You’re not supposed to talk about Pig’s third-floor parties. Here’s what little can be said.
* All kinds of people came to fête Frank, from one of my favorite Times political reporters, Katharine Seelye, to super-elite chefs like Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.
* A debate over Frank's absolute-worst restaurant experience came down to a meal at the now-defunct Ago (which included a wine spill on Frank’s dinner companion, a 50-plus-minute table wait and very bad food) versus any dinner at the Japanese high-concept Ninja. The Ninja dinner “won.” (Frank confirmed that Ninja was his worst meal as a critic.)
* Some of the chefs who came to see Frank off (a.k.a. the ones who actually stayed in the city and worked before the long weekend) included Craft and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, Marea's Michael White and Sueños's Sue Torres, who represented the early shift. On the late shift: the Pig’s April Bloomfield, Locanda Verde’s Andrew Carmellini and Minetta Tavern’s Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson. There for the duration: Spotted Pig co-owner and party host nonpareil Ken Friedman and LaFrieda Meats' Mark Pastore.
* Sample conversation: Colicchio grilling Frank about the Times adopting a half-star system. While Colicchio argued that not all three-star restaurants are the same (David Chang’s name might have come up), Bruni countered that half stars mean you can’t make up your mind. Also up for discussion: how quickly Frank was recognized in some dining rooms (Locanda Verde might be the winner: From their open kitchen vista, Carmellini and sous chef Luke Ostrom spotted him even before the hostesses did).
* The party was a toast to his tenure as critic and not to his new book, Born Round. Not only did Frank politely decline to sign copies (for a few brown-nosing chefs and restaurateurs), but he also didn’t tell me that the book had just made the Times nonfiction best-seller list.
© Jen Murphy
The Fresh Pepper cocktail at Eos in Miami
Last week I jetted to Miami and, in less than 48 hours, had two stellar meals in hotel restaurants launched by star NYC chefs: Scott Conant and Michael Psilakis, both F&W Best New Chefs. I always get nervous when a chef I adore opens an outpost far away: It’s so easy for the quality or service to slide. But these two new Miami restaurants rival their spots in Manhattan.
Conant, who owns Scarpetta in NYC, opened his second Scarpetta in Miami Beach's legendary Fountainbleu hotel, which was fabulously renovated earlier this year. A true glutton, I tried nearly every dish on the menu. Conant’s signature dishes, like his supersimple spaghetti with tomato and basil and his roasted capretto (baby goat), were perfect. The Miami Scarpetta has more seafood options than the NYC one, including a crisp-skinned branzino served on top of saffron-ricotta gnocchi, cauliflower and lobster fricassee. After sampling six pasta dishes (I’m training for the NYC Marathon, which gives me an excuse to eat more pasta), I told myself I’d only taste the branzino, but somehow it vanished completely from my plate.
Check out this blog later today for details about my incredible meal at Psilakis’s Eos.
VBCC is on quite a roll. Founder Allison Hooper has just written her first book, In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen (out this fall). It's a pretty cookbook full of simple recipes using the company’s products. I'm considering making the herb-roasted chicken rubbed in that wonderful butter and the crème fraîche–potato gratin for my first official autumn dinner.
I think the advent of September, and, thankfully, a breath or two of cool breeze in NYC, has gotten me thinking about Champagne. (Of course, simply waking up in the morning can make me think about Champagne.) In any case, lately when I think about Champagne, I tend to think about Peter Liem's extraordinarily informative website, champagneguide.net. It is the most in-depth compendium of Champagne info that I've ever run into, largely thanks to the fact that Liem knows more about the history, character, vineyards, soils, terroirs, and producers of this region than anyone else I can think of (save perhaps Tom Stevenson). Membership isn't cheap—$89 a year for a subscription—but when you consider that that's about the price of a single bottle of Bollinger Rosé, it starts to seem more and more like a wise investment.
You can get a free sample of the site's content here. If you have a Champagne lover you're thinking of holiday gifts for, a membership wouldn't be a bad idea at all. And while you're at it, you might check out Liem's entertaining and informative blog, Besotted Ramblings, as well.
© brian malik
Bad reviews posted on a website like yelp.com or urbanspoon.com can be the death of a restaurant, while glowing reviews can triple business. In an effort to generate more positive buzz, Mel’s Drive-In on Mission Street in San Francisco is doing something sneaky. Every check advertises a 20 percent discount on your next meal if you bring in a printout of your Yelp review. One blogger ponders if Yelpers will risk the integrity of their “Yelp status” for a few bucks off their next milkshake.
I recently had a friend in town from San Francisco, and we did a whirlwind culinary tour of New York during which I introduced her to the glory of Num Pang’s version of banh mi. She enjoyed her sandwich so much, she returned to the West Coast determined to find the local version of it. But after talking to chefs and friends, she found only one decent place, and it wasn’t anywhere near her apartment. That’s why she’s eagerly anticipating the debut this week of Schlomo’s Banh Mi Cushman (yes, you read that correctly). Schlomo will be riding around in a former meter maid cart, Twittering his location. After seeing his “test kitchen” video I think he might be in a bit over his head, but if the sandwiches are good, it sounds like they will sell themselves.
I was on the Today show this morning (check out the clip here), recommending a few summer's-almost-over-don't-miss-them beers and wines to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. It was, as usual, a slightly crazy affair, but a lot of fun.
Beer-wise, I suggested people track down New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a light beer (114 calories) that doesn't taste like a light beer—i.e., doesn't taste like watery dreck. I'm not quite sure how the New Belgium brewers manage that, but if you're inclined toward light beers, you could do far, far worse. I also mentioned Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian witbier, faintly flavored with coriander and orange peel. The cloudiness (which is natural) seemed to worry KLG and Hoda, but in the end they seemed to like it; personally, I think the stuff's a no-brainer on a hot summer day.
In terms of wine, my recommendations included the 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($13, find this wine), an unoaked Central Coast Chardonnay with crisp tree-fruit notes and impressive intensity; the 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15, find this wine), which for the price provides a lot of smoky blackberry fruit and works well as either a summer-grilling or winter-warming wine; and 2008 Saracco Moscato d'Asti ($15, find this wine), which is perfect for summer desserts—lightly sparkling, low in alcohol, with pretty tangerine and floral notes.
I also got to walk down a set of stairs next to George Foreman, who was on the show, too, and looking mighty dapper in a striped, off-white suit. I have to say he drew more attention than I did.
Summer is usually internship season. But summer is nearly over and fewer than a fifth of recent college graduates have job offers. Now TravelOregon (the state's tourism organization) has launched an internship contest; the seven winners will work alongside a top Oregon rancher, distiller or chef for a week. Applicants have until September 18 to submit a short video and make a case (in 140 words or less) for why they are worthy of the all-expenses-paid internship. A few of the opportunities:
*Work alongside Food & Wine Best New Chef 2007 Gabriel Rucker, at Portland’s awesome Le Pigeon restaurant.
* Explore the art of vineyard-designate winemaking from Lynn Penner- Ash, winemaker at Willamette Valley’s Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.
* Make artisanal cheese with David Gremmels of the excellent Rogue Creamery.
* Turn hops and grains into craft beer with brewmaster Jamie Emmerson of Hood River’s Full Sail Brewery.
* Learn about craft spirits and get a degree in mixology with distiller Jim Bendis of Bendistillery.