World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Judith's Dungeness Crab Cioppino Recipe - Michael Mina | Food & Wine

Judith's Dungeness Crab Cioppino Recipe - Michael Mina | Food & Wine

One of my favorite food memories is trying cioppino in San Francisco with my friend Niff. It's the dish I most closely associate with the Bay Area now. She often told me stories when we were Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon about how her family would eat it around the holidays growing up in Ventura and I was excited to try for the first time 5 years ago.

Here's a easy recipe from Michael Mina in Food & Wine to make it with that great San Fran crustacean the Dungeness crab.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grant Achatz Sketches the Alinea Fall Menu: Restaurants + Bars: GQ

Grant Achatz Sketches the Alinea Fall Menu: Restaurants + Bars: GQ

Further proving the point that there is first rate food in the second city!

I love the idea of smoldering leaves with one's pheasant, but think I would eat it with some trepidation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eating through Tanzania: Swahili food on the roof of Africa

We started our October trek of Kilimanjaro on what I think was a Saturday that would take us six days.  We were joined by a noisy rabble of six Canadians and a couple extra solo travelers and began our ascent up to the Roof of Africa. 



The food was better than I expected.  The porters brought up bread and fruit and some bacon for the first two days.  We ate in a mess tent where we would try and warm up with tea and instant coffee or Milo.  The water was tapped from springs or streams on the mountain and boiled and remarkably there were few digestive issues!  Although, the diamox we were taking for altitude sickness makes one pee a lot.


Exhaustion should have made us hungry, but the effect of altitude was that one’s appetite was extinguished.  This was worsened by the repetitiveness of the meals. Unfortunately, the steady diet of porridge, soup and the same vegetable base sauce use to coat rice and pasta became unbearable by the end and we were relieved to get down the mountain and eat a pizza and drink a cold beer.



Monday, December 6, 2010

First rate food in the Second City

Chicago is often unfairly derided as America's Second city. But there's no reason one can't have first rate food there.  I had an extraordinary meal at Naha in Chicago last week.  Dinner began with a coddled organic hen's egg with sweetbreads and some beans.  My veal sweetbreads were crispy and certainly a little sweet.  The dish was sauced with a rich beefy reduction that was just perfection.  
Our waiter graciously helped me with the wine list and we got a very drinkable, but really moderately priced Duero Valley red to wash it down.

Next came the masterpiece: a superb roast squab with  seared Duck foie gras and a noodle "cake" scented with raisins, Armenian rose petal marmalade, pink peppercorns (seriously?) and anise.  It was a crazy and fun mix of different flavors that managed to all co-exist in something short of harmony.

There was barely room for dessert, but I did manage some of the homemade eggnog ice cream and a glass of 20 year old Graham's tawny port. Just the right thing to warm me up before facing the cold weather outside.




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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Class, Then and Now - AOL Travel News

First Class, Then and Now - AOL Travel News

About to catch a flight from Washington Dulles to the Quad Cities and reading about the death of First Class, which has me thinking wistfully of a different age of travel when this was sort of glamorous and there was no TSA pat down, etc.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Porto Party - NYTimes.com

Porto Party - NYTimes.com

Funny, I don't remember Porto being much like this article.  I must have been too focused on the Port and captivated by the historic area to find the hip stylish quarters.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eating through Tanzania: Swahili Food from Savannah to the Shore

“You’re going where for your honeymoon? “
“Shouldn’t you be considering something more relaxing? “

Many comments and opinions surfaced around our plans to go on our honeymoon in Tanzania in September, but while a few were signs of confusion, most were whole hearted expressions of support.  After a whirlwind of activity in which I survived the circus of an Indian wedding and the months of preparation in advance, we hurriedly packed our new back packs and headed to Tanzania.  Pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food on KLM, but especially thankful for the ample supply of the wine, we arrived at night at Kilimanjaro International.  After a stay in a rustic lodge with variable running water on a coffee plantain, we got up to a cold an foggy sunrise.
The day began with a very English breakfast of bland baked beans, English pancakes that are neither crepes nor flapjacks, and some fresh pineapple. The food was rather disappointing despite our hunger. Fortunately it was possible to order some eggs.  Our guide, Patrick, picked us up and took us to Ngorogoro Crater Park.  

Awed by the concentration of game, we ate one of many packed lunches of hardboiled eggs, noodles, sugar cookies and bananas from inside the Land Cruiser.  I felt like I was still on an airliner and becoming for the first good meal.  By evening, we were at Olduvai Camp near the famous Olduvai Gorge where the Leakey’s discovered our oldest ancestors, the Australopithecus.  We had a quick briefing on the camp from one of the staff members.  Reviewing our dietary requirements, S explained that she does not eat beef.  I confirmed that I was fine with anything.  Asked if I was ok with elephant barbeque that evening, I semi-enthusiastically responded “ok sure,” causing much chuckling from the facetious manager. After watching the sunrise over the cliffs, I had my first Kilimanjaro beer and a dinner of roast chicken that was peppery and lean and sans elephant.

The next morning we went on a walk with the Masai who lived near the camp.  We noticed many guinea fowl that scurried around the bushes and rocks that dotted the landscape.  When I asked the Masai if they liked to eat it, they explained that they never did because they didn’t think it tasted very good preferring beef and mutton.  I was floored by this (more so than by the suggestion of having elephant for dinner).  Here the Masai had an abundance of perfectly delectable guinea fowl there for the taking and they were totally disinterested.  Trying to decipher what at all they did like, I learned that they like cow’s blood. Having seen this meal procured by Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel, by inserting a sharpened wooden pipe into the neck of a very alive and reasonable distressed cow a calabash of blood is extracted.  
Confirming that this exact practice was in fact the case, I was also assured that you could have cow’s blood for breakfast and not have to eat the rest of the day. Truly this was the real breakfast of champions or a good energy drink. Does Gatorade know about this?


Our Guide drove us into the Serengeti.  The park is six times the size of Masai Mara in Kenya and about the size of the State of Connecticut.  In all, the vastness of the landscape of the Serengeti is incomparable. After seeing many more elephants , antelope and even the elusive leopard, we arrived in the evening at Dunia Camp. 
This luxury tented camp served us dinner at a long table where we got to enjoy an almost obligatory gin and tonic by the outdoor fire followed by a extraordinary dinner of chapatis, simple salads, chicken and peanut stew, marinated steak, root vegetables, potatoes and rice washed down with ample South African wine.  Desserts were fresh fruits with overly sweet crème anglais.

Our breakfasts got better.  My fried eggs were accompanied by thick round rashers of bacon, mushrooms or beans sautéed in onions, perfectly browned toast, fresh fruit juice and a choice of different jam or honey, which one morning attracted so many bees I had to move it to the next table.  Lunches became feasts of chicken baked in crisp pastry with potato salad and green salads with cold Kilimanjaro beer.

It was painful to leave for the airstrip to return to Arusha and knowing we had a few days of very different camping ahead of us on Kilimanjaro.

Smoking turkey with Jim Shahin

Pumpkin stuffed with Everything Good from Tasting Table

I think I just found the perfect potluck dish for fall!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating fall in New York: seasonal food and drink at Gramercy Tavern

I like to avoid something that sounds like a restaurant review, but my last visit to New York was made extra special after a visit to one of its famed restaurants. After reading Danny Meyer’s book on serving up success as a restaurateur last year, I was eager to try more of his Union Square dinning empire.  One place that was described with passion and warmth was Gramercy Tavern.  Described in Edible Manhattan as a modern tavern that George Washington would recognize, one is instantly enchanted by the old beams and modern casual paintings of fruit and vegetables amidst the more studied and formal portraits.  I was also excited to try eating chef Michael Anthony’s seasonal and local food knowing his experience working at Blue Hill and his focus on cooking local and seasonal produce as well as sustainable meat and seafood.  After unsuccessfully trying to make a reservation for dinner, my sister advised me that we could likely get a seat at the bar.   Arriving about 9.45 on a Saturday, we found unsurprisingly that it was packed.  Rather than get the cold shoulder from so many high profile restaurant, we were greeted with such charm by the host and hostess who apologized profusely for the long wait.  My sister who hosts Sunday brunch in the oh so too-cool-for-school Lower East Side gave the staff at the front of the house and behind the bar, a nod of approval. 

Retreating to nearby Tamarind for a drink and then returning in time to find a place where we could perch near the bar around 10.30 and then find a place to sit, we enjoyed some well crafted cocktails that creatively spoke to the time of year.  My Good Fellow combination of Famous Grouse Scotch, orange bitters, oloroso and walnut liquor was a harmonious blend of potent flavors that didn’t overwhelm.  Success!  A couple gets up and we get to slide on to high stools behind the dark, burnish wooden bar, rich lines running over the surface that made it look not as if it were scratched but as though it were a well-aged leather bag.  Nuts were placed on the table and I was delighted to finally eat the famed Union Square Cafe nuts that have been celebrated in cookbooks like Nigella Bites.



Our menus arrived and the seasonal dishes all took advantage of area produce and the hearty kind of cooking that best represents fall.   Torn between options, I settled for duck liver mousse that arrived with buttery toast of yeasty bread and pickled vegetables that were mildly vinegary.



 I knew I needed a glass of wine to enjoy this and my next course.  An unorthodox, but successful choice of a Rioja Gran Reserva circa 2001 was a good way to cut the gaminess of the duck liver with a spicy yet full-bodied red, without a mouthful of tannins.  My sister’s first course, a subtle squash soup with fried oysters on the slide had dimensions of deep root flavors and ocean crispiness.

Next came my entrée.  I usually don’t get soups or stews as a main course, but the description of the seafood and saffron chowder had sounded intriguing.  Rather than consistently heavy bisque, the chowder had minimal diary and had a conspicuous piece of poached fish that I needed to take apart with my knife, before enjoying its nearly meaty texture in the soup along with shrimp potatoes and some radish. There were allegedly mussels in this bowl, but they were rather absent. My neighbor’s trout was buttery and luxurious.

Dessert was certainly a requirement as despite the formidable options I settled on a happily overblown version of classic American comfort food:  chocolate pudding.  This was no ordinary chocolate pudding. Brioche and caramel croutons were tumbling over a spoonful of vanilla cream.  Breaking apart these and diving one’s spoon into the dense mousse is done with slight trepidation in light of a near avalanche of croutons.  The fun of extracting one’s coated spoon and eating it child like, I almost asked for a glass of milk, which Jeremy our affable barman would have no doubt only been too happy to accommodate.  We retired from Gramercy Tavern into the cool night air content in our choice and so pleased to have experienced the season at a restaurant that continues to set a new standard in not-so-haute cuisine.





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Duck liver mousse at Gramercy Tavern


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pizza frenzy!

It's pizza night at our apartment tonight as we are trying out a new pizza stone.

I've just been looking at the Project Food Blog entries this week and the Pizzas here are just so creative!  Well done bloggers.

http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/5

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mario Batalli's Chestnut Crepes

I love the taste and smell of chestnuts and this recipie takes a hint of that and replicates the fun of chestnuts on a cold fall day, albeit at home

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kilimanjaro beer



Trying new beers in different countries is always fun. It's extra rewarding when it is named after a mountain you just climbed! Here's a nice cold bottle of Kilimanjaro lager after we completed our 6 day climb of Kili during our honeymoon in Tanzania.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back from TZ!

Back from Tanzania.  With many good stories to share. Of to a wedding in Florida, but I will start writing for next week!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Make Spiced Milk Tea - Gourmet Magazine


Love masala tea. Always transports me to India or my mum's house. Here they use fennel and cinnamon, which is probably unnecessary.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A short break

Dear friends,

I'm going to take a break from posting until next week.  Getting married this weekend...

May you always have room for dessert,

Vijay

Monday, September 13, 2010

Well done Andrew!

I adore the Fore Street Grill in Portland.  Went back twice in a week a couple years ago.  If you eat one meal in Maine.  Make it there.

Moveable Feasts III : 52 Martinis sec au Tanqueray s’il vous plait!

In honor of Anthony Bourdain's return to Paris for the 100th episode of No Reservations last week, I'm digging up notes I wrote five years ago, reflecting on my own first visit to Paris during a summer internship in graduate school.


On a Friday afternoon following a third day of munching on baskets of brioche and drinking many more thimbles of coffee, dark roasted and brimming with lingering chicory flavor, I was excused for the day.

“What?”
“Yeah, we’re pretty much done hear. Just the arbitration clauses left. You can go.”
“You’re sure?”
“Yeah, absolutely… get out of here.”

I gathered my things and left our lawyers’ offices to stroll down the street and enjoy more of my surroundings. Small French cars whizzed by, their Gallic drivers only barely keeping to any semblance of vehicular order in a predictable way that is almost comforting in some twisted sense.

I eventual stumbled upon the Metro and thought I should give it a go. A hot, non-air-conditioned ride later, I was roughly in the vicinity of my hotel. Fortunately, the third time in a circle around the Opera, I finally found Rue Scribe and Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel. My slightly weathered, leather satchel seemed the only thing capable of gaining weight in France even faster than I could what with the nearly end-on-end feasting that characterized my stay. I dumped the bag and checked email briefly before hesitating momentarily, wanting to take off my tired-looking suit and leather-soled shoes, before I remembered something important. With a renewed sense of urgency and thrill, I put my jacket back on and slipped "Lonely Planet Paris" into a pocket.

A quick check in the mirror to adjust my tie and I was soon down the plush corridor and down the sweeping staircase. A nod to the doorman and a sharp left on the street and I headed across the square and down into the Place Vendôme. I strode into the elegant lobby of the Ritz and asked the bellman who held the door open where was “le ‘emingway Bar.” He told me to head down the hallway. I set off at a somewhat gentler gait, exercising as much self control as possible and remarkably not turning into a small child let loose in FAO Schwartz in New York or Hamleys in London. Here I was about to take a page from Papa’s own biography so to speak and make it my own.

You’d miss it, thinking it was someone’s den or study, if it were not for the gleaming, brass sign that tells you when you’ve past the seemingly endless side-corridor of display windows, hawking Brioni suits and Bulgari jewelry, that you have arrived.


LE BAR HEMINGWAY


And there it was. Like a temple or better yet, a shrine to a great soul. I remember seeing Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure, produced in 1999 by the BBC and broadcast in the United States on PBS to celebrate the centennial of Hemingway's birth. In this very fun program, we watch as Palin traces the Hemingway’s life around the world from Spain and Kenya to Cuba and Chicago, we see the truly extraordinary life that Papa, who hated the name Ernest, lived. Hemingway came to Paris a reporter and wrote in cafes staying warm through cold winters on glasses of brandy and handfuls of chestnuts and cool in summers on martinis and the company of Scott Fitzgerald as described in “A Moveable Feast.” As a young reporter, husband, and father there in Paris, Hemingway publishes "The Sun Also Rises."

I took a high level American literature class in college, where unintelligible, dreadlocked kids from Westchester wafted ridiculously about nonsense, refering to literature I'll probably never hear of to prove something to each other. Bullshit develops a rather distinct pungency in the afternoon that while others would do away with, is only appropriate to the confused and tortured mind of an English major. Most of the books sucked and I managed to avoid reading them and got the B+ I would have received anyway had I bust my ass, not that I was lazy, but because the books were unappealing. I was asking for trouble when I took that class with a persuasive roommate, who simply defied academia’s dictates our senior year to rarely, perhaps never, actually crack open a book and happily so. The only authors I read from the course with any seriousness were Fitzgerald and Hemingway, because they were good. I wrote what was one of my greatest papers in college on, yep, you guessed it, “The Sun Also Rises.” My thesis was quite simply put that mankind having satiated his basic need to survive was summiting Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid and then only like Sidhartha distraught afterwards. What was the point of it all? Death visits us all, like the bull in “The Sun Also Rises”. Some who walk and breathe among us have already “died.” Others have never “lived.” Like the matador, who is truly alive, we must “live,” in a contemporary sense, like a rock star.

I checked to make sure I was not wearing leather pants and looked unfamiliar to the readership of Rolling Stone. I then steped down into the room. walked past the small tables and modest booths to take a seat at the polished Oak bar. A white linen-jacketed barman placed a weighty looking napkin in front of me and we exchanged "bonjours." I often can't order drinks well in French and this evening was one such case. Granted it doesn't take too much to say bierre or whiskey sec (Scotch neat). Overcome, perhaps, by my surroundings I muttered something about Tanqueray and a martini in disjointed French that could have come from a bush taxi driver in Bafoussam, Cameroon. The barman dispensed with any more French for "Monsieur l'Etranger."

"O-liv, Monsieur?"
"No, perhaps a twist of lemon?"
"Yes Monsieur, Martini wiz limon"
"Yes, thank you."

A familiar green bottle was produced and enough of its contents poured into a shaker with a little vermouth and a after a moment of percussion of ice and steel, an art deco glass was filled with a crisp, chilled libation--a twist of lemon slipped in and decended to the bottom.

I had first read about this bar in Forbes FYI some years before. The bartender was a somewhat balding Englishman named Colin. Clearly, judging from the two rafish, woolly-haired frogs working there now, he was on leave. Perhaps he's in Key West or Havana.

I raised my glass and took that first timid sip that one takes with a cocktail. Not with beer, not with wine, not even so much with cognac--every bar and every bartender is different, and so we taste with more trepidation than we might hold out for other beverages. Remarkable. The bartender grined.

"Alright?"
"Perfect!"
"Good."

Clearly, this was a craftsman who knew he had a solid product. He had turned his attention to my right where two not quite middle-aged American women--one especially attractive for her years--were thinking about having a glass of wine. They wanted a chardonnay. He recommended a nice burgundy. They explained they wanted "char-don-nay." Too gracious or perhaps too fatigued to explain wine regions, he simply found the burgundy in question and poured tasting quantities of white wine.

"Oooh, that's good"
"Yes, we'll have that!"

I had been glancing around the room, taking-in the atmosphere and importantly the decor of this room as well as the neighbors. Around the shelves behind the bar were pictures of the Man. Some from his Parisian days, but most were from later years. The weathered face of a man spending his days fishing in Cuba and other weeks in the Spanish hills during the Civil War was more familiar. The Shelves on the adjacent wall had books and bric-a-brac, including a very curious CIA mug. Large fish hung on the walls and hunting photos looked as glamorous as taken from the pages of "Green Hills of Africa" Cigar smoke faintly wafted from the across the room. A Japanese businessman was enjoying the first of what would no doubt be many great evenings. He had just purchased four boxes of Montecristos, he said.

I ate some more almonds from the silver dish in front of me and took another sip of my martini. The bartender asked me if I wanted a newspaper or magazine.
 I decided not to be another cliché American in Paris, International Herald Tribune in hand, and declined; however tempting. “Ah, yes. Just want to enjoy a nice drink.” he replied. This made me think of the story of how Papa rode into Paris in a tank as a war correspondent after the Nazi occupation and set about liberating its cafes. He started with the wine cellar of the Ritz. Hemingway, his friends, and his fictional characters are usually found drinking all sorts of things. Brandy, grappa, Scotch, gin, Campari, the list is endless. Thinking about my “nice drink” I asked the logical next question.

“So, what did Hemingway drink here?”
“Hemingway? He drank lot of whiskey, CognacBordeaux and Tanqueray.
“In fact, when he liberated the Ritz, that night he is said to have drank 52 dry martinis!”

I gushed with pride. I finished my martini, paid the bill (let us hope I don’t find many other places where I’m willing to pay 25 euros for a drink), and headed out the door with a happy spring in my step. I walked south to les Tuilleries and headed left to the Louvre.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Movable Feasts II

In honor of Anthony Bourdain's return to Paris for the 100th episode of No Reservations this week, I'm digging up notes I wrote five years ago, reflecting on my own first visit to Paris during a summer internship in graduate school.



Gliding down the streets of Paris in a Mercedes taxi from Place Vendome to Rue Kleber, I marveled at the extraordinary elegance of that city. The architecture is simply wondrous and yet perhaps a bit delicate looking, but in a sense ultimately substantial in form, not unlike a soufflé. I had woken-up after four hours of sleep and serendipitously put on my only “French” tie, a blue, cashmere Yves St. Laurent number that I had semi-absently packed. Another day was spent with our outside counsel poring over documents that lawyers have the gift for making either nauseating, deathly boring, or often both. The fare during the day was fairly modest (relatively speaking). We were drinking seemingly thimble-sized coffees to stay awake and washing down shrimp and salmon sandwiches, that were heavily-laden with mayonnaise (but of course!), with bottles of sour, Vichy, mineral water—something I’ve never acquired the taste for.


That evening we hit the proverbial brick wall of fatigue and everyone went out to dinner in the colorful quarter of La Marais. Finding a lively little Moroccan restaurant called 404 that came highly recommended, we sat around two large brass trays and drank Algerian wine and some strong mojito-inspired drinks that the barman said was his own specialty from among his repertoire of aperitifs, as magical dishes were brought out. First, we feasted on a plate of off-the-menu merguez sausages, each bite of which was a sublime wave of piquant seasoning and equally fine lamb. This was accompanied by flaky pastila pies of chicken baked with a particularly sweet infusion of cinnamon. Small pots of lentils and lamb soup and sardines farci were next. To this day, my mental image of sardines, like that of most people, is of an unexciting can of rather pathetic, oily globs that imitate fish—sometimes unconvincingly so. Oh, but then, one is reminded that the world need not be just a bleak and unsatisfying place. Slightly crispy, stuffed sardines of a substantial length and mass appeared and I devoured them as slowly as I could, drawing on all the powers of restraint I’ve ever had, if only to savor the different textures in each bite: skin, flesh, and greens, and then finally in an encore of sorts the zesty lemon juice that clung to the crust like the last veneer of morning dew. 



Finally, big ceramic pots of chicken, fish, and lamb tanjine were presented. Large mounds of superb cous cous were also at hand. The lamb was tender and artichokes were suitably rich with the flavor of the tanjine broth. Eating can sometimes feel like an endurance sport of sorts. This means that sometimes pacing, some amount of discipline, and always will power are required for excellence. I was in rare form: with a few breaks and enough wine, I polished off most of the pot. I then ate a little of the almost perfumed fish tanjine, which was a real treat: the softness of the stewed fish absorbing some extra notes of mint. As some needed to sit and digest, others stood and danced to the now quite loud Arabic music, puffing on Marlboros, and not at all feeling confined by our cramped seating circumstances. 


Glasses of fragrant tea were served and dinner had to be walked off by a leisurely midnight stroll back to the hotels. La Marais was abuzz with street life as restaurants and bars overflowed into the streets that Thursday night. The cool night air and the moonlit buildings added a certain “I don’t know what.” There, my enchantment with Paris was fairly complete.





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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recipe for Spiked Saudi Champagne

For several years my parents were expatriates in Saudi Arabia.  People living there even for a short time become accustomed to the fact that no alcohol of any kind is permitted in the Kingdom.  However, as children we enjoyed when we were out to dinner, a sangria-like drink called “Saudi champagne.”  Since then I’ve wanted to make it with real wine.  Thus began this recipe.  The non-alcoholic version of this is based on a 1 to 2 ratio sparkling water to sparkling Apple Juice, but here we will use sparkling wine. 
Serves: 5
Time: 30 Minutes
For this fun summer drink, you will need:
1 bottle of inexpensive brut (dry) sparkling wine, such as Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco (keep chilled)
6 or 7 fresh mint leaves (washed)
 1 golden delicious apples (or your favorite red apple)
Half a small lemon
A handful of halved red grapes
Ice

Slice your apples into very thin wedges and place in a bowl.
Crush the mint leaves with your hands to unlock their fragrance and toss them in with the apples before dropping them into a pitcher.
Slice the lemon into three wedges and add to the pitcher along with the grapes without squeezing them.
Using a towel over the top, open your sparkling wine carefully; firmly holding the cork and turning the bottle to uncork.
Slowly pour in your dry, sparkling wine, stopping and taking care that it does not overflow.
After about 10 minutes pour into glasses (no champagne flutes necessary) with a couple ice cubes

Author’s note: No bottles of vintage Champagne were harmed in the formulation of this sacrilegious recipe

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Moveable Feasts I

In honor of Anthony Boudain's return to Paris for the 100th episode of No Reservations, I'm digging up something I wrote five years ago, reflecting on my own first visit to Paris during a summer internship in graduate school.



If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

E. "Papa" Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"


Well it appears there’s no light ahead of me to walk towards…. Oscar Wilde said that all Americans that are good, when they die, go to Paris. Indeed, the literary culture of the Twentieth Century is rife with bored and drink-deprived yanks spending time, nay decades, in Paris. The “Lost Generation” that was immortalized in Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” and in “The Sun Also Rises” clearly could have done much worse. I never understood Hemingway’s love of Paris and his dislike of London, which he did not think really compared with Paris. In “True at First Light” (edited by grandson Patrick and published posthumously), he largely ignores, when stalking lions in the Kenyan Highlands, the discussion of the joys of city life in London between his second wife and his English hunting guide. A consummate and if somewhat reluctant anglophile such as yours truly cannot get excited about most things Gaullois, but yet people change.


Going through tumultuous and traumatic job change brings out all kinds of new resolutions and resolve, well, that or a drinking problem. I’ve avoided the latter. In the Barnes and Nobles bookstore at West 66th and Broadway in New York, I decided to get serious about something I enjoyed most about the Sunday paper, namely the travel section. I felt I needed to immerse myself in another place. And so I picked-up Peter Mayle’s seminal book, “A Year in Provence.” Most days-spent-at-the-beach and commotion-at-the-bazaar travel writing I’d known before was trite and dull in the end, despite the authors good intentions to make something interesting of it. I have always thought of Mayle’s books the way Tom Wolfe described the Sunday New York Times in that reading his books is like “slipping into a warm bath.” Mayle has an extraordinary gift. The first part is that he has a masterful command of the elements of wit and an expatriate Englishman’s bemused attitude, albeit stiff upper lip for the idiosyncrasies and dry irony of life in the South of France. The second is a love of food and drink that he approaches with enormous zeal: part anthropologist, part adventurer, but mostly glutton (which without question is what I find to be a most endearing characteristic). The third is a benign, yet sincere affection for his subject; for Mayle loves Provence, loves the Seasons loves the olive trees, and even loves his neighbor with the unruly dogs and the perfect recipe for stewed fox. Having been influenced by nuances of Asian cuisine, my appreciation for the rich heritage and unique craft of French cooking came to me later in life than for most.

A Year in Provence was the first of many books by Peter Mayle that I have had the great pleasure to read. All of them have wonderful things to say about le gastronomie francais. A perfect storm arose that first year out of college. I was living in New York, and had for the first time something called disposable income. I like the term "disposable income,” because that’s oh so appropriate for young person in New York. Spending product of one’s ungainful employment is unavoidable. So after years of dinning hall food, I dined out and enjoyed the dimensions of street food and different world cuisines—both high and low--that as far as I’m concerned make New York the culinary capital of the planet. But France? That was genesis. That was the primordial ooze from which came fourth the basis for the existence of great food. Now I can’t tell you much about the great triumphs of Escoffier or Bocuse, but I’ve read some M.F.K. Fisher, Jeffrey Steingarten, and Alan Richman and that represented my early “education” or lack thereof in New York.

Finally, whether ignorant or enlightened, it doesn’t really matter much. The palette knows the truth that the mind can only yearn to understand. (Sounds like something Brillat-Savarin would agree with non?). My first meal in France was, in retrospect, rather cliché: escargots and coq au vin followed by almond and caramel meringue. Accompanied by several bottles of a superb ‘98 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The escargots happily surrendered their garlic, buttery flavor. The chicken, mushrooms, shallots, and wine produced a sublime symphony that made my side of potatoes the luckiest spuds to ever get puréed. The evening ended after a what seemed like several stout efforts to drain a bottomless glass of wine and stories about eating exotic invertebrates in China from a business development guy who picked-up the tab. I went to bed happy, my brain swimming in sulphates and arteries reveling in what could only have been good cholesterol.

To be continued…

Friday, September 3, 2010

Red Hook Lobster transports you to Maine

I'd heard from the leading blogs and food newsletters about how Red Hook Lobster's lobster rolls were unbeatable.  I had heard about the lines outside their food truck that tweets its location for the day.

Red Sox hat on, I went to investigate. This lobster rolls lives up to the hype.  I got the meal that includes Cape Cod chips and Maine Root soda (had to get the delicious root beer).

The pieces of lobster were not just chunky, there were massive.  The dressing was slight and not the goopy, mayonnaisey mess you get in some rolls. The star was rightfully the lobster.  The first bite was logistically intimidating as the roll was pilled tall and it seemed that parts would drop out.  However, my caution proved unfounded.  The assembly of lobster in a perfect sized potato roll was immaculate: nothing fell with that first bite.

I tried to stab what looked like a precarious piece of claw meat, but it was soundly lodged in there.  First class construction!  The lobster meat was sweet and cold; dusted with mild paprika and shards of celery and chive. A worthy addition to the local food truck scene.  I'm really happy these folks expanded from Brooklyn.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ode to Bourdain

Congratulations to Tony Bourdain for 100 great episodes.  This show sets an impressively high standard and the latest season has been as good as any. If you can just pick and go somewhere and experience it, you will like it.  You need not worry about where you go  and what you eat as much as you think, because how you approach things and what you are feeling matter most.  Tony makes this point clear from Paris.  In honor of Tony, I'm going to republish some of my own field notes from 5 years ago in Paris. Next week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Food Network is clearly missing is more Bollywood song and dance numbers


Ugh. Just had a scary though of Paula Dean singing and dancing.

I have no idea what they are saying (I don't speak Hindi), but this is pretty funny in the first minute or so.