World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

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,


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.

“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.


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.


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

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.