ROBUCHON

Certainly no chef has influenced me more in terms of cookbooks or smarts than Robuchon.  His cookbook is in both places where I spend the most time, and what I love about his work, which seems to have philosophical underpinnings, is his overriding simplicity.

Joël flew me to Vegas ages ago for a weekend, and talked about his life and food.  We spent time in his kitchen where I asked him to show me how he made his famous whipped potatoes.

A few peeled fingerlings, salted water, butter.  But by far the best potatoes I’d ever had, which he explained had come about because he sourced the best and spent months and months doing so.  What a palate.

The meal I had that night at his restaurant remains the best I’d ever had.  Four courses of small, tightly focused dishes pairing fresh white truffles with one ingredient each.  A scrambled egg.  A piece of fish.  Pasta.

He told me that weekend that he had thought of becoming a priest.

His patience in the kitchen was natural.

The announcement of his death today is sad.

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Top Ten: Boston

Galleria Umberto.  Is this the best?  Yes.  Square slices, inviting room, consistent over decades.

Santarpio’s.  Truly wonderful pies and the big guy in the back in black and white checkered pants presiding over the two other guys at the Blodgett is the best.

Tropical Foods.  Hands down, the best big market in town.  Always good music playing, customers who fill baskets with fruits and vegetables, everything you need to stock a pantry with spices and oils and sauces to convert your North American kitchen into one with soul.

Arax.  Friendly and perfect for Middle Eastern goods with dates from Iran and pickles from Israel and spices from Lebanon, etc.  You can’t go wrong with all the foods that Hagop prepares on site.

Pepe’s.  Back to pizza.  No question about it, the best in the country.  What crusts!  What tomato sauces!  What depth of flavor! This satellite of the epic New Haven joint has pies that make all other pies contextual.

Santouka.  Cold noodles in the summer, broths and noodles and spice in the winter.

H-Mart.  Another great market.  In Central Square, Cambridge, this is part of a national franchise stocked with products from Korea, China, and Japan.  The Sun noodles to use to make dishes at home have great texture.

Clear Flour.  An unusually wonderful bakery in the sense that it has terrific breads, excelling at German and Swiss styles, as well as delicious tarts.

Pabu.  The one and only restaurant where the food, ambience, and service are great value.  It’s a range of small dishes, each well prepared and thoughtfully, and no better place to go to before a Celtics game.  Now if they could only do something about the music.

THE CELTICS.  Pretty much the best reason this town is worth living in.

BOSTON’S BEST

There’s a lot of talk about Boston being a “food town” filled with great restaurants and here today let’s do a Q & A on the city’s Best:

Q: Where is the city’s best Japanese restaurant?

A: In addition to PABU, the Boston Celtics have a great line up and with the new draft pick on Thursday, who may replace Baynes, they could find themselves in the Finals in 2019.

Q: Best deli?

A: I can’t say I follow baseball: Too many games means that watching the pitching reminds me of sandlot ball with lots of hits and down time.  But if I did watch baseball, I’d enjoy going to Fenway Park, which is a very beautiful place to spend a few hours catching up on email.

Q: Best bagels?

A: Katz’s in East Boston is exemplary.  As good as it gets, with a great staff, and really delicious chicken pot pies in addition to bagels.  They don’t sell poppy seed bagels, however.

Q: Best Italian?

A: Galleria Umberto. Pepe’s, Santarpio’s, T. Anthony’s.  In that order.

In the Tropics

Don’t like shopping for food?  Me, neither, though there are ways around it.  In Boston, there’s ARAX, a remarkable and family run shop filled with fruits and vegetables and prepared items and dry goods that draw upon the cuisines of Armenia, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon.  Hagop is now in the kitchen cooking, and his sons run the front.

Whole Foods now delivers for free, plus tip, so I no longer have to go through its doors.  Russo’s is there on desperate days and looking over its items, seemingly left over from restaurants that turned the stuff down, I go there at most once or twice per year.

Best of all?

TROPICAL FOODS in Dudley.  The lot alone is welcoming.  What with a guy in the summer with an open van selling flavored ices, to the music, often reggae or old soul, pouring out of speakers from inside.  Inside, the rafts of yams, bananas, limes, oranges, and lemons speak of abundance.  Ginger.  Big containers of dried spices.  And pleasant.  People are pleasant: Eye contact, brief conversations about what’s in store.

“See these steaks?  I don’t mess around!”

Rest in Peace, Anthony Bourdain

I met Tony Bourdain ages ago, over dinner at Da Silvano, in 1999, and his shyness was the most striking thing about him that night.  He handed his menu to his publicist and said, “Please order for me, maybe a steak.”

He was soft spoken throughout the evening, more interested in listening than talking, which is the hallmark of a great storyteller, ironically, which he was then and remained throughout his very remarkable life.

He was adept at getting out of the way of a story, and despite all the bombastic, eye-catching comments, his ability and willingness to accept and celebrate vulnerability were a stunning counterbalance.

Like A.J. Liebling, his writing about food was attentive, muscular, and alert to what bounty and deprivation, taste and sensuality, providers and consumers are about.

His generosity is also a big part of who he was.

When I interviewed him for a story I did for The Boston Globe, many years back, about the awfulness of restaurants in Boston, he said, thoughtfully and with an eye toward making things better: “I think they’re charging high prices because they can – serving food to people who are grateful to have what they consider big city food.  I think what’s going on in Boston is a classic example of chefs working in a place that’s not yet a national restaurant city, not by a stretch. It’s a period of insecurity. And I can really understand why the chefs are charging so much: If prices come down, they lose their mystique as chefs. They’re reluctant to abandon their pomposity, expense, and pretense.”

His honesty and presence are missed, and it’s only been less than a day.

Psychology of Travel

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been on a jag of reading short European fiction in translation.  It started after reading a review in the TLS of, “The Time of the Doves,” Then I read a review of, “Neapolitan Chronicles.”

After reading that book, in which the author mentioned in one essay some other writers she admires, I turned to a couple of Italian novelists from the 1950’s.  Wound up with, “Conversations in Sicily,” by Elio Vittorini.

These are good “walls’ in which to work between while writing.

The current publication is: https://thepointsguy.com/news/how-nonverbal-cues-can-break-down-language-barriers-according-to-a-travel-psychologist/

It’s part of a series, and this is the second installment.

All this is made possible by basically staying at home.  And watching basketball or going to games: Center Court, Row 6.

Just eat at home.

 

My New Book about Japan

What?  A new book?  About Japan?  Well, yeah, but first I have to write it.  Sold the proposal yesterday to Da Capo, major publisher, division of Hachette.  All about the culture, day to day life, and habits of Japanese that lead to acceptance, a degree of conformity, and satisfaction.

Did you know that Japanese spend a lot less on medical care and have better outcomes than here in the land of plenty?

And that observation, silence, and communication through anticipation are central to social organization there?

So much to learn.

I have a year and change to write the book, which will be out in late Spring, 2020, just in time for Summer Olympics Tokyo.

Restaurants in NYC

The more time I spend in town, the more and less I find to eat.  Please allow me to explain.

I went to Il Buco Alimentari three times this week.  It just keeps getting better and better.  Deep flavors, restraint, lots of vegetables, really great ingredients of which there are the right amount.

I went to Tori Shin twice, too.  Yes, I know, yakitori in Japan at a great place will cost about half and be a little better, maybe because of the coals, maybe because of the chickens.  But I don’t live in Japan, and for NYC, this place is first-rate.

Kyo-ya, first visit, on 7th in East Village, probably wins the prize for best meal of many.  Hard to find, down steps, no sign, stunning food that’s deeply seasonal served by a staff with a sense of humor.

Le CouCou, second visit, affirmed that this is for sure the best French in the city.

Sushi Yasuda, Batard, Russ & Daughters, Nakamura, Superiority Burger, Zucker’s, Rubirosa, Pig and Khao, Annieka, Ssam Bar.  All really wonderful.

And that, for now, is the more.  What I find remarkable is the many restaurants all over that just aren’t very good.

But then this roster shows just how good it can be.

Best Laid Plans

OK, so Batard was traded for Alimentari in order to be closer to a place where we could watch the 4th Quarter, which was a disastrous quarter, a blowout, but we could not have known that beforehand, of course.

The schnitzel at Batard, off the menu, was delicious as usual.

Oh, and the pizza at Rubirosa remains the best in Manhattan, bar none.

Saturday was a return to Le CouCou, maybe the worse name for a restaurant I can think of, except for the old Yellowfingers on the Upper East Side, but with some of the best, most refined French food anywhere.

Shin Tori later on.  Great, as usual.

Professor Thom’s for the Sunday game–not a blowout, but still…Anyway, at least the vibe was great, the wings flavorful and spicy, and the beer tasty.

Meeting up with G at Pig and Khao later that night was splendid.  Noisy place with shouts across the table and lots of pork, and the noodles were first-rate.

Sushi Yasuda mid-day today and then we’ll see if it’s possible to get into I Sodi.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,” between meals, and more edits of my new column for TPG, and then more revisions of the story of the boy lost in Hokkaido.