Too Little, Too Late

2013 was a memorable year, as far as years and memories go, with junkyard dogs too feeble to terrorize kids on their way to school and skies overcast, but no rain.

2014 should bring pups and downpours.

We’ll begin the intro with eggs and move to fish and, finally, to grains and fungus.


New Year’s Eve Plans

Nearly 41 hours until The New Year, and not a moment too soon.  2013 was tu-mul-tu-ous.  Lou Reed, gone.  Mandela, gone.  Paul Pierce to NYC.


1.  White truffles, check.

2.  Hokkaido and Niigata rice, check.

3.  Halibut, check.

4.  Duck breast in miso broth, check.


Food Trends & Predictions 2014

Not every year is eventful, and 2013 ’round these parts was more like a Sunday morning in South Dakota waiting for the sun to come up then it was staying up all night in some big city.  Nothing much happened one way or another.  The chickens were prepped, the oven was lit, the food was eaten.

Except for my book, “Back of the House,” that is!

2014 will be different.

We’ll see more pan-Asian vegetarian restaurants.  Jean Georges Vongerichten is opening a veg version of ABC kitchen, for example, and when chefs figure out the huge profit in vegetables compared to meat and fish and poultry, more will follow.

The whole-to-do about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will get bigger: Soon, yes, we’ll follow the decade old E.U. practice of labeling GMO foods and discover that over 90% of processed foods and most dairy products and tomatoes and breads are GMO.  So what?  There is no science behind anything being harmful about GMOs, but it’s a fine, industry-driven distraction, ironically, that keeps us from:

Wages for restaurant employees.  This is especially problematic for minimum wage workers, but up the ladder, so to speak, you have floor staff and line cooks living on $20,000-$30,000 and trying to pay back loans, make rent, get health insurance, and save for the future.

On a personal note, it’s likely that my books will be written and sold.  We’re talking a book on Japanese home cooking and another on growing up Ethiopian in New Jersey and making my way through kitchens.


Christmas 2013 & What Lies Ahead

Well, nothing much ever happens around here outside of what’s on the stove or in the oven.  Which is good if you’re hungry.

This year it was duck rillettes, duck foie gras, egg drop miso soup with white truffles, Robuchon style mashed potatoes and white truffles, and roasted duck.  That and two good Pinot Noirs from Burgundy followed by whisky from Japan.

On Boxing Day, we turned to spaghetti tossed with white truffles and an Ormes de Pez 2000.

What will the new year bring?

That Special, Magical Time of Year

Christmas is that special, magical time of year when families should set aside their differences and love one another or, if you’re in North Korea, machine-gun your uncle for trying to take control of crab fishing grounds.  Closer to home, we have families acting like horses penned in closely cramped stables kicking the doors and fighting over fresh hay and water.

Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if families took to heart the true hope of Christmas and put love and peace into each of their actions?  Or, to put it another way, put a tooth under a pillow and expected the tooth fairy to exchange a dollar for it?  Wait!  That clip-clop on the roof!  Is it Santa’s reindeers?

No, it’s FEDEX with the last of the goods.

Today’s haul ought to be ducks and chickens.  And isn’t food a form of love?  Isn’t it?

The final 48

With just two days remaining until Christmas morning, the frantic tone of crowds is ramped up, and the streets and highways fill with fast cars.  Me, I’m at the Internet buying last-minute gifts.  I haven’t been in a single store.

I will say that the holiday cheer seems more evident than in previous years.  Folks who celebrate for religious reasons provide the necessary backdrop, and then many others I have met from Chinese, Indian, and Jewish backgrounds add the right elements of: Hey, is this a celebration of peace and love?  It is?  Well, then let’s celebrate.

In terms of food, we’re talking a probable duck, as has been noted, and perhaps a leg of lamb or beef that will be braised.  I think.

There’s still time: Press send.


It’s a scant six days until Christmas, and the pantry is filling up, and the refrigerator is, too, and the freezer is chock-full.  But are we ready?  Are you ready?

The ducks arrive on the twenty-third.  Rohan ducks, that’s right, and I think that will be a very nice way to spend the Eve.  In previous years, we’d dabbled here in The Feast of Seven Fishes, but seven is six too many, don’t you think?  Unless it’s a big, pre-war, southern Italian family, one will do.

On XMAS itself?  I’ve got a waygu beef tenderloin, courtesy of Snake River Farms, that I’ll pan sear for a crust and then roast at low temps for a brief period.  Mashed potatoes, Robuchon style, which means baby Yukons boiled, then peeled, then put through a ricer, and then back on the stove in a pot with a little warm milk, salt, and butter.

Organic, GMO, local, sustainable?  Puh-leeze.  Sometimes I look around a bar or restaurant and wonder: What would the cooks and servers be doing if food had not become such a big deal?  Sales.  It’s all about marketing and for that to take place, you need a brand.  And to have a brand, you need to highlight or invent characteristics that may or may not mean anything.

I’d rather stick to words like: Duck, waygu beef tenderloin, and XMAS.

Big News This Week on Food & Science

If science can be said to be the reliable and valid documentation of observable events, and not having instruments to observe a limiting factor, it’s exciting this week to note three interesting events that affect what and how we eat.

The first is today’s F.D.A. ruling that limits antibiotics use for livestock.  This will level the playing field between organics and non-organics in farming, obviating in part marketing labels and branding, and even more importantly: It ought to have a positive impact on the number of deaths occurring each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.  In the NYT article on today’s front page, the writer notes that “22,000” die every year and that “two million” Americans “fall sick every year” from antibiotic resistant infections.

Next: Nuts.  Tree nuts, ground nuts, nuts.  Just eat ’em and lots of ’em and you stand a better chance of having good cardiovascular health.  Looks like that guy in, “Best in Show,” was right about nuts:

Finally, there’s news about organic milk.  In a study sponsored by an organic milk company, it was found that organic whole milk has fewer omega-6s than omega 3s.  The problems are that it’s whole milk, which isn’t particularly good; that milk isn’t necessary as a source of anything for any of us; that omega 6s are actually OK; and, that it’s an industry sponsored study.  Here’s William Willett on the study, as quoted in the NYT: “Dr. Willett said omega-6s were actually associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and he called the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s ‘irrelevant.’ People should try to eat more of both, he said. And he noted that milk was not essential to a healthy diet; adults in many countries drink little or none. ‘We don’t know all the long-term consequences, so I think the best strategy given current knowledge is to keep intake low to moderate (as in the Mediterranean diet) if it is consumed at all,’ Dr. Willet wrote in an email.”



NYC Restaurant Report: This Just In…this just in…This…just…in…

It began simply enough with a an Emmental and ham croissant and strong black coffee while standing at Dean and Deluca on West Broadway.  Stroll, stroll, stroll, no crowds, no yet, not before noon.

Uptown to Rotisserie Georgette for a formidable lunch at my friend G’s new place: We’re talking superb consommé  that was rich and balanced with depth, and roasted chicken that was juicy and firm with crispy skin.  Good Pinot Noir from Burgundy, too.  That night?  Esca rocked it: Pounded blue fin carpaccio with white truffles, tagliatelle with white truffles, and Dover sole pan seared.  Nuts, completely nuts.  In a good way.

Today was Perla.  Wonderful vegetables and then orecchiette with a pesto of broccoli rape and sausages.  Tonight?  Chicken parm from Parm.

Oh, and first-rate Beckett, “All that Fall,” and, “Waiting for Godot,” both on the same day.



NYC Dining Report

I tend to stake a claim and prospect rather than dig a hole a few inches down, find nothing, and move onto the next site in hope of finding gold.  It’s funny how for years I’d convinced myself that I was a fox when, in fact, I’m more of a hedgehog.  (That’s a reference to Isaiah Berlin’s famous paradigm of human behavior as divided between foxes–those who scurry in response to scents–and those who know one thing or place well–hedgehogs.)

When it comes to food, I’m increasingly taken up by ingredients and seasonality.  The notions of national cuisines or sauces or adding more and more to create layers of flavors don’t mean much.  Food, like jazz, should just contribute towards creating a space where the person experiencing either can feel renewed or, at least, some of freedom that helps them feel safe enough to slow things down and live in the moment.

Food isn’t transformative nor transcendent.  All it is is some part of a bigger experience that contributes to living with increased focus.  No past, no future, just what’s on the plate or in your hand.

That said, I really love Locanda Verde.  Pasta, etc.  OK the front of the house could show a little more interest in what they’re doing.  And Betony?  My second visit was as good as the first: What focus–six hot apps, six cold apps, six entrees.  Simple, delicious, refined food served with a kind of giddiness in  perfectly lighted rooms.  I’ll be thinking about the poached striped bass with white truffles and caviar for a long time.