© 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.
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?
© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey
inspecting a tuna head
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.
© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
A morning at Culton Organics
When it came time to decide where we should stop north of DC, my first call was to my friend and fellow chef Marc Vetri. Marc has two highly regarded restaurants in Philadelphia, Osteria and Vetri, and I knew that he'd have great suggestions for food producers to visit in the area. Number one on his list was Culton Organics, a family farm in the heart of Lancaster County which supplies fruit and vegetables to his restaurants. Marc loved the place so much that offered to join us if we visited.
So, on the morning of day six we were Pennsylvania-bound. I invited the chefs of my three New York restaurants, James Tracey, Shane McBride, and Lauren Hirschberg, thinking this would be a good opportunity to spend a day together outside the kitchen.
Culton Organics is run by a guy named Tom Culton. Tom took over his family's 55 acre farm when he was 20 and has been working it for the past nine years, only growing as much as he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend can handle. Currently that means just half of his acreage is in fruit and vegetable cultivation, but Tom is not interested in growing his business, insisting that bringing on extra help takes the joy out of farming for him.
We took a walk through Tom's fields, which were amazingly lush considering that he doesn't use pesticides, weed killer, or man-made fertilizer. He doesn't even irrigate. Tom keeps the land fertile using crop rotation, growing a wide variety of produce (from cardoons to artichokes to fraise de bois) on land that has been farmed by his family organically for the past 100 years (yes, you read that correctly, and it is a very rare achievement). Tom also takes frequent research trips to Europe, studying a new crop or farming method in Italy or France in order to apply it to his own farming.
The icing on the cake of our visit to Culton Organics was when Tom invited us back to his 19th century farmhouse for a hearty lunch: pig's stomach stuffed with pork sausage, new potatoes, and celery, accompanied by homemade apple sauce. It was one of the best home-cooked meals I've had in recent memory.
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