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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Just Another Monday at Joe Bastianich’s House


Monday afternoons aren’t generally the highlight of anyone’s week. But for those of us lucky enough to get an invite to Joe Bastianich’s annual Wine & Swine party, and a ride up to Greenwich, Connecticut, this was a pretty great way to kick things off. As you might guess from the name (embossed on the spring green bracelet you had to wear to get in), there were tables and tables of very good wines—along with Bastianich's own labels, bottles being poured included JL Chave Crozes Hermitage and Domaine d'Eugenie Vosne-Romanee. There was also an outrageous buffet—Andy Nusser of Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, New York (generally deemed the toughest reservation in the New York area these days) dished out amazing smoked-trout panzanella salad; Esca’s Dave Pasternak served sumptuous octopus and gigante beans; Boston star chef Michael Schlow flipped the juicy horseradish-crème cheeseburgers that won him the best-burger title at the South Beach Wine & Food festival last year; and Mario Batali sliced up expertly charred steak (and served the ginormous bones separately). Last of all, the succulent pig that had been roasting on the driveway. And yes there was a stage, and up on that stage was Bastianich with a guitar and a mic (as anyone who saw him solo at his recent Red Zeppelin event at City Winery knows, he's pretty good). Still, this from Batali: “If you have to throw a party to get people to listen to your music, that pretty much says it all."


Menu-Free Restaurants


The James Beard Foundation just named Dan Barber its 2009 Outstanding Chef. That's bad news for menus: Barber ditched them a year ago at his Westchester restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Instead, waiters present diners with a list of seasonal ingredients—the only clue about the meal to come. Guests simply decide between five courses or eight (the Farmer’s Feast) and notify the kitchen of any off-limits foods. Plus, “Our servers make a point of finding out how adventurous people feel,” says Barber. “Will they eat offal?”

The fun of Stone Barns is relinquishing the decision-making power to the kitchen, not knowing what’ll come next and spying on neighbors to see what's on their plates. No two Feasts are identical. At a recent meal, I had lamb neck with parsnips, while a nearby couple ate beef. According to Dan, “The kitchen preps at least five dishes for each course in the Farmer’s Feast. There are probably 50 or more different dishes going out on any night.”

All this depends on the season. “We base our menus on the day’s harvest and use what we have from the farm, or other farms, which often comes in small supply,” Dan explains.

In the past year, only three people have refused to give up control of their dinner. The restaurant happily printed them menus.


Starting Mother's Day on The Early Show


Maria Helm Sinskey

Maria Helm Sinskey

My awesome friend Maria Helm Sinskey (an F&W Best New Chef 1996, back in the day) was on CBS’s Early Show this morning, demonstrating to the world how easy it is to make gorgeous fluffy pancakes for your mom for Mother's Day. Among her observations: Anchor Harry Smith is expert at cooking pancakes (he makes them frequently on the weekends—with mini chocolate chips) and ate any number of Maria's freshly made ones during station breaks. The CBS green room (unlike some other green rooms) has some pretty great food, including fresh hard-boiled eggs, beautiful—and ripe!—fruit and a really nice cheese plate. Even if the power strips blows a fuse about five minutes before you go on air, there is someone there to get you a new one and make sure your griddle is hot enough when the cameras start rolling. And Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan, who just finished his [bike] Ride Across America Tour to benefit MS looked pretty great considering how far he'd ridden and the fact that he had to be briefly hospitalized for dehydration; in CBS's green room, he also talked about times he was weak from lack of calories. "He should have just eaten my pancakes," says Maria. "That would have powered him for his ride."


BBQ, GelOtto & Mario's Kid's Foundation


Of course Mario Batali is one of the country's top chefs and restaurateurs. But he's also basically a big kid with a very big heart. So it makes all kinds of sense that when he decided to start a charity, the Mario Batali Foundation, it would be to benefit kids. According to its mission statement, the MBF aims to "ensure that all children are well read, well fed and well cared for." (As Serious Eats reported, Batali wants to keep the scope as broad as possible, eventually awarding scholarships and doing events with the Yankees.)

This Saturday afternoon, May 9, Mario kicks off MBF with an awesome event. At Tribeca Cinemas in NYC he'll host a pre-release screening of Up, the animated Disney-Pixar film about a balloon-powered trip to South America. Just as awesome is the after-party he's throwing next door, which will include barbecue from Daisy May's, charcuterie, cheese and GelOTTO (i.e., gelato from Otto's gelato cart), as well as sublime cupcakes from Kyotofu. And carnival games, too. Jimmy Buffett bought 20 tickets (which he donated them to Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club of the Bronx) and Emeril, Jill Hennessy and The Soprano's Michael Imperioli have all already snagged seats. So there's hardly any tickets left, but there are a few. You can get them at mariobatalifoundation.org, where you can also get more info about his excellent new charity.  


Devouring San Francisco


It’s debatable who among the F&W staff is the ultimate foodie. F&W’s supertalented senior designer, Mike Patti, is definitely in contention for the title. His recent trip to San Francisco revolved entirely around food. Here, he shares highlights from his aggressive eating itinerary:

Perfect picnic: Sentinel's smoked salmon and fennel sandwich and spicy pork sandwich stuffed with sweet peppers and celery root made for a great, affordable lunch in Golden Gate Park.
Artisanal snacks: Tartine's oversize black pepper-cheddar gougère was the standout of my morning. I finished the day with two scoops of brown sugar ice cream with ginger caramel swirl from Bi-Rite Creamery.

Ferry Plaza food marathon: A basket of perfect strawberries from a vendor at the Ferry Plaza market and a cup of Blue Bottle coffee (each cup is individually dripped) was the ultimate breakfast. Dinner at the Slanted Door included a superlight, unexpectedly crispy Vietnamese pancake with shrimp and extraordinarily flavorful wood-roasted clams with pork belly, chiles and Thai basil.

Incredible pizza: At A16, Nate Appleman, one of our 2009 Best New Chefs, prepared fantastic grilled fava beans with chiles and an awesome pizza topped with lemon, asparagus, ricotta and prosciutto. We loved the little honey pot filled with chile oil that came with our meal.

Cocktail revelation. I decided to try Alembic, a cocktail lounge in Haight-Ashbury featured in our new F&W Cocktails 2009 book. My friend is still thinking about the surprising shot of celery juice in her gin-based Southern Exposure.


© Mike Patti
Pastries at Tartine.



Lessons From a Pastry Pro


Sandro Micheli

© Photo Courtesy of Meg Connolly
Sandro Micheli creating chouquettes


Baking can be pretty intimidating—the precision and delicacy required to craft things like pâte à chou and soufflés leave many home cooks ambivalent about giving pastry a try. This past weekend, though, I got to see how simple and satisfying dessert-making can be with pastry chef Sandro Micheli of Adour, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in New York City’s St. Regis hotel. He led a class of 10 through the basics of French pastry, from financiers to pâte de fruit. Even though the creations we ended up with appeared precious, Sandro showed us the (relatively) easy steps required to make them, taking much of the mystery out of the process. When our chouquettes came out of the oven puffed and airy, I knew I would be making them again within the week.

While Sandro takes the summer off from classes, expect him to return in September with more, focusing on fall sweets like pies and fruit tarts. Call Adour for details starting in late August, 212-710-2277.


Food Bank Party, Not Over Yet


Star auctioneer Billy Harris in action with Jimmy Fallon.

© Sharon Harris
Star auctioneer Billy Harris in action with Jimmy Fallon.

I thought there couldn't be anything left to say about last week's fabulous Can-Do Awards Dinner, which benefited the Food Bank for New York City and featured host Mario Batali, honoree Jon Bon Jovi and surprise guests Bill Clinton and Bono. The event raised a remarkable $1 million, which translates into some five million meals for hungry New Yorkers at a very critical time.

It turns out there's always something else to say, especially if it's about the action-packed live auction run by celebrity auctioneer Billy Harris. Harris got $35,000 for four box-seat tickets donated by the owner of the Boston Red Sox to see the Yankees play their arch-rivals at Fenway Park (there's a stop at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, CT, thrown in there, too). So who was that intent on seeing the game? Mike Mills, the bass player for REM (tbd whether he's a Yankees or Red Sox fan). As for the biggest item of the night, the dinner for 24 cooked by Mario, Tom Colicchio and Dave Chang went for a whopping $60,000. There's some debate about whether Jimmy Fallon bought the whole thing himself or split the package with his tablemate Emeril Lagasse. (I'm going to find out; Dave promised me I could assist that night.) Harris did such a good job of selling the dinner that someone else got interested in it—Jon Bon Jovi is now also paying 60 grand to have the same three elite chefs cook dinner for him and 23 friends. The chefs are excited about both dinners, although Tom is reportedly afraid that Mario and Dave will stick him with making dessert.


Death of the Print Cookbook?


When chef David Bull, an F&W Best New Chef 2003 and executive chef at Bolla in Dallas’s iconic Stoneleigh Hotel, told me he was working on a cookbook a few months ago, I told him to make sure he sent me a copy. This cookbook, however, was not going to be a traditional, tangible, get the pages dirty, dog-ear your favorite recipe type cookbook. Chef Bull was launching an online cookbook, which debuted last week, called Bull’s Eye On Food. Instead of going to Barnes & Noble, people sign up here and pay $34.94 for an annual subscription. A user name and password let you access 80 recipes, plus loads of other information that gets continuously updated throughout the year. I got to give it a test run this week and spent hours on the interactive site, which includes much more than just recipes. I loved the one-click grocery list (which you can then send to your PDA) and the video-demo segments. There’s a glossary for esoteric ingredients. You can search by recipe title, recipe type, “with” or “without” certain ingredients, difficulty level (ranging from one through five), lifestyle (e.g., vegetarian) and cooking method. Cooking tips and wine pairings are also built into the site, as is a fantastic party-planner tool that lets you customize place cards and design e-vites. I won’t be giving up my hard copy of Joy of Cooking anytime soon, but I do wonder if we won’t start seeing more of these eco-friendly, web-based cookbooks in the future.


Overlooked Cuts of Meat


F&W called out the chefs-as-butchers trend back in January, and the New York Times just published an excellent piece on it (by former F&W staffer Jane Sigal). But in case anyone needs further proof of the trend, I just tried calling Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, to speak with Paul Virant, a Best New Chef 2007, and got this response from the host: "Is this time sensitive? He's currently butchering a cow."

The upshot of the trend is that we're introduced to delicious, unexpected and often more affordable cuts of meat we'd otherwise not know about. Aiding the cause: a new generation of butcher shops buying locally raised meat and butchering by hand.

Here, some great recipes that use lesser-known cuts of meat:

*Smoky Tomato-Braised Veal Shoulder with Potatoes

*Yucatán Pork Stew with Ancho Chiles and Lime Juice

*Cream-and-Lemon Braised Pork Shoulder


Providence’s La Laiterie Is Expanding


Matt and Kate Jennings were just starting construction on the space adjacent to their fantastic restaurant and cheese shop, La Laiterie, when I stopped in for dinner last week. The new space will allow them to add a cheese cave and a cheese bar to their burgeoning neighborhood empire. (An even more important expansion happens in September when another Virgo, hopefully not an uptight, fussy one, joins the Jennings clan. Congratulations!) La Laiterie is the perfect neighborhood place, where the owners not only know customers’ names but the names of all of their local purveyors as well. I particularly loved the seared, all-natural chicken livers—sourced from Misty Knoll Farm in Vermont and Casey Farm in Rhode Island—in a pan sauce with house-made bacon lardons served with giant beer-battered onion rings, and the grilled banana bread—perfectly crunchy on the outside but still moist on the inside—topped with maple walnut ice cream. Eating there reminded me just how far Providence has come in the last few years while maintaining its historical charm, and I actually found myself thinking ‘I could live here.’ I’m not ready to make the jump yet, though La Laiterie does make it more enticing. In the meantime, I can at least vote to add Providence to the list of America’s Favorite Cities at sister publication Travel & Leisure. Cast your ballots now!

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