I am always finding myself in awkward ordering predicaments when roaming the globe eating at restaurants. On a recent trip to Peru, I found myself staring at a fist-sized Amazonian snail in one of Lima's top new restaurants. My rusty Spanish had obviously failed me as I thought I had ordered Amazonian cod (that would have been paiche, oops). Until my Spanish improves, I'm relying on Word Lens to prevent future menu blunders. The new iPhone app translates printed text on-the-fly. If you point the phone's camera at something written in Spanish, and it shows up in English on the screen. It's not 100% glitch-free (wrong words will flash on the screen when the text you're reading isn't perfectly clear), but it definitely works. It only translates Spanish for now and while the app itself is free, the Spanish-to-English capability is a $4.99 in-app purchase (so I'm assuming more languages are coming).
© Jen Murphy
Perfect Pairing: kale & parmesan crisps and Italian beer on tap.
Today, Tasting Table tapped into San Francisco beer geeks’ current love affair with Italian craft beers. The obsession has spread beyond the West Coast and beyond beer geeks. I just got back from a trip to Chicago, where Spiaggia’s star sommelier, Steven Alexander, told me about his new obsession for Italian craft beers. He’s created a remarkable Italian artisan beer list, with more than 15 brews from super-small breweries. I was lucky enough to have a mini tasting, paired with some of chef Sarah Grueneberg’s crispy kale and parmesan crisps and cheese from Spiaggia’s famous cheese cave. Cafe Spiaggia keeps Birra del Borgo’s Re Ale Extra Pilsner and Birrificio Italiano Tipopils on draft. My favorite of our tasting was Demon Hunter Dark Ale. Yes, it has a pretty bad-ass name (and a label that I’m sure some beer lover will mimic as a tattoo), but this dark brew made by Birrificio Montegioco in Lombardy is my perfect winter beer, with notes of chestnuts, caramel, plums and lots of spice. Italy has already tackled wine. It seems like it has now pretty much mastered beer. I hope more US sommeliers follow Alexander’s lead and start showcasing some great bottles.
A recent long weekend in and around Santa Barbara turned up some awesome food, quirky new tasting rooms and, of course, phenomenal wines. Here, my cheat sheet:
*Nothing makes me happier than a great breakfast (particularly after a morning surfing the 54-degree waters in Ventura). Locals hit Jeannine’s for the Stumptown coffee, eggs Benedict and a chance to potentially see star surfer Kelly Slater, who is known to drop by after a surf, and D’Angelo Bread for the most perfect triple berry scones.
* Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company is back at the helm of Wine Cask (he ran the wine shop–restaurant–wine bar from 1981 to 2007) with a new partner, Mitchell Sjerven, owner of Bouchon and Seagrass restaurants. The wine bar serves seasonal, local dishes like mushroom risotto, roasted beets and goat cheese and duck confit flatbread. There is, of course, an awesome wine list. Doug gave us a taste of a special Margerum M5 Wine Cask blend he’s working on just for the restaurant. The Wine Cask tasting room will most likely become a tasting room for Margerum wines.
*Emma and Justin West, the talented young husband-and-wife team behind the tiny two-year-old Julienne restaurant are getting a ton of buzz for their daring (by Santa Barbara standards) farm-to-table food. The restaurant uses all local seafood from boats out of the Santa Barbara and Ventura harbors; ranch-raised meats (they frequently butcher whole animals in-house) and local produce. Menu highlights include the braised lamb tongue with shaved radishes and roasted garlic; grilled squid with pickled French beans and radicchio, and abalone with potatoes, celery and onion in a saffron-sea broth.
Check back tomorrow for wine country highlights.
© NY Craft Beer Weej
NY Craft Beer Week
The third annual New York Craft Beer Week officially kicks off today and runs through Sunday, October 3. I asked event director Josh Schaffner to help me navigate my tasting schedule. Here, his cheat sheet:
1) The first annual Brewer’s Bash at Eleven Madison Park is being billed as the beer version of the restaurant’s insanely fun Kentucky Derby party. “The goal is to recreate the Derby party for beer,” says Schaffner. “Eleven Madison Park came to us to collaborate, and they are really serious about the beer at their restaurant.” The draw: Six brewers and their craft beers, two live bands, a cask tasting with Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver and six beer cocktails paired with chef Daniel Humm’s beer pretzels and beer cheese, foie gras terrine, pickled vegetables and other beer-friendly foods.
2) As awesome as the Brewer’s Bash sounds, Schaffner’s pick for the must-hit event of the week is the beer-pairing dinner at Mas Farmhouse on September 29. Roving chef-brewer Sean Z. Paxton is teaming up with Mas chef Galen Zamarra for a six-course meal that will pair beers from six different breweries with dishes such as orange-glazed escargot.
3) Must-try beer: Pretty Things will be debuting a brew from Edwardian times at Swift Hibernian Lounge.
4) New brewery to seek out: Schaffner is excited about the beers being made by Barrier, a tiny new brewery in Oceanside, New York. Try them all week at Dive Bar.
The restaurant at The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel.
Hard-core foragers like “Wildman” Steve Brill have proven that great ingredients don't have to come from country farms. Now, chef James Sakatos of The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, is going extreme-locavore with his new Tastings of Central Park menu, which debuts tomorrow. The iconic New York City hotel is just blocks from the park, and the menu will highlight park ingredients such as oyster mushrooms, chickweed, sheep’s sorrel and sumac berries. Don't expect to find anything too crazy, like squirrel or pigeon, though. The park produce acts as an accent in dishes like sumac-spiced Amish chicken, sautéed dandelions and potato-crusted black bass with park-sourced braised burdock.
© Benoit Pailley
Chef Patric Criss with his watermelon and cantaloupe juice shots.
Last week, I had the chance to preview the New Museum’s fantastic new three-floor exhibit A Day Like Any Other from Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander. As if the “I Wish Your Wish” installation (click here for an interactive version) weren't cool enough, Neuenschwander dazzled our senses one step further by re-creating her performance art piece "Gastronomic Translations" at the Jane Hotel (this Wall Street Journal story likens it to a Top Chef challenge). For the piece's inception in 2003, Neuenschwander took a shopping list found in a supermarket in Frankfurt, Germany and mailed it to two chefs in São Paulo, Brazil; each then used the items on the list—from cashews and coffee to bananas and oranges—to create a meal, comprising varied dishes and influences. For our meal, Neuenschwander gave chefs Benedetto Bartolotta and Patric Chriss, of the catering company Indulge by Bene, the same challenge (and the same shopping list). Despite the absence of salt, the chefs created brilliantly delicious menus that were starkly different, e.g., Bartolotta created a banana-and-cashew tart with a coffee glaze, while Chriss made cashew-crusted banana skewers with an orange-reduction zabaglione.
© Red Lion Inn
The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA.
My crazy wedding season (six this summer) officially kicked off this past weekend. Lucky for me, my friends have all chosen pretty awesome locations in which to get married. Wedding number one took me to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. The wedding was at an adorable place called Santarella in Tyringham that looked like it should have been the hamlet where the hobbits live in Lord of the Rings. I managed to sneak in a marathon eating tour of the area between wedding festivities, and—contrary to a recent Huffington Post story—had some amazing meals. Here, a rundown:
I stayed at the historic, 18th-century Red Lion Inn on a corner of Main Street in Stockbridge. The inn feels like a tribute to Americana with its amazing art collection, Otis Birdcage elevator (which you can really ride on) and even a desk once used by Abraham Lincoln. The restaurant menu in the dining room is a tribute to the area’s local artisans and farmers, including Farm Girl Farm and Berkshire Brewing Company in Great Barrington; Hill Top Orchards in Richmond; and Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in Old Chatham, NY. Chef Brian Alberg recently introduced separate sustainable menus featuring dishes like an irresistible broken-yolk breakfast sandwich with smoked bacon on thick, toasted Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread. His dinner menu offers some surprises like a roasted eggplant Bolognese that uses quinoa spaghetti and basil oil; and for dessert, a house-made version of my favorite Aussie sweet, Tim Tams.
In nearby Lenox, brunch at the laid-back, two-year-old Haven Cafe & Bakery is phenomenal. I took home the house-made granola and ginger-cardamom scones and stayed for the Eggs “Sardo”—poached eggs topped with sautéed artichoke hearts, spinach and dill hollandaise.
Around the block on Church Street, the Wit Gallery showcases an eclectic mix of art including photography, sculpture and mixed media and recently also started selling artisanal wines from small, family-owned producers like Eric Kent.
Just a few doors away is the barely year-old, 28-seat restaurant Nudel, where chef-owner Bjorn Somlo cooks remarkable seasonally driven food with local ingredients. My braised-Berkshire-pork sandwich with pickled vegetables and spicy sambal aioli had me plotting ways to skip the wedding dinner so I could come back to try his bone-marrow Bolognese or garganelli with ramps and almond pesto.
More tomorrow on my Great Barrington, Massachusetts, finds.
© Langham Hotels
Coconut-curry millet puffs at the Langham Huntington.
World Cup soccer madness officially kicked off today, and I’m loving how many chefs, restaurants and bars are hosting viewing parties and developing special menus. In Los Angeles, the bar at the Langham Huntington s serving haute versions of street foods from countries represented in the World Cup: duck-fat-fried fish and chips for England; Calabrese sausage in yucca buns for Brazil; Manchego–serrano ham churros with Manchego sauce for Spain. To represent the host country, South Africa, chef Erik Schuster made coconut-curry millet puffs that are meant to look like soccer balls.
© Alessandra Bulow
Biscotto Oreo, Ronnie from MTV's Jersey Shore's favorite flavor from Lecca Lecca Gelato Caffe in South Beach
Muscle-head Ronnie may have had to hit the gym harder than usual because he was constantly dipping into the Biscotto Oreo gelato (cookies-and-cream with crushed Oreos and Nilla wafers, pictured).
Mama’s boy Vinny stuck to the traditional chocolate.
Ladies’ man DJ Pauly D favored the tiramisu gelato (its name means “pick me up” in Italian).
The house’s resident cook, Mike "The Situation," preferred the mango, a lighter gelato to keep him looking “like Rambo with his shirt off.”
As for Snooki, she ate the café's sandwiches but didn’t like the gelato, or working—in true Snooki style, she often napped during her shifts and oddly slept inside a shelf under the store’s front counter.
I have been told that I have a problem saying no. Case in point, when my running partner asked me to do a 53-mile trail race in Pittsfield, Vermont, this weekend I eventually said yes (despite having to sign a waiver saying “you may die running this race”). So what does one eat before running 53 miles? Probably everything and anything, but I calculated that we could make a slight detour on our drive up and carbo-load at Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont. F&W declared the tiny restaurant tucked away on Central Street one of the 50 most amazing wine experiences in the country. But they also make insanely delicious thin-crust pizzas and awesome pasta.
Sadly, they stop serving at 8:30 p.m., and with NYC traffic, we had only just reached Albany by then. I phoned to let them know we wouldn’t be making it and asked if they could suggest a place to get a decent meal, as we were running a race the next day. Caleb Barber, one of the owners, explained we were heading into a culinary dead zone and that our best bet was a Chinese place in Rutland, Vermont. My stomach turned at the thought of running with a belly full of General Tso’s chicken. But minutes later, my phone rang. It was Caleb calling back. After thinking over our dilemma, he told us to ring him when we got to the top of Killington so he could heat up two pizzas. “I can’t let you run on empty,” he said. I was relieved to discover that someone other than me had a hard time saying no.
When we finally arrived at around 10 p.m., I expected a box of pizza for us to take on the road, but a table was waiting. They’d kept the restaurant open just for us. Caleb had prepared a duck consommé for “runner’s protein” and two gorgeous pizzas—a black-olive-and-sausage and a mushroom-and-pancetta. It was exactly what we needed, and probably the only reason we survived our race.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.