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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Joël Robuchon - Molecular Gastronomist and Revisionist Historian?

Of the chefs who are typically credited with the popularization of "molecular gastronomy," several may jump to mind: Heston Blumenthal, for sure, who was a participant in the first 1992 "International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" (Harold McGee, one of the other original participants, has written a great history of the event); Pierre Gagnaire, the only other chef participant in that original workshop, and a regular collaborator with scientist Hervé This since then; Ferran Adrià, who was doing his own pioneering work in experimental cooking at the same time and whose food is often given the "MG" label;[1] here in the U.S., Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, Homaru Cantu.

And Joël Robuchon? Yes, if he is to be believed. In a recent interview in the New York Post, Robuchon is quoted as saying:
Too many chefs are attracted to molecular gastronomy. ... It's not the kind of cuisine that should be important, with all the additives. I know I was really the first one to make it famous, but I have complete control of what I'm doing. The danger is that those who don't have the knowledge and that control start using additives that are not acceptable.
Right now, I am doing the reverse of molecular gastronomy. I'm working with scientists to find ingredients and produce that are proven to be good for you. Turmeric is very good for you. White tea is better than green tea. One of the dishes I'm experimenting with is carrot purée with turmeric. Also white-tea gelee and sea urchin.
Robuchon is undoubtedly a great chef, duly recognized as "Chef of the Century" by Gault-Millau in 1989.[2] And yet there is no way around it: he has absolutely positively no clue what he's talking about here.

"I was really the first one to make it famous." WTF? Unless you consider the physics of incorporating a stick of butter into a pound of potatoes to be "molecular gastronomy" (and of course, it actually is, but I don't think that's what he means), then I don't think there's another soul in the food universe who would back up that claim. Indeed, a Google search of "Joel Robuchon molecular gastronomy" yields nothing at all until 2006 (nearly 15 years after the term was coined, and so late in the game that other chefs had made a point of disassociating themselves from the term "molecular gastronomy" as describing any particular style of cooking, much less their own), and even then, none of those references would remotely suggest he had anything to do with making it famous.[3]

"Additives"? What is an "additive"? Agar agar (a seaweed derivative)? Gelatin (derived from animal collagen?) Cornstarch? Flour? And is there really a significant risk that restaurant chefs are serving untested ingredients to unsuspecting diners, and waiting in the kitchen to see if they blow up like Violet Beuaregard? I suspect there's more danger for diners lurking in all that butter in the potato purée.

But even more absurd: "Right now, I am doing the reverse of molecular gastronomy. I'm working with scientists to find ingredients and produce that are proven to be good for you." Chef, I don't know how to break this to you any more gently: using science to understand your ingredients better is, um, the definition of molecular gastronomy.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

[1]Blumenthal and Adrià, among others, issued a statement years ago noting that "The fashionable term 'molecular gastronomy' was introduced relatively recently, in 1992, to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our approach, and the term 'molecular gastronomy' does not describe our cooking, or indeed any style of cooking."
[2]He apparently actually shared this honor with Paul Bocuse and Fredy Girardet.
[3]Robuchon was, perhaps, an early adopter of sous vide cooking. But it turns out it was actually Marcel Vigneron who taught Robuchon everying he knew about "molecular gastronomy," as Vigneron claims in an interview mentioned here last week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Marcel Vigneron: Molecular Gastronomist and Time Traveler?

In an interview with LA Weekly, Marcel "Wolverine" Vigneron, contestant on Top Chef Season 2 and now, apparently, chef at an L.A. restaurant called Bar210, claims to have taught himself spherification sometime in or before 2001:

MV: ... I taught myself spherification in a garage in New York while I was getting my associates degree. I called elBulli before I'd even been there and got on the line and asked them for a sample packet of chemicals. And they mailed me the chemicals.

SI: You can do that? You can get those through the mail?

MV: Yeah, no problem. This was totally pre-9/11. They sent me little gram bags of each one, all labeled. So I was doing research online and found Ferran's recipe for apple caviar and bought a little digital gram scale and was trying to make it. I remember me and my friends we made coffee caviar, and we were like blown away. We were like, Oh this is the coolest thing.
Which is pretty remarkable, considering that spherification wasn't introduced as a technique at elBulli until 2003. In any event, forgive me if I'm not too impressed: if you ask me, any idiot with the right supplies and a recipe can pull off spherification.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sam Sifton Reviews the "Double Down"

With all the fuss made over New York Times critic Sam Sifton sampling the latest fast food monstrosity, KFC's "Double Down" (he previewed his intentions last Friday, leading Eater to set up spies at every Manhattan KFC to catch him in the act), I was sorely disappointed that the result was a mere Diner's Journal entry, rather than a full-fledged review in true Sifton-speak. So I wrote my own.

The men in the navy blazers, with their silk rep ties and their Jansport knapsacks, don't come here often. In fact, they never come here at all, and have to look up the address on their Blackberries. The food-obsessed will debate the finer points of the various other fried chicken offerings of Gotham, from Blue Ribbon or Locanda Verde, the two different styles of oil-bathed hen at Momofuku Noodle Bar, or the Korean fried chicken at Bon Chon that I think Jonathan Gold would really like if he came here. Not KFC.

But know this: a new dish is being served at KFC, and it's the "Double Down." KFC once was known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, just like KRS-One once used to be known as Lawrence Parker. You can still get your bucket of Original Recipe or your Extra Crispy here, or even the newer-fangled Colonel's Strips. But if you want to simultaneously provide free publicity for some appalling new fast food product, while still lording your own superiority, it is the "Double Down" you should order.

The sandwich contains no bread save for the breading on the chicken, which is fried and comes in two bread-like slabs. Between these a KFC worker places a slice of white American-style cheese, a piece of crisp-fired bacon, and a splat of "Colonel's sauce," a kind of mayonnaise. The sandwich, KFC says in its advertising materials, "is so meaty, there's no room for a bun." It's Festivus for fat kids.

You may have your Double Down in the restaurant, with its open kitchen, white subway tiled walls, and festive balloons, but this time of year it is better to do like the men in the baseball hats do, and bring your sandwich outside to eat among the tulips, on a seat on Broadway just north of Greeley Square. Keep it in the bag, so as to discourage the hordes of cannibalistic pigeons who may otherwise descend, to say nothing of the geek paparazzi lurking in the bushes.

The sandwich? The chicken is watery within its soft casing of "crust," the cheese familiar to anyone who has eaten food prepared by the United States government, the bacon chemical in its smokiness, the mayonnaise sauce tangy, salty, and sweet, all at once. It offers exactly the same sensation as a menage a trois with a couple of toothless carnies - a bolt of greasiness and disgust combined. To drink? You will want the Pepsi, which was, as Pepsi is, more sweet than Coke, more syrupy.

Restaurants are culture as sure as monster truck rallies or reality TV shows. This one says: "You are going to be sick shortly after eating this - even worse than after you ate the entire pig's foot at the Breslin." The "Double Down," as the New York expression goes, is "blech."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Grossest Restaurants in South Florida

Not really the grossest restaurants, rather the highest grossing in terms of revenue. The annual report by Restaurants & Institutions of the top 100 revenue-producing independent restaurants in the United States in 2009 is out, and there are a few South Florida names on the list. You can see the full list here.

Joe's Stone Crab is in the same #3 spot as it was in last year, and it would seem the recession really hasn't touched it: 2009 sales of $26,272,000 compare pretty favorably to last year's $28,827,328, and the number of meals served (roughly 320,000) and average check size ($65-68) have both held steady.

Also holding firm is Myles Chefetz's cash cow, Prime 112. P112 is on the list at #14 for 2009, with $18,889,430 in revenue and average ticket of $115, again almost exactly even with last year's figures.

Meanwhile, DeVito South Beach is still on the list, but barely. DeVito, which made its first appearance on the list last year at #19, with $17,800,000 in revenue, dropped to #98 this year with $10,000,000. Of course, many of these figures appear to be based on estimates by R&I rather than information reported by the restaurants, so who knows what they really mean.

In the aggregate, the top 100 restaurants on the list saw a roughly 10% drop in revenue, and even the restaurant in the top spot on the list the past couple years - Tao in Las Vegas - was off by about 13%. There are some other interesting insights at R&I, including some anecdotal takes on the "new normal" and the prospects of restaurant business picking up this year, and on the success stories of 2009.

What does it all mean for South Florida restaurants? I'm not so sure, but possibly not all that much. In large part, I think the mega-restaurants on this list operate in something of a parallel universe to the rest of the restaurant world (though it's interesting that P112 is one of the smallest restaurants on the list with only 120 seats), though I am somewhat surprised that places like Joe's and P112 didn't show at least some impact from the recessionary climate. I suspect smaller operations are much more susceptible to the ebbs and flows of the economy and the heft of the wallets of their customers, and it was easy to see that last year, pretty much all restaurants locally were feeling the slowdown.

It seems, though, that things are picking up. It's purely anecdotal based on my own observations, but restaurants feel busier, reservations (particularly on weekends) have been somewhat harder to come by, startups like Sugarcane have found traction quickly, and stalwarts like Talula seem to be bouncing back. I've been out lately on some Mondays and Tuesdays (typically slow restaurant nights) and was surprised to see places bustling.

So perhaps the time is ripe for the pretty lengthy list of restaurants that are just opening or getting ready soon: Mercadito, The Forge, Zuma, DB Bistro Moderne, Norman's 180, plus many others I'm sure I'm overlooking.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading Material (Pt II) - James Beard Foundation 2010 Journalism Award Finalists

In my last post, I listed the books that have been selected as finalists for the 2010 James Beard Foundation awards, with links to them on Amazon. Here I've listed the finalists for the journalism awards. I find these lists make for some great reading material, and there's certainly no reason to limit your review to only those that are ultimately selected for the award. I'm not sure why it's so hard to find a convenient source with links to all the nominated articles, so I've given all the links I've been able to find:

Category: Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Reviews

Jonathan Gold (LA Weekly)
"Sauced", "Hot Birria, Cold Cerveza", "Hare Today"

Patric Kuh (Los Angeles)
"Border Crossing", "Peru Calling" (this can't possibly be the entire review worthy of a nomination), "The Classic"

Jason Sheehan (Westord)
"White on White" (this is a guess, I see nothing with this title), "Wonderland", "Mourning"

Category: Food Blog

Grub Street New York
Serious Eats
Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Category: Food-related Columns

Colman Andrews (Gourmet)
Column: Good Living Restaurants
"Veni Vidi Vetri", "It's Up to You, New York, New York", "Smoke and Miracles"

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (Minnesota Monthly)
"The Doughnut Gatherer", "Capital Grills", "Pizza Perfect"

Rachel Wharton (Edible Brooklyn)
Column: Back of the House
"Egg", "Roberta's", "Franny's and Bklyn Larder"

Category: Magazine Feature Writing About Restaurants and/or Chefs

Alan Richman (GQ) "American Pie"
Anya von Bremzen (Saveur) "Soul of a City"
Francis Lam (Gourmet) "The Last Chinese BBQ" (republished in Salon)

Category: Magazine Feature Writing With Recipes

Dana Bowen (Saveur) "The Wonders of Ham"
Francine Maroukian, Jon Reiner, Staff of Esquire (Esquire) "How Men Eat"
Matt Goulding (Men's Health) "The Beauty of the Beast"

Category: Magazine Feature Writing Without Recipes

Alan Richman (GQ) "Hillbilly Truffle"
Barry Estabrook (Gourmet) "The Price of Tomatoes"
Raffi Khatchadourian (New Yorker) "The Taste Makers"

Category: M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award

John T. Edge (The Oxford American) "In Through the Back Door"
Alan Richman (GQ) "Le Petit Gourmet"
Francine Prose (Saveur) "Faith and Bacon"


Monday, March 29, 2010

Reading Material - James Beard 2010 Finalists

For your edification and cooking inspiration, here are links to all the finalists for the 2010 James Beard Foundation awards in the book and journalism categories. The entire list of finalists can be found here.

Category: American Cooking

Category: Baking and Dessert

Category: Beverage

Category: Cooking from a Professional Point of View

(continued ...)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Oishinbo Style Miso Ramen

Several months ago, through a tweet by Chef Chris Cosentino, I learned of the Oishinbo books. Oishinbo is a Japanese manga series which ran to over 100 volumes in Japan, and which has been republished in several volumes here in the U.S. The comics are loosely structured around the premise that a newspaper has set out to create the "Ultimate Menu" - the best of all Japanese food. The protagonist, Yamaoka Shiro, is a lazy newspaper employee with an exceptionally refined palate who is tasked with the creation of the Ultimate Menu. Yamaoka has major issues with his father, Kaibara Yuzan, a reknowned artist, the founder of the "Gourmet Club," and the architect of the "Supreme Menu" that a rival newspaper has commissioned.

But I digress. Aside from the father-son rivalry plotline and others of equal literary depth, the books contain fascinating, well-researched, and often extremely detailed insights into all sorts of aspects of Japanese cuisine, and each of the U.S. volumes after the first one (broadly titled "Japanese Cuisine") is focused on a particular aspect of that cuisine: Sake, Ramen and Gyoza, Fish, Sushi and Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya--Pub Food thus far. I dare say I've learned more about Japanese techniques, ingredients, and cooking philosophy from these comic books than anything I've read elsewhere. As an added bonus, each book has an actual recipe or two, taken from the stories in that volume.

Frod Jr.'s gotten into the Oishinbo series too, and has also read through all seven volumes. So when we were in Sushi Deli recently, looking through the refrigerated cases waiting for a spot to clear, he said "Why don't we make the ramen dish from the Oishinbo book?" This is what's known as a proud parent moment. We were able to round up most of the ingredients that we didn't already have right there.

It's an unusual miso ramen dish, in that it uses a fish-based katsuobushi dashi broth instead of the chicken- or pork-bone stock that is customary, and the miso is not in the broth, but rather in the ground pork which goes atop it. I was a little dubious when I first read through it, but it turned out fantastic - good enough to be worth sharing the recipe. Frod Jr. helped all along the way.

Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen

(Note: I have adjusted the measurements in the book's recipe some, doubling up most things other than the noodles. The book's recipe supposedly got 4 servings out of 6 oz. of ground pork, which seemed unlikely. The measurements below are probably good for about 6 servings).


2 qts water
1 cup katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes)
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp hatcho miso*
6 tbsp sake
2 tbsp sesame or peanut oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 lb ground pork
6 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (recipe called for shiitakes, in their absence I used a mix that was available at the grocery store)
1 lb fresh ramen noodles (in the freezer case at Sushi Deli)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Once it's reached a boil, add the katsuobushi, turn off the heat, and let it steep for 2 minutes. Strain through a chinois and return the dashi to the pot. Add the soy sauce (to taste) and hold on low heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Mix the miso with the sake until well combined and set aside.
  3. Heat up a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then add the garlic. Once the garlic starts to make the room smell good, add the pork and shallots. Cook, stirring constantly and breaking the pork up into small bits, for about 3-4 minutes. Add the mushroms and the scallions, reserving some of the greens of the scallion for garnish. Cook for another minute. Add the miso-sake mixture and stir in well. Cook until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about another 4-5 minutes. Hold over low heat.
  4. Heat a large pot of water to a vigorous boil. Add the ramen noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they've just lost their firmness. Remove and drain the noodles and put them into bowls for service. Spoon some of the broth over the noodles, and top with the miso-flavored pork. Garnish with the chopped scallion greens.

This makes for an intriguing variation on a surf-and-turf. In truth, the dashi retains little in the way of fishy flavor once it's been bolstered with soy sauce and mixed with the miso-flavored pork, but it does provide a pleasingly smoky backnote, and has that unique combination of rich flavor and light texture that makes dashi so wonderful. And the pork, with the hatcho miso and mushrooms, is an umami-bomb of flavor. Together, and with some noodles to provide some ballast, they made for a great meal.

Fortunately, Frod Jr. and I were able to happily share credit for our preparation of this fine dish, and hopefully we won't be having any "Ultimate Menu" / "Supreme Menu" showdowns any time soon.

*Hatcho miso comes originally from the city of Hatcho and is supposed to be a very "pure" miso, with no rice or other grain added to the soybean base, consequently taking longer to ferment. It's very dark and rich, and less salty than other misos.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Obsessed With the Food-Obsessed

In the past year I have written about more than eighty restaurants. Not once have I felt compelled to use the word "foodie," nor any of the hyphenated euphemisms for it that the New York Times' editorial policy appears to require (as I've previously noted).[*]

Meanwhile, in nearly half of the sixteen restaurant reviews he has published since taking over the helm last October, Sam Sifton has given us some variation on the "foodie" theme (never, though, actually uttering the word, which apparently has the same effect as saying "Beetlejuice!" three times). His first three reviews brought us "food-obsessed mouths," followed the next week by the converse, a wine list that "may run unfamiliar to nonobsessives," returning the following week to the "food-obsessed in New York."

There was a brief respite, but it seems to have returned with a vengeance. A few weeks ago the "food-obsessed" came back to discuss the decline of French cooking in New York. Then someone apparently broke out the thesaurus, as we heard last Wednesday about the "food crazies," (who know from Chef April Bloomfield - at least the New York "food crazies" do), while this week brought us the "food-enthralled" (who apparently call guanciale "face bacon").

I'm not sure which bothers me more: the incessant reference to what the food-obsessed/crazy/enthralled think or say, or the pussyfooting around over using that most dreaded word - "foodie."

As for the former, honestly, who cares? Aren't I reading to find out what this one particular food-obsessed critic has to say, not what the rest of the flock may be gibbering about? It's all the more frustrating to me because Sifton clearly has the ability to communicate with a unique and witty voice. This is someone who described The Breslin as "Hogwarts for hipsters," who in describing the crowd at La Grenouille says that "some have spent too much time in the sun, doing nothing much more than turning the pages of a book," while others "examine the restaurant and chart customers as handicappers do horses at Belmont." Please, more of that, less about the "food-obsessed."

As for the latter issue - "foodie foodie foodie" - look, I don't like it either. But these tortuous euphemisms are certainly no better. Which brings me full circle to a question I briefly pondered (and quickly abandoned) when I started writing here: if not "foodie," then what? Well, what do we call someone who enjoys and appreciates art? Or music? If "art lover" and "music lover" will do, why not "food lover"? Is the concern that we'll confuse a "food lover" with the "Chicken Lover"? Actually, in his latest review Sifton gives another alternative: "gastro-nerd." I'd take that over "food-obsessed" any day. At least I don't have to be reminded of this:

[*]Actually, "foodie" makes regular appearances in other parts of the NYT, so this must just be a Sifton thang.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Sorry it's been so quiet over here lately. I'd love to tell you I've been deep in thought, reflecting and ruminating on the year and decade as they come to a close. But frankly I'm still coming out of a bit of a food coma after a three-day visit to New Orleans (here's a preview: Stanley, Lüke, Mr. B's Bistro, Dante's Kitchen, Cochon, and Stella - and one word summary: wow).

I thought perhaps this evening I'd take a shot at some sort of year in review (I'm not big on New Years' festivities), but when more modest plans fizzled out, we actually stumbled into seats at Michael's Genuine tonight when there was a cancellation. I'd take that as a promising omen for the year to come. In the meantime, here's some good year-end reading material:

Eater Miami gives recaps of several favorites and predictions for 2009 and the coming year (this post links to all their various lists), including from yours truly.

Lee Klein of Miami New Times gives an interesting "Top Ten Most Important Restaurants of the Decade" list. I'd agree with many, though I'd question whether Barton G's food is anywhere near as impressive as its presentations, and suspect places such as Altamar, Pilar, and even Grillfish might wonder whether River Oyster Bar was the only place serving fresh fish in a contemporary manner. Red Light may have been given short thrift by being lumped in with Pascal's, very different places, though I think there is a point that they are both very personal visions of very honest, heartfelt food. A couple glaring omissions, in my opinion: Ortanique, which Chef Cindy Hutson opened in 1999 and successfully elevates Caribbean cuisine to high dining; and Talula, which opened in 2003 and is one of the few places left in South Beach where you can find great food without the hype and pomp of a trendy scene (and the prices that go with).

And finally, Frank Bruni resurfaces from hermitic seclusion after stepping down as the New York Times' food critic (just kidding: I think one of the trends of 2009 that is hopefully over is learning not only what the food critics ate, but how long it stayed in them) to give his glowing take on Miami's restaurant scene, including much praise for Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Sra. Martinez, Pacific Time, Red Light, Area 31, and Hakkasan. These are some of my favorite places as well, though I have to say his take on Red Light is puzzling. Though he seems to lump it into the bacon-intensive, animal-style, "This is Why You're Fat" genre ("If you're looking for spa cuisine, don't go to Red Light"), I actually find Chef Kris Wessel's cooking to be fairly health-conscious (maybe my standards are low). There is typically not a single fried thing on the menu (I don't think they own a deep fryer), it is usually heavy with seafood (including always at least a couple fresh fish options), and even items like the ribs or the burger come with lighter sides like an apple-slaw or a salad.

In any event, I think it all points to a promising 2010 for the Miami food scene. Here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy new year. As my grandfather used to say, "Always better, never worse."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What Would Alexander Pope Say?

I am almost nearly at a loss for words over this, wherein local food writer decides to go to war with a new pizzeria and the local charter school for which said pizzeria is doing a charity event: Free Pizza, New Blue Collar Food Blog (make your way down to the comments for the real fireworks). Just two things:

(1) You can read more of Lee Klein's art reviews here on this blog.

(2) Amidst all the kerfuffle over ridiculing schoolkids, it apparently falls to me to note that he also saw fit to use this opportunity to take shots at a blog that hasn't published anything in three years.

It would seem we are clearly on turf where angels fear to tread.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CSA Week 1 - Callaloo and Momofuku

So here's what I started the week with:

CSA Week 1
Four ears of corn, a bundle of callaloo, a bag of green beans,a head of lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a Florida avocado, a bunch of dill, a few stalks of lemongrass, a bok choy, and a bundle of roselle (a/k/a Jamaican sorrel a/k/a Jamaican hibiscus).

First things first: the red petals of the roselle were steeped along with a stalk of the lemongrass and some fresh ginger to make a tea:

roselle tea
The dill became a tzatziki, after being chopped and mixed with some Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic and lemon juice:


I know, so far we're not winning any James Beard awards.

From there, I drew much of my inspiration this week from the MomofukuMomofuku cookbook, after being immensely pleased with my first experiment with the bo ssäm recipe.


Some more lemongrass found its way into these pork sausage ssäms, as did the lettuce for the wraps:

pork sausage ssam
I liked this Vietnamese-flavored spin on the Korean ssäm (basically, a wrap) idea, and it was "easy peasy" as Jamie Oliver might say. But first a general comment: I am horrible with recipes. I cook by look, feel, smell, sound and taste, am not big on measuring, and often regard printed recipes the way Captain Barbossa regards the Pirates' Code - more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sifton Through Some Things

While it was perhaps not nearly so momentous to me as it may have been to some New Yorkers, I followed the changing of the guard for the New York Times' food critic post with some interest. Despite all the sturm and drang of late over the decline of printed media, the NYT remains one of the most powerful reviews in the country, with the perception still holding relatively firm that the doling of stars can have a profound effect on the success - or failure - of a restaurant.

The scouting reports on the new guy, Sam Sifton, seemed promising, and from reading some of his earlier work it was clear he could turn a phrase or two. His first reviews upon taking over the job seemed to engender mostly enthusiastic responses. Hey, he has a working knowledge of 1970's punk rock and can sure make Daniel Boulud's food sound really good (wait, is that so hard?). He'll venture out to Queens for Cantonese food. He looks just like that dude from Shaun of the Dead (do you think Simon Pegg is wondering why he keeps gets multiple dishes "from the chef" and such obsequious service every time he goes out in New York City these days?). And no doubt, the reviews of DBGB, Marea, and Imperial Palace prompted that "I want to go to there" reaction from me.

And yet ... certain things have nagged at me.

1. Phrases that initially sound so elegant, but upon further reflection signify little or nothing:

- A restaurant that "bears masculine charms atop its cool concrete floors." Can a restaurant bear charms atop its floors? Maybe it's that in a fit of dyslexia, I keep thinking that the restaurant charms masculine bears atop its floors. Which would be pretty cool indeed, actually.

- A burger that arrives "as if a passenger on an old Cunard ship, with confitted pork belly, arugula, tomato-onion compote and a slab of Morbier". Is that what the dress code on those old cruise ships was like?

- A dish that "offers exactly the sensation as kissing an extremely attractive person for the first time - a bolt of surprise and pleasure combined." That sounds witty, but you know what? Some extremely attractive people kiss like cold fish.

- Geoduck that "explains in one bite why men would dive amid huge swells to retrieve the things from the angry Pacific." "Huge swells"? The "angry Pacific"? Do they harvest them on "dark and stormy nights"? But perhaps more significant: geoducks are harvested from mud flats. About the worst thing that can happen is you get your pants dirty:

- "A hunk of striped bass acting as pack animal for a load of sturgeon caviar"? Actually, that doesn't sound at all elegant. And that was for a dish that he liked!

- "Sable served sizzling over more black bean sauce, like a special at Nobu or a gift from a friend." What? A gift ... of fish?

2. "food-obsessives"

This is apparently the Timesian translation of "foodie," and variations on it appeared in each of Mr. Sifton's first three reviews:

- "More food-obsessed mouths, however, will desire sausages."

- The wine list at Marea "may run unfamiliar to nonobsessives."

- "Among the food-obsessed in New York, interest in Cantonese food has faded as it has risen in the spicy (and tasty!) flavors of China's interior."

Enough obsessing over the "food-obsessives."

3. "meh"

Firstly, "meh" is no more a "New York expression" than, say, "yummy" or "delish" or "FAIL". Secondly, like those others, it has no place in any serious restaurant review. And a "Your mileage may vary" too, in the same review? Why not just "YMMV"? OMG! Please: never again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


The Twitter list tool is a clever thing (even if there is no clever name for it: a "twist"?), and several folks have already gotten into the act of compiling various food talk twitter lists. There's Gastrobuzz from The Food Section, and the New York Times has not one, but four, food-related lists: Dining News, Eating in New York, Food Politics and Policy, and Foodies.

Personally, I like being the moderator of my own Twitter feeds, but if you want to play along, I've made a couple lists too:

Following Miami restaurants.

Following chefs from all over.

Let me know what I may be missing, especially on the Miami restaurants list.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

But Wait There's More ...

Another interesting opening, Olé Tapas in the Four Seasons on Brickell Avenue. With opening hours 7am - 7pm, this will be tough for anyone other than Brickellites to get to, but the menu, with a solid lineup of traditional tapas, all priced under $10, looks good to me.

And let's welcome a new face to the neighborhood: Eater Miami, a branch of the new, megalithic Eater National, edited by local scenester Lesley Abravanel. She's clearly been busy, with about a bazillion posts already up just in the past 24 hours!

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Make Money Food Blogging

(M)Eater Miami
Loyal readers, allow me to introduce you to (M)Eater Miami - my attempt to cash in as a food blogger.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Three Hot Pots

Another home cooking post? Really? I know, it's weird. But not to worry, this isn't anything I cooked recently (though I did make some pretty awesome short ribs a couple days ago). Several months ago I volunteered to be a recipe tester for a cookbook-in-progress; the book, Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals, is now out, and I am released from my oath of silence.

The book is exactly what it says: a compendium of recipes for Japanese hot pots, or "nabe." It was written by Chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant in New York City, and Harris Salat, author of the Japanese Food Report blog. I tested three recipes: beef shabu shabu, lamb shabu shabu, and a pork and greens hot pot. While I am not a complete stranger to the kitchen, I don't do much in the Japanese idiom, and I'm also not big on strictly following recipes, so this was an interesting experience for me.

The recipes I tested each followed the same basic formula: a broth base, several varieties of vegetables and/or tofu simmered within it, and a last minute addition of thinly sliced protein cooked in the broth, sometimes with a dipping sauce alongside. Simple stuff, really, but that's not to say I didn't learn some valuable things along the way.

First and foremost, dashi. Three ingredients: water, kombu (dried kelp), and katsuobushi (dried, smoked, shaved bonito flakes). A fantastic complexity of flavor: oceanic, vegetal, smoky, even meaty, yet still with a great purity and lightness. And remarkably easy to prepare a serviceable version, though probably something you can spend a lifetime perfecting in order to maximize the umami extraction and balance. Second, "shime." The Japanese custom of adding noodles or rice to the hot pot toward the end of the meal, a great way to soak up the flavors and complete the meal.

These hot pots were easy to prepare, had great depth of flavor, and were simultaneously hearty and healthy.

beef shabu shabu
This is the initial prep for the beef shabu shabu: tofu, napa cabbage, scallions, enoki mushrooms, and portabello mushrooms (couldn't find shiitakes anywhere that day). Underneath are a couple pieces of kombu and a handful of cellophane noodles.

beef shabu shabu
After the vegetables simmer in the water for a few minutes, spinach and thinly sliced beef are added on top; it's "done" as soon as the beef is cooked to your liking. That's a sesame seed dipping sauce on the side. My kids loved this one. I'm sure they would have liked it even more if they had gotten to cook their own beef in the bubbling pot.

lamb shabu shabu
Lamb shabu shabu. Similar recipe, with thinly sliced lamb, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallions, and an intriguing green called "shungiku" in Japanese. I turned this up at the Lucky Oriental Mart in South Miami, where they were calling it "tong ho." I've now figured out it's also known as chrysanthemum leaf. You can often find tempura-fried chrysanthemum leaf at Hiro's Yakko-San and it's quite nice.

lamb shabu shabu
The dipping sauce for the lamb shabu shabu, primarily flavored with tobanjan (spicy fermented bean paste) and sesame paste, was outrageously good. It was great with the lamb but it was equally great on my finger. Addictive stuff.

pork and greens hot pot
This pork and greens hot pot was a little different from the other two recipes I tried, primarily because it started with a dashi broth which was fortified with mirin and usukuchi soy sauce (lighter colored than regular shoyu but possibly saltier). It used napa cabbage, scallions, spinach, shungiku and watercress, thin sliced pork belly (I got some great kurobata pork from Japanese Market), and a dash of white pepper. With the richer broth, no dipping sauce was called for. The real highlight was adding some soft ramen noodles (also in the freezer case at Japanese Market) at the end of the meal, with the starch in the noodles thickening the broth to almost a stew consistency for a hearty, filling finish. This may have been my favorite of the three recipes I tried, because of the more richly flavored broth and, well, pork belly.

The hardest part of these recipes was hunting down some of the ingredients. Japanese Market gets in Japanese vegetables but only once every week or two, though they had all the other dry and prepared ingredients I needed (kombu, katsuobushi, tobanjan, noodles, etc.). Lucky Oriental Mart had a pretty staggering selection of Asian produce, which only required some educated guesswork to make the jump from the Japanese to the Chinese names of things. Otherwise, these dishes were easy to prepare, had good flavors, and with the one-pot cooking, cleanup was easy, which is always nice. For more info on the book, including some videos from the authors, and some pictures that are much nicer than mine, visit the authors' website. Serious Eats is also running a giveaway of 5 cookbooks and featuring several of the recipes this week. I can't find any easy way to steer to all of them at once, so here are the links for dashi and chicken stock, salmon hot pot, sumo wrestler hot pot, and kabocha pumpkin hot pot.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Unholy Alliance? Holy Hypocrisy!

Iron ForkIt is enough to make the head reel. Let me make sure I've got this straight:

When Chefs Club Miami (a group of local chefs and industry folks who have been getting together for the past few years) does an event partnering with Whole Foods, it is an "unholy alliance," and participants like chefs Sean Brasel of Meat Market, Giancarla Bodoni of Escopazzo, and Cindy Hutson of Ortanique get snotty quotation-marked references to the "area's top chefs" and "culinary innovators," snide comments about them "swapping recipes for molten chocolate cakes and such," and grief for "teaming with a national market" that Lee Klein, restaurant critic for Miami New Times, says doesn't support local farmers.

When New Times does an "Iron Fork" competition - sponsored by ... no, really ... Whole Foods, it's worthy of touting, and all of a sudden, participants like .. no, it couldn't be ... Chefs Sean Brasel, Giancarla Bodoni, and Cindy Hudson [sic] are indeed top chefs - without any snark or quotation marks.

Since there's no other writer on Short Order that would have a need to be "incognito," I can only assume the author of that tweet is the same author that denounced the "unholy alliance" with Whole Foods. Going incognito is probably a good idea - then maybe you can avoid explaining to these chefs why you're crapping on them for doing the exact same thing that New Times is doing in an event that you are touting.

In any event, for those interested, the Chefs Club events at Whole Foods include the following:

Saturday, September 19
1:00pm - Cooking Demonstration with Chef Michael Jacobs of MediterAsia Catering & Consulting.
2:00pm - Meet the Chefs with Chefs Giancarla Bodoni (Escopazzo), Giorgio Rapiccavoli (The Anglers), and Sean Brasel (Meat Market).
3:30pm - Chef Demonstration with Chef Sean Bernal (Oceanaire Seafood Room).
5:00pm - Chef Demonstration (TBA).

Wednesday, September 23
7:00pm - 2nd Annual Culinary Clash with Chefs Cindy Hutson (Ortanique) and Clay Conley (Azul)

Saturday, September 26
1:00pm - Cooking Demonstration with Chef Joshua Wahler (5300 Chop House).
2:00pm - Meet the Chefs with Chefs Andrea Curto-Randazzo (Talula) and Dean Max and Paula da Silva (3030 Ocean).
3:30pm - Cooking Demonstration with Chef Gordon Maybury (Loews Miami Beach).
5:00pm - Chef Demonstration with Chef Alberto Cabrera (V&E Restaurants).

The New Times Iron Fork finals will be October 15, 2009 at the Bank of America Tower Sky Lobby, and tickets ($30) are available here.

Of course, if you've got a bone to pick with Whole Foods, you'll probably need to skip all of them.

Edited to add: in a subsequent tweet it was clarified that the Iron Fork event tonight in the Gables referred to above is not open to the public. Whoops!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Water Under the Bridge?

Some more insights on the "Brooklyn water bagel" issue from Bob Del Grosso, a/k/a the Hunger Artist, former instructor of Advanced Culinary Principles at the Culinary Institute of America, in "Bagels for Suckers":

For the record. I believe that if NY bagels are good (and not all of them are, there are plenty of crappy bagels made in NYC) their quality is almost entirely the result of what is left out (sugar, dough conditioners etc) rather than what is put in, flour quality and superior mixing, proofing, boiling and baking technique.

And his opinion is backed by some empirical observation:

When I was teaching Advanced Culinary Principles (a food science class) at CIA some of my students made bagels with water from Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. A blind tasting turned up no significant differences among them.
I wonder if any of these new, franchise-aspiring bagelmongers would be willing to put their bagels up to the same taste test.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bruni's a Big Tipper

My favorite bit of advice from Frank Bruni in "Good Tips at the End of His Meals":
Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.
Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.
Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.
Choose among the remaining dishes.

More Bruni parting advice in the Diner's Journal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kingdom - Manliest Restaurant in America?

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but I'm comfortable enough with my manhood to admit that on more than one occasion, folks that have emailed me through the blog or responded to chowhound posts have assumed (erroneously) that I'm female. But I didn't volunteer that fact to the folks at when they asked for my suggestion of a Miami candidate for their "Manliest Restaurant in America" contest.

After finishing a beer or three, scratching myself, and doing a little tribal drumming, my recommendation was Kingdom, the bar and burger joint on Biscayne Boulevard and 67th Street. The burgers are great, the beer is cold and reasonably priced, the TVs are always tuned to whatever sporting event is in season, and your choices are to sit at the dark dank bar, or to sit outside on the sidewalk along Biscayne Boulevard, where if you're there at the right hour you'll still see folks working the oldest profession. The burgers start at 1/2 pound and work their way up to the 2 pound "Doomsday Burger," with the testosterone-driven dare that if you finish one along with an order of fries and rings in 15 minutes, it's free. And there's a great big concrete lion out front.

Que es mas macho than that? (My alternate choice, by the way, was Las Vacas Gordas). The voting is proceeding in regional brackets, so if you want to support Kingdom, here's where to cast your vote on the "Manliest Restaurant in America."