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  • SMOKING HABITS

    Blue Smoke, Mark Maynard-Parisi, Danny Meyer and BABBP in Food Republic | July 22, 2014

    HOW BARBECUE HAS BECOME NEW YORK CITY'S MOST ADDICTIVE SMOKING HABIT by CHRIS SHOTT   It sounds like the set-up to a salsa commercial. Two guys from Texas walk into a New York restaurant. They've come to taste-test the best big-city approximation of their home state’s most cherished culinary specialty. No, not salsa. Something much more sacred: barbecue. And, the punchline isn’t as predictable as a couple of cowboys guffawing about ironic points of origin: New York City!?   Quite the opposite, in fact: “The food there was just phenomenal,” says Daniel Vaughn, the “BBQ Snob” of Twitter fame and author of the 2013 book The Prophets of Smoked Meat. Vaughn, who made headlines around the food media sphere with his appointment as the first full-time “Barbecue Editor” at Texas Monthly magazine, was referring to the fare at Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook, Brooklyn, of all places.   Since the opening of Blue Smoke in 2002, New York City has made tremendous strides toward shedding its historical reputation as a barbecue backwater — more than 30 brick-and-mortar restaurants (and counting) are currently dishing up one style of barbecue or another across the five boroughs. We're talking about authentic barbecue, mind you, the kind that's slow-cooked over real smoldering wood. Not grilled or baked in some conventional gas oven, with possibly a dash of the pitmaster poseur's notorious cheat: liquid smoke. But, only recently has the quality of New York 'cue risen to such a level that it merits even a mention in the national conversation.   Vaughn says he was particularly impressed with Hometown pitmaster Billy Durney’s take on a Texas-style beef rib — even going so far as to compare it to the vaunted version at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX, the standard-bearer for the genre. “It was really spot-on,” Vaughn says. “It was so similar to a Louie Mueller beef rib.” That’s a bold statement, especially considering that the guy sitting beside him at Hometown that night was none other than Louie Mueller descendant Wayne Mueller. Says Vaughn, “I looked at Wayne and I was, like, ‘Wayne, is this where you’ve been learning how to do beef ribs?’”   Vaughn readily acknowledges that he and his dining companion probably received preferential treatment at Hometown that night. Having a renowned barbecue writer in the house is enough in itself to encourage any pitmaster worth his oak to serve up the very smoky best. Add an industry icon like Mueller — someone who the resident head chef looks upon as a mentor, if not a God — and the staff is likely to ignore other patrons entirely. “He was definitely looking to impress,” Vaughn says of Hometown’s Durney. “But, in the end, you can’t impress if you can’t cook it.”   And yet, to Vaughn, the Texas-quality beef rib isn’t the most compelling thing about Durney’s cooking at Hometown. Rather, it's his uniquely New York spin on other stuff. “Doing things like the smoked lamb belly, the pork belly tacos, the jerk baby back ribs — the touches like that, where he’s taking the flavors that he grew up with in New York…and really trying to make those part of his barbecue repertoire as well is, to me, more impressive,” Vaughn says. “It was one of the more refreshing things that I’ve eaten this year from a barbecue standpoint.”   And, it’s something you’d probably never see in Central Texas, or Memphis, or Kansas City, or any other reputable barbecue mecca with strict traditions to protect.   “If they try to make a jerk rib in Ayden, N.C., at the Skylight Inn where my good friend Sam Jones operates, they’d hang him up by his shoe strings,” says Hometown’s Durney. "We’re really proud of the fact that we have no rules. We don’t have to cook whole hog because our granddad or greatgranddad was a hog farmer....Here in New York, we can essentially do whatever we like. We don’t have to adhere to any legacies.”   From Hobbyist To Hotness   Durney might be the poster boy for what some are now calling "New York-style" barbecue, except that he would never call it that. The imposing former bodyguard eschews labels, including his new professional title, "pitmaster," a term he describes as "a little ridiculous." He prefers to be called Hometown's "head fire maker." After all, it's not about him; it's about the fire. That's the secret to great barbecue, he says: "tending a great fire."   That sort of folksy wisdom doesn't exactly come naturally to city dwellers. Like most native New Yorkers, Durney didn't grow up with a raging fire pit in his backyard. For a Brooklyn boy like him, the closest thing to authentic barbecue was the smoky street food that his Caribbean neighbors along Flatbush Avenue cooked outdoors on grate-covered shopping carts. "Those smells are what inspired me to do the Caribbean jerk [ribs]," he says.   Durney's passion for barbecue mostly stems from his travels outside the city, both to the American South and also to South America. His appreciation for Texas traditions, in particular, is evident in the Lone Star State–shaped BBQ tattoo on his right ankle. But his cooking technique was perfected right here in the Empire State, sitting out on his small patio deck in South Park Slope and tending to the ribs on his modest 18-inch Weber Smoky Mountain Bullet. "I was a hobbyist," he says. "It became an obsession to get it right."   Durney considers himself a traditionalist in the sense that he sticks to authentic Southern-style smoking techniques. He just likes to manipulate the flavors. Presently, he says he's developing a vegetarian sausage and also an Asian bao. There are several other big-city barbecue joints that remain fiercely loyal to Texas traditions, and Durney respects that. But, when you come from the melting pot, he says, it's important to take a "worldly view." Call it whatever you like. "If people want to call my style 'New York style,' then I’ll carry that torch," Durney says.   Illustrations: Mike Houston   The Blue Smoke Effect   Durney may relish his own freedom from the crutch of strict regional authenticity. But, his city's utter lack of a barbecue tradition wasn't always viewed so positively. People used to gripe about it. A lot. A 2003 article in The New York Times describes a fledgling barbecue scene made up of mostly imitators who were often cutting corners, using techniques ranging from parboiling to liquid smoke. True wood-smoked barbecue was virtually unheard of in the city, with a few notable exceptions. Longtime enthusiasts point to early pioneer Robert Pearson's Stick To Your Ribs in Queens, which faded away long before the current barbecue boom.   A major impediment for would-be barbecuers involved the city's clean-air rules — or, more precisely, figuring out what the rules actually were.   “The city didn’t even know how to deal with what we were trying to do,” says Mark Maynard-Parisi, senior managing partner at Blue Smoke, of their opening in 2002. The brainchild of reputed Midas-touch restaurateur Danny Meyer, Blue Smoke gets a lot of credit for demonstrating that legitimate wood-smoked barbecue can be done in New York City. Setting that precedent, however, took considerable effort.   Maynard-Parisi, a former general manager at Meyer's popular fine-dining restaurant Union Square Cafe, describes it as an "educational process" for both the operators and regulators alike. What they learned was that making legit barbecue — and doing it indoors, smack in the middle of Manhattan — was going to be costly. In fact, it would be roughly twice as expensive as the usual New York restaurant, at least in terms of the required ventilation. Your typical steakhouse, for instance, with its gas-fueled grills and broilers, requires only a single flue. Add a separate fuel to that equation, like wood, which Blue Smoke burns in addition to gas, and you need a second flue, too. “That meant it was double the price,” Maynard-Parisi says.   Expensive, yes, but still doable: “We just had to get creative with our engineers and kitchen designers and even our manufacturers,” Maynard-Parisi says. “Ole Hickory, the company which made our pits, thought we were crazy. It took a lot of effort. But, in the end, we just needed to do a really good job of explaining what we were doing, having the right designers on board to help us tell that story and get everyone comfortable with the idea that we weren’t going to burn down half of Manhattan.”   So far, so incombustible. After an initial period of nearly daily visits from alarm-roused fire officials, Maynard-Parisi proudly reports that smoke levels at the restaurant have never gotten out of hand. Not dangerously, anyway. “We’ve never had a fire, so that’s good,” he says.   Logistical issues aside, Blue Smoke helped set an important cultural precedent, as well. Coupled with the opening of classically trained chef Adam Perry Lang's own Daisy May's BBQ in 2003, it represented the first time that big-name New York restaurateurs were showing an interest in doing Southern-style barbecue. And, doing it right.   An Influential Festival   Six months after opening Blue Smoke, Danny Meyer's crew also began planning the first Big Apple BBQ Block Party — an event which Maynard-Parisi now calls the "mother yeast" of New York's burgeoning barbecue community. The idea was to bring renowned pitmasters from across the country to the big city and thereby expose New Yorkers to the various regional styles of barbecue. "It took a lot of arm-twisting to get people to come to New York," Maynard-Parisi admits. But a small group of initial recruits made the trip, including champion pit master Mike Mills of Southern Illinois' 17th Street Bar & Grill, also a founding partner of Blue Smoke. They set up outside of Blue Smoke amid some rather unfavorable conditions. "It rained for three days — the whole time," Mills recalls. Yet people turned out, even despite the lack of proper to-go boxes to keep their barbecue dry. "They came with pizza boxes, they came with Tupperware," Mills says. "We were actually overwhelmed."   Now in its 12th year, the Big Apple BBQ Block Party draws an estimated crowd of some 150,000 who converge on Madison Square Park to sample the smoky delicacies of more than a dozen selected pit masters. You could say that the festival has accomplished its original mission. In a speech on the eve of this year's big bash in June, Danny Meyer announced that more than 30 authentic barbecue restaurants are now operating in New York City — a dramatic increase from the meager handful that existed only a dozen years ago (see illustrated chart below). What's more, the festival itself, which once primarily showcased the talents of out-of-towners, would feature five NYC pitmasters in 2014. This included the special "guest pitmaster," announced just days beforehand — none other than Brooklyn's own Billy Durney.   "We're making believers," says Durney, who prepared about 1,100 racks of beef ribs for the big bash. "New Yorkers and Brooklyn people, directly, should be really proud of what's going on with barbecue right now."     NYC Pitmasters Find A Voice   Some say it was inevitable that a culinary capital like New York would figure out barbecue sooner or later. “When you have such great talent in New York for cooking and then they absorb what barbecue is — that’s an explosive situation right there," says Jean-Paul Bourgeois, the recently appointed executive chef at Blue Smoke.   Various other factors may have played a role in supporting the barbecue boom, as well. Ask any operator of a barbecue joint in town and he's sure to offer some thinky reason beyond the simple explanation that smoke-kissed meat just tastes great.   You can start with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. In the flag-waving, champagne-dumping days that followed, fancy French cuisine, which had long dominated the New York restaurant scene, fell out of fashion — offering a big opportunity for a uniquely American style of cooking, like barbecue. "The fact that we opened a soulful barbecue restaurant six months after 9/11, that was pretty good timing — even if it sounds horrible to say," notes Blue Smoke's Maynard-Parisi. "If we were opening a fine French restaurant, I think that would have been highly problematic."   Another downtown disaster — the economic downturn of 2008 — was also a boon to NYC barbecue. "When the recession hit, people clearly began trading down from fine dining to more moderately priced cuisine," says Marc Glosserman, founder of Hill Country, which opened in Manhattan in 2007. Modeled on the illustrious Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX, Glosserman's influential counter-service restaurant was among the first in NYC to focus strictly on a single regional style of barbecue at a time when predecessors like Blue Smoke and Daisy May's were still offering a sort of pan-American assortment of various specialties.   Glosserman, an East Coaster with familial roots in Central Texas, was banking on the business of Southern transplants who craved the foods of their youth, much like himself. He wasn't expecting the surge of corporate business from companies that would normally, during a more robust economic climate, book their private events at some place a bit more sophisticated. "People still want to celebrate even when times are tough," he says, "but they don’t want to seem indulgent and conspicuously spending money."   With barbecue, of course, the perception of affordability doesn't always jibe with the reality, especially in New York. Glosserman notes that Hill Country initially experienced "some real pushback" over its prices. High food costs and astounding rents make big-city barbecue a costly enterprise, to be sure. "There just wasn’t much of a precedent for charging the types of prices that we needed to charge in order to be successful," he says.   Glosserman also points to the rise of food-themed TV as a factor in New York's growing interest in barbecue. Shows like BBQ Pitmasters, which debuted in 2009, exposed urbanites to mouth-watering visuals from far-flung places without the hassle of having to leave the comfy confines of their tiny city apartments. “For the first time, you could have those vicarious barbecue experiences, where you’d be in some small town in Texas, you could see the pit master and you’d get a sense of what authentic Texas barbecue was supposed to look like and potentially feel like from what you saw on TV,” says Glosserman.   Then there's the larger cultural shift in the way that today's diners approach food. Consider the advent of the fast-casual concept, that mid-range option between fast food and a sit-down full-service dinner that defines chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread. "I don’t think it’s a coincidence that fast casual as a format has grown so quickly across food categories at the same time that barbecue has become so popular," says Micha Magid, co-founder of Mighty Quinn's BBQ, where patrons fill up their trays cafeteria-style with chef Hugh Mangum's acclaimed brisket just like the crowds at Chipotle with their burrito bowls. "Barbecue so naturally lends itself to fast-casual. So, you have this one-two punch of people want this food and they also want it in this format."   At Mighty Quinn's upcoming third NYC location in the West Village, Magid says he'll be rolling out a new wine program – illustrating that demand for barbecue in the city today is bigger than the usual whiskey and beer demographic. "The customer that’s enjoying barbecue is much more diversified than they were 15 years ago," he says.   Food production has also changed. "I think this renaissance in barbecue is very analogous to everything that's happening in food culture," says Daniel Delaney, proprietor of Brooklyn's BrisketTown restaurant. Delaney is another barbecue hobbyist who used to smoke meat on his roof before turning his passion into a full-time enterprise. Prior to opening the restaurant in 2012, Delaney famously pre-sold 3,400 pounds of brisket over the Internet in just 48 hours. Delaney says the revival of old barbecue traditions closely mirrors the return to classic craftsmanship in all sorts of food categories: "You see artisanal butcher shops coming back. Cheese production is being done once again by hand. People are really concerned with where food is coming from, how it's sourced, where it's grown. It's just more attention to the detail of how food is made. I think people are becoming less thrilled and enthralled by the sort of pomp and circumstance of fine dining, and so there's sort of a regression to these older heritage styles of food and food production. And, I think barbecue fits in line with where we're moving as a food culture in the United States at large."   But, perhaps the biggest driver of the barbecue boom is simply the personalities who are putting their livelihoods at stake simply out of love for the stuff. “I have yet to meet a new pitmaster in NYC who isn't doing it for the sheer passion of BBQ,” says Tyson Ho, proprietor of Brooklyn’s forthcoming Arrogant Swine. There are many more lucrative restaurant concepts, Ho notes — genres based on cheap starches, for instance, not pricey meats. "From a restaurateur’s point of view, we’re all idiots for doing this barbecue thing," Ho says. “Meat is really expensive, and wood costs me more than meat,” says Josh Bowen, operator of John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City, Queens. “If it wasn’t for beer sales, we’d probably be out of business.” The lifestyle, though, makes it worthwhile. “When I started making barbecue, you know, you wake up at five o’clock in the morning happily, and then you crack a beer, and then you start the coals," says Bowen. "You sit there all day and just cook barbecue, drinking and hanging out. Barbecue is a party.”     Brooklyn Fresh Air   The biggest growth sector in New York barbecue right now is, of course, Brooklyn. Williamsburg's Fette Sau first blazed the trail, opening in a former auto-body shop back in 2007. Since 2012, at least nine new barbecue restaurants have opened in Brooklyn. And, for good reason: you don't need some astronomically expensive ventilation system à la Blue Smoke when you can set up in some edgy former industrial neighborhood like Bushwick or Red Hook.   "My closest neighbor is a stainless steel fabricator," says Arrogant Swine's Tyson Ho, who describes his concept as a mash-up of German-style beer hall and North Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue. "No one's complaining about the smell. I’m in a very isolated area. I could be outside, like, slaughtering chickens and worshipping satan and no one would give me an issue."   At Hometown, Durney and Co. put a smoker right out on the street for the first few months after it opened. No one seemed to mind. Presently, the smoking is done inside a pair of tricked-out shipping containers, located about two blocks from the restaurant, on a quiet dead-end street near Valentino Pier. The makeshift facility, marked "BBQ" in big bold letters, is outfitted with electricity, lights, sinks and, of course, chimneys. "It’s almost like a little restaurant," Durney says. "We’ll be serving out of it at some point." The presence of picnic tables and a conspicuously posted notice for a pending liquor license shows that he's serious.   Avoiding smoke-phobic neighbors wasn't the only reason that the Hometown crew picked such an out-of-the-way spot, far from the big-city hustle and bustle, a good schlep from even the nearest subway line. "We chose this location because it was down at the end of the road," says Hometown co-owner Christopher Miller. "Every barbecue place that we love is a destination. It’s a drive, it’s a trip….By the time you get there, the meat tastes that much better."   On a recent Friday morning, Durney pulls up in his shiny black pickup truck, accompanied by his dog, Otis. "Country Boy Can Survive" by Hank Williams, Jr., is blaring in the background, as Durney slips into a pair of black rubber gloves to check the progress of his beef ribs. Durney's chief lieutenant, Nestor Laracuente, has been working the graveyard shift, tending the fire throughout the night. Hometown prides itself on being one of the few places in town that smokes its meats all night long. "We do everything by feel here," Durney says, gently massaging the ribs with his fingers. "We don't use thermometers." He decides that the current batch could probably use another hour or two on the fire.   From the deck of the improvised smoking facility, you can make out the Statue of Liberty in the distance. A sign at the edge of road reads "DEAD END," which seems only appropriate — the remote spot feels like the end of the earth. Durney smiles at the suggestion. "We want to be at the end of the earth," he says. "We want to be like no place else."   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    NOSTALGIC DESSERTS

    North End Grill's Tracy Obolsky in The Epoch Times | July 19, 2014

    NOSTALGIA AND SWEETNESS: PASTRY CHEF TRACY OBOLSKY'S DESSERTS by CHANNALAY PHILLIPP   Pastry chef Tracy Obolsky assembles the Cherry Cola Sundae at North End Grill. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)   Most chefs specialize in a particular cuisine. Tracy Obolsky specializes in the nostalgic: creamsicle pies, milk chocolate malted cakes, cherry cola sundaes—such stuff that memories are made of.   It’s impossible to eat her desserts without a smile on my face.   The 32-year-old pastry chef of downtown’s North End Grill, and Esca alum, gets inspiration from her grandmother’s recipes. “It reminds me of my mom making that and me eating it. I never thought I’d be the one making them.”   She also always had a sweet tooth. “I had tons of cavities when I was younger,” she said.   As a teenager, Obolsky’s first job was working at Carvel Ice Cream. “At the end of the night, I’d be—ice cream in my hair— putting the machine back together, saying, ‘I’ll never need to know this. This is such a waste.’ Here I am 15 years later doing the exact same thing but really embracing it,” she said.   That’s putting it mildly. Obolsky is known for her ice cream. It started when she was making ice cream at a cart outside General Greene. Her dog Penny, who she had dressed in a baby shirt, would accompany her and eat ice cream. (Don’t ask about how that ended up. Penny has happily moved on from ice cream to wellness dog treats—and the occasional Heineken.)   She has a reputation for being able to turn anything into ice cream, from popcorn to sticky buns.   But it’s not as simple as taking vanilla ice cream and throwing in chunks of ingredients—something she finds gimmicky—but rather treating the base as its own flavor, she explained.   For example, her popcorn sundae, which feature layers upon layers of textures from salted butterscotch candy popcorn and popcorn financiers, uses a popcorn ice cream base. That alone takes a three-day process, including popping fresh popcorn, soaking it in milk overnight, and pureeing it, adding cream, sugar, salt, cooking it with egg yolks, and straining it out.   She also eschews the use of stabilizers, which ice cream makers often resort to as a way to keep the ice cream smooth and creamy. Some stabilizers are artificial and some are natural. But, in her view, “it’s like an athlete taking steroids, it’s kind of like cheating. I think you’re robbing yourself of really learning to do it the correct way, and not challenging yourself to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do this without using any strange products.’”   Obolsky also uses fresh fruit rather fruit purees, which most people use. With purees, “it’s going to get very generic. Most people’s raspberry sorbets are going to taste the same.” Using fresh fruit means the ice cream will always taste different, just as the fruit will always taste different.   Since she has started at North End Grill, Obolsky has been making use of a range of appliances, from the wood-fired grill to the cold smoker.   Obolsky made smoked desserts at Esca, but they are much better for the North End Grill than the Italian fish restaurant, she said.   “I have to be careful because I want to throw everything on the smoker. A lot of things I think would be great smoked but the average diner would think it was strange,” she said. Usually there are two smoked items on the menu.   One of the current items is a strawberry rhubarb crisp, with a fabulous oat crumble—with large crumbles and a lovely texture—topped with smoked vanilla ice cream. Obolsky cold smokes the cream and vanilla beans. (The recipe for the strawberry rhubarb crisp follows.) It’s an unusual combination but one that works.   Smoking adds a surprise element and fun, she said. “It makes people think of bacon. They’ll say, ‘Is there bacon in this?’ because that’s what they associate the smoked flavor with, and they haven’t had too many other things that are smoky.”   Obolsky was spot on. I enjoyed her crisp tremendously, and thought there was a hint of bacon or smoked meat somewhere—because those are the items I had that were smoked. Of course, those who believe bacon makes everything better will be happy to hear this.   But the smokiness is really from the gentle applewood smoke.   The smoking—the fun and surprise—seems a natural pick for Obolsky who is cheerful, plenty energetic (“an adrenaline junkie” as well), and with some spontaneity to spare (example: eloping to get married by Elvis in Las Vegas, eight years ago).   Like a creative type—Obolsky also went to Pratt to study art before becoming a pastry chef—she is wont to be hit by inspiration anytime, anyplace.   “I was on the couch watching a hockey game with my husband and I said, [gasp] ‘Would you eat a cherry cola sundae? Would that be weird?’ He’s looking at me because, where did that come from because we’re watching a hockey game. He said, “No, I would eat that—you should make that.”   It is probably the only time the kitchen staff has seen a chef go through bottles of cherry cola. Currently on the menu, the cherry cola sundae features a cherry cola base, and layers of cherry compote, and fizzy cherry candy.   Unlike other desserts that make use of pop rocks to create a fireworks-going-off effect in your mouth, the fizzy cherry candy is gentler, just like sweet memories of the past.   RECIPE Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Makes: 4 individual or 1 large   Oat Crumble Topping Ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 3/4 cup All-purpose flour 1/4 cup +1/8 cup old fashioned oats 1/3 cup melted butter 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract   Filling Ingredients: 1 3/4 cups chopped rhubarb 2 cups quartered strawberries 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon sugar 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 1/2 teaspoons All-purpose flour 3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice   Method: First make the oat crumble topping. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and mix by hand until small crumbles form. Spread the crumble topping onto a sheet pan and put in the refrigerator to chill. For the filling, mix all of the ingredients together. Divide the filling between four ovenproof small bowls or ramekins or in one large 8×8 baking dish. Sprinkle the oat crumble over the top of the filling to cover. Bake at 325F for 25–30 minutes until the filling bubbles. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.   Recipe from Tracy Obolsky, pastry chef, North End Grill   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    MARTA

    Marta on Eater NY | July 18, 2014

    MARTA DRAWS CLOSER TO UNLEASHING ROMAN PIZZA ON NYC by MARGUERITE PRESTON   [Danny Meyer, Nick Anderer, and Terry Coughlin by Krieger]   The website for Marta, the Maialino team's new all-day pizzeria in the Martha Washington Hotel, just went live (as did its Twitter and Instagram accounts). Right now the site is just a big, splashy placeholder, with no menus and not a lot of detail. But it does reveal a couple new team members who have signed on to work with Danny Meyer, Terry Coughlin, and Nick Anderer. Joe Tarasco, a vet of Frankies Spuntino, Le Bec Fin, and most recently Gramercy Tavern will work under Anderer (who is still the chef at Maialino) as the restaurant's chef de cuisine. And Peter Juusola, a Boston transplant who most recently was the director of operations at the acclaimed Flour Bakery + Cafe is in as general manager. Marta's opening date is still set for late summer, and the menu still promises to offer thin-crusted Roman-style pizzas cooked over embers. Stay tuned.   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    PERFECT FOR PICKS

    Maialino on Immaculate Infatuation | July 18, 2014

    FRIDAY FIVES: MICHAEL CHERNOW More

    ITALIAN SOAVES

    Maialino's Jeff Kellogg in The New York Times | July 17, 2014

    THE TWO FACES OF SOAVE Tasting Italian Soaves by ERIC ASIMOV   Dan Neville/The New York Times   It’s no longer news that Italy makes great white wines. In the bad old days, the Italian whites available in the United States tended to be insipid mass-marketed brands or campy contrived bottles. But since then, a revival has introduced the world to wonderful selections from the Valle d’Aoste at the farthest reaches of Italy’s northwest, from Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the extreme northeast, from Sicily at the southernmost end, and from just about everywhere in between.   Not least among the excellent whites pouring forth from Italy is Soave, a name perhaps a little too well known for its own good. In a seemingly perverse twist of reverse snobbism, popular wines that have transcended to generic shorthand, like Sancerre, Soave and pinot grigio, get little respect because of their commercial success. For being reflexively summoned, go-to names, they pay a price of dismissal.   In a case like pinot grigio, perhaps the attitude is justified. It’s awfully hard to find the good stuff amid the dreck, though it’s definitely out there. But with a wine like Soave, it’s harder to justify the skepticism. Simply put, Soave can be terrific, as a recent wine-panel tasting of 20 bottles amply bore out. For the tasting Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Jeff Kellogg, the wine director at Maialino, and Hristo Zisovski, the beverage director for the Altamarea Group, which includes Marea, Ai Fiori and numerous other restaurants.   No. 1: I Stefanini Soave Superiore Classico Monte di Fice 2012 Credit Dan Neville/The New York Times   Even so, the popular notion of Soave remains little more than the vague suggestion of crisp and white.   “It’s still one of those names that people ask for without looking at the list,” Jeff said.   As with almost every sort of wine, a failure of specificity is a ticket to mediocrity. The three most important rules for selecting good wines are producer, producer, producer, and that is especially true when, as with Soave, a genre has achieved such widespread popularity as to become a brand name itself. Fortunately, a lot of good Soave is out there, if you can make the effort to be picky.   First, some background: Unlike pinot grigio, which is the name of a grape that can essentially come from anywhere in Italy, Soave is an actual place, in the northeastern province of the Veneto. As in other Old World wine producing regions, mid-20th-century science and technology permitted farming on a large scale, and Soave producers in the 1970s were able to achieve high-volume success. The region greatly expanded from a central core of hillside vineyards to flatter, more fertile, easier-to-farm areas. An emphasis on quantity over quality, and on dull grapes like trebbiano Toscano rather than garganega, the most interesting of the Soave grapes, contributed to an accurate perception of bland, mundane wines.   The pendulum began to swing in the 1980s and ‘90s, when a small group of producers decided to make the best possible wines from the best vineyards. They drastically reduced yields and renewed their focus on garganega, resulting in wines of greater character and intensity.   No. 2: Gini Soave Classico La Frosca 2012 Credit Dan Neville/The New York Times   The best wines largely came from the original hillside Soave vineyards, designated Soave Classico to distinguish it from the plain Soave produced in the expanded zone. New rules prohibited the use of trebbiano Toscano (also known as ugni blanc) in Soave Classico and required the wine to be at least 70 percent garganega, with the rest some combination of trebbiano di Soave (also known as verdicchio), chardonnay and an assortment of local grapes. Most of our favorite wines were 100 percent garganega.   The Soaves in our tasting fell into two distinct styles. Some were crisp and straightforward, fermented and aged in steel tanks to emphasize a fresh, fruity liveliness. Others were denser and richer, partly or entirely fermented and aged in oak barrels, which, when done deftly, adds to the texture, depth and complexity of the wine. A few wines split the difference, using steel tanks but aging the wine on the lees, the sediment left after the yeast completes fermentation, which can also add texture and presence to the wine.   For me, the key element was whether the wines had energy, an elusive quality that separates bottles that refresh and inspire further sips from those that land flat and heavy. The more energetic wines seemed clearer and more precise, with focused flavors that include an almondlike nuttiness, minerals, citrus and occasionally a touch of tropical fruit.   Our favorite, the 2012 Monte di Fice Soave Superiore Classico (a supposedly higher classification that essentially confuses matters), came from a new producer I didn’t know, I Stefanini. Yet the wine, made in the steel-tank style but aged on the lees, was superb, pure and tight-grained yet complex. At only $13, this was our best value as well. Sadly, judging by a few random searches, little of this wine is currently available. Nonetheless, I Stefanini will be worth following in the future.   Our other top wines came from producers that are far better known. The 2012 Gini Soave Classico La Frosca, our No. 2 bottle, was weighty yet energetic, an example of the attractive yet nimble density that can be achieved through barrel fermentation and aging. The 2012 Soave Classico from Inama (No. 3) and the 2013 Otto Soave Classico from Prà (No. 4) are both tank wines, fresh, lively and delicious. Our No. 5, on the other hand, the 2011 Monte Alto Soave Classico from Ca’Rugate, was a barrel-aged wine, rich and full-bodied yet vivacious and insistent.   Ca’Rugate, like many Soave producers, makes wine in both styles, and we happened to have its steel-tank wine in the tasting, too, the 2012 Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, at No. 7. By contrast, it was more straightforward, fresh and lively. Jeff likened the difference between the two as “one to drink on the beach, the other with a meal.”   Only one wine from the plain Soave zone was in our tasting, and, at No. 6, the 2013 Vigne di Mezzane from Corte Sant’Alda did fairly well. As with most of our top wines, it was 100 percent garganega. Interestingly, Pieropan, one of the top names in Soave, generally blends some trebbiano di Soave into its Soave Classico. The clean, fresh 2012, aged in glass-lined tanks, was our No. 8 bottle. On the other hand, the Pieropan La Rocca, one of Soave’s most celebrated wines, which was not in our tasting, is 100 percent garganega fermented and aged in barrels.   While it may be sad for Soave producers and their fans that the wines have not achieved an appropriate level of respect, some do benefit from the situation. Seven of our 10 favorites were $20 or less, and the remaining three were $25 or less. Advantage consumer.   Tasting Report   Best Value I Stefanini Soave Superiore Classico Monte di Fice 2012, $13, ★★★ Crisp, pure and tight-grained, with lingering flavors of minerals, nuts, citrus and herbs. (Premier Wine, Richmond, Calif.)   Gini Soave Classico La Frosca 2012, $23, ★★★ A richer, more weighty style, yet energetic, with mineral and melon flavors and a touch of oak. (Marc de Grazia Selection/Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.)   Inama Soave Classico 2012, $14, ★★★ Dense but tightly wound and lively, with savory citrus and floral aromas and flavors. (Inama U.S.A., Napa, Calif.)   Prà Soave Classico Otto 2013, $18, ★★★ Clear, pure and precise, with flavors of almonds, herbs and tropical fruit. (Vinifera, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.)   Ca’Rugate Soave Classico Monte Alto 2011, $23, ★★ ½ Rich and full-bodied yet energetic, with earthy, mineral flavors. (Massanois, Washington, D.C.)   Corte Sant’Alda Soave Vigne di Mezzane 2013, $20, ★★ ½ Bright, crisp and harmonious, with refreshing flavors of citrus and tropical fruits. (Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York)   Ca’Rugate Soave Classico Monte Fiorentine 2012, $20, ★★ Fresh and lively, with aromas and flavors of flowers, nuts and herbs. (Massanois)   Pieropan Soave Classico 2012, $15, ★★ Clean and well-balanced, with rich, fresh flavors of nuts, herbs and fruit. (Empson U.S.A., Alexandria, Va.)   Balestri Valda Soave Classico 2012, $17, ★★ Crisp and refreshing, with flavors of herbs and tropical fruits. (Terroir Society Wines, Orinda, Calif.)   Cantina del Castello Soave Classico Pressoni 2013, $25, ★★ Rich and mellow, with juicy flavors of tropical fruit. (Petit Pois, Moorestown, N.J.)   What the stars mean: Ratings, up to four stars, reflect the panel’s reaction to the wines, which were tasted with names and vintages concealed. The wines represent a selection generally available in good retail shops and restaurants and on the Internet. Prices are those paid in the New York region.   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    20th Anniversary

    Gramercy Tavern, Kevin Mahan, Michael Anthony and Danny Meyer on Eater NY | July 15, 2014

    20 YEARS OF GRAMERCY TAVERN: A RESTAURANT THAT CHANGED NYC DINING by HILLARY DIXLER   From left: Kevin Mahan, Danny Meyer, and Michael Anthony. [All photos by Daniel Krieger unless otherwise noted]   This weekend, essential New York City restaurant Gramercy Tavern celebrated its 20th anniversary. Restaurateur Danny Meyer calls Gramercy Tavern his "first second restaurant" because it was the hotly-anticipated follow up to his iconic Union Square Cafe. Over the course of the past 20 years, the restaurant has come to embody Meyer's school of "Enlightened Hospitality."   Remarkably, only two chefs have ever led the kitchen: opening chef Tom Colicchio and James Beard Award-winning current chef Michael Anthony who took the reins in 2006. There are similarly impressive numbers in the front of the house, where only one manager has been hired from outside the organization in the past 15 years.   Yesterday, Eater spoke with Meyer, Anthony, and managing partner Kevin Mahan to take a look back at 20 years of Gramercy Tavern. In addition to considering the restaurant's staying power, the team also discussed what will keep the restaurant going in the future, including a mission to always push the restaurant to be the best it can be.   "The restaurant has succeeded in being a beacon for its community," says Meyer. But as Anthony points out, it has also been in a "constant state of evolution." At the end of the Summer Mahan is leaving after 15 years with the restaurant, joining a network of alumni that extends around the world and includes big names in the restaurant industry like Jim Meehan, Marco Canora, Jonathan Benno, and Gregory Marchand. "I'm not sure actually when I come here if I'm coming to a family or to a restaurant," Meyer reflects. "And I don't think our guests are sure whether they're going out or coming home."   Congratulations on 20 years! How are you feeling?   Danny Meyer: Humbled. What do you do when you have a 20th birthday party for a restaurant? That's a big deal for restaurants to hit 20 years. It's a big deal to hit 10 years. What I loved was that the absolute reflex choice was to turn it into a reunion for people who have worked here before, because it's really quite remarkable how many exceptional people have given their gifts to this restaurant, as cooks, as captains, as bartenders, as wine directors.   Kevin Mahan: Nothing felt more comfortable and heartwarming than the night of the party what we put on the chalkboard was, "Welcome home." That couldn't feel any more appropriate for everybody that was there. It is a family. Going back to this restaurant, combining the first question with the second question, is I was absolutely honored and blessed to feel like I've been a part of something, a family. This restaurant has attracted — from the beginning to back when I started in '99 and all throughout the years — has attracted incredible talent.   DM: I think, when I use the word humbled, I remember when we opened the restaurant. I remember very, very well, almost as if it was yesterday. We had all the ingredients that it takes to make a restaurant that can endure and a restaurant that matters, but just having the ingredients doesn't mean you're going to achieve it. But almost everybody who was on that original team, and I would argue that everybody who has played a leadership role since, came to Gramercy Tavern not only with amazing gifts, hospitality, culinary, beverage, all the leadership gifts, but also with something to prove.   Gramercy Tavern has captured this alchemy of people who very much like anyone who lives in New York, no one's here by accident. This is a tough city to live in, but Gramercy Tavern is almost like a microcosm of New York. It's people who are coming here and really trying to build something important. Because of its heritage, because people like Kevin and Mike have been such exceptional stewards of that heritage, the rich get richer in terms of talent. Really talented people know how many other talented people have walked on this floor, and so they want that to be part of their career as well.   In the restaurant's cookbook, you called Gramercy Tavern your "first second restaurant." And now Union Square Hospitality group is an empire. How do you see Gramercy Tavern fitting into that larger group?   DM: The first thing that I'm pretty consistent about [is] rejecting the word empire because I think that connotes some interest in gobbling up land, which is about as far from anything we're interested in as there is. But, you know, Gramercy Tavern is an exceptional restaurant. It's an exceptional business. More than anything, it's an exceptional group of relationships. That's what I love about the restaurant business.   I think restaurants that matter are restaurants that over time build those meaningful relationships with the people who work there, who used to work there, people who dine here, who used to dine here, the community in which we live. We named this restaurant for its community ... This is not a theme restaurant, but the original idea was to try to recapture the role that taverns used to play 200 years ago in their community, which was obviously a time when we didn't have telephones or email or Eater.     Today are your guests still locals? Are you finding it's mostly returning customers or first time visitors? DM: It's all the above. We created a place that would assume a contemporary role that was connected to what taverns existed for 200 years ago. [The tavern] was the place you went to meet people. That was the place you went to do business. That was the place you went to do politics. … I don't know if people went out on dates 200 years ago, but it was the best restaurant in town. It was the only restaurant in town.   I think that the way that we set this up originally by having a front room where no reservations have ever been taken makes it possible for people, for a lot of people, to come here very spontaneously and very regularly. But I do believe that the restaurant has succeeded in being a beacon for its community and ... for people well beyond its community. There's not a night that goes by that there's not a chef that we admire, maybe from some other country or from some other city, who wants to dine here. Or a wine director who wants to be inspired by our wine list. Or a bar manager who wants to be inspired by our bartenders.   That just feels ... That's what I meant by humbled. We don't take anything for granted. Again, I'm going to shine the light on Kevin and Mike, but these guys come to work every single day inspiring really, really talented people to bring their best and it feels ... I'm not sure actually when I come here if I'm coming to a family or to a restaurant. And I don't think our guests are sure whether they're going out or coming home.   There's a fascinating statistic that I think is absolutely unprecedented, at least as far as I'm aware, for such a large restaurant. In 20 years, two decades, why don't you take a guess how many front of house managers we have hired from the outside? In the last 15 years.   Hmmm...   DM: The answer is one. What that means is that somebody will start here as ... Why don't you tell the story?   Because you started as a server and are now managing partner.   KM: We always say that it only takes one person with enthusiasm to get anything done. This restaurant attracts, has attracted, legions of people with incredible enthusiasm for pushing this restaurant forward. And I think, to go to your point and question about what is this restaurant, what role does it play, not just in the industry but in our company, I think that it is that. It's that this restaurant has constantly attracted people with incredible enthusiasm to push not only themselves, but this restaurant, to continuously evolve.   This restaurant has done more firsts than any restaurant that I can think of. There's never been a time where we've gotten just comfortable. There's always a slight agitation with this energy of people that come here wanting to push it further. It's an amazing thing. We've let them push us. We've pushed them. Then we graduate them. Most of them have stayed within. That's why we were able to go 14 years without hiring a single front of the house manager outside this restaurant. You can point in any direction and I can tell you two or three restaurants that have a GT alum as their head chef or GM.   DM: Including in our company.   KM: Yeah. It's amazing. This restaurant allows for that energy to be tapped and allows people to run with it, to create new and amazing tweaks and aspects to what we've already, what was already great from the beginning... DM: The breadth and depth of the alumni network ... It's just exceptional. Just exceptional. All over the country. All over the world.   Michael Anthony: In addition to being a springboard for people's careers and a graduate school of the restaurant industry, which is obvious when you take a look at that list, I think one of the magical qualities of this restaurant is that throughout the years, people feel needed here. It's a learning experience and they feel that, when they come to this restaurant, they're not only allowed to but expected to add to the story.   I had to a chance to say thank you to Peter [Bentel, the architect] the other night at the anniversary party for [creating] a space that allowed for generations and generations of people to come and add new ideas to the story. If he had simply leaned on nostalgia to design the restaurant, then a lot of those new ideas would feel out of place and not welcome. In a sense, the restaurant that Danny, Tom [Colicchio] and Peter designed and built together is not just a physical venue but it's a structure that people feel connected to. They're yearning to add to that story and they feel like they can't ... They feel needed. I think that's different than most restaurants that I've experienced in traveling.   Speaking to that idea of coming in with new ideas, when you took over for Colicchio in 2006, you had some big shoes to fill. How did you approach starting your role here, joining a company that already had such a legacy to it?     MA: It's interesting. I feel like that legacy is one of the driving forces behind what gets people excited about working here. There's something to live up to. There's an expectation. There's admiration for what's been done before us, but at the same time, my personal entrance into the restaurant couldn't have been met with more support. We never talked about shoes to fill. We never talked about fixing a broken spoke. We always talked about inspiring people and having fun. That's really the way we've gone about it.   That still seems to be a driving force for the three of you now. Can you tell me about your team dynamic and how decisions get made at Gramercy Tavern today?   DM: My role is to try to stay out of the way. Seriously. My job is to help to pick exceptional people and to make it clear what the cultural boundaries are, and then let them do their job. This is a beautiful ecosystem here, of all of its stakeholders, and it's in beautiful harmony as well right now.   MA: To add to that, the company operates on a kind of unique and somewhat counterintuitive principle that we take care of each other first. I think that decisions in this restaurant are a dance of how does each decision put the people who work here in a better position to respond creatively and at the same time, very open-minded of how well are we doing it. Are we attracting attention? Are we getting better? Are we moving forward? I think that's a bit of a dance. Kevin has been a protector of the essence of what keeps a team together.   KM: There's no decision that's ever been made here that feels like it's happening to the team or the restaurant. There's a great amount of inclusion and I think that's also tying into the buy-in of why people feel invested and important is that they're part of the decisions, whether it be all the way down to the newest back waiter. If we want to make a large change, we open the discussion so that we can really understand how this will impact not only the guests and the experience, but how does it impact the team and our ability to do what we do...   DM: Back to what Mike just said is that, when people come here, they know they matter. If we can pick great people and not just pay lip service that they matter, but actually invite the innovation that comes from their fresh look. The only thing that we require is that you share our cultural priorities, which is that we put our customers second. We put our staff first, we put our community third, and our suppliers fourth, and our investors fifth. If you embrace that, then we want you to bring your best and greatest ideas.   One last thing on this topic, going all the way back to Tom Colicchio. You asked about our dynamic. I don't recall one instance in 20 years where there's been a tension when it comes to taste. Like picking a new chair, picking a new plate, picking a new curtain, what a new menu design should look like, what kind of a server would we want to hire. That's a gift. That's not to be taken for granted.   I think that in addition to having a common sense of why we're in business — like what's the higher purpose of this business — happily there's a high comfort level when it comes to taste. What wine should be on the list? What art should be on the wall? It doesn't mean that we don't pull our own hair out trying to decide between these five plates, but that can actually cause tension in a business relationship or a marriage where some guy loves this tie and some guy hates that tie. We always agree on what's the better tie, so to speak.   With that in mind, how do you guys approach then keeping things innovative after 20 years?   MA: From the beginning, Kevin mentioned that there were so many firsts, so there's a spirit of not necessarily judging the restaurant based on the industry, but judging ourselves. Making ourselves our own toughest critics. We think about just how delicious is that dish and are we really serving it in a way that makes someone walk away from the experience feeling genuinely welcome. We think about the kinds of preparations and drinks and stations that we've added to the restaurant. We're doing that because we're in love with what we do.   I think the fortunate thing is that the restaurant is organized so that we play to our strengths. I think so many people have jobs that force them into doing things they hate doing, and I've heard you [Danny] say this before, that you're in the position that you are because you love food and decided to do this way back when, because you're in love with the restaurant business. I think we're very lucky that we get to play to our strengths. We get to do what we love to do.   KM: I think there's an energy and an openness ... It grows from the staff, I think, that in regards to always trying to make this restaurant come up with new firsts and being extraordinarily relevant and pushing the envelope, no matter what it is. Whether it's a coffee program or just the tavern beer tasting menu. It all has felt, it is, just so natural. There's no real, full-on system. I can't tell you that every Tuesday we sit down with captain, waiter, and the sous chef, and say, "How can this be better?" It just happens. There are no official meetings and that's what's incredible is that that fresh energy and that alacrity is just constant.   DM: Take a couple examples. Coffee, you just said. There's a natural sense, "Let's make our coffee better." So we taste a bunch of coffees and I guess it was about eight years ago, Gramercy Tavern picked a coffee no one had ever heard of in New York called Blue Bottle Coffee. It showed up here before it showed up anywhere else in the city, but that wasn't enough. It was then developing a really strong relationship, not supplier-purchaser relationship, but collegial respect for another artisan relationship. I would argue that, just taking that one example, that gave Blue Bottle a really wonderful opportunity to get to know New York, to have the courage to open here in New York.   Another example, I remember, one of our managers here had an idea to create a list of vintage beers. New York hadn't seen that before. Old beers on a wine list.   KM: These are areas where there wasn't anybody coming in, demanding or calling for them ... It's making choices that are going to be incredible for the overall experience, but are challenging. In regards to the time and effort, and the money that was put in to re-invest in that whole coffee program, nobody was telling us that we had to do it. Guests weren't saying "We're not coming back because the coffee's terrible."   DM: But we were telling ourselves. Good enough is never good enough ever at Gramercy Tavern.     How else have you seen the restaurant improve over the years?   MA: In my time, I've seen us not have to sacrifice the essence of the restaurant in order to challenge ourselves to do better. It takes a lot of courage to be able to say there's nothing broken, but yet.   I'll say specifically, I didn't know how to practice the concept of congratulating our team and ourselves for a job well done. That's something that I learned in coming to this organization. In the past, it always felt that self-congratulations meant arrogance. I learned the power of taking the time to celebrate a job well done, take a minute to recognize that, and then have the courage to turn around and say, "I bet tomorrow we could do it better." I think it's a quality that we share and that I don't take for granted...   It's hard to grasp that [question] because the answer is massive. If you want to talk about the physical changes, we're looking at a lot of them. It's almost in a constant state of evolution. People ask, "How do we change the menu?" The answer is, it's always changing. There's not a day that goes by that we're not contemplating a new dish. How does the drink list change? It changes with every person that comes and wants to share an idea and talk about something delicious that they've tasted.   We've improved our systems. We've added jobs to running the restaurant, and they don't come from Kevin and me saying, "Let's put a new person here." They come from testing out an idea, and having everyone say, "Wow, we're so much better over the last week with someone in that position, than we were last week. Let's keep it."   Six or seven years ago, we had someone that said, "Listen, we're all interested in charcuterie. Why don't we, instead of do them as special ... Why don't we have someone dedicated to studying that and trying to move the needle forward by coming up with recipes that truly stand out?" Every person that's worked that brand new station in our kitchen, since the time we've created it, has grown it, taken it in new directions, added to the story. Literally added new recipes, but added new reach.   We have a pickling and fermenting station. We figured that we have a meat station, a fish station, a pastry station, like every restaurant. But what we were fascinated with was building flavors in a new way, so we decided that that would be someone's full-time activity of studying pickling and fermentation.   We've added physically. To a 20 year old kitchen, we've added a brand new, custom-made Jade range, which we had to save our pennies for years in order to do an incredible job. When we finally decided to put the range in, we had to alter the kitchen in order to get the old one out and the new one in. We found out that the kitchen was actually better by not building it back. We left the door frame open so that we had a much better flow of service and communication during service. Yet, if you look at the Tavern grill, it still looks 100 years old. Not in a sloppy way, but in a really intentional way.   How did the process of writing the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook impact the restaurant and the team?   KM: The majority of the lift of that book was on Mike and Dorothy [Kalins, co-author] .... She, with Mike, wrote that book, and I think gave us the liberty in her style, starting with interviews for the individual pieces. That allowed us to speak from the heart in what our experiences were and then transcribe them so that we could then start with that and then edit them. As opposed to Dorothy or Mike saying, "Okay, Kevin, you need to sit down and write a 2 page, 500 word piece about yourself." I don't even know where I would start. I wouldn't feel very comfortable doing it. She made so many of the pieces that would probably be really difficult and like pulling teeth kind of seamless and natural. The staff loved being a part of it... Yes, it impacted business at times, but being part of a project and that book for me is different than any other cookbook.   Most people in this day and age, people are writing cookbooks in their first year, six months, first year and a half. To me, they're almost packages of trying to tell everybody what they want to be, whereas this restaurant, this book, was telling our story of who we are and who we've become. That's a much different cookbook. It's a story about this family and the history of this restaurant. You didn't have to come up with anything...   MA: The book is written, as Kevin said, from the voice of the people who are the restaurant, who have been and who are [here] currently. The book looks forward. It's not just backwards. It looks forward in the sense that it tells a story with a lot of hope and yearning. When you read that book, you are an insider to what it feels like to be a part of the family of this restaurant.   You're working on a vegetable-focused cookbook next?   MA: It is a little bit more of an individual project. I wanted to say something about my interests and inspiration and cooking vegetables specifically at the heart of the dish, the center of the dish. But very specifically, from a home cook's perspective. The book talks about, not encyclopedic knowledge about the botanical history of plants, but about my take on cooking vegetables. Helpful hints about how to make it more manageable, more delicious. And hopefully get people to understand what I feel and what chefs feel and people who work in restaurants today feel when they take a walk through the Greenmarket.   This sense of translating our knowledge of those ingredients, part of it's identifying and naming the things we cook, but giving the excitement to the idea of cooking with vegetables. It's not about vegetarianism. It's not about deprivation. It's all about a more healthy and well-rounded and exciting way to eat.   What's in the future for Gramercy Tavern?   KM: For me, I think this restaurant, it will continue to do exactly what it's done. We have to continue that story of growing the talent from within. There is a new general manager, Kim DiPalo, who's started with us about 9 years ago. She's just another confirmation of the story that we live and breathe every day in regards to attracting incredible talent, helping them grow and pushing them, and then graduating them up...   The answer is that energy will continue to push this restaurant. In what direction, what will be new or next or what will be the next first, I don't know. But I know that it's percolating in the brains and the minds of the staff. It's part of the DNA of this restaurant.   MA: Kevin is leaving the restaurant with about as fertile soil as you can imagine in a restaurant setting. The current team is performing in a way that's never been better in this restaurant. To leave a restaurant after as much time as he's spent here, and as old as the restaurant is, is incredible, and I think that Kim, being someone who is home-grown, right? Kim has worked in a lot of restaurants herself, but her training and I think her coming into being a mature manager has happened within Gramercy Tavern and in the essence of Enlightened Hospitality. There's something interesting and refreshing about seeing a woman take charge of, not just such a big place, but such an important place...   The kitchen in this restaurant has been and is going to continue to try to add to the dialogue of contemporary American cooking. We set out every day to try to say something that will take that dialogue a step further in representing what's distinctly from New York, from the Northeast, but also in the bigger dialogue of what's interesting about keeping this kind of idea of American cooking moving further. There's a sense of pride and now maturity in, not just cooking delicious food, but cooking things that are really connected to us here.   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    NEIGHBORHOOD BARBECUE

    Blue Smoke on Zagat | July 15, 2014

    BEST BARBECUE IN NYC BY NEIGHBORHOOD More

    CRAVINGS

    North End Grill's Tracy Obolsky in Food & Wine | July 14, 2014

    SWEET CORN PANNA COTTA WITH FRESH BLUEBERRY COMPOTE by TRACY OBOLSKY     TOTAL TIME: 45 MIN PLUS OVERNIGHT CHILLING   SERVINGS: 4   MAKE-AHEAD: Using sweet corn in a creamy, silky panna cotta makes for an unexpected and delicious summer dessert.   PANNA COTTA 2 ears of corn, husked 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk 1 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar   BLUEBERRY COMPOTE 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice Pinch of kosher salt 1 1/2 cups blueberries   MAKE THE PANNA COTTA In a medium pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam the corn until tender, 15 minutes. Let cool, then cut the kernels from the cobs (you should have 1 1/2 cups); discard the cobs. Transfer the kernels to a blender. Meanwhile, in a heatproof medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes.   In a small skillet, combine the remaining 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of milk with the cream, salt and both sugars and bring to a bare simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugars. Scrape the hot milk mixture into the gelatin and stir until the gelatin dissolves. Pour the mixture into the blender over the corn and puree until smooth.   Strain the puree through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the solids; discard the solids. Strain again without pressing; discard any solids in the sieve. Set the panna cotta in an ice bath until cool, stirring occasionally. Scrape the panna cotta into four 8-ounce ramekins. Cover and refrigerate overnight until firm.   MAKE THE BLUEBERRY COMPOTE In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve the panna cotta in the ramekins with the compote.   MAKE AHEAD The panna cotta can be refrigerated in the ramekins for up to 2 days. The compote can be refrigerated overnight.   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    RESTAURANT LANDMARKS

    Danny Meyer and Union Square Cafe in The Financial Times | July 12, 2014

    SCOTT'S, LONDON AND UNION SQUARE CAFE, NEW YORK Restaurateurs have opened up parts of numerous cities where other retailers feared to tread by NICHOLAS LANDERER   Scott’s in Mayfair   Three very different conversations led me to a corner table in Scott’s in Mayfair, awaiting a blonde 30 years my junior.   The first conversation had been with my wife, who was happy to have our non-meat-eating daughter take her place on this dinner date. The second had been over a drink with an American friend who is now a hedge fund manager based in Berkeley Square. He confessed that he eats out on business at least eight times a week, a number far in excess of any restaurant reviewer. When I probed him for the one restaurant he invariably chooses as the most reliable, his immediate response was “Scott’s”.   My final conversation was with Danny Meyer, the New York restaurateur, who I have known for many years and who is now facing the prospect of having to close Union Square Cafe, the restaurant that established his reputation. Meyer opened the café in what was then a rundown part of the city 30 years ago. His landlord is now demanding a 300 per cent rent increase and a lease renewal of only 10 years.   Over the past 20 years, restaurateurs have opened up parts of numerous cities where other retailers feared to tread. But it now seems they could be priced out of the very neighbourhoods that they have made safe and popular. As cities increasingly come to be defined by their restaurants, how much will their reputations suffer if and when these landmarks are forced to close? What would the citizens of Copenhagen or Girona have had to spend to generate the excitement that the chefs at Noma or El Celler de Can Roca have delivered on their behalf?   London is fortunate in that it still possesses several restaurants that have become landmarks in their own right. The most venerable are Rules, opened in 1798; J Sheekey in 1894; Bentleys in 1916; and Scott’s, which began life on the Haymarket in 1851 before transferring to its current location in 1968.   Roasted cod with chorizo   History is not, of course, enough to guarantee survival in a business where any reputation is only as good as the last meal served, and Scott’s went through a dismal era before its renovation under Richard Caring in 2007. Today, I am reliably informed, it can take more than £35,000 on a busy day.   Union Square Café and Scott’s are different in many ways but their success has two essential factors in common. The first, and less obvious, is just what a gamble opening any restaurant is and quite how strongly that early hunch about a location has to be backed up. Back in 1985 the 27-year-old Meyer was gambling practically his entire savings. By 2007 Caring was not only a successful businessman but also the owner of The Ivy and Le Caprice. He could certainly afford the £3.5m renovation Scott’s required but socially he had far more to lose. A Mount Street address was not then the haven it is today.   The other crucial factor is that the restaurateur must ensure that what is inside the front door of the restaurant matches what is outside. In this regard, Meyer was a visionary. Union Square’s menu of friendly, approachable dishes based on the produce of the nearby Greenmarket struck an immediate chord with those who lived and worked nearby.   Caring started with an advantage in that fish had been the leitmotif of the Scott’s menu for decades. Fish appeals equally to men and women; it commands a reasonably high sales price; and it can be served swiftly to those, particularly at lunch, who are “cash rich but time poor”.   Scott’s menu is written very much with such customers in mind (even printing the restaurant’s wifi password). Two bearded chefs man the magnificent crustacean bar in the centre of the room, compiling many of the cold first courses, a system that allows the kitchen to concentrate on the mains.   Our first courses – six different varieties of oysters served with hot wild boar sausages and a ceviche of sea bass, served cool, laced with avocado and enlivened with jalapeño chilli – were excellent but it was the grilled fish of the day that was stunningly good. This was a whole turbot for two, its skin salted, the flesh still firm and gelatinous. It was the finest version of this dish I have eaten anywhere other than Elkano near San Sebastian, which has the advantage of overlooking the sea. With it, we drank a 50cl carafe of 2011 Alsace Pinot Blanc from Domaine Ostertag and, with dessert, racked up a bill of £230.   Londoners are fortunate that the Scott’s management is intent on preserving its landmark status. I hope New Yorkers will be equally fortunate with the future of 21 E 16th Street.   -------------------------------------------   Scott’s 20 Mount Street, London W1K 2HE, 020 7495 7309; scotts-restaurant.com   Union Square Cafe 21 E 16th Street, New York 10003, 001 212 243 4020; unionsquarecafe.com   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    VANILLA RICOTTA

    Gramercy Tavern's Miro Uskokivc on Serious Eats | July 10, 2014

    HEY CHEF, WHAT CAN I DO WITH VANILLA BEANS? by Jacqueline Raposo   Welcome to Hey Chef, a series where we ask pros around the country for tips on how to use ingredients we love. Today, whole-pod vanilla.     High-quality whole vanilla beans are not always easy to find, but when affordable ones come our way there are few things more fun to play around with. Gently sliced open and freed of from their pods with the flat edge of a knife, vanilla beans add incredible depth and richness to the most simple of desserts, like easy chocolate puddings or whipped cream spooned over fruit. But to help us get outside our comfort zones, these four chefs dish up savory and smoky-sweet ways to get the most out of those precious little pods.   Infuse Homemade Ricotta   Pastry chef Miroslav Uskokovic worked under Jean-Georges Chef Joe Murphy (and former chef Johnny Iuzzini) before creating his own menus at George Mendes' Aldea and, currently, at Union Square Hospitality Group's Gramercy Tavern.   [Photograph: Maryse Chevriere]   I love to make ricotta and I love vanilla ricotta. I have it on the menu: a house-made vanilla ricotta we serve with a poppy seed cake and sherbet. We slowly bring the milk and cream up to a boil—with vanilla seeds and pods—and we let it steep for an hour. Then we add some acid to make it curdle and then strain it, but we leave the vanilla pods in the curd so they'll continue to steep overnight. We'll save the whey and give it to the savory cooks; they use it a lot, especially to cook polenta.   We also make our own house-made extract, so whatever pods we have left we mix them with vodka. We don't have a proportion, but probably for a liter of vodka we use around 40 pods, which kind of get preserved in alcohol, so we just keep on adding vodka and pods as we go, and let it sit for at least a week or two. Gramercy Tavern is a big restaurant and there are constantly pods accumulating, so were usually have four bottles going at a time. We use outstanding beans, so we don't waste any of them and try to use as much as we can. We make a vanilla salt, too, infusing Maldon salt and using it as a garnish or seasoning throughout the year.   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    DESSERT TRENDS

    North End Grill's Tracy Obolsky in Nation's Restaurant News | July 9, 2014

    RESTAURANTS PAIR DESSERTS WITH WINE, BEER AND MORE The bar and the kitchen team up to elevate the dessert experience   by FERN GLAZER   Robert's Maine Grill serves a Whoopie Pie and Milk dessert.   Wine, beer and cocktails are often paired with the food menu, but dessert tends to be overlooked. That may be changing as the bar and the back-of-the-house are teaming up at some restaurants to offer dessert and drink pairings designed to elevate the end-of-the-meal experience.   At Easy Bistro and Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn., chef and owner Erik Niel and head bartender Laura Kelton are pairing classic desserts with unexpected cordials, wine and beer.   “As a chef and wine director, the idea of pairing food and drink is like breathing,” said Niel. “It just makes sense.”   Current dessert pairings include a house-made Kumquatcello and a seasonal Strawberry Shortcake. Niel and Kelton put the two together because they like the way the shortcake’s savory biscuit goes with the sweet citrus and how the richness of the cream is cut by the high proof of the liquor.   Also offered as a go-together is the Bourbon Bread Pudding and Green Flash’s Double Stout. While bourbon might be the obvious beverage choice, Niel wanted to do something subtler. He explains that the stout’s rich body of chocolate and coffee boosts the sweetness of the bread pudding, and its mild effervescence draws out the heat from the dessert’s candied and spiced pecans.   Easy Bistro and Bar serves Bourbon Bread Pudding with Green Flash's Double Stout.   “With these pairings, especially in the dessert realm, you can create new flavor profiles in tried and true dessert,” adds Niel.   North End Grill serves a Cherry-Cola Ice Cream Sundae with a sparkling dessert wine.   North End Grill serves a Cherry-Cola Ice Cream Sundae with a sparkling dessert wine. End-of-meal combinations are the whole point of Red Light Cocktails & Dessert Bar in Washington, D.C., a recently opened concept dedicated entirely to desserts and craft cocktails that pair well. Diners can order from a prix fixe menu featuring a selection of thoughtful unions culled from executive chef Robert Underwood’s daily seasonal selection of desserts and a distinctive cocktail menu created by brothers Ari and Micah Wilder, or pick and choose their own pairs. Desserts currently available include items such as Black & Tan Donuts, Quinoa Brulee Pudding and Pistachio Tea Cakes. The Wilder brothers’ dessert-like cocktail menu features concoctions such as the Cake Shake, made with red velvet cupcake, homemade ice cream, dark rum, velvet falernum and cocoa bitters; and the Cherry Bomb, made with bourbon, Cherry Heering liqueur, lemon, Prosecco and Angostura bitters.   At North End Grill in New York City, pastry chef Tracy Obolsky offers a Cherry-Cola Ice Cream Sundae, made with cherries, cola ice cream, cola granita, vanilla whipped cream, and fizzy cherry candy, that is paired with Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille, a sparkling dessert wine. The dessert was inspired by Obolsky’s childhood love of cherry cola, and she says the pairing was made because the Bugey-Cerdon has a ripe candied cherry note that complements the cherries in the sundae and adds the essential fizz needed to complete the nostalgic experience.   At Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, Maine, the pairing doesn’t come from the bar, but the purpose is still about improving the dessert experience. The farm-to-table meets-big-Maine-seafood-house restaurant offers the Whoopie Pie and Milk, a made-from scratch Maine classic (it’s the state dessert) and a cold glass of milk.   “[The Whoopie Pie and Milk] has been wildly popular and has a bit of a cult following,” said Robert’s owner Michael Landgarten. “Pairings in general are so much more interesting—[it] turns a one-dimensional experience into a multi-layered one.”   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)

    A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER

    The Modern's Marc Aumont in Saveur | July 9, 2014

    21 CAKES FOR OUR 20TH BIRTHDAY   No matter how old you are, you deserve a homemade cake on your birthday—the more decadent and over-the-top, the better. This July, which marked SAVEUR's 20th birthday, our pastry chef friends outdid themselves: From towering layer cakes to deconstructed plated desserts to sculptures made entirely of chocolate, we received a wide range of creative, decadent, and beautifully constructed—not to mention delicious—birthday cakes from pastry chefs, home-bakers, and bloggers including Dominique Ansel, Sherry Yard, Brooks Headley, Izy Hossack, and Sarah Kieffer. Check out all 21 cakes below—one for each year of the magazine, plus one for good luck!   Credit: Helen Rosner   "Happy 20th birthday to SAVEUR Magazine and all of your readers! May your sphere of knowledge and influence continue to grow! We’re honored to be part of your social circle."   —Marc Aumont, pastry chef at The Modern   White chocolate mousse cake with raspberry gelée and citrus dacquoise enclosed in a white chocolate sphere with chocolate accents   (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)