Today In The World of Food

In The World of Food Today:

Uno Restaurant Holdings filed for bankruptcy protection: 16 “poorly performing restaurants.”  CEO Frank Guidara, father of Will who is GM at Danny Meyer’s 11 Madison in NYC, aims to reduce the debt and regroup.  It’s sad, really, since Frank Guidara was kind of a visionary back in the day when pizza restaurants were pie in the sky.  He created good restaurants with good value.  More toppings might have saved the empire, who knows?  http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2010/01/21/deep_dish_pros_deep_in_debt/

Starbucks: The company’s cup is full again.  In the ongoing effort to wipe out small mom & pop coffee shops, the Seattle-based company is profitable.  Ever drink this stuff?  Dunk’s is the better product: more rounded, cheaper, and not too hot.

Salt: In the New England Journal of Medicine (1/20/10), a new study finds that a very minimal reduction of salt can reduce significantly the risk of strokes and heart disease.  Good news for NYC as Mayor Mike wants to get restaurants to lower the amount of salt used in cooking.  Now if we could only get magazine and newspaper recipe writers to do the same.  http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/NEJMoa0907355?query=TOC

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Qu’ils mangeant de la brioche (du gateau)

Well, now that Senator Scott Brown leads the charge to Armageddon, what else is new in dining?

In Boston we’ll soon have Menton, a super-luxe restaurant where the average cover will be $150.  I’m starting a rumor here that the original name was to have been Hubris.  Like Dylan said, it will be a place where you’ll be, “Free to drink Martini’s and watch the sun rise.”

Meanwhile in Manhattan there’s Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria, reviewed in today’s New York Times, where dinner is about $50 per person and is sensational.  I’ve been twice: http://events.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/dining/reviews/20rest.html?ref=dining

In a period when there is 8.8% unemployment in Massachusetts, shouldn’t restaurants reflect where they are?  I’m not calling for chefs to open soup kitchens.  But it’s odd to see luxury anew when 1 in 12 you see are out of work.  The luxe joints will create cocoons where the inured can gather and chuckle.

At Maialino, in contrast, the pleasures are urban and evocative.  You don’t go there to escape, you go to eat.

Vote for Martha Coakley and How To Cook

Today in Massachusetts Martha Coakley is struggling to win Ted Kennedy’s former seat in the U.S. Senate.  If she fails, you can kiss the Democratic Party’s healthcare plan goodbye, find Obama as a one-term President, and watch as the far right finds its own little corporal to galvanize the over 10% unemployed. Believe me, arrests will be made, gay marriage will be banned, abortion will be illegal again, and white folks will do what they do best: “They don’t know when to stop,” to paraphrase Toni Morrison writing in Beloved.

Back to food:

A housewife from West Hartford, Connecticut writes in: “I really do wish you’d follow my suggestion and start writing about how to buy, make, and serve healthy, tasty meals with a minimum of time.  Tell us all about your mail order food, quick cooking techniques, etc.”

With that in mind, let’s start today with last night’s dinner.

I start a timer on the stove for 20 minutes.  If I can’t get the cooking done in that time period, something must be wrong.

So: last night I bought red snapper filet from Browne Trading Company (via Savenor’s butcher shop).  Browne Trading is expensive, but has the greatest value of any fish purveyor in the country; no place is better.

www.brownetrading.com

All high heat:

Lightly coat filets in flour, pan sear in olive oil, get a nice crust going like Dave Pasternak (Esca) has told me, about four minutes on each side, and then remove and place on plate.

Peel and chop  a handful of Brussels sprouts, thinly slice half a peeled red onion, chop two peeled garlic cloves.

Heat oil from fish, add vegetables, cook about three minutes, add about a 1/4 cup of water, stir until done.

Open package of steamed lentils from Trader Joe’s, plate, and add a smidge of olive oil.

Place fish on top of lentils, add salt and squeeze 1/2 lemon over both filet, add vegetables at eight o’ clock to fish, serve.

Bing!  12 minutes.

Avatar and the Comfort Food of Comfort Food

Yesterday afternoon I saw “Avatar,” and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  I especially loved the scene towards the ending when the Arabs got the human Smurf to get all the Disney characters to attack the Vietnamese veterans.

But back to food: A new restaurant has opened in Boston: The Friendly Toast.  By far, it’s the greatest thing to hit town in years.  All day breakfast, M&M pancakes, and a Club sandwich that could feed one hungry college guy or a family or four.  I was in today.

The original TFT is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  This is their second outpost.

What’s intriguing is the trend TFT may be setting: Breakfast is the comfort food of comfort food and these days, in what we may look back on as the beginning of the end of our American version of the Weimar Republic, what’s better than toast?

www.thefriendlytoast.net

Toast With Jam Royalty Free Stock Photos

Half Full and Half Empty

I had a strange experience last night at Post 390 in Boston.  Sidled up to bar, ordered a dry Plymouth Martini, and watched the bartender pour the gin with a drop of vermouth onto ice in a metal shaker.

Here’s what happened next and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes: He poured a half glass of water into the shaker holding the ice, gin, and vermouth.

Why?

To have enough liquid to fill the big Martini glass, of course.

Watered down gin?  I didn’t even know that that was allowed.

Well, another place to cross off the list.

to fill a glass with water

The Second Coming

Tonight, uncharacteristically, we’re off to a comedy show where J.B. Smoove will open for Richard Lewis.  I have been to one comedy show before, Billy Connelly, and I expect that this evening will be as good or better.  J.B. Smoove is very funny.

I’ve been enjoying H & H bagels all week with belly lox from Zabar’s.

Everything seems disjointed and terrifically absurd: Things don’t fit together.

Fish from Citaralla Monday through Thursday: Yellow fin tuna, lemon sole, hamachi, and halibut.

Earthquakes in Haiti, 16 interviews with unemployed mentally ill people in two welfare offices: Roxbury & Hyannis.

A girlfriend with eye problems, pizza dilemmas @ Otto’s, and what-have-you.

It’s enough to make me think non-stop of Yeats:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

1 Arctic Peregrine Falcon - Maslowski, Steve - usfws

Update on Restaurant Benefits for Haiti

NYC, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlantic City restaurants are responding to the enormity of the catastrophic deaths and healthcare crisis in Haiti:

Chef Damian Brassel of Knife + Fork in NYC announced yesterday that 20% of every customer’s bill, including tips, will go to relief efforts on 1/20/10. www.knife-fork-nyc.com

Chef and owner Philippe Massaud of Ilili has proposed that all NYC restaurants give  10% of all proceeds and 5% of tips to charities helping Haiti on 1/24/10. www.ililinyc.com.

In Philadelphia, NYC, and Atlantic City, all Starr group restaurants will donate 10% of gross food sales to the CBHF (http://www.clintonbushhaitifund.org), established by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  www.starr-restaurant.com

According to Bullfrog and Baum, a public relations company employed by restaurants:

The following restaurants will be participating in Dine Out For Haiti” (www.dineout4haiti.orgwww.dineoutforhaiti.org) and will be donating 10 percent of their sales on Sunday, Jan. 24, to aid organizations:

  • Anella (222 Franklin St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn 11222; 718-389-8100)
  • Cookshop (156 10th Ave., New York, NY 10011; 212-924-4440)
  • Delicatessen (54 Prince St., New York, NY 10012; 212-226-0211)
  • Five Points (31 Great Jones St., New York, NY 10012; 212-253-5700)
  • Hundred Acres (38 MacDougal St., New York, NY 10012; 212-475-7500)Kefi (505 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10024; 212-873-0200)
  • The Mermaid Inn (96 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10003; 212-674-5870; 568 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10024; 212-799-7400)
  • The Mermaid Oyster Bar (79 MacDougal St., New York, NY 10012; 212-260-0100)
  • Motorino (349 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003; 319 Graham Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211)
United Nations World Food Program. The following restaurants will be donating 10 percent of their sales on Monday, Jan. 25, to this aid organization:
  • Alto (520 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022; 212-308-1099)
  • Convivio (45 Tudor City Place, New York, NY 10017; 212-599-5045)
  • Marea (240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019; 212-582-5100)

one sixtyblue (1400 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607; 312-850-0303). Starting Monday, Jan. 18, and running through Sunday, Jan. 24, the restaurant is offering diners the option to add $1 to their checks to benefit Heartland Alliance’s Haitian relief efforts.

Sprinkles Cupcakes (various locations; http://www.sprinkles.com). The company raised $20,000 for the Red Cross’ Haiti Relief and Development Fund on Saturday, Jan. 16, by allocating 100 percent of proceeds from all red velvet cupcakes sold at its five stores to charity.
BLT Steak LA (8720 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069; 310 360-1950): $10 from every bottle of wine purchased at the restaurant from now until the end of January will be donated to Haiti relief funds.

And in Boston where, according to the 2007 American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau, there are an estimated 14,361 Haitian-born immigrants, making up the second largest share of immigrants in Boston, with (8.5%), behind China (8.6%)?

At noon today Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes, co-owners of Upstairs in the Square, in Harvard Square, announced that the restaurant is hosting a day-long benefit on 1/25/10 for Partners In Health.  (Ron “The Man” Savenor of the city’s best butcher shop is donating a pig.)  For reservations and information, call 617-864-1933 or visit the UpStairs website: www.upstairsonthesquare.com.

Haiti

I was going to write about the Boston Wine Expo today–Christmas comes twice a year when rep’s of wineries comp chefs, writers, and distributors at top city restaurants–but then there was the earthquake.

At my hospital, 30% of the employees have roots in  Haiti.  One colleague, a ward secretary, left last week for Haiti to attend a wedding.  No one has heard yet if she is safe.

Haiti’s President told the Associated Press that he thinks 500,000 people may have died in the earthquake.

Many organizations are providing relief and support.  Here is one of the best due to its extensive infrastructure in Haiti as well as long ties to existing health programs in the country: Partners in Health.  Its director, Ophelia Dahl, is the daughter of the odd, brilliant writer Roald Dahl.

Here is their site: http://www.pih.org/home.html

Clip Art - haiti. fotosearch  - search clipart,  illustration,  drawings and vector  eps graphics images

Throwing the Dice: Chefs & Casinos

Revenues are way down at casinos: A bad economy means fewer people are gambling away their savings.

What does this have to do with chefs?

Many chefs had “sweetheart” deals at casinos: In exchange for their brand–name, menu, X number of appearances glad-handing at the casino restaurant–they were given total funding.  They didn’t have to put a dime of their money into the project.

The idea was to use the chef brand to get people into the hotels and casinos to spend more than they would for the dining experience.

This worked as long as the casinos were full.

But now with losses mounting, the restaurants are costing the casinos barrels of cash.  They can’t afford it.

For example, Foxwoods Resort Casino has defaulted on its debt and has had its credit debt downgraded to D, the lowest Standard & Poor’s rating.   According to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, only $14.2 million has been paid towards the $21.25 million semi-annual interest payment that was due in November, 2009, on $500 million in debt notes.

So what will happen to chefs?

Expect restaurant closures: Daniel Boulud Brasserie is shutting its doors at Wynn Las Vegas in April, 2010.  That’s an obvious sign of what’s to come.

Chefs will be concerned about their brands being tarnished by the casino closures.   For good reason.

Casino restaurants were the culinary equivalent of low interest, subprime loans: Chefs were given properties for nothing or next to nothing.  These feeds helped fund their non-casino properties.  With the casino closures, that revenue stream will be gone or diminished.

So how will their properties survive in high-rent buildings with rooms half-filled with diners and the days of three seatings?  That’s gone, baby, gone.

Talk about shooting craps.

Picture of Dice - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

A Brief Rant

Dining in Boston in 2009 is like watching the Red Sox play before GM Theo Epstein showed up.  He shared with the city his vision: It’s all about winning the world series.  It’s not about winning a few games.  I keep hoping that the restaurants will get better.  I’m a hopeful person by nature.  Sort of Pollyanna in Hell: No more winter coats, as Roz Chast put it in her delightful cartoon.

In Boston there are a few world-class restaurants for what they provide in singular fashion: Galleria Umberto, New Shanghai, Flour, Hi-Rise Bakery.  You could even put Legal Seafoods in this category as ingredient-driven.

There are very good restaurants serving less than top ingredients: Rocca, Scampo, Rendezvous, East Coast Grill, Ginger Park, Post 390.

There are good restaurants serving top ingredients: Harvest, Toro, Clio, L’Espalier, Craigie on Main.  One characteristic of all these, except Harvest: Fussy food played with by chefs.  Look, ma, I’m a chef!  Years ago, Alan Richman wrote about this phenomenon in GQ.

Here’s fussy, from L’Espalier: “Butter-poached Maine lobster with scallion and teriyaki barbequed enoki mushrooms; lobster jus.”  Uh, Frank, you had me at butter poached.  Teriyaki BBQ ‘shrooms?

Fussy at Clio: “Saddle Of New Zealand Venison Cooked In Espresso Oil with cocoa crumble foie gras and uchiki kuri squash.”  Expresso oil?  Oh, goody!  Can we finger paint after dinner?

People say O Ya is amazing.  At $300 a couple, my son left so hungry last year that afterwards he went to have pizza. That is amazing.

I’m still waiting to see one izakaya here and one, just one, restaurant close to Esca, Le Bernadin, Maialino, Zuni, Bouchon, or Bar Boulud.

The city is focused on its chefs, not its food or service.

It’s certainly possible to have a good meal in town.  And the Thai places are exceptional.

Meanwhile Boston dining, while not in its infancy, has not grown up.

Still waiting for the Theo Epstein of dining, however!

Little Girl Dressed Up as a Chef Holding a Whisk    photo