Since the John Dory abruptly closed its doors on Tenth Avenue in NYC's Meatpacking District on Saturday night, there's been no shortage of strong opinions about it. Some lament the closing of "an excellent restaurant with perhaps the wrong setup and location" (Eater); others have little sympathy for a place that would quote only 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. reservations, even with plenty of open tables (pretty much all commenters on the New York Times Diner's Journal blog). John Dory's co-owner Ken Friedman has heard all sides of the story and says that when John Dory reopens—"and it will reopen end of this year, beginning of next, in a much better place"—it will be with a better attitude. "We'll do things more in the Spotted Pig way," says Friedman of his no-reservations gastropub, one of the city's more crowded restaurants. "We won't send mixed signals like we're a fancy restaurant, we only take reservations. It will be more of a Pig situation."
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Because I'd been away for a while, spending a placid few days kayaking on the waters of Maine's Somes Sound, it seemed to me (for some lunatic reason) like the proper way to effect a New York re-entry would be by attending a cocktail vs. wine pairing smackdown at Nios, a new midtown wine bar. This is a regular event there, in which home-team sommelier Emily Wines takes on challengers in a battle of who-pairs-best, using chef Patricia Williams's tasty food.
Her opponent this time was bartender extraordinaire Jim Meehan, the man behind the drinks at New York's excellent PDT (and also the co-editor of Food & Wine Cocktails 2009, our pretty dern nifty cocktail book).
First up, to go with Williams's risotto of corn with chanterelles, confit pigeon and castelmagno cheese, Meehan poured his "Imperial Silver Corn Fizz." Brave is the fellow who'll make a stiff drink using corn water, I say (Meehan enlisted chef/pal Wylie Dufresne for corn-water-making advice). But, surprisingly, this concoction of Bourbon, corn water, honey syrup, egg white and Champagne worked incredibly well with the risotto. Wines fought back with a somewhat over-oaky 2007 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Chardonnay, to no avail. Meehan, wearing a sparkly purple luchador mask with a kind of small-savage-animal pelt attached to the top, took the round.
Next course was a beautifully cooked rack of American lamb with grilled figs and fingerling potatoes wrapped in jamón serrano. (I've decided, based on this dish, that I'm just going to wrap everything I eat in jamón serrano from now on. There's just no reason not to.) This time Wines came out strong, pouring a smoky, plummy 2006 Gai'a Estates Agiorgitiko from Greece. It was a terrific match for the lamb, and Meehan's "Señor Smackdown"—blanco tequila with lime juice, Dry Sack sherry, Benedictine and a bar spoon of fig jam—took it on the chin. The drink was scrappy, but tequila and lamb are just a rough combo. Could be Meehan was affected by the heat under that vinyl mask.
Finally, dessert: rose petal panna cotta with pomegranate foam. Wines appeared holding glasses holding a splash of rosewater and some floating pomegranate seeds, then topped them with light, berry-sweet NV Patrick Bottex Cerdon de Bugey "La Cuille," an off-dry sparkling wine from France's Savoie region. Meehan countered with his "Raspberries Reaching:" an ounce and a half of Trimbach Framboise eau-de-vie, an ounce of 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, and a half-ounce of Pama pomegranate liqueur, plus three drops of rose flower water, stirred and strained into a chilled coupe, and garnished with a peach-colored rose petal. This drink blew me away, and I thought the title was destined for Meehan. But I was in the minority; when the votes were counted, Wines was the champion of the evening.
Nios will be holding these smackdowns once a month for the rest of the year, so check it out. Viva la lucha de vino!
Frank Bruni, in the back, with more Bruni family members
Right now I am eating my way through the bushy hedge of flat-leaf parsley bordering my garden. Using the parsley like spinach, I recently blanched a pile of leaves, sautéed them with garlic and lemon, put them in a baking dish and dotted them with goat cheese. Then I topped them with bread crumbs and olive oil and baked them in a hot oven. Super!
To get ready for winter, I plan to make a puree with the blanched leaves, then mix it with olive oil for freezing in small batches. That way I'll have it on hand to drizzle over soft- or hard-cooked eggs, cheese grits and smoked-salmon sandwiches.
Here, a few more ideas for this underrated green:
Make a salad of parsley leaves and celery dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, then tuck it into a pita pocket along with olives, feta and tomatoes.
Chop a mess of parsley and stir it into mayo for a sandwich spread. Tasty and vitamin packed, it's mightier than lettuce.
Make parsley pesto in the blender to toss with angel hair pasta and scallops or to dress green beans and/or cooked, sliced potatoes.
Make salsa verde for poached chicken and grilled fish.
I just got back from a long weekend in Portland, and I'm still recovering from the affordability of it all. Here's a perfect one-day itinerary.
8 am: Pine State Biscuits
Breakfast no. 1: Pine State Biscuits' awe-inspiring The Reggie ($7) — fried chicken, bacon and cheese on a house-made Carolina-style biscuit — along with a tall glass of The Champ's Gourmet Chocolate Milk ($2), custom-blended by local chocolatier Xocatlatl de David (whose online store will be live in just a few weeks).
10 am: Voodoo Doughnut
Breakfast no. 2: the surprisingly incredible chocolate-glazed yeasted vegan donut ($1.20).
Noon: Pok Pok
Andy Ricker just opened Ping, but who can resist the lunch special at his original Pok Pok: half a grilled hen and the impeccable green papaya salad ($6.50).
4 pm: Departure
The swankified new restaurant/lounge on the roof of Portland's luxury hotel, The Nines, serves a refreshing spicy-citrusy Tasho Macho ($9) with Thai chile ginger vodka and Thai basil, along with terrifically meaty black-soy edamame beans ($5) from Japan.
8 pm: Beaker & Flask
For a relative splurge at $25, try chef Ben Bettinger's grilled sturgeon with incredibly juicy mussels, squid, fennel and green beans ($17). For a cocktail, Joe McCarthy's Ghost, with Krogstad Aquavit, Carpano and apricot brandy ($8) is extra-licorice-y.
This cozy subterranean Japanese bar serves many delicious small plates, but their yakitori of thinly slivered chicken hearts is just like the menu says it is: "Wow." ($4)
I'm a huge fan of the show The Biggest Loser, so when I was offered the opportunity to go to a morning workout with one of its fitness trainers, Bob Harper, I jumped at the chance. Bob, along with a few familiar faces from past seasons (Tara included!), came to NYC to demo the new Nintendo Wii Biggest Loser video game. We got in a fun and somewhat difficult 30-minute workout, following Bob's exercise moves on screen as he cheered us on in person. The game looked so lifelike and included everything from squats to yoga, just like on the show. Then we had breakfast, featuring recipes from The Biggest Loser series of cookbooks. I must say that the turkey patties were delicious-full of flavor and juicy. I recently tested The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook and had success with the New Favorite Meatballs recipe. White breadcrumbs, milk and eggs were replaced with quick cooking oats, skim milk and egg whites.
Some other recipes Bob would approve of are:
Frank Bruni and his grandmother at graduation
There’s a reason I only visit Seattle in August—Dungeness crab season. (OK, sunny days don’t hurt, either.) My family sets its traps with crab catnip (a.k.a., turkey legs) and is usually rewarded with enough large males to boil up a feast. The crab was especially rich and sweet this year, thanks in part to its pairing with a local wine made with organically grown grapes from Lopez Island Vineyards and blended specifically to accompany Dungeness. Only 100 cases of Salish Sea White ($16, find this wine) were made, and a portion of the price goes to The SeaDoc Society, which studies the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest. The wine, composed of the obscure grapes Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe, reminded me of an off-dry Riesling due to its grapefruit and floral notes and nice acidity. Nothing fancy, but perfect to go with a simple meal of fresh crab dipped in melted butter. If you can't get Salish Sea, the 2008 Long Shadows Poet's Leap Riesling is also a good bet. ($20, find this wine)