I’m one of those strange people who hates chicken wings. I’ve never quite grasped the attraction of eating with my hands and getting all messy for the sake of a few strands of meat and a mouthful of fatty, slippery poultry skin. Until the sticky, spicy, chili-flecked ‘k.f.c’ (Korean fire chicken) wings at DanjiÂ made a carnivorous convert of me, that is. Artfully piled five to a plate these honey-glazed wings are meaty and succulent, encased in a firm sheath of crispy skin. In place of the pure heat that too often overwhelms what could be a tasty tidbit, there’s a pleasantly lip-smacking piquancy that is divine – especially when paired with a cool glass of makgeolli, anÂ unfiltered Korean rice beer that’s slightly sweet, like nigori, with just a hint of fizz. My only issue at this casually elegant version of a Korean tapas bar is that the plates are made for sharing. How do two people split five chicken wings? At one point I feared a stand-off, like a couple of dogs staking their claim. Good thing a silky bowl of wild mushroom jook and truffle oilÂ arrived to distract us, followed by a plate ofÂ panko-dusted tofu with ginger scallion dressing hot on its heels. Dinner shifted into a new, less abrasive terrain. Like a palate cleanser, we had moved into the velvet course. I became doubly impressedÂ once I realized how the kitchen had organized the arrival of our small plates. We had ordered everything at once and in no particular order. The chef had cleverly grouped our random selections into a composed menu of flavors and textures. Vermicelli noodles with beef and Korean pepper cameÂ next, alongside the most curious dish of the evening, spicy bulgogi beef rice cakes. I couldn’t discern the dish at first: it looked like gnocchi and kimchi with a fried wonton on top. Once the server explained that yes, we were close – the gnocchi was in fact a chewy rice cake; the wonton a vegetable dumpling designed to add some crunch – the dish made perfect sense: beef was an accompaniment, not the main attraction, as this was our rice course. It was also the course where we realized we were full. Poached sablefish with spicy daikon arrived to a palpable groan but we gobbled it up nonetheless. The buttery flesh was cut with the tang of a soy reduction, making for a star protein. SmallÂ platesÂ can be deceiving, even more so at Danji, where anyoneÂ withÂ a taste for aÂ multiplicityÂ of flavors will be easily seduced by the menu of a dozen and a half options. My sageÂ advice: pace yourself; there’ll be plenty of time for bossam and spicy pork belly slidersÂ tomorrow.
I’ve grown accustomedÂ to the two variants of service one often experiences dining out in New York City: the cold, icy reserve of a server who takes himself (and the chef’s food) very seriously and the overly obsequious waiter who hopes to share with you his or her personal favorites and be your friend. Such extreme parameters often come in for a bit of jest at the table, butÂ theyÂ are important: service sets the tone of the meal, letting you know whether you’re expected to either sit up straight and pay attention or find the time to chat amicably about every plate after it has been cleared. It may be part of the game that comes with eating out, but at least you know the rules atÂ theÂ start. What I cannot abide are mixed messages. A perfect case in pointÂ occurred recently at SeÃ¤sonal, a very well-regarded Austrian restaurant on a dim midtown block just south of Central Park. Greeted warmly by the host, I wasÂ escortedÂ promptlyÂ to my table with a list of cocktails and wines by the glass. After settling in,Â theÂ host returned to take my drink order and a subsequent question about one of the wines led to the arrival of the sommelier, who clued me in on the flavor profile of a Zweigelt I was considering and promptly poured me a tasting. A savory, spicy red, it was exactly what the weather – and the promise of rich Austrian cuisine – called for. And then I sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more, expecting a menu to eventually arrive. It did not. (As a table in front of meÂ were handedÂ cocktails, menus, placed their order, and started toÂ dig into an appetizer all in the time that I sat there quietlyÂ contemplating my wine, I feltÂ justÂ a bit slighted.) Eventually I decided to ask for the menu. Later, I had to ask for a waiter to come take my order. At the end of the evening – I bet you saw this one coming – I had to ask for the bill, too. The warm embrace of the opening salvos at SeÃ¤sonal promised a certain kind of evening: friendly, considered, comforting. The reality of the experience, however, proved much the opposite. In truth, the front of house didn’t so much change the rules of the game as forget about them – and me – entirely.Â WhichÂ is honestly a shame because Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder’sÂ kitchen is as thoughtful and considered as I had hoped. Pearls of cucumber enlivened an amÃºse of creamy lobster bisque. Meaty pork belly, or schweinebauch, paired with earthy kale and sweet potato, was brightened by the clean zing of grapefruit. A carpet of butter-toasted pumpernickel crumbs proved a perfectly addictive foil for a creamy soft poached egg over tender lobster meat. Kaisergulasch more than lived up to its imperial sounding name: silky veal cheeks in a densely flavored sauce of peppers and paprika came crowned with fried capers, citrus zest and theÂ requisiteÂ dollop of sour cream. Add to that a side of pillowy soft, buttered spÃ¤tzle and I was in hog heaven. Or make that veal heaven. The only culinary misfireÂ occurredÂ with the arrival of a soggy-bottomed apfelstrudel. Much more successful was the kaiserschmarrn, a crumbledÂ caramelizedÂ pancake with apple compote that I could eat over and over again. It’s a breach of the diner’s contractÂ to have to go searching for an exit strategyÂ when you should be rightfully allowed to wallow in the afterglow, secure in the knowledge that eventually you will be discretely urged to settle up and move along. So let me take a moment to wag a finger in the face of SeÃ¤sonal: the next time an urge for schnitzel hits, I’ll be eating at the bar.
Taking a breather from the official Top 100, let me briefly sing the praises of a worthy spin-off. Wunderkind chef Alex Stupak reinvigorated New York’s tired ideas about Mexican food two years ago when he opened Empellon in the West Village.Â The casual, convivial tacqueria with theÂ unpretentiousÂ atmosphereÂ belied the chef’sÂ interpretiveÂ – and elevated – take on Mexican: chicharonnes arrived at the table piping hot, noisy as a bowl of Rice Krispies; sweetbreads, maitake muchrooms, and pastrami Â became fodder for tacos the likes of which you couldn’t stop eating; and then there was the seductive slate ofÂ outrageous salsa – habanero grapefruit, spicy salsa de arbol,Â pasilla mezcal, and my favorite, smokey cashew. For New Yorkers too long forced to endure the banalities of overstuffed enchiladas, or even worse, burritos, Empellon was a beacon of hope,Â appropriatelyÂ south of the 14th Street border. With Empellon CocinaÂ at the front lines of theÂ East Village,Â Stupak continues his journey, refining his Â cuisine by way of creatively composed plates. No need to worry about things getting too haughty, however: a pistachio-flecked guacamole is still an essentialÂ beginning. Served with earthy crisps ofÂ warm masa, you’ll never be able to look at mere mortal “chips” the same way again. Roasted carrotsÂ tangle with mole poblano and watercress in a beautifully calibrated starter. TheÂ lusty flavorÂ of fried lamb sweetbreads is set off by nuggets of parsnip and cleverly cut with sliced radish and a sweet salsa papanteca made with pumpkin seeds. Chef Stupak obviously believes that texture deserves a pride of place usually accorded solely to flavor and he proves it in dish after dish. (Even the mezcal comes with slices of orange dusted with ground, salty chapulines.) WithoutÂ sacrificingÂ the integrity of any single element, his plates come together greater than the sum of their parts.Â The sociableÂ atmosphere at Cocina is as buoyant as the list of tequila is long, but don’t be fooled by the noise: there is serious business going on in the kitchen.
Of all the noisy restaurantsÂ in this abominably loud city to Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch must go the dubious distinction of sporting the most inexplicably ear-splitting acoustics. While the decor is a pleasingly comfortable homespun ode to American earnestness, the decibel level makesÂ it a little like dining on the verge of the BQE or trying to eat in the mosh pit of a rock concert: you live in fear of being bumped from all sides because honestly, there’s no way a group of ordinary humans could be THIS LOUD. I want to make the font larger, the bold bolder, the caps more capital to emphasize just how loud the hive is because even for a Saturday night in Soho it is VERY, VERY LOUD! Â And that takes away from the food, I fear, which is pretty darn delicious from soup to nuts. As twilight gently envelope a momentarily quiet corner window table we start with Jersey asparagus because – smelly pee be damned – ’tis the season for asparagus. (In food fetish circles mid-May generally marks the time ramps relinquish their crown to the noble asparagi) Fragrant, toothsome, adorned with the slightest hint of tarragon and the buttery yolk of a fried – versus poached – egg, it’s like eating stalks of spring: verdant, earthy, and above all, vital. Steak tartare is equally alive, the beef tasting of its grassy diet and topped with white anchovy and a piquant dollop of caesar salad. A dozen New England oysters follow: meaty Massachusetts Peter’s Point and Rhody Matunucks thick with brine. Maybe it was the first round of cocktails – for me,Â The Last Oaxacan, a smoky mix of yellow Chartreuse and pineapple infused Mezcal; an aromatic blend of Thai basil, kaffir lime and vodkaÂ for my partner in crime,Â the Cassia Blossom – or the first bottle of Trimbach, but it’s at this point I notice we are speaking quite loudly while leaning in across the table to listen to each other. When main courses arrive we pay significantly more attention to our plates because it’s a losing battle trying converse at aÂ sufficientÂ volume while not shooting torpedos of food at the person across from you. It’s a taste-a-palooza, however, so we’re bothÂ happyÂ to shut up and dig in. I’ve got five plump sea scallops glazed with bacon jam, jalapeno and kumquat. It’s a smoky-spicy-citrus trifecta that makes me want to shout “Yahtzee!” Across the table, my friend has a bowl of tarragon-roasted chicken with morels and charred leeks. The earthyÂ smells perfume the table like narcotics and we happily pass plates back and forth inÂ silence,Â like a joint shared at the beach – as oblivious to the noise asÂ theÂ crash of the surf. It’s a happy spell of satiety that’s cast, made even better by dessert – an ethereal banana cream pie that makes me yearn for summer. In fact everything this evening, save the noise, has been soÂ seasonallyÂ focused that it has me looking forward to what might follow: summer corn, blueberries,Â andÂ sea bass; autumn lamb, apples, and winter game. Chef Carmellini, you can cook for me anytime. But could you find a way to keep it down just a bit?
In honor ofÂ Queen Elizabeth II’sÂ Diamond Jubilee, aÂ menu of right royal pedigree is reigning supreme inside London’s Roux at The Landau.Â Through June 9th, Executive Chef Chris King – with the input of father and son chefs Albert and Michel Roux Jr. – is showcasing a Jubilee option at the celebrated eatery, marked by a crown on each of the daily lunch and pre-theatre menus, reflecting traditional dishes with blue-blood backstorys that have been given a twenty-first century spin. I recently got a glimpse of three of the dishes, but I’d expect there’s going to be a few more sovereignÂ surprises up this King’s sleeve.
In 1952, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Albert Roux moved to London from France and worked as an apprentice at Cliveden, the illustrious Berkshire country house where he often served soft Cotswold Legbar Hen’s Egg Ã la Reine Â to the likes of Lady Astor.Â Sporting the title Ã la Reine, meaning “to the Queen,” the dish is a combination of chicken and foie grasÂ poached in Madeira then bound with truffled mayonnaise and used to fill a traditional brioche a tete. A soft-poached Cotswold Legbar hen’s egg is perched on top and garnished with slices of summer truffle.Â Roux went on to earn three Michelin stars at Le Gavroche, yet still recalls the dish as one of his most refined – and who can blame him.
Often referred to as the â€œKing of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,â€ the great Chef Escoffier was born in France but resided in London for many years.Â He took great delight in naming his dishes after famous people or places, but one dish in particular proved to take the fancy of royalty:Â GewÃ¼rztraminer Poached Var Salmon Royale. And not just because of the royal honorific – when any of Escoffier’s fish dishes ended with the wordÂ royaleÂ it meant the garnish was crayfish. In this version wild Var salmon is poached in an aromatic GewÃ¼rztraminer court bouillon and served with a kingly version of Escoffier’s original garnish – shelled crayfish tails, tiny quenelles of herbed salmon mousseline, and a parisienne of potatoes flavored with crayfish essence.
Hereford Strawberry Queen of Puddings sounds like a champion bitch at the Westminster Show but it’s actually a dessert made famous by Queen Victoria – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – following a trip up north to Manchester. The local residents felt their custard and strawberry jam pudding was too plain for the Queen so they added meringue to dress it up. Her Royal Highness loved it so much it became a staple. The Roux version is much lighter than the original recipe yet calls for rich custard thickened with brioche crumbs. It’s offset with a lightly-set fragrant jam of Hereford strawberries from Oakchurch farm and a mound of glazed Italian meringue.
Roux at The LandauÂ is in the legendaryÂ Langham, which opened in 1865 as Europeâ€™s first Grand Hotel. The hotel also happens to serve one of the swankiest afternoon teas in town in collaboration with luxury goods brand Asprey â€“ yet another excuse to toast British heritage and 60 years of The Queen.
At the suggestion of a friend who also happens to double as a local San Francisco restaurant critic, I made it a point to visitÂ Bouche in the gastronomic wasteland of Union Square. I’m very glad I did.Â ConvenientÂ to an evening’s theatre plans, Guillaume Issaverdens’ unassuming hidden California-French bistro proved a welcome surprise of seasonal food amid charming surroundings. Tucked into an upstairs corner with views through mullioned windows the restaurant has all the rustic allure of a Loire farmhouse. A bottle of one of those wines you almost never find on a domestic wine list only reinforces the illusion. (Domaine Auchere Sancerre Rouge, as refreshing a spring red as you’re likely to ever find) Expectations henceforth were felicitously met: aÂ deliriously good duck confit with beet puree and walnuts arrived under a bouquet of radish and spring greens. Sauteed calamari lightly dressed with mushrooms and citrus made a refreshing, lessÂ intense companion and foil. Lamb shoulder balanced the difficult task of tasting earthy without being too fatty or filling an entrÃ©e. (chickpeaÂ pureeÂ instead of potato was a clever deception) And a Proustian nod to the marinated salmon; one of those dishes I will be able to recall years hence. DelicatelyÂ smoked slices of ruby red salmon come coiled atop a bird’s nest of crispy egg noodle, floating on a bed of creme fraiche. NestledÂ inside theÂ nest: a perfectly poached egg. Creamy, crunchy, salty, smoky, the liaison of flavors and textures is heady, if not downright erotic. After this, dessert seems altogether unnecessary – what I really want is a cigarette.
I spend an extraordinaryÂ amount of time eating out. Whether at home or on the road, it’s a rare week that goes by when I’m not eating outside of the house a good six out of seven nights. When New York Magazine published critic Adam Platt’s occasional Top 100 ranking of the city’s restaurants right before the new year, I did a quick scan and discovered that despite my excessive consumption I had eaten at only a handful of the garlanded hundred. Perfect timing for a New Year’s Resolution, I’d say: spend 2012 working my way through the list. Not only would it help in getting me out of a restaurant rut (at present I can’t seem to get enough of Candle Cafe’s seitan) but it would make each Top 100 meal an occasion – look out,Â Tribeca; hallo, Queens – and a good excuse to spend festive time with fellow foodie friends. The ground rules are simple: no rules. SoÂ despiteÂ the New Frugality – anotherÂ pesky resolution I now wish I had saved for 2013 – let the feasting begin.
A friend of mine suggested lunch atÂ Georges at the Cove for some of the best views in La Jolla, an artsy enclave along the Pacific that’s only about ten minutes away from La Costa. What he neglected to mention is that they also do aÂ meanÂ fish taco, too.
Exec Digital is a new digital-only magazine that randomly dropped into my in-box earlier this month. Although more geared toward “executives” – whatever that means – it nevertheless features an interesting pastiche of travel, food and lifestyle writing. One piece in particular really struck me where it counts: the belly. Chef Gurpareet Bains’ favorite curry houses around the globe made for a quick read yet left me with a fistful of notes-to-self for future reference. You can read it below or catch it in situ HERE, courtesy of the folks at Exec Digital.
International House: The Best CurryÂ byÂ Gurpareet Bains
Gurpareet Bains, chef to A-listers and royalty, author ofÂ Indian SuperfoodÂ and most recently winner of the 2011 Chef of the Year â€˜Curry Gongâ€™ at the English Curry Awards, takes a breather from his book tour to share a select handful of his personal favorite Indian restaurants dotted around the world.
Devi,Â New York, USA -Â Average $60 per head
Only in the last few years have dapper Indian restaurants started popping up in New York. And although it is most definitely the pioneering days of curry in the US, New York just had to deliver in style…
Devi is Americaâ€™s only Michelin star Indian restaurant, and accordingly worth a visit. Chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur are sure to whip your taste buds into a frenzy with traditional Indian home cooking fused with the bold flavours of the new world.
Iâ€™m salivating just musing over fond memories of the grilled scallops with roasted pepper chutney and bitter orange marmalade, and the signature Tandoori lamb chops with pear chutney. Or for something a little more traditional, how about Phool Makhanee Kee Sabzee (lotus seeds and cashews in a creamy sauce) or the all-time-favourite, and must have Indian street food, Bombay Bhel-Puri?
With an ambience akin to an old worldly Rajasthani boathouse palace, this is the place to entertain and astonish. Be sure to invite your Indian business clients to a dinner at Devi. Deal done and dusted!
Cinnamon Kitchen,Â London, England -Â Average $60 per head
With London widely recognised as the curry capital of the world, restaurants on this side of the pond have a mighty high bar to aspire their standards upon â€“ and the Cinnamon Kitchen doesnâ€™t fail to astound. Right in the heart of Londonâ€™s financial district, the Cinnamon Kitchen is located in a courtyard abuzz with activity. Start with a Cinnamon Spiced Martini in the Anise Bar, sipping it just to the left of the main dining room.
When youâ€™re ready, the main dining room is a converted warehouse with 20 foot ceilings that reverberates a debonair â€˜007â€™ style.Â With an exceptional wine-list, a flawless brigade of staff and most importantly, award-winning chefs Vivek Singh and Abdul Yaseen on-hand, youâ€™re really in for a spectacular night.
The menu is short; instead, it focuses on a select few dishes that they get right every single time. Although the meals are presented in an aptly contemporary fashion, with subtle hints of fusion, the food is truly Indian at heart. To start, Iâ€™d recommend the Fat Chillies with Spiced Paneer or Hyderabadi Lamb Mince.Â As an entree, try Scottish Angus Fillet with Masala Chips or Seared Sea Bass with Kokum Curry and Rice (kokum is slightly sour, although less so than tamarind). The dessert menu is as equally as spectacular â€“ so remember to leave room.
Dhaba,Â Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, India -Â Average $30 per head
Dhaba specializes inÂ Punjabi Highway Fare. In the Indian state of the Punjab, locals consider highway eateries – better known as Dhabas – to serve up the best foodâ€¦and they are absolutely right. Itâ€™s rather a kind of street food for people on wheels, who miss home cooking.
Dhabaâ€™s menu is comprised of many traditional family recipes handed down generations. Try something suitably rustic, and typically Punjabi, such as Baingan Ka Bharta (spicy barbecued eggplant), Dahl Makhini (lentils slow cooked overnight, until rich and silky), and accompany this with flaky Tandoori Rotis and some of the more familiar suspects such as meat kebabs andÂ balti curry dishes – and you will be eating just as heartily as any Punjabi farmer. If youâ€™re not sure what to order, or if you want to try a bit of everything, go for the Thali, which is the chefâ€™s taster menu, and is very much the avant-garde thing to do.
But at Dhaba, itâ€™s not only about the food. The ambience is also of the classic rural highway eatery, complete with a truck fresco, rustic interiors and waiters dressed in traditional Punjabi dress. There is even a thatched ceiling and walls replicating the irregular mud painted texture of a village hut. An old wireless belts out golden oldies from the silver era of Indian cinema, putting the final touches on a perfect evening.Â
Raviâ€™s Restaurant,Â Dubai, United Arab Emirates -Â Average $10 per head
Raviâ€™s on Satwa Road (near Satwa Roundabout) is an institution, and arguably Dubaiâ€™s number one curry house. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of old Dubai, and bounded by spiraling minarets and the haunting sound of muezzinsâ€™ calls,Â this is the place to eat curry.
Itâ€™s very much a rough-and-ready diner style restaurant with Formica tables; fortunately, the tacky decor only enhances the experience of Dubai before it became an international tourist destination.
Raviâ€™s is frequented by the legions of Indian and Pakistani expats living in Dubai â€“ which is always a good sign of authentic food. If you can imagine classic dishes, such as Butter Chicken, Tarka Dahl, Biryani and Naans, all served up in monumental portions, and for just a few dollars â€“ this is Raviâ€™s!
What happened to Todd English? Once considered the boy wonder of Boston, he was heralded a generation ago for his modest take on rustic Mediterranean cuisine at the 50-seat restaurant, Olives.Â In the ensuing decades, however, Chef English has seemed more concerned with cementing his reputation as the King of Hotel Dining:Â Olives New York at the W Union Square, Bonfire at Boston’s Park Plaza, Olives Las Vegas inside the Bellagio, Fish Club at the Seattle Marriott, Olives Aspen at the St. Regis, Todd English’s Tuscany at Mohegan Sun, Disney World’s Blue Zoo, Riche in the New Orleans Harrah’s, The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English, and most recently, Olives Biloxi at Beau Rivage Resort and Casino.Â You’ve got to give the man credit for branding, even if in the process his food has suffered.
Case in point: Ã‡a Va by Todd English at the new Intercontinental Hotel in Manhattan’s theater district seems designed for tourists who want a New York-style dining experience yet are afraid to leave their hotel.Â (Not as safe as it sounds given the grisly corkscrew murder that recently took place upstairs.) Connected to the hotel’s lobby, the main room feels less like the advertised brasserie and more like an Outback Steakhouse with the lights dimmed low.Â Now, I’m personally very much a fan of flattering lighting, but what’s a diner to do when it’s too dark to read the menu?Â Luckily the bright screen on my companion’s iPhone did double-duty as a flashlight, otherwise, I’m afraid, I was either going to have to ask for the menu in braille or task the server with a dramatic recitation.Â Even with the glare the menu looked promising, however, stacked with modernized classics tweaked just enough to seem exciting without being necessarily adventurous: crispy oysters ‘escargot style,’ shaved asparagus salad with asian pear in a mushroom vinaigrette, braised short ribs and sunchoke-lobster fricasse, lobster ‘profiterole.’ If only the execution was as meticulous as the copy-writing. Crispy oysters are indeed, crispy. And tasty, too. Yet it’s evident that what the chef means by ‘escargot style’ is an avalanche of garlic and butter so extreme as to mask the mollusks. This dish would work just as well with any absorbent material.Â Bread, for example; or kitchen sponge.Â Mealy disks of Marcona almond panna cotta aside, a shaved asparagus salad fares much better.Â Fatty short ribs are a passable plat du jour with sides of garlic spinach and a hash of sunchokes, so what’s the point in scattering chunks of flavorless lobster on the side?Â And since we’re mentioning flavorless lobster, I bet you can guess how well the disappointingly cold profiterole turned out.
It takes an amazing amount of drive (and talent) to get to the point where you can call yourself a Celebrity Chef with a straight face.Â Todd English has more than earned the right to do so, but at what price his culinary soul?Â Ã‡a ne pas.
Elaine Kaufman, who became something of a symbol of New York as the salty den mother of Elaine’s, one of Manhattanâ€™s best-known restaurants and a second home for almost half a century to a bevy of writers, actors, athletes and other celebrities, died Friday at Lenox Hill Hospital.
To the patrons she knew at her Upper East Side establishment, Ms. Kaufman was the quirky, opinionated, caring and imposingly heavyset proprietor who came in almost every night to check on things and schmooze, moving from table to table and occasionally perching herself on a stool at the end of her 25-foot mahogany bar.
With those she did not know, however, her demeanor varied; some accused her of being rude, though she indignantly denied that she ever was. As she put it, she had little time to explain to dissatisfied customers why they were being directed to tables in the back, known as Siberia, or led to the bar or even turned away, when they could clearly see empty tables along â€œthe line.â€
The line was the row of tables along the right wall of the main room, extending from the front to the back and visible from the entrance. Those tables were almost always saved for the most valued regulars, with or without reservations. One regular for many years was Woody Allen, who filmed a scene for â€œManhattanâ€ at Elaineâ€™s.
Almost from the beginning there were writers, many of whom were granted credit privileges when funds were low or nonexistent. And the writers â€” Gay Talese, George Plimpton, Peter Maas, Dan Jenkins, Joseph Heller, Mario Puzo, Sidney Zion and others â€” drew editors: Clay Felker, Willie Morris and James Brady, to name a few.
Then came the theater, film and television personalities, eager to meet literary lights. And they, having added to Elaineâ€™s growing cultural cachet, soon attracted the famous from other arenas â€” sports figures, politicians and gossip-column society â€” wanting to be part of the scene.
It became an unspoken rule among the customers never to appear overly impressed or distracted by the famous. But there were exceptions, Ms. Kaufman recalled. Mick Jagger was one. (â€œThe room grew still,â€ she said.) Luciano Pavarotti was another. (â€œEveryone stood up and applauded.â€) And Willie Nelson proved irresistible. (â€œHe kissed all the women at the bar.â€)
Once, when a newcomer asked directions to the menâ€™s room, Ms. Kaufman replied, â€œTake a right at Michael Caine.â€Â READ MORE
Tucked away on the quiet banks of the Chattahoochee River is Canoe, one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed restaurants. The inviting interior blends wood, brick, ironwork and a wall of windows to create a casually elegant atmosphere. Settle into an overstuffed booth and take in the artistic touches, like Ivan Baileyâ€™s hand-forged iron vines and creatures that wind their way through the restaurant – or the furniture art, created by Dwayne Thompson.
Balanced by culinary expertise and natural aesthetics, it’s a unique settingÂ â€“ from the bustling exposed kitchen to the ceiling that resembles the inside of a canoe. Of course, the best is yet to come, so take your time perusing the seasonal menu from Executive Chef Carvel Grant Gould, a seventh generation Atlantan. Her sophisticated Southern style is a fundamental part of the Canoe experience.
Over brunch the other day, I know I wasn’t the only one paralyzed by the menu choices:Â the savory and sweet scones with house made preserves or the buttery Georgia pecan sticky buns?Â Oh hell, why not both. And since we’re indulging, bring on the house smoked salmon, which comes on a crispy potato pancake with goat’s cheese.
The excess of baked goods and potatoes negated the need for a proper starterÂ so I regretfully passed on the enticing descriptions of she-crab and African squash soups, but settling on a main courseÂ still proved daunting.Â â€œDuck & Eggs,â€ a pair of sunny side up eggs with a toasted sage biscuit and duck ragout? Brioche french toast with banana-mascarpone? Chicken and grits, with shiitake mushrooms and cipollinis?Â I opted – finally – for the fried green tomato Benedict, which combined velvety hollandaise, smoky ham, and perfectly poached egg into a delirious contrast of textures and flavors, elevated by a surprise bite of tomato.
Stuffed to the gills, I jokingly mentioned dessert.Â But when I heard the house specialty was popcorn ice cream on a bed of caramel corn, I was too curious too resist.Â Of course, in for a penny, in for a pound, we might as well throw a cobbler in there, too – this is the south after all.Â When two giant plates of dessert arrived at the table, I found myself unable to control the intractable pull of yumminess, which kept calling me to have just one more bite – all the while shuddering at the human body’s ability to overindulge against all good sense.Â More to the point, my body – and it’s near-Olympic lack of restraint.
After brunch, Chef Gould took me for a tour around the grounds.Â The river rolls past a tranquil waterfront enhanced by a natural, manicured landscape.Â The colorful gardens, crisp white special-event tents and meandering walkways are the perfect spot for a postprandial stroll – or a nap. â€œItâ€™s a very rustic, organic, warm feeling restaurant,â€ she said when I asked her to describe her food. â€œFinding the freshest ingredients, respecting their flavors and applying solid cooking techniques in the kitchen is how they come to life.â€ She hems and haws as I prod her into defining her style of cooking, before reluctantly settling on simply “contemporary American.”Â I find it interesting that she neglects to include the word Southern in there and I call her on it.Â “I’m 7th generation,” she says, “I couldn’t be more Southern.Â But I just cook what I like.”
Ten years ago this week I had one of the best assignments of my early writing life. By luck I had a connection to Alain Ducasse at the time he was opening his first restaurant inÂ New York.Â The foodie world was agog; not only because in the year Y2K Chef Ducasse held the record for Michelin stars accorded to a single chef but also because the menu would be a chefs tasting at the then-astronomical price of $160 per person.Â My ability to score a table enabled me to land an assignment to write about it for Time Out New York, itself just a start-up in the city at the time and not yet enough of a coveted outlet to warrant the chef’s attention.
Needless to say, it was divine.Â And while the city and I have gone on to bigger, bolder and more expensive meals in the ensuing decade, you always remember your first, right?Â In fact, it was with a semi-famous actress that I first went to Ducasse, attempting to woo her into appearing in a play I was producing – as thoughÂ our posh surroundings were any indication of what was on offer to her theatrically.Â She politely turned me down, nevertheless we had one of those amazing only-in-NYC evenings that ended with the dining room captain handing her a shopping bag as we left.Â Outside the restaurant she ripped open the bag and removed a large item elegantly wrapped in tissue paper.Â It was a cake, we discovered.Â And soonÂ thereafter it slipped from her hands and fell rolling into the gutter of Central Park South.Â She chased it down, hastily wrapping it back in tissue and returning it to the bag as though nothing had happened.Â Then in her haughtiest imitation of Lauren Bacall, she gave her hair a toss before heading off down the block:Â “Don’t you even think I’m not still going to eat it.”
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