Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Breakfast.... at HOME!

Spend Time With Your Family and Cook Ahead!

I've spent the year talking about where to go eat... so I thought I would use this blog to tell you to stay home and cook.

Merry Christmas.

A Christmas tradition at my house for as long as I can remember, is a Christmas morning brunch for all to enjoy, while those who decided to sleep in finally dragged themselves out of bed.

The main dish is prepared ahead and simply baked off, and the grits would go together in 10 minutes. When it was all hot, it could stay on the counter for hours next to a pot of hot coffee and cold orange juice. It just wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Unfortunatly, only 3 people on this earth have the recipe I am speaking of, so I scoured the trades for another that I though would be as good, and found the recipes below from author Tracey Koch. They are listed below... and look delish.

Enjoy a wonderful holiday... I'll see you right here in 2007.


Cinnamon Streusel Breakfast Bread Pudding with Warm Maple Syrup

Serves 6.

1 stick butter, melted
1 loaf French bread (cut into 1 1/2-inch slices)
4 large eggs
1 cup granulatedsugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups whole or low-fat milk
2 tbls. vanilla
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
2 tbls. ground cinnamon
Warm Butter Maple Syrup (recipe follows)

Warm Butter Maple Syrup
4 tbls. butter
1 cup maple syrup

1. Place the butter in a microwave-safe dish and heat on high for 30 to 40 seconds or until melted.
2. Add the maple syrup to the melted butter and heat another 20 to 30 seconds or until the mixture is heated through.

1. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy.
3. Slowly add in the granulated sugar, salt, milk and vanilla and continue to whisk until all is incorporated.
4. In a smaller mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon.
5. Arrange half of the French bread slices in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. (The bread should fit very close together, touching, but not overlapping.) Then brush the bread with 3 more tablespoons of melted butter.
6. Slowly pour half of the egg mixture evenly over the bread, making sure to coat each piece. Then sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top.
7. Repeat the steps ending with the streusel topping. Allow bread pudding to sit at least 2 hours or overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
8. To bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the bread pudding from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
9. Bake uncovered 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean and bread pudding is puffed and browned. Serve warm with Warm Butter Maple Syrup.
Kitchen helpers: Kids will be eager to help in buttering the bread slices and the pan, whisking the egg mixture and combining the streusel topping.

Sausage and Cheese Baked Grits

Serves 6.

1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
4 cups water
1 cup grits
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbl. butter
1/4 cup milk
3 ozs. cream cheese
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1. In a large skillet, sauté the bulk sausage until browned well. Drain and set aside.
2. Bring water to a rolling boil and add salt.
3. Stir in grits and allow them to come back to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to simmer until all of the water is gone, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
5. Remove from heat and add in the butter, milk, cream cheese and 1 cup of the Cheddar cheese. Mix until all of the cheese is melted.
6. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
7. Fold the sausage into the cheese grits mixture and pour into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese and cover. Place casserole into the refrigerator until ready to bake. (This dish can be made one day in advance.)
8. To bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Kitchen helpers: Kids will be able to help in grating cheese, measuring the ingredients and mixing everything together.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Give New York For Christmas

It's Never Too Late To Send A Little NYC Cheer

Christmas is upon us. The tree at Rockefeller Plaza is glowing, skaters are skating and shoppers are frantic. Chestnuts are roasting on streetside carts… and folks like you and I are working to get that final gift or two off of our list.

Each year I make it a point to try and use local fare in my gift giving. When I was in Chicago, it was Garrett’s Popcorn. In Los Angeles, it was Dupar’s Pies. In Baton Rouge, it was boudin balls from Tony’s.

Now that I fancy myself a New Yorker, I have been researching my gift-giving options. In a city that offers so many amazing culinary treats, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites… just in time for Christmas! If you need that one last special gift, click on the websites below. If not, keep this list handy next time you need that special something that says, “I live in New York, and you don’t”.

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Gift of Crazy-Good Chocolate
Jacques Torres Chocolate

As much as I love Lindt, Godiva, M & M’s… Jaques Torres just does it for me. His hot chocolate is the most decadent stuff I have ever tasted, but when I can’t get it I opt for his chocolate covered cherrios. Two (2) NYC locations including a post in Dumbo.

I Need My Bagels
H & H Bagels
Know a special someone who once lived in the Village, but now lives in Iowa? How about sending them a bag of warm, crusty bagels? As popular as H & H is locally, they claim to ship thousands of bagels across the country daily. I’ll have mine with some schmear.

Send It All

It may be one of the best kitchen/foodshops in the world, and it seems I hit them every year when I get stuck on what the hell to get someone.
The champion of gifts is the “Zabars is New York” box, which includes… ready?.... Zabar's Nova, kosher salami, pastrami, Zabar's deli mustard, Jewish rye bread, plain and scallion cream cheese, Zabar's chocolate babka, Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno cookies, a Lindt raspberry-filled chocolate bar, DiCamillo biscotti, Pernigotti moon and star Italian chocolates, Zabar's cinnamon rugelach, Betsy's Place chocolate chip cookies, New York cheddar cheese biscuits, assorted fresh-baked New York bagels, Le Trouvillais sables fruit cookies, a Zabar's coffee mug and a pound of Zabar's Blend ground coffee. You’ll be a stud.

Send A Weiner
Schaller & Weber
Few places on earth warm my heart like Schaller & Weber, and I’ll tell you why. Homemade black forest hams, snap skin hot dogs, amazing salami, perfect brats and maybe the best selection of German mustard in NYC. A visit to this Upper East Side landmark is a joy, but when I can’t get there, I order online.

Now Thatsa Pie!
Little Pie Company

When people think of NY pies, the usually think pizza, and not apple. But at this gem of a spot, real New Yorker know that the best pies in the city spring from these ovens. All of their pies are simply delicious… but make no mistake, the Sour Cream Apple Walnut is truly one of the best pies you’ll ever taste.

What A Friend We Have In Cheeses

Murray’s Cheese
There was a time when ordering cheese mail order meant pecan logs and smoked gouda.
Thanks to establishments like Murray’s, New York’s most famous cheese purveyors, you can order nearly anything under the sun, and all of the goodies that go with.

Spread Love

If you haven’t been to Sarabeth’s Central Park South restaurant, you’ve missed something special… warm breads with the city’s best jam.
Her signature Cloudberry is now an Aquavit favorite, but I still opt for her Peach-Apricot and Cherry-Plum, which are as good as they sound. Oh yea, her Budapest Bundt Cake is also

Moby Drinks Tea
I’m not sure what I like better… having tea at Teany in the East Village, or walking around the neighborhood when I am finished. Even though I fancy myself a coffee guy, the Earl Grey Crème is fantastic stuff, and you can now ship it to your favorite ex-New Yorker, and then brag about having lunch at Inoteca next door.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Spotlight on L.A. : Mario Travels West!

"Mozza" Collaboration Produces LA's Best Pizza, Period.

It was just a matter of time the look, feel and taste of a trendy NYC restaurant landed in Los Angeles… and low and behold, it’s arrived.

Sure, Nancy Silverton is well known for her stellar Campanile, but why did it take this long for partners Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich to make their way west?

Whatever the reason, it has been worth the wait.

Mozza is truly a slice of heaven… and believe it or not, Nancy and Mario have reinvented the pizza.

Walking into Mozza, I immediately likened the room to something you might discover in the Grenwich Village area of New York. The lights are reminiscent of Mario’s OTTO, and the room painted boldly.

NOTE: For those of you wanting to experience Mozza soon, walk away from the computer now and call for a reservation… you’re gonna need it.

The menu at Mozza also reminds you of OTTO, except the dishes are wonderfully different. There are no pasta dishes at Mozza (the Osteria opens in a few months) but the menu is loaded with antipasti, insalate, sliced cured meats, bruschette, panini… and of course… incredible pizza.

Antipasti is far from normal at Mozza, with selections that range from crispy, delectable Fried Squash Bottoms with Ricotta… to more tradidtional Roasted Beets with Hazelnuts. Salad dishes are appealing, but with the delicious meats including Coppa, Lardo (made from the back of the pig and is prepared by first cutting the meat and treating the individual pieces with salt and spices such as cinnamon) and Proscuitto, as well as White Bean Bruschette… well, you need a bigger stomach.

As good as all this stuff is, the pizza is the star. One pizza is individual sized (cut into 4 nice sized pieces) but if you don’t order several and share, you’ll miss the boat.

At the top of the list you’ll find a simple tomato, olive oil and oregano version… and then it gets fantastic. Fennel sausage, panna and red onion…. Littleneck clams, garlic, oregano and cheese….Lambs quarters with cacao di roma…. Long cooked broccoli, caciocavallo and pepperocini…. Lardo, rosemary and olive oil… spicy salami, mozzarella and chilis…. and the list goes on and on.

I wish I could liken this pizza to another, but honestly it isn’t quite like anything I have ever had. The toppings are well seasoned and perfect.. and the tomato sauce sweetened unmistakably by San Marzano tomatoes… but the crust is magnificent. Imagine a two layered thin and crispy/chewy pastry dough. Not to tough… and just the right balance of flavor to hold what’s on top. It’s unique… and downright delicious.
I am giddy that Mozza has opened to such acclaim, and even happier that I’ll have a taste of NYC while on business here in LA… I only wish they’d open one on the Upper West Side!

Enjoy Mozza. It’s a gem of a spot that will certainly become a LA mainstay.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

2006 FORKIES: The Best Of New York

Well, it’s that time of year. The leaves are falling, holiday decorations are appearing and the last month of the year is upon us.

About this time every year I open up my Outlook calendar and review exactly what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I’m always amazed by the amount of stuff I have checked off my list… and the amount of it I have forgotten about.

But one thing I love to do is reflect on the fun stuff… and compile a list of favorites.

In honor of the more popular award shows… I hereby present my 2006 “Forkies” … the very best (in my humble opinion) of New York spread over many different categories.

And the FORKIE goes to…..

Parsley and Pancetta Salad, Lupa
It is tremendous in its composition… but when the waiter comes to the table with a rendered pot of hot bacon fat, well, it really doesn’t get any better. This dish rotates on and off the menu, so if you visit and it doesn’t appear… complain!

Black Tagliatelle with Roasted Corn, Babbo
Part of the pasta tasting menu, this amazing dish if simply the best pasta dish in NYC. The freshness of the corn with the light sauce and grated cheese are a work of art. Make a reservation… you’re gonna need it.

Quality Meats
I know, I know… Lugar’s. But the truth is as great as Peter Lugar’s is; the experience is old school NYC. I love it, but I truly love an evening at Quality Meats, an operation run by the Smith and Wollensky folks. Details?... how about tableside BBQ sauce and individual homemade pies for desert?

It’s situated in a busy Chelsea neighborhood, but don’t let its simple setting fool you. The room is hip, and the food is fresh and delicate… Nobu style. Except, the check is about half of what you might expect.


Café Lalo
I know. It’s crowded. Touristy. But the steamed eggs with Brie are the best in the city, and the artisan breads are baked in house. I’d love to complain, but the food is too damn good.

St. Andrews Pub
There is something about a bunch of guys wearing kilts. Not only are the bartenders authentic, the tap includes a selection of beer that draws a huge crowd of European alcoholics. For me, I belly up to the bar and drink as much Tennants Lager as I can muster.

Two Little Red Hens Bakery

The cup cake thing has really spiraled out of control, and mostly with hype. Having tried all of the “popular” spots, I finally had what is hands down the most amazing cupcake in NYC at Two Little Red Hens Bakery, on Second Ave on the Upper East Side. Sure their Brooklyn locale is well known, but the Manhattan spot is no less popular, and with decadent carrot cake cupcakes, I can see why.

Del Frisco’s
I have been talking about it all year, so I won’t beat a dead horse. Just go. Order a martini. Order the steak tips (which are filet mignon heaped over a mound of homemade mashed potatoes). Call and thank me later.


Café D’alsace
Top Notch food. Great wine. Superior setting. The folks who bring you Nice Matin bring you NY’s best new French hang, on the lovely Upper East. You’ll love this place.

Sir Harry’s, Waldorf Astoria
Ever find yourself wanting to hide in a dark mahogany bar at 2:30 in the afternoon? This is your place. You can hear the ghosts in here, and they still love the place. Splurge, you’re worth it.


The Allen Room, Time Warner Center
Part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Complex, this is hands down the most remarkable setting in NYC to listen to live music. The view over Central Park through the glass-draped stage doesn’t hurt, either.

Jackson Hole

Sure, you think you can eat it. You pick it up, close your eyes and try and shove it in. But, trust me, it won’t fit. These are 4 inch tall patties, steam grilled to your liking… and delish. You can always find a better burger… but this one should be on your short list.


Toasties Deli
This was a hard one, as I love classic deli sandwiches. But every time I eat a sandwich from Toasties I find myself saying… this may very well be the best sandwich in NYC. And now I am convinced, it is. The House Combo and Downtown Special are unreal… and why this place doesn’t have 5 locations in the city is a real headscratcher.

Bin 71
Is it the food? The great beers? The superb wine list? Well, yes… I guess it is. If only I can get a seat at the damn bar. The Upper West Side never had it so good.

Come on, you know it’s true. Mario gets it, and he delivers at Otto with a selection of cheese accompanied by three dipping opportunities for the stuff… including honey and truffles. I think I have stolen more stuff off of his menu for my own home entertaining than any place in NYC.

Halal Cart, 53rd and 6th
So we all know about this place now, and the line down the block is legendary… but for good reason. The chicken and rice is the best deal in town… and the tangy white garlic/tahini/yogurt sauce they squirt across the top is downright illegal.

Beard Papa’s
Is there anyone who doesn’t love a good creampuff? Beard Pap’s popped up early in the year, and now boast and UWS locale as well. The puffs are baked hot and fresh, and the cream squirted inside the thing while you wait. Unfortunately, I have problems getting these home.

Dinosaur BBQ
It’s a funky spot you need to visit for the hell of it anyway, but don’t be fooled… some of the grub here is quality stuff, and the pulled pork qualifies as best in it’s category. It’s slow roasted tender, and with their tangy and slightly spicy sauce and pickles, is a throwback to a sandwich you might find in South Carolina….


Wu Liang Ye
They have terrific dishes… including great noodles… but lets not beat around the bush. The Sichuan Pork Dumplings with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette are worth a cab ride across town.

Neptune Polish Diner
Sure they have diner food here, but why would you eat it when you can order a plate of sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies with sour cream for $5.85? By the way, their red borsht is the best you’ll ever eat.


Alain Ducasse at the Essex House
OK, so I didn’t pay the bill here… but if I would have had too, I would be working a second job rather than writing this blog. It’s snobby, pretentious and frilly… but remarkable in everyway. Note: Alain is moving this spot downtown as we speak….

Bouchon Bakery, Time Warner Center
As much as I love Chelsea Market, I love the specialty sandwiches and wines by the glass. And oh yea, other than something out of the deli at Whole Foods (in the basement), it’s the only place I actually afford to eat while shopping in the Time Warner Center.

We all have our favorite bagel joints, and this one is mine. They are everything you would expect from a perfect Manhattan bagel… warm and chewy on the inside… crusty on the outside. Add their amazing flat bagels (sesame for me) and you get the perfect breakfast. Or lunch. Or whenever.

Jacques Torres
It’s no secret that one of the best chocolate makers in the world resides in NYC… but what many don’t know is that he also makes the best Hot Chocolate known to man. The powered mix, lumped full of chunks of gourmet chocolate should be a required addition to every New York kitchen.

Hudson Bar and Books
I know… it’s the size of my closet… but where else in the city can you sip a scotch older than your brother while enjoying a Romeo and Juliet? Skip the food here… this place is meant to smoke.


I still don’t understand how Florio’s can legally allow folks in the bar to smoke, drink and eat… but they do. I don’t ask questions. Recommended: anything in their vodka sauce.

Ten Ren Café, Chinatown
You can get bubble tea almost anywhere these days… but this location of Ten Ren offers a frozen variety with giant gooey bubbles. Yum.


Yes, the novelty is beginning to wear off… but the truth remains that Chipotle offers fresh, hot food for very few $$.

So….. there you have it! The 2006 FORKIES. Grab the Pepto and get going!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dining With The Turks at Zeytin

Could the Best Turkish Food in NYC Actually On The Upper West?

I am an international man of mystery.

Not in my adventures, but my culinary tastes.

Sure, I’ve had the chance to travel to some 30 countries… and I’ve never been shy about trying the local fare (no monkey brains for me, thanks). But what I’ve never been able to figure out is how I can love the food of one nation and really hate the food of another.

One cuisine I love is Turkish. Maybe because it’s closely linked to Lebanese, or Israeli… or Persian… or maybe because I love the “meze” style of eating the stuff. No matter how much I eat… I never get tired of this food.

My recent obsession of falafel has led me to start exploring the gabillion offerings here in NYC, and low and behold I found one of the best Turkish offerings in my own Upper West Side neighborhood… a true gem named “Zeytin”.

Zeytin as a word means “olive” in Turkish… but in this incarnation means fantastic food.

I found myself at the restaurant on a cool but not freezing November night… and opted for a table outdoors… a patio we would have to ourselves. We began with a cocktail (uber large martinis poured happily) but could have easily ordered a glass of wine from a solid but unspectacular wine list. All is well.

Making food choices at Zeytin can prove challenging. The truth is, the cold and hot appetizers are so terrific, you can (and next time we will) make a meal of them by themselves.

Wanting a large sample, we ordered the mixed plate of cold meze and were blown away. The hummus was top shelf… rich and flavorful with the perfect balance of chick pea and tahini. Along side was a bowl of tangy Cocik… a thick yogurt sauce with diced cucumbers and garlic. On the plate as well was maybe my favorite, Hoydari… a scoop of thick strained yogurt with dill, mint and garlic… as well as delicate grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, black currants and herbs… and eggplant salad, grilled smoky and mixed with fresh tomatoes. Terrific.

If it sounds like a lot of food, well, it is. And coupled with the numerous slices of delicious homemade flat bread, we were getting full. But of course, we had ordered dinner, so we decided to tighten our belts and move ahead.

The main courses at Zeytin and well prepared, and beautifully presented. A mild (almost bland) stuffed chicken breast arrived filled with rice, pistachios, peppers and currants. It was a nice dish, but didn’t quite live up to the quality of the meze we had experienced.

That said, the second entrée did. Iskender, a dish of roasted lamb and beef, served atop crispy pipe bread, topped with a spicy tomato sauce with browned butter and yogurt was terrific. The meats were tender, and the dish was a perfect blend of Turkish flavors. Highly recommended.

Of course there are salads, hot apps, desserts… but the experience I would recommend is this.

1. Call someone you like.
2. Find a cozy table at Zeytin.
3. Order a bottle of wine.
4. Order the Mixed App Plate, and a few hot apps.
5. Skip dinner (unless you are a big eater, then split a chicken shish)
6. Split a wonderful dessert
7. Enjoy a brisk evening walk in a charming Upper West Side neighborhood.

That’s the word. Zeytin. An true gem, and simply fantastic stuff.

519 Columbus Ave- At 85th St
New York, NY 10024

212 579-1145

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Andre's Secret: Bin 71

Sip, Nibble and Be As Hip As You Wanna Be

I hate to even write this.

It seems every time I stumble across what I would call a “gem”, I open my big mouth, and the word gets out. Not that I can take responsibility for setting culinary trends in this fair city mind you, but I do know that enough people read this blog to spark some chatter (or so my email tells me)… or at least drive someone to a plate of fried chicken somewhere. But good is good, and I just can’t keep this one to myself.

So in lieu of keeping the marvelous secret to myself, I hereby blog, Bin 71.

Where to start.

Bin 71 is everything that makes New York great (did I just write that campy little nugget?).

It’s a wine spot with terrific vintages and surprisingly good and hard to find beers on tap (think Blue Point, Double Chocolate Stout and hearty German Pils).

It’s a cozy meeting place to meet your “other” and never be seen.

It’s a gourmet hang with small plates of crudités and large bowls of spicy stew.

It’s a plate of toasted Tuscan bread smothered in warm Nutella chocolate.

All of this, and only 22 seats. 10 of which I would call rather cramped.

You see, Bin 71 is a tiny, charming space that may be the size of your living room (if that). When you enter you realize… the space is about 12 feet deep, and about 25 feet wide.

Around the handsome bar are Sunday afternoon regulars, sipping wine, reading the paper in utter sophistication… commenting on the topics of the day… over a glass of Malbec. This is heaven.

No college rats, no fluff. Neighborhood folks, doing their thing.

It is the spot the tourists seek but never find, the place you can convince yourself that you and you alone discovered.

And where is it?

Well, the surprising fact is, it is an Upper West Side hang. Yup. Really.

You’ll walk in and snicker for sure, as it looks and feels about as West Village as a place can look… if not Nolita. But sure thing, it is a UWS joint, tucked in an unassuming block of Columbus between 70 and 71.

Here comes the bad news.

The place has been open a while. Which means, unless you are targeting an off-peak visit, you are going to have trouble getting a seat. Folks like to hang out here, and waiting for a seat to open up can take a while.

Attached to the outer walls of Bin 71 are small counters and stools, but there is no mystery… the bar boasts the most coveted seats in the house. This place is s-m-a-l-l.

Is it worth it??

Well yes, it is.

My Sunday afternoon visit was maybe the best weekend “re-set” I’ve had in months. For those of you with stressful jobs, you know all about weekend resets. That moment when you can put the week behind you, toast your partner and think of bigger and better things. You forget the parents, the pesky unassuming neighbors, the late subway train, the line at Dunkin Donuts.

Places like Bin 71 are made for just the occasion. Or just about any occasion when you need to hunt down a tiny, charming space… and escape to New York.

Bin 71
237 Columbus at 71st
Daily until 1am

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dinner and a Show: Thalia Shines In Midtown

Steps to Broadway, And A World of Choice

There is something magical about a pre-show dinner in New York’s Theatre District.

Having served up about a 20 million of these, most of the restaurants have the thing down to a science. They know how many drinks you can have, when you should be ordering, and how much time you might have for desert... to get you into your seats on time.

I’ve had many a pre-show meal down there… including the solid Orso, the mostly disappointing Ruby Foo’s (great martinis can bring you back) and the touristy Osteria al Doge.

But one of my true favorites happens to be Thalia.

Thalia is the quintessential date place. What’s that mean? Well, there is a lot of eye candy in the hip, midtown design… and the food is even better.

My first trip to Thalia was last year, and I had no date. Working in NYC I found myself yearning for a bachelor theatre night, and had scored a front row ticket to Spelling Bee, one of the more fun evenings on Broadway.

With an hour to curtain and a cigar in my pocket, I landed steps away from the theatre at Thalia on the patio… sipped a martini, lit my cigar, and munched on a duet of yellow fin tuna sashimi and tuna tartare. For a quick entrée I had two delish crabcakes (more crab than crumbs to my surprise) and for desert, a terrific banana tart.


A few months later I was back, this time with my lovely wife at my side, and those same Spelling Bee tickets. Yes, I like the show that much.

This trip to Thalia had spanned the season and seen the chilly patio close, exposing the cozy, classic interior space as the true star of the show.

With reservation in hand, we were seated in less than a minute. Once at the table, I began to remember just how much I had enjoyed my last visit.

Having enjoyed my patio visit, this meal also started with the tuna and crabcake apps I remembered… but also included dinner choices as I planned my time a bit more diligently.

Cheese selections are a great albeit pricy option at Thalia, but the entrees shine.

The pastas are simple, well rounded… and flavorful. The spaghetti is a basic tomato and basil dish… wile the Mushroom Ravioli a more complex creation with asparagus and porcini truffles.

Meats are wonderfully prepared and include a fine double cut pork chop that I found filling. Also available is a Seared Duck Breast, Braised Lamb Shank and a Grilled Filet of Beef, with a black truffle sauce. All solid.

Fish lovers won’t be disappointed, as the traditional bistro salmon and halibut make an appearance… but even better is the broad choice of fresh oysters from the raw bar. Littleneck clams shine here… and the jumbo shrimp cocktail can hang with most in the city. I have found all of the seafood here to be very fresh.

Yes, the food is good and can occasionally be very good. But the vote of confidence here is for the night.

A classic place, a good menu and a great bar.

Followed by a great show, and I think you have the recipe for a near perfect theatre evening in NYC.

Enjoy Thalia. And oh yea, if you haven’t seen Spelling Bee, do yourself a favor and get a ticket while nearly the entire original cast remains on Broadway. This is a charming night of theatre, appropriate for just about all audiences.

See you in the Theatre District!


828 8th Ave, New York 10019
At 50th St

Phone: 212-399-4444

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SushiSamba 7 - Funky In The Village

Rock Solid For West Village Hipsters, But Still Worth The $$ ?

I love trekking down to the West Village for eats. My 15 minute subway ride feels like a world apart from the sleepier Upper West Side.

I always tell people that my heart lives in the Village, and my wallet lives on the Upper West Side. So, trips downtown are essential for me… and I love to venture down and chow.

I have several favorites…. German grub at Leiderhosen, cheese shopping at Murray’s, a grandma slice at Bleeker Street Pizza, free range chicken fingers from Dirty Bird… you get the picture…..

Recently, a friend suggested we meet in the neighborhood, and I tossed out a joint that has always intrigued me. I’ve had several quality meals there… but the items can be hit or miss… so I thought I’d take a moment to set you straight on the colorful sushi hang, Sushi Samba 7.

First, the place is full of good looking folks. Nearly any night of the week there is a crowd, and for good reason. The drinks are great, the food solid and the atmosphere a little stuffy look at me-me. Ah, New York.

I’ve certainly had better sushi and Brazilian and South American food in NYC… but with a rooftop patio and sliding walls in the main dining room, the place feels connected with the city…. which is always a good thing.

Reservations are a good idea here, and even with them, you’ll likely wait. We waited nearly an hour for changing our 4 top to a 3 top (are you kidding me?) and were rewarded with a plate of gratis calamari. It was average stuff, and all kidding aside, I’ll take getting seated on time.

The room was packed on this Tuesday evening, and the bar was hopping. Good news for those who must wait…. as the bar has some great signature drinks and a killer wine list. Maybe next time I’ll ask for a glass of pino while I wait....

At the table, the dishes come recommended by the wait staff. Having eaten there on a few occasions, I was curious what exactly would be recommended, and sure enough, it was all the stuff I had last time. Seems that the wait staff knows what people like, and would rather please for the nice tip then send anyone up the wrong road. Pity.

So, the solid stuff on the menu?


The great stuff: Tuna Sashimi Tiradito with green apple and red jalapeño. The Green Envy Roll encrusted with wasabi peas, filled with tuna, salmon, asparagus and key lime mayo. The miso Chilean Sea Bass, which seems to find it’s way onto every table in the place. And the basic Churrasco, with ribeye, pork and linguia sausage. Tasty, but by no means real Churrasco.

As mentioned above, the wine list is terrific. There is a wine cellar downstairs, next to what may be the swankiest bathrooms in the West Village. Complete with attendant.

If you are a sushi hound, you’ll find a good selection of stuff you really like, for a price. If sushi isn’t your thing, there are still items to choose (meats, rock shrimp, beef maki) but none of them will have you calling friends and family. Solid, unspectacular stuff.

Sushi Samba is still about the scene. Hip, urban, noisy. Good bar.

You can likely save some cash by dropping by before dinner down the street for a bowl of edamame and a Caipirinha. Or after, for a Choco Loco (trust me on this one) and the warm chocolate banana cake.

Oh yea, now we talkin baby.

SushiSamba 7
Japanese, Sushi, Brazilian, South American

87 7th Ave S, New York 10014
Btwn Grove & Barrow St

Phone: 212-691-7885

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Because It’s 3am, and You Need to Eat

Dress to Impress and Suggest One Of These Gems....

Greetings food lovers.

I write this email only 24 hours away from a quick blast to South Louisiana for a much needed 72 hour escape.

For me, it’s a trip home… but compared to the rest of you who have made this pilgrimage, it’s usually about the same thing… food.

Silly to think that I’ve already pegged most of my meals, calling ahead to confirm that my favorites are still there. But when you have soooo little time and so many things to gobble, I see nothing wrong with a little planning.


I’ll start my afternoon at Georges, the legendary lounge under the Perkins Road overpass in Baton Rouge. I’ll order the best fried shrimp poboy known to man, with a loaf of onion rings and an ice cold Miller Lite (The State Beer of Louisiana).

Two hours later, I’ll stop by Fleur De Leis for a Round The World pizza (maybe the best pizza in the US?) and another Miller Lite, served in a tiny chilled glass. Note: I am now pacing myself.

By 5:30, I’ll be at the bar at Mansuers, ordering a dozen Grilled Oysters, freshly shucked, swimming in butter, garlic, herbs and cheese, bubbling over an open grill until fully cooked, served with a hot loaf of French bread. Life is good.

By this time, I’m having a draft Abita.

Dinner at this point is a mystery, although I’m sure I’ll wind up at Coffee Call for beignets and café au lait.

Uh, that’s just Friday.

Anyway, my blog this week is in response to a NY Times piece that ran this week, joyously highlighting all night eateries in the city. As good as the piece was, it didn’t include reviews of these spots… so I thought I’d review their list, and fill you in on the places that would be worth staying up for.

Here we go.

Open Until 2am

Andre’s Pick

La Esquina (serving tacos until 5am)

The dining room may close at 2am, but the tacos are worth getting out of bed for. Try the biztec or the Cochinita (pulled pork)… and be amazed. The tortillas are homemade corn, and this may be the most authentic taco this side of Mexico City.

Second Choice:

Sure, it’s pretentious. And sure, you may wait for a table. But that said, there is nothing wrong with noshing on a Croque-Monsieur after midnight, especially if you can wash it down with a flute of Veuve-Clicquot.

Open Until 3 am

Andre’s Pick


Those who know me know that this is one of my favorite haunts in NYC. The fact that its on the Lower East makes it uber cool. The wines are terrific, the panini perfect and the polpette just like mama use to make. But lets be honest… is there a better dish on the Lower east than the Truffle Egg Toast with Bottarga? I think not.

Second Choice:
None… unless you need to spy on the beautiful people across the street at THOR.

Open Until 4 am

Andre’s Pick

Employees Only
My first trip here was in fact at 3:30 am, and it warmed my heart to see a joint packed from wall to wall… with people munching on crepes, sushi, fried oysters and fish tacos. Yup, its that kinda of place… few rules and a lot of fun. The fact that nearly every table featured a chain smoker who was using a salad plate as an ashtray should tell you of the kind of tension release that happens on a nightly basis.

Second Choice:

Blue Ribbon
Why? Because, Andre needs his collard greens at 4am. He also needs his salt and pepper shrimp, fried chicken, spicy catfish and roasted duck club sandwich. Leave room for a banana split... and be prepared to call in sick tomorrow, you’re gonna need to sleep this one off.

Have fun. Stay up late. Eat out. It’s New York.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In Case You Missed It….. Again

You do your thing, and I'll Keep You Fed

Hi there friends… welcome to fall.

Not sure of the temps in your town, but here in NYC fall has arrived. The leaves in Central Park are gaining color, people are wearing heavier clothes, and coffee shops are thriving. It won't be long before the ice skates are coming out of storage in Rockefeller Plaza. I love this place.

Fall always means a shift in the restaurant scene here in NYC, as many of the outdoor patio locations transform themselves back into sidewalks… and the once romantic, crammed indoor spots return. Street vendors warm themselves over their grills and people have complete swearing fits as 10 degree wind chills cut through them like a knife. What joy.

Much happening here as always, and I'm on the beat keeping you in the game.

In case you missed it, here are a few items of note this week in the NYC food scene:

Still Da Bomb

You don’t have to feel like a total tourist to stop into Café Lalo on the UWS. Sure, it was the spot of a noteworthy scene from the sappy film “You’ve Got Mail”, and yes, the trees are adorned with Christmas lights… But truth be told, their steamed eggs are terrific, artisan breads and cheeses fresh… and desserts spectacular. Throw in top notch coffee (stay away from mixed drinks here, stick with wine or bubbly) and you’ve got a joint that you could steal a heart in. Until 4am. 83rd and Amsterdam

Call U-Haul
Word on the street is that Chef sensation Alain Ducasse is moving his restaurant from the Essex House… somewhere downtown. With the Time Warner Center down the street, I can’t say that the neighborhood will miss yet another $200 prix fixe joint, but as history shows, wherever Ducasse's restaurants land, people will follow. Location TBD

Waste of Time

I’m not one to slam restaurants, as this blog has always served as a celebration of food. But when I have a meal that is really very very poor and terribly overpriced, I must speak out. You’ll find this meal and others at the amazingly tired China Grill, located in midtown. The outrageous prices might be able to justify themselves if in fact the food was ok… but it is simply horrible. The $20 crabcakes contained no crab, the $36 skirt steak was chewy and cold, the noodle dishes mushy and overcooked and the bill, $60 too high. Do yourself a favor and opt for Wu Liang Ye on West 48th. The noodles are amazing, the dumplings the best north of Chinatown, and you won’t break the bank. Life is too short to eat crap like that served at China Grill (maybe they need a few Chinese people on the grill) 53rd btw 5th and 6th

Because You Need Your Weiner
After weeks of panic, I am happy to report the my German friends at the happening sausage cart HALLO BERLIN are back and in business at 54th and 5th street. If you haven’t had a homemade sausage off of this cart, you don’t know what you are missing…

The boys carry nearly 10 different types of sausages in a variety of offerings as well as meatballs. Oh yea, you also can get a real crusty roll, 2 types of kraut, amazing sautéed onions and homemade mustard. Yes, there is a line... but the good things come to those who wait. 54th at 5th Ave

Is The World Coming To An End?

I asked myself this question when last week I saw something completely out of place… an organized menu at YIP’S, the midtown get-your-food-in-30-seconds Chinese joint. The boys in the back have drafted a new menu, and don’t make everything everyday, so plan accordingly. That said, the Garlic Chicken is still great, the egg rolls hot (and not greasy) and the noodles cheap and delish. It’s a load of food for only $5 bucks and remains one of the areas better deals. And I can get there from my desk in less than 3 minutes, depending on the elevator traffic. 52nd btw 5th and 6th

Monday, October 02, 2006

Konnichiwa from the Upper West

Matsu... close your eyes and imagine the Ginza

There are few places in the world that fascinate me more than Japan.

Observing their society became a sincere hobby of mine a few years ago when I was working their fairly regularly… and to this day, I marvel with the efficiency they manage the 12,369,000 people that live in Tokyo alone. It is a mixture of technology and tradition, where glass and chrome skyscrapers neighbor Shinto Shrines centuries old. It is pop culture on steroids… it is soft spoken women in hand made kimonos.

Imagine how popular my 6’2, 280 pound frame was walking down the streets of Shinjuku. In the land of sumo giants, I heard more than my share of gasps and giggles. They must have thought… “now that is one big ass American”.

I love that.

Truth be told, my first experience in Tokyo wasn’t different from the breakout movie “Lost in Translation”. I was a guest at the Park Hyatt (same hotel), marveled at the view (Mt. Fuji) and could never fall asleep. High atop the Park Hyatt is the New York Bar which really does host American entertainment, including jazz friends of mine from the west coast. I spent a lot of time there. Watching the film was eerie and the insomnia all too real.

That said, sleepless nights fed my hunger to learn the local cuisine… and I fell in love with many different styles of Japanese cooking (at all hours of the night)… including shabu-shabu and robato grilled meats.

But one “fast favorite” of mine became a dish known as katsu-don… or pork cutlet over rice.

The dish sounds simple, and it is… but the flavors are unique and addictive. First, you start with a bowl of hot steaming Japanese white rice. On top, you place a fried pork cutlet, sliced into strips, with an egg (scrambled into the cutlet after frying) and top it all with a sauce that is sweet and salty in nature. The dish now gets sprinkled with fresh chopped green onions and presto; the perfect katsu-don.

As far as origin, the dish takes its name from the Japanese words tonkatsu (for pork cutlet) and donburi (for rice bowl dish). It has become a modern ritual tradition for Japanese students to eat katsudon the night before taking a major test or school entrance exam… and for tourists like me who need to warm up to fairly familiar cuisine before jumping of the deep end and eating something I can name or recognize.
There is an art to making this stuff…. mainly in the skill of breading the cutlet in panko (japanese bread crumbs) and the addition of the egg. The sauces can also vary from a typical katsu-type sauce (imagine a worcestershire thing) to a demi-glace, to a soy based and even miso.

So, no two katsu-dons are alike.

In NYC, you can grab a bowl of this stuff nearly anywhere good Japanese food is sold, making the city pilgrimage a fun one. Where do I order my next katsu-don??

One place that gets it right (as well as all of their food) is Matsu… located on Columbus between 83 & 84 on NY’s Upper West Side.

Matsu is the quintessential NYC Japanese dive… and their food resonates in an authenticity unique to Tokyo. Sure you can find the things you expect… crispy Gyoza, Beef Negimaki, perfect sushi and sashimi…. but you’ll also find blue collar dishes like soba and udon noodle dishes, delicately fried oysters and a perfect Chilean Sea Bass.

I try not to mention Matsu to many people in an effort to not expose this gem of a find… as I can still get a table at 7:30 on a week night. But alas, ForkNY calls, and the cat is now out of the bag.

Matsu offers a pork and chicken version of katsu-don, and both are terrific. But if you can't get to Matsu, I highly recommend you look for the dish at your local dive. If it’s not on the menu, I can almost promise you they'll make a version for you… as when they take their meal breaks…. they're more often than not eating it.

Matsu ($$$)
Japanese, Sushi

483 Columbus Ave, New York 10024
Btwn 83rd & 84th St

Phone: 212-799-7922
Fax: 212-799-8597

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Does Puck Make "The Cut"?

Get Ready For Dinner and a Show in Los Angeles

I’ve imagined a lot of restaurant interiors in my lifetime… and had the opportunity to work with my wife Jami designing two of my own restaurants… one, a Cajun crabshack nestled into Chicago’s Gold Coast (Beignet’s Louisiana Kitchen) ; the other a Spanish tapas room in Baton Rouge’s reborn downtown district (The Lava Room).

My days of owning and operating restaurants are gone for good (ok, never say never)… but my appreciation for beautiful spaces continues to flourish.

Last week I had the opportunity to dine at the highly anticipated “CUT” Steakhouse, the uber-cool creation of Chef Wolfgang Puck and legendary architect Richard Meier.

Upon entering the space, it was obvious that the design team was going for “wow”, and most often, that’s what they get.

This place doesn’t look like any steakhouse I’ve ever seen. It’s a California cool space washed in pure whites and natural light. Instead of dark mahogany booths you get blond teakwood. Clubby leather chairs give way to Knoll-style chrome and mesh, and the amenities are clean and well appointed. Imagine having dinner in the Design Within Reach showroom. Or the lobby of MOMA.

It was a nice change.

For me, it’s always been about the food, and CUT does many things very well… and they have to. Being located in the Regent Beverly Wilshire (A Four Seasons Property) comes with a price tag, and believe you me, this place ain’t cheap. Not that a quality steakhouse should be… but there is expensive… and also “holy crap this is expensive.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find a dish on this menu you recognize, other than the steaks themselves, which nearly all come bone-in. This is fine by me, as bone-in usually means more flavor… but when you are dropping $48 on a piece of meat, you’re expecting something special.

Apps here can be eventful and silly at the same time. The Kobe Beef Sashimi is a popular choice and is solid. A classic steak tartare also makes an appearance. There is Warm Veal Tongue and Maple Glazed Pork Belly for those more adventurous, and an Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese dish for those who aren’t. In the middle, you have a wide variety of options including a Lobster and Crab “Louie” cocktail, Foie Gras and a Bone Marrow Flan which steals the show. It’s a nice selection… but at an average price of $20, be careful. You haven’t ordered the wine yet.

Kobe beef, as well American Waygu made an appearance in the US several years ago, and both continue to build momentum. Both varieties are available at CUT, and both come with a steep price. While a 6oz American Waygu can start around $60, the Japanese Kobe will set you back $120 for an 6oz New York Strip… and $160 for an 8oz Ribeye.


But is it worth it?

Good question. To me, no…. as I love the flavor of USDA Prime Beef, cooked perfectly. Sure, the Kobe stuff cuts like butter and tastes the same, but as unique as that taste is… it’s not the hearty steak I’ve come to know and love. Should you try it once? Absolutely. Would I serve it at a holiday BBQ?


Steaks come with a variety of sauces, and I’m fairly sure every sauce on the planet is represented. From Mustard, to Chimichurri, to Bernaise, to Foie Gras “Rossini” style, and extra $2 will aid you in covering the taste of the steak you just mortgaged your house to buy.

The sides are delicious but still sides. The Swiss Chard is exceptional, and the fingerling potatoes “Lyonnaise” interesting. There are also mushrooms galore as well as Potato Tarte Tatin.

For those who aren’t as fond of red meat as I, there is a nice selection of fish dishes including Sea Bass, Big Eye Tuna and lobster… and a few pork and duckling offerings to make you pause. The best non-steak option may very well be the Veal “Holstein Schnitzel” with capers and fried egg. This is a dish Puck does better than any chef in America.

So good in fact, that I made a special trip to his Las Vegas eatery “Postrio” several years ago to eat it. It’s offered at lunch on the patio, and served with spaetzle and warm potato salad… maybe I’ll save this one for another time.

By the time you’ve reached dessert you are full… which is a shame, because the desserts looked amazing. On top of that, about this time the place becomes flooded with the jet set. On the way out, I rubbed shoulders with a supermodel and Don Rickles. Only in LA.

So, the verdict?

It’s good. Pretty. Fun. Expensive.

But in the end, I couldn’t figure out of we were paying for the meal… or the show. The cooler than all get out room, the tableside raw meat presentation, or just the honor of sitting in a Meier space eating stuff.

You will likely find a better steak down the street, but I must admit the space can be intoxicating… and for those who live the scene in LA, this is your joint.

Enjoy it. And bring lots of cash.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I Can Close My Eyes and Smell The Gumbo On The Stove

Monday night the New Orleans Saints will take the field against the Atlanta Falcons in the Louisiana Superdome. Nearly 70,000 Louisianians will gather and unite for something they truly love. Cheering on their Saints.

There will be precious little girls in black and gold cheerleading uniforms. Rough and crusty oyster fishman. A grandma sticking voodoo dolls with long stick pins. A guy dressed like the pope.

The concession stands will sell Popeye's Fried Chicken, Red Beans and Rice and Jambalaya.

And when the Saints emerge from the tunnel and enter the field, there will be tears.

To think what happened in that building just a year ago, this evening is somewhat of a miracle... and a rebirth.

A year after the events of Hurricane Katrina, I still have problems talking about it.

Unlike many people I meet in New York who can comment about what happened and what went wrong, I have very different perspective.

I was there.

Living in my hometown of Baton Rouge, watching the winds rip tree branches from the oaks that surrounded my home… I knew this was a storm we would never forget.

As much as I would like to expound on what happened in the days and weeks after the hurricane, I would rather use that energy to talk about the great city of New Orleans, and the one-of-a-kind food shops and restaurants that have made it back.

Below is a short list of restaurants and dives that I literally grew up in. The food is unmistakably New Orleans, and the atmosphere the same. Some of them you may have heard of… many of them you have not.

I’ll be back in New Orleans in a few weeks, and intend on visiting as many of these places as I can. Next time you visit, I strongly urge you to do the same. With over 50% of the restaurants and cafes still closed and likely never to reopen, it is important to celebrate the few that have made it back… and welcome them with open arms.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do… I’ll see you at the bar.

Domilise Sandwich Shop & Bar
5240 Annunication Street , New Orleans, LA 70115

This small poboy shop in the garden district is the quintessential New Orleans dive. It also is the home of what many believe to be the best poboy in New Orleans… quite a statement. I tend to agree. The fried shrimp poboys are piled high with shredded lettuce and sour pickles, the crispy fried oysters sprinkled with fresh lemon and the roast beef, covered in rich beef gravy that is destined to drip down your forearms. This is the real deal… as the saying goes… as good as it gets.

Type of Establishment: American,Creole,Seafood,Po-Boys
Price Range: Inexpensive
Telephone: (504) 889-9126
Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat 10-7pm
Payments Accepted: Cash

Commerce Restaurant
300 Camp St. , New Orleans, LA 70130

Tradition, tradition. You know this place. Baskets of Tom’s crackers and breadsticks on the counter with a dish of butter pats. Paper napkins. Ice tea. This is that plate lunch joint that always has the stuff you wish you had made that day, but was just too much work (red beans, greens, gumbo, etc). I’ll bet you make friends with someone you’ve never met over lunch.

Type of Establishment: Bkft/Lunch,Creole,Seafood,Po-Boys
Price Range: Inexpensive
Telephone: (504) 561-9239
Hours: 6:00am to 2:30pm Monday – Friday

Johnny's Po-Boys

511 St. Louis Street , New Orleans, LA 70130

Likely the only place in the French Quarter where you can get a real poboy, and a good one at that. I lean towards the roast beef here, but in truth, they can all hold their own. These guys close early, so don’t procrastinate.

Type of Establishment: American,Po-Boys
Price Range: Inexpensive
Telephone: (504) 523-9883
Hours: 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday - Friday, 9:00am to 4:00pm Saturday - Sunday
Payments Accepted: Cash

401 Poydras Street , New Orleans, LA 70130

Maybe the most famous poboy shop in the Big Easy, and the process reflect. Tourists come in droves, but truth be told so do many locales… as the black ham with debris poboy may be the best in town. If you have never been here, the long line that forms out the kitchen door may be worth your wait. Stick with the sandwiches and Red Beans on Mondays.

Type of Establishment: Creole,Cajun,Po-Boys
Price Range: Inexpensive
Telephone: (504) 523-9656
Hours: Mon-Sat 7:30am-8pm
Payments Accepted: American Express,Master Card,Visa,Cash

3232 N. Arnoult Road , Metairie, LA 70002

Words can’t describe Dragos. First, know that the BBQ Oyster was invented here. What is it? A fresh shucked oyster on half shell, topped with lemon, butter, garlic and cheeses, then grilled over a open BBQ until hot and bubbly. When you walk through the front door, you’ll see no less that 40 dozen stacked high… as every single table starts with at least a dozen. All the food is great, but don’t kid yourself… the oysters have people driving in from Mississippi.

Type of Establishment: Seafood
Price Range: Moderate
Telephone: (504) 888-9254
Hours: Mon-Fri 11-8:30pm; Sat 3-9pm
Payments Accepted: American Express,Master Card,Visa,Cash

R & O Restaurant

216 Old Hammond Hwy , Metairie, LA 70005

Maybe the most famous neighborhood joint in New Orleans, on the lakefront in Metarie. A classic dive, the food here is legendary…. Hot shrimp and oyster loaves, plates of spaghetti, boiled crabs and crawfish in season…. Ice cold Miller Lite. It’s a gem, and I know few people in South Louisiana who haven’t been there.

Type of Establishment: Italian,Pizza,Seafood,Po-Boys
Price Range: Moderate
Telephone: (504) 831-1248
Hours: Wed-Sat 11:30-3pm, 5:30-8:30pm
Payments Accepted: Master Card,Visa,Cash

430 Dauphine Street , New Orleans, LA 70112

Is it possible that Susan Spicer was the first to really succeed at Haute Creole commercially? I think so. And years after her magnificent Bayone opened in the Quarter, it continues to thrive. This is not a traditional creole joint as you or I know it… but an experience of all of the flavors we love, in a way you’ve never tasted. Long live Bayone, and the creative genius of Susan.

Type of Establishment: American,Creole,French
Price Range: Expensive
Telephone: (504) 525-4455
Hours: Tues-Sat 6pm; Wed-Fri 11:30-1:30pm
Payments Accepted: American Express,Master Card,Visa,Cash

Commander's Palace
1403 Washington Avenue , New Orleans, LA 70118

What can be said? This kitchen, as well as the watchful eye of Ella Brennan has spawned some of the nations finest chefs. The dishes at Commanders are as much of a staple as salt and pepper in any Louisiana kitchen, and the community embraces this institution unlike any other. You can still sip a .25 cent martini at lunch (or free is you are a woman eating alone) and the turtle soup has never been better. I’ve often been asked where I would eat my last meal, and without question, it would be here.

Type of Establishment: American,Creole,French,Cajun
Price Range: Expensive
Telephone: (504) 899-8221
Hours: 'til 9:45p Daily
Payments Accepted: American Express,Master Card,Visa,Cash

Irene's Cuisine
539 St. Philip Street , New Orleans, LA 70116

You can’t help but love Irene’s. It’s in restaurants like this one the Italian heritage of the city pours through, in spectacular fashion. When the creole and Italian flavors cross, you can understand the glory this culture…taking something great, and making it even better. Irene’s is a classic.

Type of Establishment: Creole,Italian
Price Range: Unknown
Telephone: (504) 529-8811
Hours: Mon-Sat 5:30-10pm
Payments Accepted: Master Card,Visa,Cash

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cafe D' Alsace: Worth The Trip

The Evolution of the Perfect NY French Bistro

New Yorkers have never had a problem locating a French bistro in a town brimming with international cuisine. From high end celebrity owned dining rooms to neighborhood eateries, finding the perfect plate of steak frites has become a rite of passage for the die hard NYC foodie.

I like my Steak Frites.

Since moving to New York, I’ve been impressed by the Tour De France NYC food group… a corporate gathering of 9 restaurants serving a variety of regional French fare. These include the very popular French Roast cafes (Parisian cuisine), L’ Express (Lyonnaise Cuisine), Maison (Cuisine of Brittany) and one of my UWS favorites, Nice Matin (Nicoise Cuisine).

Joining the family this year is a new star shining bright on the Upper East Side, Café D’Alsace… serving mainly Alsacienne fare.

First, getting to Café D’Alsace is simple. From the Upper West, you can fly across the park on the 86 bus and walk 2 blocks. If you find yourself in the neighborhood with time to spare, you’ll find Irish Pubs, German sausage shops and a variety of mom and pops with great stuff to eat and drink.

I love the look and feel of this place. It reminds me of numerous neighborhood joints in and around the Marais District in Paris… and that’s a good thing. It’s inside/outside setting makes the dinner experience even more special.

As far as hype, the Café launched with fanfare… but not pointing at it’s terrific food menu… but it’s beer selection. The beer listing is huge, and the selection is varied and eclectic. You’ll find many Café norms like Chimay and Stella… but you’ll also find micro-batch brews from Belgium, France and Germany. You can have some fun drinking your way through this menu.

As good as the beers are, the food is better. First, any place that has bone marrow on the menu has a warm place in my heart. But if bone marrow slathered on toast isn’t your thing, Café D’Alsace offers a dozen terrific apps including a simple Arugula Salad with roasted beets, a Foie Gras Terrine, a delicious cabbage and white bean soup, warm leeks with truffle oil and the dish I sampled… a warm Goat Cheese Tatin, that was out of this world.

It would be easy to plop down at Café D’Alsace and order the safe but outstanding plate of Steak Frites… but with fresh fish selections, lamb shanks with spaetzle, roasted Duck Breast, Wild Mushroom Ravioli and amazing homemade sausages (including duck, pork, seafood and boudin blanc) you may want to rethink your selection. Also available is a fantastic bistro burger with sweet onions and all the sides you’ve come to know and love when eating this type of fare.

Of course, the coffees are great… and have to be to keep up with an outstanding selection of desserts. Classic Crème Brulee, warm Brioche cake, Apple Tart, a decadent flourless chocolate cake… the list goes on and on. Throw in fresh sorbets and ice creams and you can expect a serious stomach ache.

As much as I love the UWS Nice Matin, I love Café D’Alsace even more. The neighborhood setting is a bit more gritty and unpretentious, the atmosphere even more authentic, and the food just downright great. I am guessing the neighborhood agrees… as the evening I ate there the place was jammed by 7:30.

Do yourself a favor, and hop on the bus, and get yourself up to the Upper East Side. Café D’Alsace is a slice of Europe in a charming spot… again proving that you don’t have to book a flight overseas to enjoy the best in euro eats. I’ll see you there.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Alain Ducasse: Simply Sublime

How exactly do you blog about a meal at Alain Ducasse?

It’s me, André… the guy who eats snap skin hot dogs and andouille gumbo. The guy who can get as excited about a carnitas burrito as a rack of lamb. Holy crap, I eat Kraft Mac n’ Cheese.

In the same breath I can say that I have experienced meals at some of the world’s finest restaurants… Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s, Amsterdam’s Blue Pepper, Istanbul’s Kosebasi, Rome’s Vivendo and Toyko’s Aragawa. I get around.

Well. Last night in New York, I had a culinary experience I had yet to experience in the city. I was the guest of Chef Alain Ducasse at his restaurant in the Essex House… and as you can imagine, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

First of all, trying to blog about Ducasse is like trying to tell you why I like a painting at MOMA. Me describing the dishes to you would equate to me describing the brush strokes. Alain Ducasse is an experience, as much as it is a dining destination. His dishes are theatre, and the flavors are so simply complex (yes, read that again) that all you can do is buckle in for the evening, and savor every moment.

What exactly did I eat? I”ll tell you.

But first, let’s get a few things out of the way.

This place is crazy expensive. So expensive that if you need to ask, you likely shouldn’t be eating here. The basic menu will run you about $160 a person without a beverage… the good menu over $180, and the seasonal tasting menus about $250. The wines are exquisite, and priced as such. The service is attentive without being overbearing and the atmosphere dripping with elegance. You’ll need a jacket, and I didn’t see a male patron without a tie as well. It’s proudly stuffy, in it’s own pretentious way…. but that feeling leaves about the time the sliver tray of hand made artisan breads find your table.

On this night, I enjoyed the following dishes. Here are my thoughts.

I started with: Peekytoe crabmeat, gazpacho gelée, Heirloom tomato granite.

The crabmeat was formed into a solid slab, topped with thinly sliced tomatoes. The crab, delicious and fresh, was similar to the grade we enjoy in South Louisiana, where much of the nation’s crabmeat is harvested. For those who know crab, the Peekytoe is an interesting story, as this Maine sand crab was known as a throw-away product by lobster fishermen for years, until they changed the name in the late 90’s to Peekytoe… and poof! A new crab was born and is now shipped to the worlds finest chefs. The gelée was lost on me a bit, but the crushed ice granite was nothing short of exceptional, complimenting the sea flavored main dish with earthy, sweet tomato granules. Overall, this dish was sublime and set the table.

Next, I ordered the Maine lobster, steamed haricots verts, sugar snap/English peas, fava beans.

The lobster arrived as a smallish tail, placed on its side in the center of the plate. Small drops of herb infused oils dotted the plate, and framed the palate for the green bean/snap pea mixture placed to accompany the lobster. The lobster meat was buttery delicious, and the entire plate had a common thread of flavor that had been well conceived. It was a winning dish.

The main entrée?....Roasted and glazed milk fed veal, wild mushrooms/asparagus "fricassée".

The veal was thick and flavorful, and surprisingly included a ribbon of fat (for flavor), a detail missing from most restaurant versions of this cut. Again, the simplicity of the ingredients in this dish is what shines. Ducasse is a genius when it comes to allowing his main ingredients to strut their stuff… and he’s not one to cover the pure essence of these flavors with heavy sauces.

Finally desert….. an Apricot/Sicilian pistachio soufflé, marmalade & sorbet.

Hard to out his into words. Well made soufflés are nothing short of spectacular, and this one was no exception. It was served along side of a scoop of apricot sorbet sprinkled with roasted pistachio nuts. This dish may be worth the trip alone.

Final synopsis?

If severely refined French cooking isn’t your thing, you won’t like Alain Ducasse.

These dishes have no reflection on NYC… and actually scream of his other restaurants in Paris and Tokyo (Ducasse is connected to some 30 restaurants). You could certainly close your eyes and beam yourself to a place far, far away.

Remember, this experience isn’t all about food. A night at Alain Ducasse is decadent. From the moment you enter to the second you leave, you are a special guest… and you know it. This evening is about sending your senses into overdrive, and the kitchen skillfully and shamefully renders you senseless as they provide a seemingly endless supply culinary delights.

If you love food and dining, you owe it to yourself to have an evening at Alain Ducasse. You just might need to borrow from your Christmas Fund to pull it off…..

Friday, September 08, 2006

Naked In Amsterdam

Living off the street and loving every minute of it

I’ve been here in Amsterdam, Netherlands for 3 days, and today realized something startling.

I am the largest person in this country.

Not only am I the largest at 6’2, 280, I am the largest by about 70 pounds or so. I mean, I just can't find another big guy on the street. Nowhere. Nada.

That said, I did find the one and only Big and Tall Men’s Clothier in Holland yesterday (a hobby of mine), and concluded that if in fact I did live here, I would most likely be naked. That’s based on the fact that t-shirts in this joint cost $45 dollars, jeans $110, and a jacket, $150. With the amount of clothes I need, I’d be out of cash before I filled my sock drawer.

So how do they do it?.. Stay so fit? Is it because they all (and I mean all) ride bikes? Walk everywhere? Eat healthier? Drink wine? Smoke grass? (ok, just the kids)

I say this as I watch some thin guy down a buttery Apple Pancake washed down with a double cappuccino.

I think its in the genes.

None the less, I’ve had fun eating here for a few days. Yes, you can always find your pancakes, gouda cheese plates, tomato soup, fried sausage croquettes and canal-side herring stands (yuch)….. but I always love to eat ethnic food in this part of Europe, as the mix of people has had such an amazing impact on the cuisine (think Indian food in London).

One of my favorite eats here are Falafel. There is a joint that makes darn near the best I have ever had… so I have had 3 since I arrived. It’s called MOAZ, and who knew, it’s a vegetarian place. (for more, )

This is no run of the mill falafel. These are incredibly flavorful, fried to just the right size. They stuff their homemade pita bread (fresh from the toaster), hit it with chopped lettuce, and then you stuff it full with a salad bar full of goodiess like pickles, beets, peppers, etc. Top it off with some yogurt sauce and get busy.

Some research on my part (not much) did show a lone USA location, in Philly. But for some reason, I’d bet the one here tastes better. Maybe it’s the 90 foot Heineken sign hanging above my head.

Other street food here includes Hot Dogs, which are terrific (any hot dog made east of the Atlantic is made with love), the fore-mentioned herring stands, pastry and waffle shops, and lots of ice cream. Throw in about 100 Belgian French Fry stands and you could give yourself a serious stomach ache.

I haven’t actually eaten in a “real” restaurant yet, but I’ve never been a fan of Dutch cuisine. So the pubs and schwarma stands will just have to do.


There is good falafel and amazing Halal food (street meat) in New York City… and many will argue the best Halal can be found at the corner of 53rd and 6th Avenue.

This cart is soooo popular, they often have a line nearly ½ city block long. They open at 7:30pm and remain open until 4am. The line is there all night. No joke.

A week ago, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, and walked down there after working late one night.

I had the chicken and rice platter for a whole $5. This is a container packed with chicken, yellow rice, pita triangles and lettuce that must weigh 10 pounds. The meat here is halal, which means it is produced hormone free and in a humane way, according to Muslim laws. Ask for the spicy red sauce (just a bit)and the magic white yogurt sauce… and damn. Amazing. Now I know why they line up. You will not believe this value, and it just tastes terrific. What a find.

They are so popular, they now have their own website: .


If you are in need of that perfect midtown joint, visit one of my favorite spots here - . This site has all of the scoop on where to eat in the black hole that is Midtown NYC.

Until then, I’ll see ya at 49th and 6th. Ciao from Amsterdam.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bella Luna: Struggling To Be Average

Missing The Mark On The Upper West Side

I’ve never quite understood how a barely average restaurant can survive in New York.

With a high concentration of well above average places… especially Italian spots… it would seem that any place that didn’t do at least one thing well… well, would shutter it’s doors.

Bella Luna is a classic example of a destination that just misses the mark... but has remianed open for a long time.

On the outside, the store has a few things going for it… a great location, on the corner, outside seating in season, a bar… etc. The rest is a miss.

First, the staff (although friendly) is robotic and absent. They simply go through the motions, yes to his, no to that. There is no personal service, no recommendations, no nothing.

“How are the specials today?” we asked. “I don’t know. We’re not allowed to try any of them,” she replied. “They look pretty good.”


“The veal… it comes with pasta I see. Can I get it with meat sauce?” I asked.

“Yes. For an extra three dollars.” She replied.

See where I am going with this?

Inside the bland dining room (turn the lights down maybe?) we sat. The somewhat dressy room was filled with very casual diners, a welcome sight in a nice Upper West Side neighborhood. Unfortunately the décor and menu have nothing in common.

The menu itself is fairly simple, with some apps, salads, pasta dishes, fish (small selection) and veal/chicken dishes.

We started with a plate of beets with goat cheese, which were fine and uneventful.

This was followed by a house salad.. a plate of mixed baby greens (average) with a house dressing plopped on top. Note to chef: take a moment and do your guests a favor… toss this salad in a bowl with the dressing, and hit it with some course salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Then place it next to the salad you serve now… and ask yourself which one you would rather eat.

Our main courses came next… one, a special of the day… an artichoke ravioli in a pink sauce. I thought this might be a special sauce, until I saw it on the menu as a regular item… which means this is the incarnation of a lazy kitchen. Again, the dish (which had a few grilled chicken tenders added) was spectacularly average.

The other dish was a veal parm, with a side of pasta and meat sauce. The veal was barely average, and the pasta well, well below average. Lumped onto the plate with the veal, it was terribly overcooked in a meat ragu with very little flavor. I cook much richer sauces at home with likely half of the resources of their commercial kitchen. Shame shame.

I failed to mention that I opted out of ordering a bottle of outrageously priced wine, and ordered a glass of house white, which was undrinkable… and believe me, I’m easy when it comes to wine.

There was a dessert menu, but with the level of quality where it was, we decided to walk next door and try the frozen yogurt.

What makes me steam about restaurants like Bella Luna is the lost potential of all of it. A great locale, loyal neighborhood and seemingly fixable kitchen. I know this place has been here forever… but let me lend the owner this advice… take a long look at your menu from top to bottom, then go out to eat. Experience the range of top shelf Italian cooking in the city, and compare your fare. If you shy away from your own dishes… make a change. I’m not telling you to pretend to be a Lupa or Felidia… but be something. Your lost identity and run of the mill menu will soon fade into NYC restaurant oblivion.

I won’t be back.

Truth be told, you can have a much better meal a block away at Pesce Pasta… an unpretentious gem that will practically cook any dish you can dream up, at a cheaper price. It is a simple place with a simple menu… that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

Stay tuned to Fork New York! I am headed to Europe with a report from Amsterdam… home of the world’s best bowl of tomato soup!