Harbingers of Fall

Mrs. Little, who kept bees and sold honey, put “harbinger” on the vocabulary test in our sixth grade class and the word and its meaning have become unforgettable having been instilled at the age of eleven.

That said, I look around and seek harbingers of the season, each one, and now that it’s Fall what’ve we got?

Apple picking days are, sadly, over what with the kids wreaking havoc on campus and at work.  So I’m left with Bella Viva: Simply the best dried fruit on the planet earth.  I know we’re heading deeper into winter–bare trees and what not–when I place the order and a box arrives of dried pluots, dried apricots, dried yellow nectarines, and walnuts.  (On Wikipedia, it is said that Floyd Zaiger invented the pluot.  I say we have a Floyd Zaiger Day where everyone takes time away from work and sits by a body of water with a basket of dried pluots while contemplating nature.)

Another harbinger are the frantic squirrels: OK, they are not monkeys, but they’ll do.  Why, just this morning about a half dozen were skittering around some shrubs in pursuit of The Holy Acorn.

Fun Facts: Did you know that squirrels are religious?  That they have sects, schisms, etc.?  That there was a Reformation among squirrels?  All true, look it up, if you don’t believe me.

Another sign?  Fattening up.  My appetite, like that of squirrels, accelerates with the chill in the air: Scarfing down bread, pizza, pasta as if there is no tomorrow and then heading straight to the gym to lift weights and run so as to stay trim for my Title Fight in December.

Probably the biggest sign will be the cracking open of Nueskes bacon and French toast Challah.

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat & the Chinese Takeover of Fertilizer

Today’s NY Times had two remarkable food-related stories:

In a piece on France, the reporter noted: “France ranks 46th in theWorld Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica. Eighty-two percent of French women aged 25-49 work, many of them full-time, but 82 percent of parliamentary seats are occupied by men. French women earn 26 percent less than men but spend twice as much time on domestic tasks. They have the most babies in Europe, but are also the biggest consumers of anti-depressants.”

Well, that helps to explain why French women don’t get fat.  No power, money, or happiness?  Why eat?  Indeed, why bother?  Just pass me the Paxil, please, and the Perrier to wash it down.

Meanwhile, in Canada, concern is growing over a corporate takeover that could easily affect how food is grown in the USA.  The writer is hardly a rabble-rouser or xenophobe and is simply stating an economic fact that blurs ideological distinctions.  At stake is a hostile takeover bid of Potash:  “Saskatchewan is home base for thePotash Corporation, the fertilizer company…If you care at all about the future of the world’s food supply, you care — whether you know it or not — about Saskatchewan.  A consortium of state-backed Chinese companies and financiers may make a takeover offer for Potash that rivals a $38.6 billion hostile bid from BHP Billiton, and that prospect has lawmakers in Washington, regulators in Canada and bankers on Wall Street all talking.  The politically charged subtext is this: Do we really want the Chinese to control the company that has the largest capacity to produce fertilizer?  …45 percent of Potash’s production is sold to farmers in North America.  The big worry, in part, is that the Chinese could seek to redirect that supply to China, starving other countries of a much-needed commodity.”

So there we have it.  Thin, unhappy, devalued French women and fertilizer heading to China.

Ever get the feeling that things that are happening are going under-reported?

Michelin Guide NYC 2011

Many interesting features to the Michelin list for 2011 NYC that was released on 10/6/10.

First, we see that of the 57 restaurants listed, six are Japanese: More than 10%, which is intriguing.  I think we will see more of this in years to come.  We’re turning Japanese, I really think so: Fresh, seasonal, unadorned food emphasizing texture, heat, and presentation served in a matter of 90 minutes rather than three hours.  The cuisine reflects a psychological shift: Beautiful fish and vegetables that provide room for greater activity and allegiance to natural shifts around us.

Then we see that Italy is well-represented.  Historically, no love is lost between the Michelin guide and Italian gastronomy.  Few restaurants in Italy carry stars.  However, in NYC, we find five.  Actually, wait a sec…five Italian and six Japanese?

Let’s face it, Michelin is all about the French.  In NYC, we see 14 French restaurants.  Of the top five *** restaurants, four are French.

Finally, on a personal note, we see that Michelin is in US markets of NYC, San Francisco, & Chicago.  Some years ago, I interviewed a number of Boston chefs about the guide.  One chef said he thought his restaurant was a solid **.   Hmmm….does Michelin need a map to get to Boston?  Or is there another reason why they haven’t as yet dropped by?

Three Michelin stars
Jean Georges
Le Bernardin
Per Se

Two Michelin stars
Chef Table at Brooklyn Fare (New)
Gordon Ramsay at The London
Kajitsu (New)
Marea (New)
Momofuku Ko
Soto (New)

One Michelin star
Aldea (New)
Anthos (closed)
A Voce Columbus
A Voce Madison (New)
Blue Hill
The Breslin (New)
Café Boulud
Casa Mono
Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen (New)
Del Posto
Dovetail (New)
Eleven Madison Park
Gotham Bar and Grill
Gramercy Tavern
Jewel Bako
Kyo Ya
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Laut (New)
Marc Forgione
Minetta Tavern
The Modern
Peter Luger
River Café
Rouge Tomate
SHO Shaun Hergatt
Spotted Pig
Sushi Azabu
Sushi of Gari
Veritas (currently closed)

The New York Report: Esca, Heartbeat, Locanda Verde, Jewel Bako, Sarabeth’s, etc.

Finding myself in NYC for less than 48 hours of hitting the pavement for work and related matters of the heart, I ate at several favorite places.  This is the full report.

Esca, as always, is wonderful.  Crudo of fresh, delicious fish with smidges of olive oil and big salt.  Japan by way of Italy.  Followed by perciatelli with sardines, walnuts, and fennel compote.  I don’t vary much in what I eat at Esca and I’m never disappointed.  Killer service, lively and attractive room, easily my favorite restaurant in town.

The very next morning, my friend Fred took me to Heartbeat, in the W in the 40’s, where an acceptable poppy seed bagel with way too much salmon was served.

I walked up to 79th to ditch bags and then all the way down to Tribeca for lunch at Locanda Verde: Andrew Carmellini’s place.  Dude can cook.  Dude’s a friend.  Ricotta with olive oil and herbs and toast.  Bucatini amatriciana.  All good.  The kind of place where I’d love to eat twice a week.  Smart, Italian-American food.  The kind of restaurant that shames 98% of the dreadful places masquerading as Italian.

Dinner?  Jewel Bako, preceded by an entertaining talk by a panel of chefs Boulud, Vongerichten, & White.  White, Michael White.  Anyhow, I can’t remember the last time I ate in the East Village, but the next time I do, it’ll be at Jewel Bako.  Very pleasant vibe, more fresh fish, anago with skin on that melted in my mouth.  Portions a bit too big to actually fit in the mouth, but there are worse problems.

On Saturday, I stopped by at Eli’s Vinegar Factory and was shocked–shocked, I say!–to see grapefruit juice for $11 a pint so I hightailed it across the park.  Zabar’s: Belly lox, naturally, and next door at H & H the dozen poppy & everything bagels and then down the street to Citarella’s for red snapper & sword.  Ice, lots of ice, for the train ride home.

Finally, a meal at Sarabeth’s with family: Great club & iced black.

It is a good thing I was hungry.

Wednesday Food Sections–Everyone is Mean Today: Why, oh, why?

It starts with a very mean review of the estimable Colman Andrews’s new book on chef Ferran Adria, written by Dwight Garner, which, although not exactly in the Food Section of The New York Times, per se, relates to food and is, by my order, an honorary member of that section today.  But I digress.  Garner guts, chops, and boils book and author in such an egregious manner that the reader is left wondering: Was it personal?  Now I know what you’re thinking: This is The New York Times!  It’s never personal.  Well, sometimes things happen without us thinking about them.  They just do.  Trust me.

Then in The Boston Globe, Louise Kennedy writes about a new hamburger joint: Five Guys Burgers.  This, of course, makes me think of Two Guys, the eponymous discount department store in NJ where mom & I went clothes shopping for school every August.  Shout out to Mom!  But I digress.  Kennedy writes of the new restaurant:  “Five Guys’ signature product will never replace a real hamburger, but as a quick, flat, superheated slab of chopped meat it’s not bad. Signs proclaim that all burgers are served ‘well done and juicy,’ which sounds oxymoronic until you sample the damp, almost steamed-tasting beef in its equally soft bun…the real reason to go back — either to Natick or to the new Walpole outlet, smaller and quieter but otherwise identical — is the fries.”  Um, dunno about you, but I’m not running out to drop bucks on a bad burger.  The place is called Five Guys Burgers, for Pete’s sake!  It’s not called Five Guys Fries!  Jeez, Louise.

Here’s the thing: Do you think that if it wasn’t a recession, with editors and writers shivering in their boots about their jobs–they know their days are numbered–that we’d be seeing such mean reporting?   I don’t think so…

Security Alert in Europe and Bar Fights in the USA

The U.S. State Department issued a warning yesterday: U.S. travelers need to be vigilant in public places in Europe.  Although there is no evidence of Americans being targeted, you never know. You just never know.  They noted that markets are especially vulnerable, but that famous historical sites are in the radar.

It’s a scary world we live in, but…it’s even scarier at home.  Home sweet home.

In the same paper that announced the European warnings, we learned that it’s now hunky-dory to bring guns into bars in Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee.  I had no intention of being in any of these states in the near future, but when I do visit, I am going to drink in my hotel room with the door double bolted and the chair propped against the knob.  In the words of St. Richard: I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in.

I mean, seriously: Is there any reason to bring a gun into a bar?  Do I bring beer into a gun shop?  Of course not.  Don’t be silly.

I’m as much against the bad guys as the next person, but that doesn’t preclude identifying the real and present dangers.  As we say in Boston: They’re not there, they’re heah.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 40% of violent crimes involve alcohol.



So, you’re better off taking your chances at Versailles, the Brandenburg Gate, the Coliseum, and Piccadilly.

What’s Up with French Food?

Ruth Reichl had an interesting posting yesterday on her website: A conversation with Colman Andrews about their lunch at Daniel and the role French food and dining has currently in the American restaurant scene:  www.ruthreichl.com/2010/10/lunch-at-daniel-2.html.

I think that a shift is taking place.  Here’s what I’m talking about:

A recent piece in The London Review of Books (8/5/10) noted an evolution in dining.  Writing about, “Au Revoir to All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine,” the reviewer, Steven Shapin, noted that,”France was never merely about the food…but about living well.”  What happened in post-war French restaurant kitchens?  Ironically, while Julia Child created the myth that anyone could cook complex dishes at home, the top French chefs were creating elite enterprises:

“Bocuse established a new conception of what it was to be a successful ‘executive’ chef: abandoning the kitchen, launching frozen food lines…and turning himself into a global brand.  The model was followed by a younger generation of star chefs, such as Ducasse.”

It took awhile, but chefs working in the U.S. caught on.  Over the past 20 years, empires were created by Puck, Batali, Boulud, Keller, and many others.  As this era winds down, we can look to the French to see what will follow:

“In 2005, Alain Senderens handed back his three Michelin stars…saying that haute cuisine had entered a ‘new age.’  Diners didn’t want restaurants to tell them how to dress; they didn’t want to spend quite so long at table; and they wanted very good food on their plates served up with less grandeur, less hauteur and a lot less froideur…’New age’ clients wanted to lighten up the dining experience.”

The next generation of great chefs, led by guys like Maws and Chang, will be more like Senderens than Boulud.  If you want to know what’s happening next, watch Tony Maws.

His cooking is a perfect example of what Shapin identifies as the most important culinary changes: “The recently emerging bistronomie movement in France attracts talented chefs capable of winning the Michelin race but who have opted out…(and in Italy) the value placed on the quality of a small number of ingredients and on trueness to type.”

Finally, it’s all about the contexts that Shapin described: “…If there is a ‘crisis in French cuisine’, it has to be interpreted as a sign of some very wide-ranging social, political, and cultural changes.”

I would add to that by saying that the changes we see in great new restaurants are about the psychology of dining out.  Eating out for this generation differs from the way mom & dad dine.  What do the changes show us?

The changes are a yearning for home in a time of massive global dislocation when self identity is no longer rooted in the traditions of caste, class, race, gender, religion, or nationality.

Food Pyramids & Pharaonic Dynasties

Back in the day, the pyramids were built by slaves apparently to hold crypts of mummies.  We’ve changed: Older, wiser.

The pyramids nowadays are all about food: Helping Americans and illegal immigrants to live healthier lives by eating food that won’t kill us off.  Every five years, the USDA issues new guidelines for the pyramids and front page news today was all about the changes expected in early 2011.

The big news, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune on the USDA:  “The main changes proposed for the dietary guidelines include reducing daily sodium intake from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams, reducing the percentage of saturated fat in the diet from 10 percent to 7 percent, reductions in foods with added sugars and an avoidance of artificial trans fats altogether. The report also highlighted the importance of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber, and it recommends eating 8 ounces of seafood a week.”

Naturally, lobbyists in the industries that produce foods that have salt content that exceeds the guidelines; saturated fat that exceeds the guidelines; sugar that exceeds the guidelines; and, trans fats  are lobbying Congress with evidence from studies that support their position.

It’s easy to talk about how to remedy the problem: Cook & eat at home; no snacks (sorry); fruit, vegetables, fish, etc.  But we all know that the most likely outcomes will be bigger people whose stress is mitigated by that really delicious second helping of cheesecake.  Which leads us back to the crypts, unfortunately.

This is the old pyramid:

This is the new pyramid:

Frying Brains: Owner’s Manual

My brain is fried from having spent the better part of the day writing.  I can’t say what it is I am writing about as it is TOP SECRET.  And let me tell you something: I can keep a secret.  Let’s just say it involved chefs, restaurants, psychology, and a book proposal.  I won’t go any further.

A break in the action came with a three mile run and weightlifting: I have a title fight coming up in December–the 18th, to be precise–with Humberto Soto and I need to get ready.  Humberto, I am ready for you, chica, winner take all, no TKO.

Between the writing, the running, and the weights, I managed to be stood up by an editor I never met before, replace ear buds for my shuffle, and shop for food.  I swear, I spend more time in grocery stores eyeing bottoms.  Of artichokes.  It makes me crazy, it really does.

It all started at 6:30 this morning, which is my usual time to wake up as startled as a newborn plunged into an ice bath.  Just my happy way to greet a new day.  In the car to Russo’s, which opens at 8, and in the lot surrounded by geezers who can’t stay in bed past 7 AM either.  Assuring myself that I am not one of them, I am in and out of the store and back home within 30 minutes without a list, as I have memorized what I want to buy.  I consider myself gifted due to that ability.

The high point of the spree?  There isn’t one.  But everything is fresh and delicious and the prices whoop competitors the same I am gonna whoop Humberto Soto.  In your face, Humberto.

The afternoon, after being stood up, finds me at Savenor’s and then at Hi-Rise.  I started the day with rye from Hi-Rise and I end it there with a flute.

I came to play.

Seasonal Appetite Disorder

The new DSM-V is coming out in January with a plethora of new disorders.  As my friend Les Havens, the great psychiatrist once said to me, “I knew psychiatry was in trouble when it kept coming up with new problems when other branches of medicine are finding new cures.”

However, why not go with the flow, man?  It’s fall, leaves are dropping, temperatures are falling, and every time I see a squirrel: Dude’s not chill, he’s scampering and in his teeth there’s a nut or a doughnut, whatever he can find, he’s never particular regarding protein.  Here’s a fun thing to do, by the way: Jingle keys when you see a squirrel and he’s off like Denny Hamlin in NASCAR.  Don’t know Hamlin?  Turn on the T.V., for goodness sakes, put down the cheesecake.

Speaking of which, I propose a new DSM-V disorder: Seasonal Appetite Disorder.  Fall comes, you start to eat more, you balloon out, you look for things to eat.  At my hospital, on Thursday, Satan, cleverly disguised as my intern, showed up with a tray of six, innocent looking cupcakes.  Just looking at them cost 120 calories so you can imagine what it would be to take a bite.  On the same day, one of the ward secretaries asked, “Do you like strudel?”  Well, yeah, duh.  She puts a tray in front of me.  It was like being hit by a hammer in the forehead.  Look, I promised ma I wouldn’t eat between meals.  I don’t wanna get big.  Yesterday, the kicker: Some kinda “staff appreciation day.”  Um, hello?  How about giving out the Benjamin’s instead of scoops of ice cream the size of coconuts and slices of strawberry topped cake?

I resisted.  I went to the water fountain and drank cups and cups.

But this is what happens every year, at this time: The season changes and darkness and cold create hunger.  The appetite is disordered.

Ordering: Paxil!