuck Strouse, with his suspicions. (You can get something of a real-time account from Route 9's twitter feed). After calling, he said that Strouse was "investigating major inconsistencies" with the article. A few hours later Goldberg tweeted:
Chuck Strouse, editor New Times is stand up. Killing the New Times story for first time in 13 years based on Lee Klein lack of credibility.
And indeed, shortly thereafter, the review was pulled from the New Times website. Strouse told Eater Miami, "Story had some error. Will be reposted tomorrow." So far that hasn't happened. Strouse also told me last night that he would be commenting on the review that was pulled, and why it was pulled, today. So far that hasn't happened either. (See update below.)

(continued ...)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Michael's Genuine Food - The Book

I thought I'd written everything I could possibly have to say about Michael's Genuine Food & Drink when I devoted nearly 5,000 words to describing my many experiences dining there. But now I've got some new material: Michael's written a book. It's called Michael's Genuine Food, and the subtitle - "Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat" - nails the underlying theme of both Michael's Genuine the restaurant, and Michael's Genuine the cookbook.

A word that appears multiple times in the book is "unfussy," and it's the perfect adjective for Chef Schwartz's food. When Michael's Genuine opened nearly four years ago (wow, time flies), it was on the front end, locally, of the now nearly ubiquitous farm-to-table trend. From the beginning, MGF&D was about sourcing great ingredients, as close to home as you could, and treating them simply and with respect. In the introduction, Chef Schwartz gives a great description of his style as "an East coast version of California cuisine."[1]

But that's certainly not to say, as some suggest of ingredient-driven cooking, that it's more "shopping" than "cooking." Moreover, "unfussy" doesn't remotely mean the same thing as "plain." Aside from picking the right ingredients, you have to know how to prepare them to bring out their best qualities, and you have to know what to do with them to create a dish that's satisfying and interesting. The cookbook, co-written with Joann Cianciulli,[2] does a great job of showing how that's done. It also is possibly the first book I've read that truly captures the peculiarly upside-down nature of seasonal eating in South Florida, where the farmers markets and CSA seasons run from November to April, and tomatoes are at their peak in the dead of winter.

You'll find many (but not all) of the mainstays from the restaurant menu, as well as a number of items you may never have seen before even if you're a restaurant regular. There's also a short selection of desserts from Michael's outstanding pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith (who, rumor has it, will be coming out with her own book) and some drinks, both alcoholic and not.

If you'd like to actually sample some of the goods, this Saturday evening, Books & Books in Coral Gables is hosting a "Down-to-Earth Potluck Dinner" featuring a Q&A session with Chef Michael and several of the dishes from the book - prepared not by the chef, but by friends and family he's recruited to show off his recipes, including yours truly and Little Miss F. The details: Saturday, February 19, 2011, starting at 7:00 p.m. at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables.

Meanwhile, here's a recap of my experiences with the cookbook so far:

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Monday, February 14, 2011

In Defense of "Foodies"

I know, I know. Not exactly a title I ever expected to write. I hate the infantilistic word "foodie," am often less than enamored by those who self-identify as such, and don't particularly relish having it applied to me either. And yet, a recent, bilious polemic in the Atlantic monthly, "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies," has done the unthinkable: it has inspired me to come to the foodies' defense.

Though subtitled "Gluttony Dressed Up as Foodie-ism is Still Gluttony," and using as its platform several recent food-related publications (Anthony Bourdain's "Medium Raw," Gabrielle Hamilton's upcoming "Blood, Bones & Butter," Kim Severson's "Spoon Fed," the "Best Food Writing" compilations[1]), as well as older works like Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" and Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything," the piece seems less about gluttony, and more an outraged indictment of the very notion of writing about food at all. It's clear where this is going from the very start: "We have all dined with him in restaurants: the host who insists on calling his special friend out of the kitchen for some awkward small talk." In other words: if you actually know a chef, you must be a douchebag. It's all downhill from there.

B.R. Myers is unhappy when people pay too much attention to their food; he's unhappy when they eat mindlessly; he's unhappy when food writers care about sustainability and animal living conditions; he's unhappy when they don't; most of all, he's unhappy when people actually care enough to write about food.[2] Which of course might make you wonder why he chose to write about food books at all. In Myers' moral universe, it appears that any interest in food as a subject of writing whatsoever equates to gluttony, making it ever so easy to indict the entire genre. The proclaimed "moral crusade" is undoubtedly the right reference: Myers pursues his task with all the grimly self-satisfied smugness of a soldier doing battle against the infidels.

In doing so, his diatribe suffers from any number of logical fallacies, but the most egregious is the repeated over-generalization from specific examples, even when the evidence against such generalizations is staring him in the face. To him, "foodies" are one monolithic tribe, such that the voice of any one speaks for the whole. Chefs, food writers, and eaters all get tarred with the same broad brush as being members of a "unique community" of "so-called foodies." It takes him little time to conclude that "In values, sense of humor, even childhood experience, its members are as similar to each other as they are different from everyone else." This is, of course, patently ridiculous. In what universe do the caustically snarky Anthony Bourdain or the deadpan Gabrielle Hamilton share the same sense of humor with the primly self-righteous Alice Waters or the wryly analytical Michael Pollan?[3] Prove to me that Alice Waters even has a sense of humor!

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 by the Numbers

I remember, back when I used to have more functioning brain cells than I do now, how much I used to enjoy reading the "Harper's Index" that was in every issue of the lefty-leaning Harper's magazine. As a final sendoff to 2010, here's my take on the year just past in the same format, except I may have made up at least 50% of the statistics in this list (including that one):

Food For Thought's Index

South Florida restaurants (or food trucks) written up in FFT in 2010: 38[1]

Non-South Florida restaurants written up in FFT in 2010: 18[2]

Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pig dinners written up in FFT in 2010: 7

Number of dinner experiences in 2010 I enjoyed more than III Forks: 364

Number of contemporary Asian restaurants opened in Miami in 2010: 9[3]

Percentage of restaurants opened in Miami in 2010 that are contemporary Asian restaurants: 79%

Number of steakhouses opened in Miami in 2009: 8[4]

Number of steakhouses opened in Miami in 2010: 3[5]

Number of seafood restaurants opened in Miami in 2010: 6[6]

Number of big-name outsiders to open restaurants in Miami in 2009: 11[7]

Number of big-name outsiders to open restaurants in Miami in 2010: 3[8]

Number of South Florida food trucks on Twitter in December 2009: 2[9]

Number of South Florida food trucks on Twitter in December 2010: 35

Percentage of South Florida food truck menus featuring burgers and/or tacos: 90%

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ten Best Bites of 2010

As the year winds its way to a close, we all partake in various traditions: it may be latkes and sufganiyot for Channukah, a Christmas ham or a feast of seven fishes (or the Jewish custom of going out for Chinese on Christmas), perhaps the New Years' traditions of cotechino and lentils or Hoppin' John. Here in the blogosphere, the traditional way to recognize the end of the year is to make lists. Since I resolved last year to actually do my "year in review" list before the calendar turned over, here are my "Ten Best Bites" of 2010, in no particular order, with some thoughts and pictures from the past year:

1. Gambas de Palamós at Asador Etxebarri (writeup here). Simply the best prawns I've ever eaten:

Gambas de Palamós a la brasa
Gambas de Palamós
There is so little going on here - prawns, salt, smoke, heat - and yet absolutely nothing else could make this any better. The tail was perfectly cooked, simultaneously tender, meaty, salty and sweet. And the juices from sucking the heads, enhanced by a smoky grace note, were just fantastic: nectar of Poseidon, if you will. A reference point dish.
2. Morcilla and Egg at Chef Jeremiah's gastroPod (P.I.G. event, writeup here). This isn't on the menu of the gastroPod (though you will find some other great things, like their banh mi trotter tacos or the Chinito Cubano sandwich), but if you go to one of Chef Jeremiah's special events like P.I.G. ("Pig Is Good"), you might find something like it:

morcilla and egg
Morcilla and Egg
"Morcilla and Egg" featured house-made morcilla, or pork blood sausage, crowned with a 63º egg and a sprinkle of crispy bread crumbs. I happen to be a huge morcilla fan and this was just one of the best bites I've had in some time. This was more pudding than sausage in texture (and indeed "blood pudding" or "black pudding" are common variants on the name), creamy and rich and well-spiced, with the egg offering another welcome layer of richness.
3. Scottish Salmon Belly Nigiri at Naoe (writeup here). The contents of the bento box at Naoe change all the time, and the selection of nigiri varies depending on what's fresh and seasonal, but the omakase procession almost always starts with this silky, marbled, luscious salmon belly which will make you forget toro long enough for the bluefin tuna stock to replenish itself.

salmon nigiri

4. (tie) Scallop Crudo, Tripe with Kimchi at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (writeup here). You didn't really think I was going to limit myself to ten dishes here, did you? If so, you forget: I have no editor. The scallop crudo at Sugarcane combines unlikely items - a slice of fresh sea scallop, draped over a button of crisp, tart apple, a sliver of jalapeño, a bit of earthy black truffle, a squeeze of lime - hitting your taste buds from all different angles but to surprisingly elegant effect. The tripe with kimchi is not as subtle but just as good: the tripe nice and crispy on the exterior (braised then deep-fried?), over a bed of fresh, spicy kimchi-ed brussels sprouts and carrots. Neither of these items were on the menu when I first wrote about Sugarcane, and that signifies something: this is a place that has continued to improve, and get more interesting, over the past year since it opened.

Tripe with Kimchi (photo via Jacob Katel)

5. (tie) Ham and Ginger Canapé, Endive in Papillote 50%, Ankimo Cracker at elBulli (writeup here). With 40+ courses, it's unrealistic to expect me to limit myself to one choice from our meal at elBulli. The truth was, there were many items at elBulli that I found more interesting, or thought-provoking, than delicious. But these three hit all the right spots:

ham and ginger canapé
Ham and Ginger Canapé
As if to stretch the note out for one more bar, another ham dish followed: this canapé of ham and ginger, a glass-like ginger-infused cracker with a bit of fatty, translucent ham perched on top, both with a candied quality to them, melting together to the point that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. And absolutely delicious to boot, one of the most hedonistically pleasurable bites of the meal.

endive in papillote 50%
Endive in Papillote 50%
Our server first presented an envelope of charred paper. Then, (using some rather unwieldy long chopsticks/tongs), this was flipped and unfolded, revealing a row of baby endive heads, lined up like sardines, interspersed with walnuts. These were napped with a creamy walnut sauce, then topped with a generous dollop of glistening olive oil caviar. Half the endives were fully tender and entirely cooked through, while the other half were only partially cooked and still retained a bit of snap. Especially at points where the paper had charred, the smoky flavor had permeated its way into the endive, as had the perfume of the bay leaf which had been tucked into the package. The dish did a wonderful job of bringing out multiple flavors and textures from a simple vegetable.
Osaka monkfish liver with coconut
Ankimo Cracker
This was another of the most hedonistically pleasing dishes of the evening: an almost translucently thin cracker, topped with a thin tranche of ankimo (monkfish liver), with dabs of creamy coconut, jellied ginger, and a bit of wasabi. I'm already a fan of ankimo (often referred to as "foie gras of the seas"), and this was a preparation that elevated an already wonderful product.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Angels Fear to Tread

A freelance writer for the Miami New Times took it upon herself to give a "critique" of the Cobaya dinners in their Short Order blog today. I put "critique" in quotes because what was most interesting about her comments - to me, anyway - is that she has never actually been to one of our events.

Unfortunately, New Times was too craven to publish my response, which I attempted to post on their site. So instead, you can read my response here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Josh's Big Fat Free Wedding

A couple days ago I started writing a post which led off with the following line: "Not to go all Ozersky on you, but I just ate a couple free meals from a chef who I idolize and now I'm going to tell you how great there were." Then I realized: (1) such an admission might compromise my credibility with readers; and (2) some of you who do not compulsively follow the national culinary interwebs might not even know what I was talking about. Plus, Blogger was refusing to load the photos from my freebie meals.

So first, a recap, though the story has been covered extensively and others have had many smart things to say about it already. Josh Ozersky, a/k/a "Mr. Cutlets," is presently the master of ceremonies of Ozersky.TV and a regular food writer for, and formerly the online food editor for New York Magazine, editor of Grubstreet NY and Citisearch NY, grand poobah of The Feedbag, and restaurant critic for Newsday. A couple weeks ago, he penned a piece in entitled "Great Wedding Food: Tips from a Newly Married Critic."

The premise of the article was more than a little goofy: catered food sucks, so instead, why not have some of the top restaurant chefs in your city provide the food for your wedding? Ozersky proceeded to describe how, instead of having a caterer for his recent wedding, he somehow managed to convince several of the top chefs in New York City to each cook something after he "cherry-picked my favorite dishes from half a dozen restaurants": mezes and hummus from Orhan Yegen of Sip Sak; salad from Ed Schoenfeld of Red Farm, bread from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, lasagna from Michael White of Alto, Marea and Convivio, moussaka from Michael Psilakis of Kefi, smoked tofu from Doug and Laura Keiles of Ribs Within, steak and scallops from Ed Brown of Ed's Chowder House, wedding cake from Heather Bertinetti, pastry chef for Michael White.

Broad generalizations such as "most caterers aren't really good cooks" infuriated people who make a living in the catering business (plus just seemed stupid and ill-informed, if for no other reason than that many restaurant chefs, even very highly regarded ones, also run catering operations); while precious statements like "There are restaurants all around New York City that are objects of my special passion - why wouldn't I want their best stuff at my wedding?" and advice like "Forget the caterer! Plug directly into the source of your hometown's culinary delights, and happiness, enduring and radiant, will immediately follow" sounded distinctly like a 21st century version of "Let them eat cake." The notion that any shmoo could somehow command a half-dozen of the city's top chefs to cook up a little something for 200 people at their wedding just seemed a bit ridiculous.

The story prompted Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice to raise some pointed questions in "An Open Letter to Josh Ozersky": who paid for all this bounty? Why was there no disclosure of that information? If it was free, would chefs really provide such things gratis with no expectation at all of anything in return? And do the circumstances call into question the credibility of Ozersky's over-the-top praise for the food, to say nothing of his general advice on wedding food?

It didn't surprise anyone in the know that Ozersky, a notorious freeloader and hobnobber with celebrity chefs, didn't pay for any of the food (On the other hand, readers of with a more casual interest in food would have had absolutely no reason to harbor such suspicions). In fact, he didn't even pay for the venue, the Rooftop Bar atop the Empire Hotel, which was provided for free by Jeffrey Chodorow - the restaurateur behind places including Ed's Chowder House and Red Farm (a restaurant that has not yet opened from which Ozersky somehow managed to "cherry-pick" a "favorite dish"). When New York Times' Diner's Journal picked up the story, they estimated that the cost of such an event would range between $200 to $500 per person.

Ozersky and issued a "clarification," prompted, according to Ozersky, by the notion that Sietsema's open letter "makes me look unethical rather than dumb." In it, he attempted to explain that some his closest friends are chefs and "when they asked me what I wanted for a wedding present, instead of a crystal decanter that I would never look at, I told them to just cook some lasagna or bake a few loaves of bread that I could share with other friends." (I will not bother dissecting the preposterousness of that statement, as it's been very effectively done already by New York Journal in "Josh Ozersky Still Doesn't Get It"). After a "mea culpa" for not being "more explicit about the fact that I did not pay for any of their delicious contributions" (yes, saying nothing at all leaves plenty of room to be "more explicit"), Ozersky attempted a bit of defense, noting that "I am not an anonymous critic and I don't review restaurants for TIME (or anyone else)" (never mind the "Tips from a Newly Married Critic" headline). To the New York Times, he protested that "Bob makes it sound like a sinister plot to extort lasagna."

Suffice to say that "unethical" and "dumb" are hardly mutually exclusive.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hot Kitchens, Hot Tempers

I was amused to read this story in the New York Times Diner's Journal, of a customer who was thrown out of the eponymous Marc Forgione restaurant by the chef for going into the kitchen and complaining about the chef's verbal abuse of his staff. The short version: dining party is seated; chef loudly and repeatedly berates waiter in kitchen; discomfited diner goes into kitchen to complain; chef takes umbrage at diner's uninvited entrance into kitchen; chef asks customer to leave restaurant. It's not so much that the story was in itself so amusing, but rather that something very similar happened to me several years ago.

We were having a breakfast at a restaurant that I'd prefer not to name - it's somewhat embarassing. OK, it was Jerry's Deli, and it was a long time ago, and it hadn't quite sunk to the depths of mediocrity that it now happily occupies. Frod Jr. and Little Miss F were with us, and were much younger - maybe 6 and 3, respectively. The restaurant was not terribly busy, but the food service was nonetheless unusually slow. Meanwhile, as we sat, we couldn't help but notice that a stream of pretty much uninterrupted yelling and cursing was coming out of the kitchen. Jerry's is a big, cavernous place, located in what was originally a cafeteria and which had housed a number of nightclubs before its current incarnation. And though we were seated a good twenty yards away from the entrance to the kitchen, there was absolutely no mistaking the noises that were coming out of there.

Now, I happen to be a fan of colorful and creative cursing. But this was not particularly creative, it was not getting the food out any faster, and it was providing an education to our children that we did not particularly desire at this particular point in their upbringing (needless to say, they had never heard me or Mrs. F say any such things - the fact that a 2-year old Frod Jr. used to shout "Dammit!" from the back seat of the car when we got stuck at a stoplight was purely spontaneous behavior). And so I asked our waitress if she could perhaps ask the chef to stifle the profanities a bit.[*]

The result was not unexpected. Either the chef lit into our poor server the same as he had been doing to his kitchen staff, or she was too terrified to even say anything, but the stream of high-decibel profanity continued, unabated. And we still didn't have any food. So after several more minutes, I went back into the kitchen, spotted the chef who was doing all the screaming, and said:
"Listen, everyone in the entire restaurant can hear you. And it really doesn't make a difference to me, but I've got young kids here, and my 6-year old son just asked me when his fucking french toast is going to be ready. Do you think you could tone it down?"
It got quiet after that. We weren't asked to leave. And Frod Jr. got his fucking french toast.

My take on the kerfuffle described in Diner's Journal? The diner was right to complain but did so for the wrong reason. Generally speaking, it's none of your business how a chef deals with his/her staff. However, if it's intruding on your dining experience, then it becomes your business. It's not your place as a diner to tell a chef how to run his team, but it's absolutely your right to complain if the commotion in the kitchen is distracting you from your meal. On the other hand, if Chef Forgione is serious about the "sanctity of the kitchen," then he better find a way to make sure that whatever happens in the kitchen doesn't make its way into the dining room.

Updated to add: Here's a little further detail from Marc Forgione, reported in GrubStreet.

[*]Asking someone else on the staff to intervene in the kitchen is a step the Diner's Journal author skipped, and one that might have avoided the breach of the kitchen ramparts which so offended Chef Forgione's sensibilities.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's Your Beef?

Several months ago, Miami New Times ran a feature story by Jackie Sayet, "Bogus Beef," on local restaurants' mislabeling of beef sourced from American or Australian producers as "Kobe beef." The article confirmed that many South Florida restaurants were blithely describing items on their menu as "Kobe beef" that in fact were not.

Genuine Kobe beef, which comes from a particular breed of cattle (Wagyu) raised in a particular prefecture of Japan (Hyogo), is among the most prized (and expensive) in the world. In recent years, producers in other parts of the world have sought to duplicate the product, and there are now farmers in the U.S. and Australia who raise Wagyu and cross-breeds. The product is often quite good, though not of the same quality as the genuine Japanese article, and carries significantly lower prices. Though there seems to be a good bit of confusion, this is really not a complicated issue: if the beef doesn't come from Kobe, Japan, you shouldn't call it Kobe beef. As the article details, that simple rule is supported by Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which said:
The use of the term Kobe beef on a menu or special board is a misrepresentation. ... Use of the terms Wagyu beef, American-style Kobe beef, Australian-style Kobe beef, and (country of origin) Kobe beef are acceptable, providing the operator can provide supporting invoices and product to match.[1]
It was a well-written and well-researched piece, and I'm happy to hear that it is in line for a Sunshine State Award from the South Florida Society of Professional Journalists.

When the matter was brought to several restaurateurs' attention during the writing of the article, many of them claimed to be unaware and pledged to make immediate changes on their menu to correct the mislabeling. There's just one problem: it appears that virtually none of them have actually done so.

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