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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Cocktails

Big Star in Chicago

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When I vacationed in Chicago last weekend, my first stop was star chef Paul Kahan’s latest bar and taqueria, Big Star. The large rectangular bar that dominates the space holds two of Big Star’s three specialties: some 50-odd bourbons and a couple dozen tequilas. The other specialty comes from the kitchen: tacos—hundreds of tacos.

Tapping along to a Loretta Lynn record, I elbowed my way to the bar to order a drink, from a list conceived by the team from the adjacent cocktail haven The Violet Hour. I started with a San Antonio Sling, a bracing combination of tequila, St-Germain and grapefruit. I followed that with the Hud, an Old Fashioned–like lowball heavy on the bourbon and light on the citrus—tangerine, in this case. Then I turned to food. First up was a fondue-like casserole of rajas chiles, house-made chorizo and cheese. A quartet of tacos followed: lamb, al pastor (marinated pork) and my two favorites, poblano with queso (cheese) and pork belly. The food was delicious, and with nothing exceeding five dollars, also a bargain.

When the weather gets warmer, Big Star will offer a huge alfresco dining area. As long as the music remains louder than the nearby El train, Big Star will be a party few will want to leave.

Cocktails

Cocktails for a Cause

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benefit

© Citymeals-on-Wheels
All-star food-and-cocktail pairings for a good cause.

 

In NYC, the Surrey Hotel’s awesome new Bar Pleiades is hosting a spectacular pairing event tomorrow (Wednesday, January 20). Here are three great reasons to stop by:

1)   Mixologist extraordinaire Cameron Bogue, formerly the bar genius at Daniel Boulud’s Vancouver outpost of DB Bistro Moderne, will be making excellent winter cocktails, including a warming brandy shaken with roasted butternut squash puree and Meyer lemon juice.
2)    Look for bar snacks from Café Boulud’s ultratalented chef Gavin Kaysen and guest chefs George Mendes of NYC’s Aldea, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of L.A.’s meat-centric Animal and Nate Appleman of the forthcoming Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria.
3)    Ticket proceeds benefit Citymeals-on-Wheels. Click here to eat and drink well, while contributing to a good cause.

Restaurants

Dovetail's Haute Onion

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john

© Dovetail
Dovetail chef John Fraser



I’ve eaten some porktastic dishes already this year, including the heart-stopping pig’s trotter at the Breslin and Maialino’s excellent “malfatti al Maialino,” malfatti pasta topped with a suckling-pig ragù. But surprisingly, I’ve been leaving most of my meals gushing over a vegetable rather than a meat dish. My most recent vegetable love affair was at Dovetail. The supertalented chef, John Fraser, recently reopened the place after a renovation and expansion and has also added some very clever new dishes to the menu. The one that I dreamed of when I went home that night was, of all things, an onion. Fraser takes Vidalia onions, halves them and then (leaving the skin on) leafs them out, layer by layer, spreading a little butter and Perigord truffles between each layer. He then pieces it all back together before baking it in a salt crust as if it were fish. The result is tender, caramelized onion deliciousness, garnished with maple brown butter, hazelnuts, frisée and mache. If the blooming onion is the height of trashy onion goodness, then this is the pinnacle of haute onion brilliance.

Menus

2010 Vegetable Obsession

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meringues

© Aldea
George Mendes turns beets into a delicious meringue.

 

I’ve already heard declarations that “the Great Pork Decade has ended”, and as carnivorous foodies prepare to crown the next It beast for the coming decade, my hope is for vegetables to rival—if not surpass—meat as chefs’ newest obsession. Already, one of my most remarkable dishes of the new year was a vegetable-centric dish: George Mendes’s brilliant beet meringue at Aldea in NYC. Mendes cleverly juices fresh red beets, adds egg white powder and aerates it; he then dehydrates the mixture overnight at 145 degrees before topping the bite-size meringues with crème fraîche and American Hackleback caviar. Though just an amuse-bouche, Mendes twisted my perception of what a beet can be in terms of flavor and texture. And in today’s New York Times Dining section, Melissa Clark praised the unglamorous rutabaga and provides a delicious-sounding recipe that I plan to make this weekend. Maybe 2010 will be the year that some ordinary vegetables reach pork bun or fried chicken status.

Chefs

Preview: Chicago's Grahamwich

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At Food & Wine, we’ve been forever astonished at the creativity of Graham Elliot Bowles (or at least, we've been amazed by him since 2004, when we named him a Best New Chef). Now comes word that the awesome Chicago chef is expanding from his namesake restaurant, Graham Elliot, and opening a new place this spring. Grahamwich, as the name suggests, will focus on hot and cold sandwiches like braised pork belly and hoisin mayo on a Hawaiian roll; for dessert, grilled peaches with almond streusel on Wonder bread. Homemade soda flavors will include orange-cardamom and galangal-ginger ale; the seasonally focused soft serve ice creams will have toppings like Pop Rocks and dehydrated berries. There’s no delivery just yet (there isn't even a concrete opening date for the place), but GEB has the genius idea to deploy bicycle messengers armed with fresh-made Grahamwiches to key locations (think Wrigley Field after a Cubs game; Grant Park after Lollapalooza). Could this be the eco version of truck food?

Restaurants

Is Chicken Skin the New Bacon?

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While visiting my parents outside Philadelphia over the holidays, I met up with restaurant critic Joy Manning for a Philly restaurant crawl. At Fish—chef Mike Stollenwerk’s second restaurant (the first is the diminutive Little Fish)— I loved the perfectly cooked skate (nicely crusted outside and moist within) served with golden brown spaetzle and a lush parmesan-truffle sauce. But our fishless starter—an otherwise ordinary beet salad—really struck me because of its garnish: crisp bits of chicken skin scattered like croutons.

Since winning Top Chef Season 2, Ilan Hall has talked about the deliciousness of chicken skin. Now, he’s getting all kinds of press for the gribenes sandwich—essentially a BLT with chicken skin standing in for the bacon—that he serves at his new LA spot, The Gorbals.

And what trend would be complete without a David Chang restaurant to legitimize it? Crispy chicken skin garnishes hand-torn pasta with escargot sausage at NYC's still-impossible-to-get-into Momofuku Ko. (Plus David recently created Turkey Cracklings to accompany Turkey Breast with Ginger-Scallion Sauce in F&W's Thanksgiving Leftovers Challenge.)

Another fabulous recipe: chicken tacos from F&W's Marcia Kiesel with a crispy skin garnish.



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NYC Food & Culture Pairings

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wright

© Philip Greenberg
The Guggenheim's futuristic new restaurant, the Wright.

 

As F&W's travel editor and someone with a serious case of wanderlust, it’s rare that I’m home for more than a few days at a time. But I promised myself I’d start off the new year in NYC and kicked off 2010 with a megadose of culture paired with some great meals. Here, a mini winter arts cheat sheet for Manhattan:

*MoMa has put together a brilliant, mind-bending retrospective of Tim Burton’s work that includes slightly disturbing teenage doodles, 3-D monsters and a showing of Burton's films. After, go to the bar room at the Modern and eat chef Gabriel Kreuther’s Alsatian thin-crust tarte flambé with crème fraiche, onion and applewood-smoked bacon and his decadent slow-poached farm egg served in a mason jar with Maine lobster, sunchokes and sear urchin froth.

*I dare anyone not to get dizzy as they wind their way around the Guggenheim viewing Wassily Kandinsky’s wild, geometric paintings. The museum’s new restaurant, the Wright, offers more sensory overload with a sleek space designed by British artist Liam Gillick that makes you feel like you’re riding Disney’s Space Mountain roller coaster. The food, from David Bouley-alum Rodolfo Contreras, is appropriately gorgeous with delicate dishes like roasted red and golden beets topped with sheep’s-milk cheese, citrus and pistachio and a fantastic spiced pumpkin and chocolate cake with pumpkin-seed-oil ice cream.

*I may never look at paper the same way again after viewing Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Arts and Design. Drop by late and then have dinner at the just-opened restaurant Robert. The comforting Italian dishes like chicken cooked under a brick and papparadelle with wild boar ragu are delicious. Also amazing: the Central Park views and the room’s funky art and Jetson-esque design pieces (there’s a video-art piece by Jennifer Steinkamp and Barbie-pink acrylic lighting designed by Johanna Grawunder).

Chefs

2010 Prediction: Star-Chef Food at the Superdome

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john besh

© Restaurant August
New Orleans star chef, John Besh.

My only complaint after an epic three days of eating in New Orleans earlier this month was the letdown when I arrived hungry at the Louisiana Superdome to watch the Saints' Monday Night Football game. In a city known for great food, I was disappointed by less-than-stellar Creole gumbo and the stadium’s signature red beans and rice with sausage. So I was excited to read a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Saints executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, in which she mused about possible food improvements for the stadium, like dishes from her favorite NOLA chefs John Besh and Emeril Lagasse.

When I asked John Besh what he’d prepare if he had an outlet at the Superdome, he told me he’d cook andouille and chicken gumbo and barbecued Gulf shrimp. Said Besh, “We are on top of our game this year, thanks to the New Orleans Saints. Visitors come to New Orleans not only to support their team, but to enjoy the cuisine and culture of this historic city. In every possible venue, from the Superdome to the New Orleans Convention Center, it is important that we welcome guests in our city with what we are so well-known for—food.” 
 

Entertaining

A Little Caviar Splurge

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Kaviari "Kristal"

© Kaviari
Kaviari "Kristal"

A few months ago, wine editor Ray Isle and I enjoyed some amazing caviar at Atelier Robuchon, made all the more intriguing because Joël Robuchon called it his official caviar and said it came from China. We were hoping someday we'd be able to buy tins of it to serve at parties, and now we've just about gotten our wish. Epicure Pantry, supplier to many of New York's finest chefs, just released a version called Kaviari "Kristal," made from the eggs of Schrencki sturgeon farmed in China, and selected and packaged by the Paris-based Kaviari company. Kaviari is guarded about its sources, but assures that these are among the best fish farms in the world. What we do know: The eggs are plump, briny and buttery, with a lovely pop and a clean finish. They'd be great on their own or on a blini; to offset the splurge-level cost ($138 for 50 g/1.75 oz), pair them with a terrific value Champagne.




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Kerry Simon's TV Dinners

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Chicken

© Palm Place Hotel
Kerry Simon takes the fried chicken trend retro with TV dinners.

 

While other star chefs are opening flashy, over-the-top restaurants in Las Vegas, chef Kerry Simon is going the opposite direction and offering TV dinner–inspired comfort foods for room service at Las Vegas's Palms Place hotel. Meals like meatloaf with mac and cheese, peas and carrots, and chocolate cake, and Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes, are delivered in cafeteria-style compartmentalized trays.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.