Dining News!

The week’s top story is that Frank Pepe is reported by Colman Andrews to be scouting locations in Boston to open his first satellite ever of the best pizza in the United States.  We’re tailing Pepe’s, New Haven.

And no wonder: In a town that swoons over $17 cocktails, pizza, steak tips, and burgers, why shouldn’t the King of All Pizza take hold of the reins?

Here’s hoping.

After all, in the past year we’ve seen no fewer than two dozen burger and pizza joints open their doors here.  NYC gets a Venetian-Japanese restaurant–all’onda–we get Tasty Burger.

Speaking of Venice & Japan: Why, over a decade ago it was apparent that the cuisines of these two places have a lot in common.  Risotto and rice, unadorned and fresh and seasonal fish and shellfish, and the use of as few ingredients as possible to encounter taste.

Don’t get me wrong though: I’m often on line for Galleria Umberto and will be for Pastoral and Pepe’s.

Wow, Pepe’s.  Just saying it makes me light headed.

Where To Eat in NYC, Volume 23

So it was back to Perla on Friday for lunch.  Great room, great vibe, great service, delicious food.  What’s changed is that about a month ago the kitchen put the dinner menu onto the lunch menu.  So the food is heavier, and bigger portioned, and, well, it was delicious, but too much of a good thing.

#7 in Brooklyn, Fort Greene, later that same day, around midnight, had the compulsory tatted staff and good music and delicious food, too.  Simple and good.  Nothing pretentious about it.  Like Perla in that way.

The very next day, Red Cat in Chelsea: Again, a lovely room, good service, and delicious food.  Thinly sliced, raw zucchini with almonds and good olive oil, etc.  A perfect place for a simple lunch.

And that night: Il Buco.  On Great Jones.  I’ve now become a regular, and for good reason: Fried artichoke, sardines, terrific pastas, great duck, wonderful branzino.  This restaurant is just so convivial.  And light!



The Future of Dining

Snouts and molecules are destined to become the lava lamps of the future while great ingredients lead to classics.

It’s fine to explore, it’s necessary, but let’s be honest: So little remains of shifts in any cultural experience, be it music, art, writing, or food.

Pete Wells noted in his ** review of Rotisserie Georgette that a lot of the new places he’s reviewing are to dining as The Beatles and Stones were to the popular music which preceded them.  Leaving aside the elevation of food to an art, it’s an interesting point.

Specifically, so much that is performed and recorded simply isn’t worth listening to any more and really wasn’t back then.  The great stuff, as always, is in the 2%.

And what made The Stones and Beatles great were many things: Knowledge of blues and rock; high-level ability to play music; awareness that every choice made was critical; and, a massive amount of highly-disciplined practice.

And something else.

Interviewing a chef in Japan recently for a long piece on seasonality, I learned from him: “In France, the cuisine is based on adding ingredients, while in Japan it is based on subtracting ingredients.”

What matters most are a few things: A few notes, a few ingredients.  Think of love.

Where To Eat Well

It was a strange feeling last night looking over the Dining section of The New York Tines, and seeing a very good, lively, detailed piece on Richie Torrisi, by the very estimable Jeff Gordinier, and then a second piece on Rotisserie Georgette by Pete Wells.  Strange because I know the chef and restaurant owner pretty well, and it’s odd to know people privately and see them in a public light.  Both pieces captured accurately the strengths and knowledge of Richie Torrisi and Georgette Farkas.

Torrisi’s PARM sells the chicken parm of one’s imagination.  At least my imagination: It’s served on a good roll with good sauce and that chicken?  It’s good.

Farkas’s chickens are moist with crisped skin and served in a delightful, low-key and yet fancy pants room.

Closer to home, it’s Heat versus Celtics tonight and slim pickings for a pre-game meal.  How many pubs can I go to before it’s quits?  Steak tips?  Never had ’em.  Wings?  Did that last time.  Pizza, burgers, fries?  Go ahead, it’s on me.

How about a good plate of pasta that’s not overly salted and costs less than twenty bucks?


On the Menu, Off the Menu

In between guessing that the Malaysian jet is inside Afghanistan, at a remote air base, and writing about the ironic disharmony of Japanese seasonality in cuisine, while reading reviews of Lorrie Moore’s new book, I’ve been taking stock.

Sicilian blood oranges, first of the season, arrived this past week at Russo’s, and at $27 a case, this brings new life into a glass each morning.  It’s cheaper than a cup of Joe at Starbucks, I’m told; I still have never been to one of the coffee shops, but rumor has it that it’s good, hot, and expensive.

Alaskan black cod loin showed up at New Deal fish.  Pickled asparagus are on the shelves of Grillo’s.

New restaurants are opening up, too.

There’s what I predict and what I hope will happen.

More fat and big plates.

More vegetarian dishes.

Boys in the Kitchen

Bacon cocktails, pig hearts, and fried anything with loads of fat and salt, piled high, are on award winning menus coast to coast these days, and it’s a trend that started a year or so back and is now in its heyday.

Most of the boys are white and from the upper middle classes, whose hopes of rebellion were fixed in teen dreams of success on the playing field, but who found that a failure to compete professionally left them stranded.

Not especially academic nor inquisitive, but eager for some structure outside of themselves that might help them get and stay organized, the military was a logical option.  But their families were, by and large, opposed to that kind of service and what with decades of wars, it was a dangerous course.

So many of these wayward, talented souls wound up cooking.

When you think of the real food that will last and is satisfying in this country, you think of Alice Waters.  Her menus remain gentle and reflective of desire and botany.  Fat and salt are there, but measured out like tension, and rather not the point.

The funny thing about dining out, in any event, is that the food, as a baseline, has to be good.  But since food is usually better at home, if you take the time and thought to get good ingredients and use them seasonally in abundance, a restaurant must provide conviviality and pleasure.  It’s one reason among many that the French, Italian, and Japanese succeed in that enterprise: Hospitality with pleasure.

I look forward to the day when we have more adults in the kitchen.

What’s Cooking?

I’m befuddled, perplexed, and discombobulated by all the books and blogs about how to cook this or that, and even more flummoxed by the guides to make things at home.  Seriously?  Make bacon at home?  Make your own sausages?  Folks, better to find a great purveyor.

Can you fly a plane?  I didn’t think so.  So what makes you think you can make better products at home than a top producer?

The best chefs don’t do everything from scratch.

Robuchon spent two years sourcing what he needed before opening his eponymous place in Vegas.

Your best bet is to spend time looking for great ingredients and learn how to use them.  Cook simple dishes until you have a bona fide repertoire of about twelve.

Meanwhile, beyond the stove: I sold my latest book to a publisher in Delhi on the subject of Indian resiliences.

Food Trends: March, 2014 and Beyond

First of all, save money on the Acela if you’re Boston based.  NYC dining is coming to town.  We already have the Ken Himmel, NYC based investor, here, what with the very estimable Grill 23 as well as Bistro du Midi, Post 290, and Harvest.  Next up?

Shake Shack opened in Harvard Square.

On the horizon?

Bar Boulud in the Fall, Eataly within the year.

The impact of all this will be huge.  It’s bigger than Hamersley’s opening 28 years ago and giving the city its first open kitchen serving American interpretations of French classics by way of California refinement.

No, this will be bigger in several specific ways:

1.  People looking to get state-of-the-art training now have the opportunity to do so without leaving town.  This means, too, that local chefs and GMs looking to hire talent will have to compete against the empires from NYC that offer the better training opportunities.  Those that train with the new folks will have access to their global outposts.

2.  Local “Italian” and “French” and  burger joints will have to face kitchens that actually are producing the real thing rather than what a chef thinks might be fun.

3. Cooks and waitstaff who train at the new places will, over time, open their own places, and raise the bar all over town.

All in all, it’s a good thing for consumers especially.  The local restaurant industry?  Not so much.  But you can bank on that local industry working with local critics to put down the “interlopers.”  Can’t you see the reviews now?  “Not as good as his reputation.”