Good News, Bad News, Sated & Hungry

I went to bed after reading online an egregious slam of Boulud’s restaurant in Boston, Bar Boulud, which opened a couple of months ago.  Written by the Globe’s restaurant reviewer, it was a clear sign that Bar Boulud will be gone by this time next year.  What a shame.  Well, that’s what happens when America’s best French born chef meets a critic who simply doesn’t know food.   It leaves Boston without a single French restaurant of note.

But never mind.  Happy to eat at home and on the road.

Speaking of home, I ended the year by reading, “H is for Hawk,” a work of genius by Helen Macdonald, which is about the death of her father, falconry, and T.H. White. Along with C.S. Lewis’s essay on the subject of grief, it puts me in the right place for much needed focus.

Back to food.

In contrast to a town where the aforementioned critic singles out the city’s best restaurant of 2014 as having this menu: -“Charred broccoli with squash hummus, pickled corn pancakes with shishito peppers, a stellar burger,”-today’s NYT names that city’s 10 best restaurants and what we see is focus and refinement.  Batard is named #1: I’ve been three times, and it really is splendid.

Charred broccoli?  I mean, really.  Get a grip.  A stellar burger?  I would hope so for $15 for a half-pound of choice beef.

Meanwhile closer to home, let’s start the new year tonight: Salmon roe, grilled red snapper filet, raw oysters; Conghiele with fresh white truffle; pan seared, bone-in, prime, dry aged ribeye steaks (DeBragga) with cumin scented carrots and sesame seeds with spinach; pastries from Clear Flour.



Countdown to Tomorrow

Goodbye, 2014, good riddance, and fare thee well.  But let’s be reasonable.  I’ve had worse years and on a positive note: The worst is yet to come.

Still, 2014, with its ups and downs, makes 2015 the start of a golden era.

The best things about 2014 had for me to do with regaining focus and energy.  I read with more vigor and alacrity and concentration that ever.  Two books a week, recall and integration of what I read, and a good appreciation of ways to tell a story.  I’d say that I read many good books this year, and among the best was Ben Lerner’s, “To the Atocha Station,” which borrowed from John Ashbery in terms of structure and meanings.

I also am up to page 205 in the happy book I am writing about families.  And I’ve conducted 19 interviews for a book about prominent Indians (from India).

What made 2015 difficult in part was the fateful recognition that in order to write it is necessary at tines to create a situation of boredom, sadness, and worrying that the art is called upon to dispel.  That these conditions are engineered is a good thing.

Also good are ways to shake down the detritus of all that self-inflicted pain: Good food, lots of long walks, daily three mile runs.



Where To Buy Good Food

I stopped buying most food in local stores years ago.  At the same time, I quit eating out much while in the city where I live.   I’ve eaten better, saved lots of money, and have more time to read, write, cook, and run.

Here’s a guide to getting food delivered to your door that trumps by far what you’re sold in most local stores and restaurants.  Each of the purveyors sells to high end restaurants around the country, and only recently have they started to make their products available to non-industry consumers.

Poultry.  Whether it’s Rohan ducks or Green Circle chickens, you can’t beat D’Artagnan for price and quality.  Simply roasted.  Learn how to use salt and pepper.  Six Green Circle chickens, raised on farms in Pennsylvania, will cost you about $17 each and feed four people with sides of vegetables.

Beef.  I go to DeBragga or Snake River.  Both purveyors sell top grade beef.  At DeBragga its prime and waygu-style.  At Snake River, it’s only waygu-style.  The burgers are a great deal at DeBragga: $19 per pound, and if you’re doing quarter-pounders, that’s $4.75 per person.  Steaks, bone in or bone out, with varying prices.  Pan sear in butter with lots of salt and pepper.;

Dried fruits.  Hands down, it’s Bella Viva Farms.  Light years better than anything you’ll find locally.

Mushrooms.  Oregon mushrooms–they harvest, they clean, they ship.  Morels, chanterelles, matsutake.  Strictly seasonal.

Olive oil.  Stonehouse.  Unadulterated, untampered with, and packed with fruit yet still lean, California has less bite than Italian oils, but it’s spectacular, especially on raw vegetables.

I also get all my dried pasta shipped from Eataly (NYC), bagels and smoked salmon from Russ & Daughters or Barney Greengrass (NYC), and fish often from Browne Trading (Portland, Maine).

Locally, I get good produce (fruits and vegetables) from Russo’s and Super 88.  Fish is first rate from New Deal.  Cheese isn’t part of my typical menu so I pick up whatever–Gruyere, Emmental, Ricotta, Burrata–at Russo’s.  Savenor’s has good chicken sausages.

You’ll find that the time you save by having food shipped to you will be put to good use.


I Survived Christmas, 2014!

And so did you.

Worked our way through white truffles, the opening of presents, six walks with the dog, stubborn greetings from neighbors, a viewing of “The Interview” in bed and on a laptop, the first stories in a surprisingly mediocre collection called, “The Dog,” by Jack Livings, and lots of good cheer.

What lies ahead?

Quiet days, quiet nights.  Lamb ragu with penne from what’s left of the Icelandic leg roasted yesterday in a dry rub of cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne, and ginger, smeared then with tomato paste.  That truffle, nearly half of which is still here.  Pots of black coffee.


So this is Christmas…

I’m sitting next to a tall, rotund tree that’s just been watered, and the fire is going, and, “The Smiths,” are playing, just preceded by Chet Baker singing woefully, “My Funny Valentine.”

Christmas morning.

Scrambled eggs and creme fraiche and some white truffle shavings.

The dog made out big: A Mr. Bill toy that squeaks, “Oh no!” when in his jaws.

Tajarin and white truffle shavings soon.

“The Interview” on cable.

Long walks through deserted neighborhoods.

Leg of lamb and Robuchon mashed potatoes with more white truffles for Christmas dinner.

Peace & love.

Christmas Eve!

The highways will empty soon, as will the supermarkets, and houses will fill up with relatives, friends, and the occasional stranger.  Our tree went up on Sunday–a big, rotund one–and there’s a smattering of gifts at its base.

I managed again to avoid going into a single retail store this year, other than for victuals, and the Internet can be credited for help with presents.

But isn’t the holiday and this time of year more than about gift giving?

Why, of course.

Enjoying long and delicious meals, thinking of loved ones who are no longer physically present, being thankful for what we have, anticipating generously what might be in the future. Sort of the way it should be all year.  Think Preston Sturgis’s, “Christmas in July.”

Here it’s oysters, hake, beef, lamb, white truffles, and who knows what else?


Here are my top ten predictions for 2015 in the world of food:

1. Restaurant prices will go up by a minimum of 8% and as high as 19%.  The reason being that most of the top restaurants in major U.S. cities within the past few years have been bought or are leveraged by private capital in the form of hedge funds. The investors want more profit and they want it faster.

2.  Ingredients in most restaurants will be of cheaper quality.  See Prediction #1.  Investors see what’s coming: Higher labor costs in the form of an increase in the minimum wage and higher costs in health care coverage.  You can’t fight labor forever, but you can lower your costs of food.  So have a look at the fish being served: Hake, branzino, farmed salmon, etc.  Look at what else is being served: Pizza, burgers, pork, offal.  (Pizza is especially profitable: One pie @ $19 has a food cost of about $2.)  That beef?  Chances are it’s choice grade and not prime.

3.  Time spent eating in restaurants will be cut by about 40-50%.  See Prediction #1.  Turn the tables over faster and get in three-four seatings rather than two.  You’ll make more money.

4.  Home cooking will spike.  People, seeing that prices are higher, ingredients are cheaper, and that they’re in and out of a restaurant in an hour for no less than $100 a couple, will learn ten basic dishes and rotate them in order to eat at home.  The food will taste better because stuff that costs less than dining out, and it’ll be fresher and healthier.

5.  Marketing slogans will bite the dust.  The fuss about farm-to-table, sustainable, local, “natural,” and so on will be looked at closer than ever and be exposed for the “Mad Men” chimera they are.  You want to buy local?  Drive a Ford, use a Dell, eat Kraft cheese.  I didn’t think so.  It’s a global economy.

6.  More vegetarian dishes will appear everywhere.  As news gets out about the benefits and pleasure of eating more vegetables, people will explore the ease of preparing vegetarian food.  A lot of it’s easy and quick to prepare.  Here’s a secret: Add cheese or butter to whatever you’re cooking and voila!  You are the top chef.

7.  Pasta is proof of a higher power.  No food is more enjoyable.  Noodles from Japan, China, Italy, Thailand, and so on.  Forget the goofing around on T.V. or radio and the complex recipes in the paper.  Boil two quarts of salted water.  Add noodles.  Cook until you like the texture.  Drain.  Add any sauce.  Done.  See, that wasn’t hard, was it?

8. Home gardening.  In order to cook at home and save $, more people will grow just a few things, even if it’s just parsley.

9. Menu items.  Say goodbye to burgers, pizza, pork, and fried foods.  McDonald’s is eliminating a bunch of big items, other restaurants will follow suit.

10.  Consolidation of restaurants.  In NYC and in Boston, along with other major U.S. cities, most restaurants are part of mini-franchises, and also have sites in other parts of the country.  Wolfgang Puck helped to launch this with his delicious places in airports.  Nowadays, look around:  Whether it’s an international fast food chain or a local chef who owns 4-12 restaurants, the business of dining is what dining is really all about.  Whatever sells, whatever critics tout, whatever the investors approve of: It’s on your plate.  Hence, Prediction #4.


Tis the Season: Less than 100 Hours to Go

I’m busy reading, “Trying Not to Try,” a worthwhile first book about cognition and intentionality by Edward Slingerland, a professor of Chinese studies and “Embodied Cognition” at the University of British Columbia.  It’s a fine book, though it reads in parts like a jokey series of lectures designed to get the attention of students whose cognition may be disembodied.

The value of the work is apparent immediately despite the anecdotal quality of the writing, much of which wanders into neurobiology, like a guy in a new place asking directions only this guy is giving directions.

Basically, the points involve focus, the importance of spontaneity, the value of relationships in developing ideas, and the immeasurable nature of irrationality.

All this helps as we wander into the final stretch of Christmas week.  Wasn’t it just Halloween?  Where does the time go?  Believe me, I don’t want it back, just want to know where it went.

How it helps is this: Focus on the love around and within you, try not to pay too much attention to cyber-attacks and a new era in Cuban-American relationships.

What would Rock Scully do?

Staying Put

I’d planned to head to NYC today and eat well, write, and see friends, but decided to stay put.  I love the city, especially this time of year when Christmas reverberates, but there’s so little to do and I’d rather do it here.

I’m enjoying the ambitious and obvious at times, “The Shock of the Fall,” a well-written first novel by Nathan Filer.  It concerns the relationships between two brothers, one with Down Syndrome and one apparently psychotic, and their slightly unhinged parents.  It was a big hit in the U.K.

And heading into the long, final lap of the book I am writing about family.

Meanwhile, just to keep things moving along, my piece on NOMA, which appears in Robb Report.  Online now, print in a few days:  I’ve gotten very involved with the story and more will develop.

Staying put means Italian-American month, more or less, which is of course a good thing.  There was talk of dining out in Boston over the next week or so, but where?  Bar Boulud or Giulia are about it for fine dining.  Pastoral for a casual night out.

So little to do!


Time is running out

When I cannot write, lacking the courage mostly, I do the next best thing, which is to read.  Just finished, “Nora Webster,” a lovely novel by Colm Toibin, about a recently widowed woman in Ireland in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s.  I suspect it’s very much a memoir disguised as a novel.  Lachrymose, but lacking sentiment, the elliptical passages bring Beckett to mind though I doubt it was the author’s intention.

And just started, “The Shock of the Fall,” a first novel by Nathan Filer.

Oh, right, and planning for Christmas.  We’ve got the week before and after covered, from duck to chicken to beef to fish.  You’d be right to think it’s an abattoir here.