Thursday, October 1, 2015

At the Chef's Table with Dan Barber at Forager's Market (W.S.J.)

The Wall Street Journal is hosting a series of Chef's Table dinners, launching with Dan Barber of Blue Hill notoriety.  A champion of farm-to-table and then some, Chef Barber was on hand to discuss his new book, The Third Plate, a comprehensive look at the future of food from a very knowledgeable, fore-thinking and involved perspective.  Unfortunately, it was not he who cooked the actual meal, although Forger's Table chef Nickolas Martinez provided a superb repast using, utilizing showcasing and capitalizing on the marketiest of market-fresh ingredients.  A vegetable-centric meal, it was not wholly vegetarian, but it was wholly satisfying.  Which is basically the point of Barber's book: that we can be nourished and sated without the crutch of animal proteins, while certainly not abandoning their importance both culinarily and nutritively.

After a preamble, the microphone was opened up to seated diners for a Q&A, the Q's of which were mostly quite thoughtful, and the A's were throrough, to say the least.  Mr. Barber can get a little wordy, but it only reinforces his passion.  Luckily, we were served as he spoke and not after, so nobody was left to starve as the conversation evolved.  And certainly, starve we did not.  A welcome cocktail the sang the virtues of autumn: a hard apple cider and Core vodka concoction from Harvest Spirits in Valatie, NY.  It was simultaneously warming and refreshing, a bit spicy and boozy, with a nice apply sweetness. 

But summer not being far long gone, one of the hors d'oeuvres consisted of tiny cubed watermelon in a refreshing yuzu juice.  The other was a unctuous button of warm, creamy ricotta topped with a tangy tomato jam.  Little name tags designated our seats, and wines from Bonny Doon Vineyards in California were poured and refilled methodically: a jammy red Grenache and a lovely, clean Albarino, both wildly drinkable.   Seated, we were provided a hearty cheese and squash gougere, two-bite big and equally full of flavor.  The first course was a ruddy tomato-pepper gazpacho, latently peppery and drizzled with a vibrant herby oil.  Small, chewy croutons floated within, giving the smooth puree a bit of texture.    The main course was also of nightshades, a chunky Moroccan-spiced stew of meaty eggplant,
 topped with a wobbly, barely-poached 65 Degrees (the farm, not the temperature, although "rare" is it was, the cooking temperature probably didn't make it much above that) Forager's farm egg and a delicate crisp of blue buckwheat, one of the grains Barber champions.

Our dessert was so responsible any caloric impact I'm certain was entirely negated.  The whey used to poach the grapes was retained from the ricotta appetizer, a honeyed Bostock was made of day-old brioche from the market, and the plums and peaches reduced to a syrupy coulis were imperfect seconds.... perhaps eyesores for a grocery-worthy fruit display, but full of potent flavor.  Alongside was a little scoop of espresso ice cream, which I'd like to thing was made from brewed coffee that didn't get sold, but I'm totally making that up. 

At any rate, the dinner was a hit, the evening, quite a success.  I took away (along with the bountiful gift bag), the important of popularizing a grain-based diet... not bagels and Uncle Ben's, of course.  But emmer and einkorn, quinoa and buckwheat, heirloom strains being reinvigorated by farmers, that are nutritious both to a human consumer and to the soils in which they grow.   I, personally, adored my question to Dan about
 flipping government subsidies away from big, commodity corn and soy producers to small, organic farms that practiced responsible crop rotation and sustainable farming techniques.  I even got a kudos from a fellow diner, which meant more to me than the fact the Chef Barber believes it's more important that chefs promulgate an emphasis on grain-based diets as the most sustainable, delicious and hip way to eat.  But hey.  He's the chef, and what do I call my blog, after all?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I had high hopes for Vic's, a market-driven new-ish-comer to Marc Meyer and Victoria Freeman's Cookshop restaurant group.  They're doing all the right things: fresh, farmer-inspired cuisine, friendly service and relaxed, unfussy decor in the comfortable space on Great Jones street that used to be Five Points.  The food is mostly prepared in a wood-burning oven, a delightful trend, by chef Hillary Sterling.  So Vic's has a lot going for it: strong reputation, solid sourcing and a female chef- all of which are assets in my book.  I'm assuming Vic is short for Victoria, and unfortunately like that abbreviation, some of the execution was similarly deficient at times.  Overall, I had a very enjoyable evening and a pleasant repast, although there were some noticeable shortcomings.
Our server, however, was en pointe: chipper and attentive.  We were offered house sparkling or still water immediately, and our orders taken in an unforced but timely manner.  We took her up on the bread that was offered but not automatically dispersed on the table.  I think this is a pretty good thing- for carbophobes, people with actual allergies, tempted dieters, or just those whoe don't need extra starch.  It's less wasteful.  That said, all of ours got devoured: thick, chewy slices with a faint sour and heavy, rustic crust. 

The "Mercato" section of the menu featured a bounty of orchard-y treats, but those we chose read better on the menu than they were plated.  Beets, already sweet, had a sugary plum glaze and shreds of crisp raw fennel dusted with a little too much gritty black pepper.  Turnips, which I erroneously assumed would be roasted, were instead raw, fanned out beneath a shroud of robust pecorino grated with a heavy hand.  The mature turnips had a distinct bitterness which led to a powerful flavor rivalry between them, the cheese and a virile classic pesto.  I actually liked
 a bit of the cheese on the beets, and some crisp fennel to moderate the impact of the turnips, but with the very seasonal, rapidly changing menu, you  might have to come up with your own adaptations.

The Pizzas (made with New York state flour) have there own section, and the versions on the table next to us were deliciously fragrant.  The preparations riff on traditional without going too out-there: a little thyme and chili atop a pie with  soppressata and a white pie tinged green with zucchini and green chiles.   And while our neighbors tackles a pie apiece, one could easily be shared for a hearty dinner with a Mercato, Contorni or Antipasto side.  Entrees are similarly generous.   A big hunk of poached cod was delightfully flaky and flavorful, perched atop a bed of tasty kale and cannellini beans, but the beans  were woefully undercooked, giving them a powdery, crumbly quality and didn't allow their starches to properly thicken the broth beneath, which ended up too watery and thin.  While the fish itself was perfection, its underlings needed a little more time to catch up.  Now, for the flank steak we requested it rare, and they made good on that... I'm sure I heard a little mooing when the bushel of cress and peppy, harissa-spiked green
beans were toppled aside.  The exterior had a perfect, smoky-spiced char, and inside was quite possibly the textbook definition of rare.... too much for my tastes, but my tablemate gobbled it down excitedly.  This was good, because it allowed me to steal a few more of the green beans than I otherwise might have been able to: they were stellar- smoky and spicy.   Just for fun, we tried the eggplant and peppers from Contorni.  From what I could tell, any of the Contorni, Mercato and Antipasti could be interchangeable.  Antipasti are more varied and pricey while the other two are primarly vegetable-if-not-vegetarian, but there is definitely overlap.  The
 eggplant was slick and steamy, doing that thing that eggplant does so well, sopping up oil and flavor and using it to its best advantage.  The peppers exhibited unpredictable amounts of heat, the spicier of which made good use of chewy, oily croutons to tamp their intermittent fire.

Dessert was definitely a high point.  We were undecided among the choices, and while my dining companion was jonesing for the rich gianduja tart or chocolate-sauced ricotta bomboloni, our waitress sided with me on the honey semifreddo, much to my delight.  And with the size of it, she might as well've sat down and helped up finish it, because it's easily shareable for two and then some.   Inarguably luscious, though, it combines the simple elegance of the creamy semifreddo with the honey-almond croccante, achieving the homey nostalgia of toasted marshmallow, but impossibly cool and creamy. 

Another highlight were, amusingly, the restrooms: the stall doors are white-washed shutters, the men's room walls painted in striking red with zebras, the ladies' the immersive peachy-pink of undulating flamingos.   It's a playful, thoughtful attention to detail that might be a little lacking in the menu itself.  But the thought is there in all aspects, and on many levels, that's a lot of what counts.

31 Great Jones Street
tel.  (212)253-5700

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Harvest in the Square 2015

The sight of white tents erected in a city park immediately conjures up a sense of excitement.  All to often it's something exclusive and inaccessible, but this time it was Harvest in the Square's 20th anniversary, and I was lucky enough to procure tickets.  Funds raised go to an excellent cause (the Union Square Partnership), and plus, it's like dinner and a show.  There were a ton of participants, filling th eentire north end of the park, with a dj spinning catchy tunes and an ebullient energy spilling out onto the streets.

This Harvest put (in increasing order of interest) Javelina, Tasca Chino, Barbounia, Adalya, The House, Union Square Cafe and Black Barn on my hit-list, amongst others I already know and love well... and yeah, a couple of flops.  But overall the food was great- far too much to list
Matteo Bergamini's Cauliflower
comprehensively, along with beverages alcoholic and non-.  Some of the highlights were as follows:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Stirrings at the old Biltmore Room/The Gates

Restaurateur Charlie Casanova and chef Jayson Marguiles (from Robert's Steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club) will open an American continental-ish eatery in the old Biltmore Room space on 8th Avenue in Chelsea.  Many of the historic (read: gorgeous) fixtures will remain, so here's hoping the menu will live up.  First glance shows the menu to be a little conventional, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt: Marguiles has a strong repertoire.  More information as it evolves....

Thursday, September 10, 2015


No longer will you be able to just nip into one of the Bouluds for a bite during the shows, as NYFW has moved its primary location to Moynihan Station at 360 West  33d.  Dining options are of a distinctly different feel than the were up at Lincoln Center, but there are many more options at an array of price points.  Here are some of my favorites:

1.  Txikito  Stellar, seasonal Basque tapas and a cozy, low-key atmosphere.  Super beverage-friendly, as a good tapas place must be.   240 9th Avenue.   And if wine is of greater importance to you than the meal, its sister restaurant El Quinto Pino is just right around the corner.

2.  Tia Pol  A geographically more expansive take on tapas,  but no less authentic or wonderful.   205 10th Avenue

3.  Trestle on Tenth  Central European cuisine in the heart of Chelsea.  If the temperatures (will PLEASE!) moderate, they have a lovely garden as well.   242 10th Avenue

4.  Co.  has the best pizza in the 'hood.  (If pizza will be your provisions backstage, please do not feed the models a crappy slice.  Get pies from Co.)  Great salads round out the menu.  230 9th Avenye

5.  The Red Cat has been a Chelsea staple since '99, but it's still going strong.  Super seasonal American cuisine from Jimmy Bradley that spans from creative to classic.  227 10th Avenue

6.  Porchlight  In addition to being a master of hospitality, Danny Meyer's Midas Touch seems to embody a bit of prescience as well.  Here, the vibe is lively and the food snacky, but it's destined to be a Fashion Week hotspot given its proximity to Moynihan and the team behind it.  And depending on the day, it's open 'til midnight or 2AM, so get ready to party on the porch.  271 11th Avenue

7.  Grand Sichuan International is apparently now Chelsea Chinese, which is a less reliable-sounding name, but the reviews I see seem to hint that the quality remains.  It won't be the best Chinese food you'd ever have, but they serve some particularly tasty vittles (the soup dumplings are note-worthy, and even some of the more experimental dishes are solid).  They don't seem to have a website, but I think that actually lends to their authenticity.  229 9th Avenue

Anyways, if you attend fashion week all seven days, that gives you one destination per day.  There are many more reliable joints in the neighborhood, so feel free to explore (Chelseans are discriminating).  And if you're headed to Skylight or Milk, I'll try and get some recommendations up before the end of the shows.   For now, you're on your own down there.  But if you read some prior posts here on Follow the Chef NYC, you'll find quite a few worthy destinations in the Meatpacking District, where Milk Studios are located.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Not the chef, but a well-respected New York wine expert guided me here, although that recommendation came awhile back.  Still, Tiny's has been on my radar for quite some time, and for whatever reason it popped back into my consciousness last week, and a glimpse at the menu inspired a prompt reservation.  Tiny's isn't tiny by any stretch of a New York imagination.  Few and far between are family-owned, town-housed, two story restaurants in this city.  Chef Paul Warthen works a homey, modern American menu influenced with Southern and French touches into the rustic, barn-y setting near the base of Tribeca.

It describes itself as a neighborhood restaurant, with which I wholly concur, and hereby proclaim that if a place describes itself as "neighborhoody" and it's NOT in my neighborhood, I better have a specific motivation for the visit.  Now, this isn't to berate Tiny's at all- had it been local I most certainly would've been swayed by its charms.  It's just pretty far down the scape of the city, so the commute exacerbated some of its weaker attributes.  The attractive waitstaff, however, was very welcoming, easy-going and relaxed so as to make you feel just the same.  One of the things that attracted me on the online menu was the indication of daily specials: "more to come (and it will be tasty)" for the starters, and additional
 entrees were promised to be "coming soon: something special and wildly delicious".  There were no special entrees, however, and but a single "tasty" appetizer addition.  Thus, we stuck to the menu, arm-wrestling for the arugula salad (I won) with its array of seasonal goodies: plump local blueberries and rosy sweet beets nestled under ribbons of thinly sliced zucchini, softened slightly.  Puffing up brown rice that clumped into little hillocks made for the world's greatest nut substitute.  It would've been quite a perfect salad had it not been overdressed in its viscous strawberry vinaigrette.  In fact, the salad as a whole was on the skimpy side, so simply doubling the
amount of arugula (it was listed as an arugula salad, after all, although that was the scantiest
ingredient) would have so easily solved every problem, and made it look less meager in comparison with the other salad on the menu, a Waldorf-y kale.  This one seemed entirely bereft of dressing, which was disappointing because maple-mustard atop kale would've made stellar bedfellows.  It did, however, have enough flavorful shreds of gouda, along with chunky walnuts, celery and local apples to result in a tasty whole.

Even if there had been "special and wildly delicious" additions to the entrees, I still may have selected the Bream Barigoule, fresh off such a magnificent barigoule at Aviary in Portland.  Unfortunately, even had I not that impeccable one to compare, this one suffered for its simplicity.  An overly acid broth leached all the meaty earthiness out of a gorgeous halved artichoke, leaving it not much better than those from a can.  The skin-on filets were fresh, but slightly overcooked, which might've gone unnoticed had the wan broth offered any oomph to mask the shortfall.  It had all the complexity of canned broth with an abundance boiled vegetable cubes thrown in- a disappointment, even to someone who can overlook many inadequacies 
if placated with enough vegetables.  In fact, aside from the arugula salad, portion generosity is nary an issue here.  A behemoth pork chop shared a plate with bacony green beans, a mound of nubby, immaculate Castle Mill Valley polenta and a big, crumbly jalapeno cornbread muffin, piled high on the plate.  There was barely room for the chunky, sweet-tart pickled pear salsa, a novel deviation from the pork-chops-and-apple sauce rut.  Plus, it paired well with the jalapeno aspect of the muffin; tame as though it was, the dense muffin was marvelously corny, and served
us both , since there was no bread readily available throughout the course or the meal.  The chop was remarkably juicy, and heavy with a pungent smokiness.  We also went for a side of ratatouille, which arrived with more of that thick polenta: this eight dollar side could've made a small but hearty vegetarian meal.  Normally, I want my side to be veg, but these were some great grits, creamy and heartily textured underneath a saucy classic ratatouille.

I hate saying the best part of the meal was dessert... it seems so obvious and pedestrian (I mean, "yum... butter and sugar.")  But here it definitely was, and that's not to say that the dinner part of the repast was so unimpressive so much as that they served up one fine peach crumble.  It was crumbly-rich, its streusel brown sugared and buttery, with a warm, gentle nudge of cinnamon.  But the peaches were the elements de resistence.  Obviously juicy-ripe beauties to begin with, they were cooked down until all those juices concentrated, the fruit intensified to glorious levels. The only thing that could've improved this dish would've been a scoop of ice cream instead of creamy fresh whipped cream... but that is a flimsy and opinion-driven criticism.   Tiny's does a good job at exactly what it wants to be: a warm a welcoming neighborhood treasure.  A couple of kinks shouldn't dissuade from a visit.... if you're in the 'hood.

             tel. (212) 374-1135


Wednesday, September 2, 2015


A funky. spontaeous summer fling for the Biwa team: Kotori is an open-air yakitori shack located just down the street from its mother, probably the best Japanese restaurant in Portland.  Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz oversee the
charcoal grills that perfume the air with a smoky allure- it's practically impossible to keep your salivary glands from going into overdrive as soon as your approach the pebbled triangle on the corner of SE 9th and Pine.  Colorful paper lanterns are suspended from a matrix of bamboo over wooden planks that serve as a make-shift standing bar.  Doesn't provide much shade, but the leafy trees surrounding will fulfill that duty throughout the rest of the summer.  Come fall, the mild Oregon sun won't need any buffering, and we're not even sure how long Kotori's coal will continue to burn: it's a fairly exposed situation, and that bamboo won't be of much use when Portland's signature autumn drizzle kicks in.

But in the meantime, Kotori is a celebration of summer, and more importantly, of chicken.  Yakitori is basically variations of chicken... EVERY part of the chicken... on skewers.  Little paper menus are provided, and you mark off the quantity of whichever delicacies you choose.   The first thing you should check off is the #lovewins, a frisky, refreshing cocktail made with cucumber and aperol.  Cocktails don't always work with food, but this drink and these vittles are a #lovewinning combination.  Oolong-hi is less sweet, a manlier tipple but just as balanced and drinkable.  They have quite a composed drink menu for such a focused little joint: perfectly suited wines and ciders, a few beers and a pair of sakes are all excellent options.  And while
 Kotori is totally chicken-centric, man cannot live on chicken alone, so there are a smattering of  vegetables and condiments on hand.   A Japanese-style elote is not to be missed: the Kewpie might have been squiggled on a little thick, but rolling it around on the plate to smear up with the thick coat of zesty spices eliminates some of it, and if ever there was justification for such an indulgence, this cob is it.   We got some
 shishito peppers and shiitake mushrooms as well, which were virtually unseasoned if at all (not
even salt, far as I could tell), so their purpose is serve as backdrops to the main show (and placate vegephiles such as myself).  Or you can veer Asian with a little crock of kimchi, or 360 back American-style with homemade potato salad.

In terms of poultry, the thigh with green onion was my favorite.  The nuggets of meat were so juicy,  intrinsically chickeny and interlaced with the allium.  Simple, perfect, elemental flavors. Tsukune is a soft, highly seasoned Japanese sausage, redolent of ginger and soy with a subtle sweetness.  While there are also a couple of non-chicken items available, just order the Teba, and get a full-fledged hotdog-tasting experience without deviating focus.  I had actually kind of forgotten what a hotdog tasted like, but this wing'll conjure up the best memories you never
 had of Oscar Mayer.  Less thrilling to me was kebab of hearts.  They shared the spongey texture of the shiitakes, actually, which is great in a mushroom but something to get used to in meat.  They had that signature cardiac, metallic  flavor: you either like it or you don't.  

There are no desserts to offer at Kotori, so either slug back another #lovewins, or better yet, head up the block to Pinolo for some uber-authentic Italian gelato, featuring both classics and the best Pacific Northwest flavors.   True: Salt & Straw is just up the street as well, but so is their line.  And after such a pure and uncomplicated repast at Kotori, garam masala and cinnamon cauliflower ice cream might seem a little convoluted.  Definitely nail the Organic Blackberry sorbet, that pairs famously with a scoop of lemon (two flavors to a Small, three for a medium and so on).  Amarena features big, lusty cherries, seductively dark and chewy.  Pistachio is the
 frozen-cold creamy state of the nut itself, somehow tasting more pistachioey than pistachios themselves.  Peach gelato?  In Oregon, with sink peaches at their drippiest?  Ethereal.  People know what is good: there's still a swarm at Pinolo, but nothing compared to the two blocks long snake outside Salt & Straw.  Here, you'll have just enough of a wait to decide amongst all the glorious flavors.  A perfect summer evening?  Kotori and Pinolo.  Somehow, in Portland, Japanese and Italy go hand in hand.

 Corner of SE 9th Street and Pine Street
No phone.

3703 SE Division St.
tel. 503-758-1575