Restaurants Opening, Restaurants Closing

It’s funny, in a Joe Pesci way, how the restaurants I like in Boston close and the restaurants I like in NYC open.  In Boston, I enjoyed Ginger Park, OM, Yakitori Zai, Rocca, New Shanghai (in Chinatown before Wellesley), NEBO (North End before “financial district”), and Real Pizza, to name a few casualties.  In NYC I enjoy Esca, Alimentari il Buco, DBGB, Locanda Verde, Le Bernadin, Second Avenue Deli, and so on and so on and so on and on.

The new places opening this fall in Boston are bar focused and sell lots of pizza, offal, burgers, and concoctions.  Do you really want oxtail pierogi?  Pork belly sliders?  Jeez, why not be honest and call the menu: Cheap cuts of meat that increase profit.  Toscano, the exception to the new openings, is a good version of an Italian restaurant, nice before another event, but not an event in itself.

And shouldn’t a restaurant be an event in itself?  Isn’t that the point?  Whether it’s Sully’s on Castle Island–which I love and not closed yet–or…or…um, another place, the reason why people drop the bucks to eat out is because the eating out is the show.

The common feature to all the places I liked that closed or moved is their focused menus that emphasize ingredients and don’t push the booze.

So, yeah, I eat at home mostly.  Last night it was fried tofu squares and the best sesame noodles I’ve ever made.

And you tell me: Is Brody a triple agent or what?



Hunger Pangs

It’s Day Ten of being solo, and the good news is that I’ve written an essay on food and memory that will appear soon at a fancy-pants web site, finished a revised book proposal on Japanese cooking, sold four articles on Japanese culture, written an introduction to a talk about Zen principles in restaurant kitchens, and finished the first draft of the first half of a memoir about having been adopted as a child from Ethiopia.

The reading has been good, too: A friend in Kanazawa has turned me onto Suzuki’s hubristic work on Zen and Japanese culture, and Danticat’s novel on Claire in Haiti?  Both are very fine.  Next up is Ronald Blyth’s, “A Time by the Sea.”  He wrote “Akenfeld,” and his style is clean and his observations specific and, wow, he’s ninety.

Between bouts of reading and writing, there are the pots of turkey and black bean with sheared kernels of corn chili, fried tofu squares in hoisin and sambal oelek, and grilled chicken sausages.  The cooking is swift: Italian and American.


Fall in Place

It’s over.  Officially.  Summer at an end, these five or so days when that bridge between seasons makes the air and light magical in the sense that things don’t look or feel the way they did in August or will in October.  Every day on the five to six walks a day I take with the dogs there is something new to notice.

Less transparently, I’m solo for two weeks, while the spouse trains doctors in Brunei, Laos, and Vietnam.  That means the aforementioned walks, lots of jazz live or recorded, lots of reading Walsh or Suzuki, and lots of writing about what it means to be discover my Ethiopian heritage.

On the food front, we’re talking blintzes and bagels and salmon from  Zabars and pasta from Murray’s and Zabars.  Sure, there’s a slice or two here and there, but it’s really P.A. here: Pizza Anonymous.  “Hi, I’m Scott, and I love pizza.”

Speaking of which, in the past couple of months and in the next couple of months we are seeing in Boston five new pizzerias.  NY has refined, ingredient driven food.  Here it’s pizza.  And offal: cheap cuts of meat high in fat, marketed well.  And burgers.  Don’t forget the burgers: Tastee Burger in two locations, brand new, and Shake Shack by Christmas.

More reasons to attend to seasons: Burgers and pizza have no time of year, and lead to great disconnect.

Still, there is that pressing question, put forward best by George Clinton: “Do fries go with that shake?”


Dining In, Dining Out

In pursuit of flavors, I found myself a few days ago at, in this order, Il Buco di Alimentari, Betony, Esca, and Second Avenue Deli, and then, in between, at Murray’s, Zabar’s, and Citarella.

Il Buco is becoming my Go To Italian in town that, along with Locanda Verde, offers simple, delicious food.  Unlike Locanda, the scene is less Wall Street and more East Village: Same beautiful clothing and same deep pockets, but less noise and less Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am.

Betony is a marvel.  Brilliant food, understated, ingredient driven, in a beautiful and romantic room, with very tentative service that can only get better.

Esca is my favorite restaurant in the city.  We’re talking extra fatty big eye tartare, house cured salmon roe, and pasta tossed with sardines and walnuts.  Hello?  Could it be any better?  Hoping to take the chef to Japan soon.  We shall see.

Second Avenue is just old school pastrami & corned beef on rye with Cel-Ray.  Shows you that this food is never as easy to prepare as 99% of the delis that serve it think it is.  Truly the best on earth.

Meanwhile, here in the Bean, I’m surviving on the supplies hauled North: Lemon sole, poppy bagels, four kinds of salmon (belly, Nova, Scotch, pastrami style), agnoletti, and ravioli.  Raj gin out, but seriously?  Do we need more burgers and pizza?


All That Jazz

I was writing yesterday about the power of jazz to transform, the ways in which some of the music from the 1950s created a safe place for listeners and performers like Art Blakey and others.  The context was the music being played in certain restaurants, during dinner service, and how its sound combines with the food and the lighting and the fact that needs and desires are anticipated.

And then what followed was a 9/12 (Japan scale of richness of the beef) six ounce steak pan seared in butter with salt and pepper, that’s it, served rare, and that jazz just mentioned.

The jazz and the food imply rather than state, allowing for quiet rather than bluster, and what’s understood is no more often than a glimpse.

So, yes, in the book I’m working on he leaves NYC and tries to locate the music not within, but around him: No wonder Tyner and Coltrane headed to Japan for inspiration.


Bugging Out

Just like you, I think a lot about Nate Silver’s succinct outlook on noise and signal and apply his views to many things.  So much noise!  Always!  So little signal.

How’s a person to think?  Organize?  Plan ahead?  Think back?

It seems most likely that each one of us, depending on the privileges, tries to carve out a space where no one can enter without permission.  That’s what most of the men I meet who, recently incarcerated, say: I just want to be myself.  What’s gained by that perspective?  That’s right: Quiet.  Beckett, living through the war in France, wrote with respect for the dead.

Of course, not everyone feels that way.  We’re not all the same, now are we?  Some among us have access to deep reservoirs of rage and drink cups all day long.

But enough about that.

Having finished reading “69,” a fascinating and funny novel-memoir by Ryu Murakami, I’m onto, “Claire of the Sea Light,” and it’s good.  Flaws appear in Danticat’s unrepressed desire to educate her readers about poverty, gender, and loss; I mean, honestly, isn’t it more memorable to put a plate of food in front of a person rather than force them to eat?

Speaking of food, we’re talking grilled chicken and apple sausages last night, courtesy of Bruce Aidell, and tonight it’s spinach and eggplant parmigiano.

Signal or noise?


What A Busy Week!

I’ve skimmed through the tireless self-promotion of a number of acquaintances, peered at the T.V. screens posted at my gym showing the senators deciding (or not), fried the tofu, walked the dogs, and heard and seen hundreds of acorns plummeting and squirrels racing across power lines and the tops of fences.

Yes, it’s over.  Summer’s over, no time for regrets.  Put air in the tires, fire up the GPS.

Around these parts, the dogs can’t wait to take in the scents.

It’s true and they are correct: Change is literally in the air and on the ground.

On a personal level, a very personal level, and I don’t know if I should be saying this, but, hey, here goes: The flat, pressed tofu I’ve been buying and frying has changed my life.  Toss these babies in corn starch and flour, fry fast in crazy hot Canola, dry on a rack, and toss with spicy red pepper sauce, hoisin, and toasted sesame seeds, and, folks, your taste buds will cheer.  This is: CHANG SHING TOFU, based in Cambridge, MA, and truly the product rules.

Meanwhile, up ahead, on the horizon, I see Betony, Albany, and Tokyo.

One thing leads to another.

What’s that Whistling Sound?

I’m in the makeshift bunker beside my 2000’s and a Bunsen burner, first frying butter and then adding chopped onions, waiting until they turn translucent, and then adding whipped eggs to be scrambled.  Did I mention bacon?  I did not.  There is bacon.  (Original title: “There will be blood,” but given the Day-Lewis movie and the events to be described below somehow it didn’t seem right.)

Meanwhile, once the Tomahawks hit their targets, and the Iranians fire back, the proxy war will enter a new phase of blockades in straits and gulfs, diminished access to oil will raise prices leading to stagnation and the loss of more jobs, polarization, despair, etc.  Etc. here is key.  We’ll all get used to it.

I think it’s All Clear now, they turned the sirens on: That wailing sound is rhythmic, in waves, and while plaintive still carries a degree of reassurance.


And So It Begins

No chill in the air, but the kids are back, the grumpy faces have appeared, and traffic is at a halt.  Summer is over and there’s nothing to look forward to say some.  Meanwhile I brace for the cold and gaze longingly at the cord of dried wood outside the kitchen window just begging to be set ablaze.

It’s writing weather, suit up, off the bench, 48 minutes to score.

I’ve got nearly eighty pages done of my book about my Ethiopian childhood, time in culinary at the Voc, work in a few NYC restaurants for a decade, and then the dramatic shift, I daresay, to writing about food and the end of a family.

Meanwhile, stovetop the sauces are bubbling and a natural reconciliation is taking place, East to West: Black bean sauces and pork, turkey meatballs poached in a red sauce, chicken parm.  It’s border crossing, under cover, and what’s that sound?


Another Summer Over

Right, so it’s 124 shopping days until Christmas, there’s a chill in the air, the squirrels move like steel balls in a pinball game, and the family of wild turkeys in my neighborhood are now sporting flak jackets.

Not much happened this summer.  It never does.  Sarin here, sarin there, but otherwise?  Business as usual.

I did learn how to cook a few vegetarian dishes I’ve been trying to master for years.  That’s something.  Got down the fried tofu squares tossed in hoisin, toasted sesame seeds, and a smidge of sambal olek.  Figured out the sweet pea pesto.

And, yes, it’s true: I’m writing for several Asian publications.  Two in Bangkok–Sewasdee and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia–and one in Hong Kong–a consortium of travel magazines.  That ought to stir the waters.

Electronics or clothing?  Still time to decide.