It seemed like a good moment to take a mini break from NYC restaurants. I'd gotten a little too invested in what I've heard Momofuku's David Chang might cook for his big NBC Locals Only promotion on April 24 (if you've been watching TV in the back of a cab over the past few weeks, you know exactly what I'm talking about). And I'm a little over the banh mi debates. In that mood, I decided to take my night off at the landmark music spot Joe's Pub to see a singer I was shamelessly unfamiliar with named Mary McBride and a friend who plays guitar in her band. If I'd done a little bit of research, I would have known that I had seen her before, in Brokeback Mountain (she's onstage in a bar, singing that pretty song “No One's Gonna Love You Like Me”). She was awesome—the New York Times describes her voice as "part angel, part truck driver," and I am always happy if someone belts out soulful covers of Hank Williams and Tom Waits. As an added bonus, she brought out her friend Patrick Wilson (the adorable actor from, among other things, Watchmen and Little Children) for a duet of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.” As a second added bonus, also in the house was McBride's stepbrother, Ed Norton, whom I worship, and he was part of the after-party at Indochine (and when was the last time you heard someone say 'after party at Indochine'?). I wish I were also able to report on how good the food is at Joe's Pub... It's fine, not crazy expensive and the right place if you've been without a roasted vegetable and goat cheese panini for a while. But you might be better off reliving some prime ’80s moments with Vietnamese spring rolls at Indochine, or—even better—some ramen a couple blocks up at Ippudo (it's the favorite cheap eat of our brand new Best New Chef Paul Liebrandt—he gets it with the whole garlic crushed in). Or of course there's always pork buns over at Momofuku, which is actually where this evening started in the first place.
There's a very amusing post on Dr. Vino today detailing a testy exchange of emails between Mike Steinberger, wine columnist over at Slate, occasional F&W contributor & all-around mensch, and Mark Squires, the moderator of the eRobertParker wine bulletin board. A bit inside-baseball if you aren't a wine fanatic (or wine writer) but pretty entertaining all the same. Check it out.
Passover is over on the night of April 16, though for secular Jews like me, the holiday has already passed (I don't avoid bread or restrict myself to kosher-for-Passover foods). I'd like to give a shout out, however, to New York City chef Tom Valenti and his awesome chef de cuisine, Derrick Styczek. Last week, due to apartment renovations and other obstacles, my family was left without a place to have a seder. So Tom allowed 20 of us to have our seder on the balcony at his restaurant Ouest. Tom and Derrick were all set with the main-course choices (short ribs, lamb shanks, roasted chicken), but they were having some trouble with the starters. So I sent them a matzo-ball soup recipe from Arthur Schwartz's latest book, Jewish Home Cooking (Schwartz got the recipe from New York City's famous Second Avenue Deli). The matzo balls were awesome! Derrick told me he and his staff did some hardcore matzo-ball tasting around the city to get them right, and his slightly misshapen balls were a perfect balance of dense and fluffy. My kids were thrilled because no dill, carrots or other "things" mucked up the really pure chicken consommé. I think Ouest should have that soup on its menu even after Passover is officially over.
Celery is the most common ingredient in tuna salad, second to mayonnaise. This week, I tested an awesome tuna melt recipe from Tom Colicchio's new cookbook, 'wichcraft. This recipe turned the volume up on the diner classic by using English muffins, Gruyére cheese and supersweet, slow-roasted plum tomatoes. My greatest surprise was Colicchio's use of finely chopped raw celery root in place of the usual celery. It added a mild celeryness along with a good crunch. I thought this was an unusual idea that worked very well. Not standard at the diner, but now it might be the standard at my house.
This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend Taste Washington, an extravaganza of Washington State wines put on in a few places around the country every year. I was at the mothership incarnation of the thing, in Seattle, a mighty cool town (like you need me to tell you). For me, festivities started off with a seminar I led, in which three of our former F&W Best New Chefs—Johnathan Sundstrom of Lark, Jason Wilson of Crush, and Ethan Stowell of Union (and Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf, and the new Anchovies & Olives)—chose some of their favorite Washington wines to pair with recipes made with some of their favorite Washington foodstuffs.
I left it to the chefs to do most of the talking, meanwhile enjoying the heck out of the pairings they'd come up with. First up, Ethan Stowell produced a local mussels-fennel-citrus salad—details forthcoming, as I was too busy moderating to take notes—to go with the 2007 Mark Ryan Klipsun Vineyard Viognier ($29) from Red Mountain. Along with the other Viogniers I tasted throughout the weekend, it made a strong case for Washington as an impressive source for New World Viogniers that can balance the grape's natural lushness against a good spine of acidity.
Wilson, next up, brought an intensely luscious stinging nettle vichyssoise with grilled shigoku oysters—I'm going to see if he'd be game to run the recipe for this here, because it was pretty insanely delicious—to go along with a 2007 O’Shea Scarborough Klipsun Vignoble Semillon ($20), also from the Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. It was a sort of oddball but appealing wine whose floral-herbal notes went strangely well with the chlorophyll-herby taste of the nettles.
Finally, Sundstrom paired his pork rillettes with fleur de sel butter—no sadness there—with a dry Riesling from the Lake Chelan region (headed toward an AVA designation later this year, apparently). The wine, the 2006 Vin du Lac Lehm Dry Riesling ($45), was flinty and focused, its crisp acidity and green apple fruit an ideal foil to the rillettes' porky richness. The ultra-local butter, by the way, came from a two-cow dairy on Vashon Island, whose young proprietor cooks a couple of days a week at Lark.
I'll mention a few other highlights from the event in my next blog, along with the red wines that we poured at the seminar just for the fun of it, but this was a mighty nice way to start the weekend.