© 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).
© 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.”
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
© 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.
The dining room at Domenica, John Besh's new restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel.
I just made my first trip to New Orleans and after canvassing friends, chefs and cocktail experts plotted an epic eating and drinking itinerary. This is one city where classic spots rival—maybe even one-up—new places. Some highlights:
Saturday afternoon: Shrimp and oyster po’boys (dressed, of course) at Mahony’s, a new favorite of F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh.
Late afternoon: Historical cocktail crawl through the French Quarter with stops at Muriels, Old Absinthe House, the bar at Antoine’s and Pat O’Briens (for the essential Hurricane).
Evening: Dinner at Domenica, John Besh’s stylish new Italian restaurant in the recently renovated Roosevelt Hotel. Besh protégé Alon Shaya oversees the kitchen and is a talent to watch. On the menu: crispy-thin, bubbly-crusted pizzas; a salad of thinly shaved tentacles of octopus carpaccio mixed with citrus and fennel; torn sheets of pasta (stracci) in a thick oxtail gravy with fried chicken livers; slow-roasted goat with chanterelles.
Post-dinner: Pre-night-out Sazerac at the Roosevelt’s legendary Sazerac Bar.
Late-night: The Cure is a much-buzzed-about cocktail spot uptown in a renovated 1905 firehouse. Co-owner and head mixologist Neal Bodenheimer opened the place in February and makes everything from the bitters to the cocktail cherries in-house. Bar Tonique lies on the outer edges of the French Quarter on Rampart Street. Bodenheimer also developed the cocktail list for this serious drink spot run by the crew of the Delachaise. It has a quieter vibe than The Cure, but equally excellent artisanal cocktails like the Champagne Cocktail, made with grapefruit bitters.
Super, super late-night: Mimi’s for live music, a night-ending pint of Abita Purple Haze and some tapas-style bar snacks including the "Trust Me”—that night, local braised lamb in gravy.
I feel lucky living in NYC: Some of the country's best chefs work here, and those that don't often pass through the city. But come next fall, many of those same chefs will be heading elsewhere: Lexington, Kentucky
, for the World Equestrian Games
. The James Beard Foundation
has partnered with the Games and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation
to host 16 nights of dinners, where two guest chefs, like F&W Best New Chefs Christopher Lee
, Marc Vetri
and Nancy Oakes
, will cook meals with local Kentucky talent. The dinners will take place in late September and early October, and tickets go on sale in January.
After a long weekend in New Orleans I'm declaring it the most food- and sports-obsessed city in the country. It felt like half the town was lined up to get po'boys at Mahony's (Prolific NOLA chef and F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh's new favorite po'boy spot) in preparation for the Bayou Classic, the legendary college football game that took place Saturday. But the big game was last night's NFL face-off between the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. I was shocked when my waiter at the legendary Galatoire's covertly undid a few buttons of his dress shirt to reveal a bright red Patriots T-shirt to me while I was there on Sunday eating the famous shrimp remoulade and fried eggplant with hollandaise and powdered sugar (somehow addictively delicious). Yesterday, a NOLA-based friend informed me that Aaron Burgau, the chef of Patois, had gotten "Who Dat?" (the Saints chant) tattooed on his upper lip in a show of team pride. And chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, is a Saints fan and made a special trip into town for the game. "I have been waiting for this night since I went to the game in the 1960s," says Currence. After the Saints’ crushing victory, Currence found himself in the owners' suites for a post-game Laurent Perrier Champagne toast, then retired to Lüke for boudin noir and 25-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Late night, Currence joined the reverly in the French Quarter and hit up Cooter Brown’s for meat pies and cold beer. "It was late enough that even in New Orleans, the bartenders hated to see us walk through the door," he says. I'm hoping the food-and-football obsession will converge next year and result in the Superdome following the lead of Yankees Stadium and convincing Besh, Burgau and other local talents to create some worthy stadium food.
Late that night after dinner at Vetri, we hit the road towards New York City. I hated to skip over my native New Jersey without even a single stop, but six days was a long time to be away from my wife and newborn son, and I missed them both. It was time to go home.
By way of summing up the experience, it's hard to pick favorites. I learned more than I thought I would on this trip, and was glad I had members of my team with me to share in the experience. We all found fresh inspiration in the people we met along the way, all of them committed in one way or another to good food: whether growing it, catching it, distributing it, or cooking it. I enjoyed the chance to form deeper relationships with Anson Mills and Rappahannock River Oysters, and feel that in Cane Creek Farm, Culton Organics, and Samuels & Son I've discovered new suppliers whose products I'm excited to use in my restaurants.
And so, at the end of this six day journey, there's only one question that remains in the back of my mind. Where should I go next?
Inspired by a trip to Italy during which she walked and ate herself silly, Moira Campbell (a friend of mine, full disclosure) quit her job in restaurant PR this past summer to form Rum & Blackbird
, a company that gives tasting tours in New York. She began taking groups around her Hell's Kitchen neighborhood last month, visiting stops like Xie Xie
for seven courses' worth of food. This holiday weekend, the food will be inspired by Thanksgiving, with dishes like turkey empanadas with cranberry salsa from Empanada Mama
, sweet-potato bourekas
from Gazala Place
and cranberry orange biscotti from Biscotti Di Vecchio
. Next month she'll start having guest chefs along for the ride, including Alexandra Guarnaschelli
and F&W Best New Chef
2001 Anita Lo
, who will be on the December 5 tour at 3 p.m.
© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey
inspecting a tuna head
Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.
Anyone who has ever spent time in a fish market can attest to them typically being pretty smelly, messy, old-fashioned places. So, I was more than a little bit surprised when we pulled up to Samuels & Son's headquarters. Samuels just moved out of Philadelphia's historic fish market and into a brand new $20 million facility that was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
The new facility was clean, spacious, and brightly lit, with fish of every variety you can think of stacked neatly in boxes row by row. Everything from the cutting rooms to the loading bays was temperature controlled at a constant 34 degrees. With the help of refrigerated trucks, that meant that a fish can be kept super cold (but never frozen) from the moment it gets plucked out of the ocean to the moment it arrives at a restaurant, an innovation which makes a big difference in freshness terms.
Even more state of the art was the facility's ozonated water system. Ozonated water has antibacterial properties, allowing the fish cutters to constantly sanitize both their work surfaces and the fish itself without introducing any chemicals.
The facility is a big step forward in the way that seafood is processed, and I was impressed by how much Samuels & Son was willing to invest in providing their customers with a better product.