Monday, December 31, 2012

Q&A | Francis Lam

Cannot believe 2012 is coming to a close -- it's really incredible how fast the year flew by! With that being said, today I am so very excited to share with you the last Q&A session for the year: Francis Lam of Gourmet, SalonGilt Taste, and Top Chef Masters fame. He also happens to be my cousin -- what a funny, small world, right? True story! Not gonna lie -- it can be really intimidating to have such a talented, multi-faceted, award-winning (he has been featured in the past seven annual editions of Best Food Writing anthologies) food writer in the family. A lot to aspire to, that's for sure! But in all seriousness, Francis is one of the coolest and nicest people I know. He really knows quite a bit about writing (studied Creative Writing as an undergrad at the University of Michigan) and all things culinary (graduated at the top of his class during his time at the Culinary Institute of America), and has always given me helpful advice when I struggle with either, whether it is learning to write about food for the first time or figuring out where to get the freshest raw sea urchin in the city. It was through his writing (some of my favorites: "Chasing Perfection", "Getting to Know Him," and "A Restaurant That's Really This Good" from Gourmet"What Makes Sushi Great?" and "What the Notorious B.I.G.'s Lyrics Taught Me about Food" from Gilt Taste) that truly helped me understand the inevitable relationship formed between food/eating and emotions. I can only hope to be lucky enough one day to have an ounce of Francis's eloquence, especially when it comes to articulating experiences in the world of culinary delights.

I know how unbelievably busy he is, so I really appreciate him for taking the time out of his jam-packed schedule to answer my silly little questions. Please follow him on Twitter (@Francis_Lam) if you don't already do -- your day will be better for it. Thank you so much again to Francis for participating in this month's Q&A! Enjoy!

© Pableaux Johnson

This is, of course, hard to say. There are a few obvious contenders, though -- Alinea, which made giggle and want to cry, involuntarily and simultaneously. WD~50, which taught me, a hotshot culinary school grad, that I don’t know anything about cooking. Yee Li, a Chinatown char siu  and roast duck joint that was reborn, like a phoenix, from the ashes of my childhood favorite, Big Wong. Higgins, in Portland, Oregon, where I had my ass handed to me for five months as a cook, and where I learned a hundred lessons on how good food can be, how much I respect cooking, and how to be as a person in the world.

I used to be a lot more wide-ranging, but the ravages of old age and a ladyfriend who doesn’t leave our neighborhood to go to work means we eat a disproportionate number of meals in the Frankies Spuntino / Seersuckerbad Thai takeout circuit.

Water, sometimes with bubbles, and sometimes with a lime. Gotta hydrate.

Bad waiters, by still tipping them 20% almost no matter what.

If we’re talking about the martyrish pleasures of slaving over a stove so that you can feel good about your generosity and nobility, ratataouille. If we’re talking about testing yourself, omelets. If we’re talking about just making something I really like to eat, pretty much anything braised.

Beef tongue stewed with five spice! Also, weirdly, I remember bits of canned corn and black pepper in there. It’s been decades since I’ve had it, and I still miss it.

I love Chicago; I think it’s my favorite restaurant city -- the combination of skilled cooks, willingness to experiment, and awesome hot dogs really gets me amped up.  But really any getaway is a gastronomic getaway -- even if the food isn’t mind-blowing in the obvious sense, it’s still the clearest way I know towards getting to know a place and its people.

Greg Higgins, Grant Achatz, Michel Bras, Jackie Wong, Soyoung Scanlan, John Willoughby, Ruth Reichl, Fuchsia Dunlop, Elizabeth Andoh

It’s usually about first times, isn’t it? You can have food as good, company as pleasant, but it’s hard to have the sense of wonder of a first time once you’ve had it. In this case, I’d say my first time at Alinea, my first time cooking with my friend Chuck (who later, I went to cooking school with, and who now owns the great sandwich shop Cutty’s in Boston), my first time eating mediocre vegetarian food at a place called Seva with my friend Matt, where we laughed so hard we literally fell out of the booth.

Mid-grade fake food. I mean, fake fake food, like macaroni and cheese out of a box with orange powder, is real good, right? I can get with that. And of course, real macaroni and cheese is great. But in between? Like Velveeta and shells? Awful.

Pineapple upside down cake. Or maybe banana pudding. But I rarely resist a hot fudge brownie sundae. But I’m going to stop with these have-it-all-answers.

I have to say, actually, The Dean and Deluca Cookbook is probably the most influential cookbook in my life. Is it the best? Almost certainly not. But when I was just learning about food in the 90s, it was the one I happened to have, and page after page taught me new stuff. I mean, if I reread it today, I might disagree with everything in it now, but it  made me realize there was a whole world I knew nothing about out there.

Well, I think all words have their own swagger, so I don’t want to single anything out. But I’ll tell you one word I NEVER use: sinfulEff people who call food sinful.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Brunch | (Tenth Avenue) Cookshop

Whenever Amy is back in town from St. Louis visiting family and friends over the holidays, she and I always make sure to squeeze some quality catching-up-time during these tightly packed visits. First stop? Brunch, of course, and this time it was at Tenth Avenue Cookshop in Chelsea, right near the High Line on the West Side.

In the 1800s, a cookshop was "a private home where cooks served simply prepared food -- i.e., the menu was prepared using only the product available to the chef, often nurtured on their own land." Accordingly, Cookshop embraces this spirit from the origins of its humble moniker.

Chef Marc Meyer, the chef behind the kitchen at Cookshop, focuses on a New American approach to cooking with seasonal availability as its cornerstone, especially in supporting "sustainable ingredients, humanely raised animals, and local farmers/artisans." He has a good point in stating that "the butcher and the baker were the first chefs" reflecting his profound "respect for the earth and its bounty."

I love the farm-to-table influence on the interiors of the restaurant. The gliding, thin panels of maple-colored wood squared off by the contrasting white outlines from the ceiling really make the space resonate the kitchen's commitment to sustainable cuisine.

Especially it being the yuletide season, the restaurant was quite festive, too!

With any brunch scene in New York City, one must familiarize him/herself with the cocktail offerings. It was clear on the beverage menu (and pretty much what each person was sipping on in the dining room of Cookshop) that Bloody Marys are its specialty drinks, with five distinctive offerings available on the menu. Amy decided to be adventurous and try the restaurant's classic take on the brunch beverage -- the Cookshop Mary which had vodka, tomato juice, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, fresh horseradish, and Tabasco. She had them go light on the Tabasco, and she found it quite refreshing. I opted for something other than a Bloody Mary, so I went for the Peace on Earth -- peach vodka, apple cider, orgeat syrup, lemon, and orange bitters (which contained nuts). The vodka in this was quite strong for a morning cocktail only to be softened in intensity by the apple cider and lemon juice. The orange bitters added an interesting element to it -- definitely gave the cocktail a little edge, making it a fittingly sip-worthy drink for brunch.

For my main course, I had the house-made pastrami hash with Finger Lakes grass fed brisket, poached eggs, spiced jus, sage, and potato. This was the perfect dish to escape the severe winter cold that day -- starchy potatoes soaking up the spiced jus were heartily delectable with the soft and juicy chunks of loose pastrami meat that had just fallen off their bones. The runny yolks melted onto the steamy pile of deliciousness, and I was in breakfast heaven. A major step up from the classic corned beef hash -- good stuff!

Amy had the frittata with caramelized onions, roasted portobello mushrooms, sage, and DiPalo’s mozzarella. It was nicely browned and flat like a pancake, filled with the lovely combination of onions and mushrooms and melted fresh mozzarella enveloped in a soft layer of egg.

Findings: All in all, our brunch at the Tenth Avenue Cookshop proved to be fantastic! Many multi-meal restaurants (i.e., ones that offer not only evening fare but lunch during the week and brunch on the weekends) fall victim to spreading themselves too thin trying to offer it all. Fortunately, Cookshop has a lovely brunch to offer, especially for its delicious offerings, its vibrantly punchy cocktails, and its energetic weekend ambiance. With a comfortable reservation policy in place, quality isn't compromised one bit, and there is no rushing guests out to turnover more tables -- just the way an ideal brunch experience is supposed to be. The menu's price point, even without a cocktail-grub prix fixe offering, is pretty easy on the wallet (under $30 for an entrée with a choice of cocktail from a variegated list). Cookshop has now decidedly been added to my solid brunch spots -- can't wait for a subsequent visit!

Price point: $14-16 for each main course, $12 for each brunch cocktail.

--December 22, 2012

(Tenth Avenue) Cookshop
156 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dinner | Louro

Last week, Dani made an evening trip to New York City to visit Lisa and me, which clearly called for an awesome dinner somewhere so the three of us could catch up over our favorite thing to do -- eat! The obvious choice of venue? Well, it seemed almost like a no-brainer for us to check out Chef Dave Santos' new solo spot which opened only a couple weeks ago at the start of December.

I've been to a couple of Chef Santos' Um Segredo Supper Club dinners over at Roosevelt Island, including an uni-focused dinner that Lisa and I went to together, so we've been patiently waiting for his next big thing, and lo' and behold! Louro came to fruition with the help of his Kickstarter project matched with an opportunity to convert an existing restaurant (Lowcountry) to a new one. So amazing how all of these great opportunities all happened in the course of a year for Chef Santos (i.e., leaving his executive chef post at Hotel Griffou, moving onto create his underground supper club Um Segredo, launching a pier-side fish shack on Roosevelt Island, and now opening Louro). A big congratulations to him for working hard and having his dream of opening his own restaurant finally come true -- we couldn't be more excited and happy for him!

Louro is Portuguese for "bay leaf" -- an ingredient that holds a special meaning to Chef Santos. One of his "fondest, food-related memories" was during his last trip to France, where he visited his aunt and ailing uncle. His uncle, who had always been passionate for harvesting and gardening, led Chef Santos to the backyard where he nurtured a flourishing bay plant, from which his uncle wanted him to "share in his pride of the healthy plant," trimming off a few pieces to take home back to America to the other members of his family. Upon his return stateside, Chef Santos' mother (also a green thumb) "replanted the sprouts to create two potted trees to add to her garden." Although his uncle has passed on, his memory "thrives in the many well-seasoned, family meals that have been sprinkled with these clippings." So like his uncle's "gift from the earth that often appears in Chef Santos' cooking, his belief of sharing the joys of life with close company similarly inspires the friendly relaxed dining experience" at Louro. It's undoubtedly stories like these from humbled chefs like Chef Santos that I live to write about.

The bar at Louro. Notice the drawings of bay leaves all throughout the walls of the restaurant.

Boothed tables inside Louro (plus more bay leaves). I love the black-white-and-wood scheme happening inside the restaurant. Keeps the look very minimalist with an organic/rustic tone from the woods.

One of the things I was excited that would be reprised from Um Segredo was Chef Santos' (in)famous Portuguese butter -- a special blend of lard, garlic, black pepper, and artichokes. The version at Louro was a lot more robust and zesty (definitely got its super generous helping of ground black pepper here) than the one from Um Segredo, but still savory on the thick cubes of dense Um Segredo flatbread.

If I recall the name correct, this was the Jackson's Delight with what I remember to be gin with figs and cinnamon. It pretty much tasted like Christmas in a glass with lots of spirit (ha-ha-ha) -- great start to the rest of the evening.

Dani had the Muscat Collins -- ultimately a Tom Collins cocktail (gin, lemon juice, sugar, and club soda) with muscat grape juice. A very sweet and refreshing take on the Tom Collins.

She also tried the Jack Rose -- a winning blend of apple brandy, grenadine, and lemon juice.

Chef Santos started us with the appetizer-sized gnocchi romana with truffle cream, cipollinis, and crispy onions. This was heavenly -- the soft, melty cubes of potato gnocchi bathed nicely in the flavors of the earthy and soupy, generously truffled cream. The tenderly crunchy cloves of cippolinis paired with the thin crispy strands of onions added a balancing texture to it all. So good -- a must order!

Excuse the foggy/dark photographs that follow -- I tried my best!

We also had the salmon tartare with coconut yuzu broth and tempura shiso -- Lisa's favorite out of all the starter dishes. If there's one thing that Chef Santos is great at, it's some serious magic with fish, especially in the crudo/raw department.The diced pieces of salmon were smooth yet firm, full of that marbled flavor and silken texture. The broth was both delicate and exciting, subdued with the coconut and electric with the hint of yuzu. The playful aspect of this dish was the shiso leaves flashfried in tempura batter. They were thin enough to be like kale chips -- so fun to nibble on with the tartare.

Dani suggested we try the baked egg with braised housemade chorizo and heirloom potatoes -- essentially a breakfast entrée baked en cocotte. The eggs were just cooked -- nice and runny against the piping hot, cubed potatoes and spicy and meaty chorizo. The baked eggs was quite good, even in all of its simplicity. Just goes to show you sublime execution of something so basic as a morning protein like chorizo with eggs and potatoes can go along way.

The main reason we opted out of the tasting menu (besides for the opportunity to try more things together) was so we could feast on the sweetbreads from the small plates section -- chicken fried with collards, gravy, and spiced honey. While we appreciated the Southern flair on this generous lobe of sweetbread, we were a little underwhelmed with it overall. The bed of gravied collards were great, but the chicken fried sweetbreads were a little on the blander side -- it wasn't as crisp as we had anticipated, and the interior was nearly an afterthought. I'm sure sweetbreads will get a little more love as Louro's menu evolves.

As part of our main courses that we wanted to share, we had the strip steak with cornbread panzanella salad, pickled garlic, and haricot verts (French for "green beans"). The medallions of strip steak were a juicy pink, medium rare, and the panzanella salad, garlic, and green beans were both gorgeous and delicious. It all came together quite well.

Our favorite of the large plates was the Idaho trout with Himalayan rice, sweet potatoes, and dandelion greens. The Himalayan rice (i.e., a red grain) was nutty and earthy with a playful texture to it, sweeping up the potatoes and greens with their sauce in hearty bites. Further proof that Chef Santos can really be named the Fish Whisperer, the filets of trout were beautifully seared on its skin with a smoky, charred flavor while their flaky flesh soaked up all the sauce from the veggies. You really need to order the trout and sink your teeth into this to know what I mean! :P

We also had the wild rice risotto with hazelnuts and porcini mushrooms. Upon first glance,
I think we may have misread the description to be "wild mushroom risotto" because when we took our first bites, we were startled by the grainy texture (I suppose we were expecting smooth, creamy wisps of arborio), but came to really like it after that initial bite. The wild rice and the definitely adds a little je ne sais quoi to the other more traditional ingredients of a mushroom risotto. The porcinis were exquisite and super flavorful, and the hazelnuts really underscored the overall awesomeness of this dish. Another must order!

We also had an entrée-sized gnocchi romana in addition to all of this -- the earlier appetizer-sized one from Chef Santos and this one from our original order.

For dessert, they were sold out of the coconut tapioca that evening, so we decided to go with two to share.

The first of the desserts was the peanut butter pain perdu (French for "French toast") with grape jelly and peanut butter ice cream -- ultimately a deconstructed PBJ sandwich in dessert form. For those PB&J enthusiasts out there, this has your name written all over it -- nutty, tart, and a little savory!

I suggested we try the poached plums with brown sugar crumble and bay leaf ice cream -- mainly because of the subtle hint of bay leaf (couldn't resist it -- louro at Louro!). I was curious about the flavor pairing here, and somehow, it worked! It tasted like a loosely constructed plum pie a la mode with a hint of bay leaf in the mix, which was very interesting indeed. While Dani and Lisa preferred the peanut butter pain perdu, I really enjoyed the poached plums.

Dani and Lisa at Louro.

Lisa and me at Louro.

Findings: Reunions with some of my favorite people always make any dining experience that much more fun, especially when exploring a new restaurant (both to us and to a given city). So when a much anticipated restaurant like Louro shows itself to be quite good and enjoyable, evocative of what could be many of Chef David Santos' meals with his family, I knew we'd be in for a treat -- one that would bring out the best things I love about dining out. Considering the restaurant had only been open since early December, a mere two weeks before our arrival, I must say it was quite bustling (ressies appeared to be mostly booked). While the lull in between the small plates and the more main course plates was longer than we had wished to wait, the gorgeous fare emerging from the kitchen proved the trip to the West Village to be well worth it. An especial ZOMG for the gnocchi romana, the salmon tartare, and the Idaho trout. Don't be fooled by the "plates to share" element of the menu -- we left quite happily with full bellies. As with any new restaurant opening, there were some subtle kinks that I know will iron out once the restaurant is opened for a bit longer. In any case, I cannot wait to see what else Chef Santos will have cooking up for the menu on my next visit to Louro. Nossa Mesa Supper Club dinners (ultimately, Um Segredo Supper Club 2.0) on Monday nights look like the next possibility!

Congrats again to Chef Santos for finally opening a restaurant of his very own -- we couldn't be happier for you!

Price point: $12-13 for each small plate, $13-26 for each grain (appetizer/entrée sizes), $22-29 for each large plate, $8 for each dessert.

--December 19, 2012

142 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Food for Thought | Pablo Neruda

Amo sobre una mesa,
cuando se habla,
la luz de una botella
de inteligente vino.

[I like on the table,
when we’re speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.]
--Pablo Neruda 
from "Oda al vino", 1954-59.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dinner | Basta Pasta

Date night a couple weeks ago included a visit to Basta Pasta near Union Square, a casual yet elegant restaurant where spirited, lively energy of Tokyo meets the rich flavors of Rome.

Basta Pasta was established back in 1985 over in Tokyo, designed after the cult TV program, "Iron Chef" -- i.e., the source of the restaurant's inspiration for its completely open kitchen concept to emulate (a) kitchen theatre. Five years later, Basta Pasta found another home in New York City, welcoming its guests "to enjoy Italian as the Japanese do" with the Japanese take on classic Italian cuisine.

On the other side of the "kitchen stage" are seats available at the bar counter.

What I love about the dining room at Basta Pasta was how clean cut and bright it all was -- certanly made for easy food snapping! It also allowed for the boldly colorful dishes pop.

A bread basket with two kinds of bread . . .

. . . along with twisted breadsticks.

To start, there was an obvious choice for us. The calamari alla griglia -- grilled squid with homemade stuffed sausage of curry risotto, golden raisins, pistachios, and prosciutto -- had our names written all over it. As the ingredients of squid, risotto pistachios, and prosciutto rolled off my tongue, Marcus simply interjected, "Yes, yes, yes! Let's order it!" I remember thinking to myself, Wow, that was easy! The plating of the dish was quite pretty and colorful, and we were ready to dive in. However, despite our initial excitement, there was something missing from the dish, that is, something to make the entire dish more cohesive and unified. I may have glimpsed at the rest of the dish's description too quickly to notice the stuffed sausage part. I thought there would be sausage mixed in with the remaining ingredients in the form of a risotto -- not the risotto inside a sausage with the accompanying ingredients. When we cut through the stuffed sausage, the interior was extremely crumbly and broke apart really easily, posing difficulties for scooping up and eating. Fortunately, the flavor of the curry risotto matched with the remaining ingredients proved to all be very robust, and the grilled squid was soft and delectable. The selection of ingredients was great, but their execution was lacking for me.

For my main course, there was that one pasta dish on the menu that was screaming my name -- the linguine ai ricci di mare: linguine with fresh sea urchin and basil in pink sauce. I didn't see any cream (though I assumed there would be some) or cheese in the dish's description on the menu, so I thought I'd be okay on the conservative dairy front. So when it arrived, it appeared as if it was super creamy and sprinkled with some Parmesan, but luckily, I was mistaken. The cream was very light and easy to digest, and what I mistook for cheese was in fact lobes of sea urchin roe. The linguine was a buttery al dente, gently swimming in a delicious pink sauce of the lightest creaminess. The generous helping of sea urchin added a balancing textural contrast as well as a tinge of briny flavor to the rest of the dish -- each slurp of linguine melted in my mouth. Needless to say, I was sad to see this dish go -- it was so good!

Marcus had the linguine alle pescatore -- linguine with clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, and sea scallops. A simple preparation with well cooked sea fare can go a long way -- the seafood made the linguine dance in its butter sauce. The sheer variety of things mixed in with the linguine made Marcus a happy camper.

Findings: All in all, I found Basta Pasta to be a lovely date night spot. The restaurant's lighting proved to be a godsend for my photographs, and the low ambient chatter makes for effortless conversations that don't require a couple to holler at each other just to be heard over loud music and even louder neighboring tables.Its white interiors are calming and serene and also allow for the restaurant's vibrantly delicious dishes to pop. Although I was expecting the menu to be a bit more Japanese inspired (I found most items on the menu had only very subtle hints, if any, of Japanese ingredients and perhaps not completely obvious Japanese culinary techniques), the execution of their dishes were still very well done -- all very sleek, subtle, and simple in presentation and flavor. I found the lingine ai ricci di mare to be perfect, especially with its well-balanced consistency of the cream sauce with the pasta. Perhaps it's the subtlety and delicateness that Basta Pasta is aiming for, contrasting against the robustness of most Italian cooking.

Either way, Basta Pasta is worth a little detour for date night -- next thing you know, you and your date will be slurping pasta just like in The Lady and the Tramp! :P

Price point: $13 for each antipasti, $20-23 for each primi piatti.

--December 3, 2012

Basta Pasta
37 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Signing | Fall 2012 cookbook signings

One of my favorite things about the fall each year is the bounty of new cookbooks released right before the holiday season (I suppose it makes for higher sales from the abundance of gift giving). I had the pleasure of meeting three renowned culinary individuals this season.

{1,4} First, I was able to meet Nancy Singleton Hachisu, the woman behind {2Japanese Farm Food. She lives with her Japanese farmer husband, Tadaaki, and her three children on an organic farm in rural Japan, all of which certainly provided the inspiration for the stories and recipes in her latest cookbook. She and her husband grow and prepare all of their ingredients{3}As part of the demonstration/signing/Q&A at Williams-Sonoma, she cooked a Japanese eggplant dish (i.e., fried eggplant with sweet miso) along with the fluffiest Japanese rice (her book guides you how to shop for the best grains and how to cook it to its optimal state. {5} She also had some barley/buckwheat tea served cold.

Some highlights of her discussion with her audience:

  • Japanese cuisine has historically been dominated with a male approach to cooking. 
  • Her mother-in-law used to make udon noodles everyday for her husband, by hand!
  • Tadaaki learned everything he knows about cooking from his grandmother growing up. 
  • Tomatoes + soy sauce = umami explosion!
  • Rarely any sugar is used in her recipes.
  • Her life on the farm is much, much different life than the ones led by residents of urban Tokyo.
  • There is an obsessiveness with seasonality with her lifestyle, and even as such, it is actually very feasible to live this way.
  • Important ingredients: Ottawa soy sauce and brown rice vinegar (unlike most rice vinegars found in supermarkets which aren't as good).

She was so easy to talk to, and I cannot wait to delve into her recipes and learn more about traditional, rustic Japanese cooking. I hope our paths cross again, and I can attend a dinner with her as the guest chef!

My signed copy of Japanese Farm Food.

Next up was meeting Chef Thomas Keller and Chef Sebastien Rouxel for the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. I cannot believe this was my fifth time meeting Chef Keller!

{1,4} This little book signing posed some great significance in my life. It was about three years ago, at this very Williams-Sonoma at Columbus Circle, that I had met Linda, my awesome friend and culinary soul sister, whilst waiting in line at another one of Chef Keller's cookbook signings, only it was for  Ad Hoc at Home. Waiting in line once again together with Linda brought about some major déjà vu, for sure -- what a way to celebrate our three-year friend-iversary! {2} And of course, even though arriving decently early, there was a good line ahead of us, but we were quite content with {3} the array of delectable desserts to sample. {5} Plus we even got to tell Chef Keller our story about how we met and act all starstruck in our photo with him and Chef Rouxel!

And in true Chef Keller fashion, the inscriptions for the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook were It's all about memories and It's all about childhood.

{1} In that very same week, Linda and I met up again so we could have {2} Chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Chef Sami Tamimi sign our copies of {3} their latest cookbook, Jerusalem. Not too shabby for being multi-chef groupies! {4} While Chef Ottolenghi was discussing the premise behind Jersalem which is not necessarily a complete anthology of Israeli cuisine but essentially a hodgepodge of all of their favorite recipes while growing up and living in Israel, we had the pleasure of sampling {5} some roasted butternut squash with red onion, tahini, and za'atar. It was so great that I was inspired to make this very dish for my family's holiday dinner.

My signed copy of Jerusalem!

Findings: These three cookbooks are so very different from each other and a lot different than many of the existing cookbooks that are in my collection, so I am very pleased to be adding these to my growing shelves of recipes (especially personally signed copies!). Hopefully I'll find some time to read my way through the beautiful photographs and stories in each one very soon -- I cannot wait!

Price point: $35-50 for each cookbook.

--October 17, 2012; October 26, 2012; October 26, 2012

Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle, Suite 114
New York, NY 10019

121 East 59th Street
New York, NY 10022

Japanese Farm Food
Nancy Singleton Hachisu
available here on

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
Thomas Keller & Sebastien Rouxel
available here on

Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
available here on

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Food for Thought | Paulo Coelho

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
--Paulo Coelho 
from Brida, 2008.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dinner | The Smile

Last week, I had dinner one night at The Smile in NoHo with Laura and Tiffany, two former colleagues of mine. Since our initial days at the same bean counting firm, the three of us have parted ways to different places in our careers (still as bean counters), which called for a reunion dinner, so we'd be able to catch each other up on all the gossip we carried with us until the next time we'd meet.

I heard about The Smile randomly from the "City Guides" by Fathom for Kate Spade New York, a collaboration that was released a couple months ago. The "City Guide" for New York description of The Smile's "rustic dinners" in a "low key and cozy" atmosphere was convincing enough. Tucked away on Bond Street, the restaurant is pretty easy to miss as it is unassuming with an entrance that leads a few steps down to the cellar level.

The interiors of The Smile are quite tavern-like with the space's exposed brick and dark-wooded fixtures. Very cozy and warm, indeed.

The mastermind behind the kitchen at The Smile is Chef Melia Marden, who began cooking during her college days and opened a catering company shortly after. Per New York magazine, her style is "most influenced by her mother's eclectic, informal dinner parties and the various exotic locales where her family lived and traveled." As a result, she "cooks like an especially talented dinner-party hostess, re-creating taste memories of places she has been and dishes she has loved."

Laura had the roasted balsamic chicken with lemon and thyme roasted red potatoes. Nicely browned on the outside, the chicken was evenly coated with a sweet and vinegary balsamic glaze. The simplicity of this dish with its no-nonsense roasted potatoes proved that sometimes perfect execution of a classic recipe can really wow and impress.

Tiffany had the roasted pork loin with fresh peach chutney as well as with roasted red potatoes with lemon and thyme that substituted the original sautéed swiss chard. The thick slices of pork were juicy and perfectly cooked, and the fruity flavors from the chutney was great for enjoying the last remnants of summer and fall.

I had the sliced hangar steak with sweet potato mash and broccoli rabe. The hangar steak was super tender and juicy with medium rare center. The sweet potato mash was hearty and fluffy, mixed in with flavorfully sautéed onions or shallots. It went very well with the medallions of hangar steak -- not at all salty or overbuttered, making it very easy to devour. As with the previous two main courses, what made this dish so awesome was how simply it was prepared -- minimal dressing up and with only the most essential ingredients (about three or fewer) -- yet how seamlessly delectable it all was.

I couldn't resist ordering a side of cous cous with onions, currants, and pistachios -- pistachios are one of those ingredients where if I see it in a dish, I have to try it. The grains were soft and delicately mealy with some well-balanced textural contrast with the pistachios (nutty with a toasted crunch) and the currants (subtly tart). This could easily be one of the best cous cous dishes I've ever had -- the combination of the ingredients says enough.

For dessert, we shared the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla cream sauce (if I recall correctly). I liked that the brownie had an evenly slight burn to its exterior -- the best part of any brownie, in my opinion. The vanilla cream sauce countered the richness of the chocolate quite smoothly. I wouldn't say this dessert blew my mind, but it was pretty good anyhow.

Findings: Chef Melia Marden at The Smile unabashedly cooks up uncomplicated, tasty, and hostess-savvy cuisine with grace and sophistication. What New York observed about her eclectic influences and her style of simple, approachable cuisine was spot on -- the menu served up comfort food without being over dressed in grease. Each bite went down smoothly and comfortably, as if we were over at the chef's house for a holiday dinner of some sort. I am disappointed that I didn't get a chance to explore the drink menu that evening as many of the cocktails seemed like fun and interesting twists on cold weather spirited beverages -- next time for sure!

Sometimes less is more, and it certainly is the case here at The Smile. I know I'll be back here for future weeknight dinners if I'm in the mood to venture out of my own kitchen and into the dining room of Chef Marden's no-nonsense cuisine.

Price point: $18-20 for each entrée, $6 for each side, $6 for each dessert.

--November 28, 2012

The Smile
26 Bond Street
New York, NY 10012


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...