Saturday, December 15, 2007

Da Umberto: Magic In Chelsea

After Your First Bite, You Again Realize That NYC Is The Greatest Restaurant City In The World

Before I actually lived in New York, I questioned if in fact New York was the best restaurant city in the world. I had traveled to London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin and others.... and had lived in Chicago and Los Angeles... not to mention growing up 60 miles from New Orleans. But after moving to NYC several years ago, it didn't take long for the realization to set in... NYC is simply the best restaurant city in the world.

A constant reminder of this realization occured only days ago, as I visited a remarkable Italian restaurant... that in many cities would be considered "the best" in town. Of course in New York, it is "one of the best".

The spot?... Da Umberto, the classic destination in Chelsea. And surprise, surprise. This joint isn't owned and operated by Super Mario.

Simply put, Da Umberto is the type of restaurant that makes NYC great. It is unassuming, unpretentious, truly authentic and incredibly delicious. Here's the skinny.

Those NY'ers that are keen to tricks and gadgets will smile at the door of Da Umberto's. Why? At the door you aren't greeted by a hostess stand or stuffy waiter.. but a coat rack. That's right, your are in the foyer of someone's home, and that's how you are made to feel. Come on in.

After a glass of prosecco at the bar (thank you Rocco), we made our way into the middle of the deep, narrow dining room to find a spacious spot. The three of us settled in and began to try and figure out where in the hell those amazing smells were coming from.

With one of our party having a good deal of Da Umberto experience, he put the evening in the hands of our terrific waiter. The waiter suggested a menu of many tastes... a plate of mixed grilled and marinated vegetables (Da Umberto antipasto) with a sauteed jumbo shrimp in garlic cream and a smoky, grilled baby squid that was out of this world.

Next, a plate of sliced proscuitto (perfect), sopressata (one of my favorites), mortadella (simple) and chunks of aged parmigiano reggiano (very high quality, with some salty crystals lurking within).

Not to miss a sampling of pasta, we all received a small plate of remarkable bites... the first, a handmade mushroom ravioli topped with black truffle cream... along side a spaghetti with fresh tomatoes rendered in pancetta fat. Outstanding.

As good as the first three course were, the meats and fish to come were worth waiting for.

The veal milanese, pounded thin, breaded and pan fried was topped with a saute of cherry tomatoes and arugula. The sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula were terrific... but after one bite of the tender veal I realized the cutlet had been fried in pure butter. Wow.

Not to be outdone, my colleagues enjoyed a venison osso bucco... rich and tender over a bed of perfect risotto... and a whole roasted monk fish, grilled to perfection on the bone. Topped with lemon and thyme, the dish was truly authentic and tasted as good as it smelled.

Desert looked amazing... a cart of treats including a 10 pound bowl of tiramisu... a gigantic offering unlike anything I had ever seen. Next visit, I'll remember this and try and save room.

So by now you are likely getting the drift that I like... no love, Da Umberto's. When you combine terrific staff, feel, food and ambiance, it's hard to miss. No, this isn't a cheap night (think $60-80 per person without wine)... but the dinner tab will cost you much less than a trip to Rome. Of course, a few bottles of wine and you could fly coach to Venice, but I'll leave that up to you.

Additionally, you should be dressed. One thing I noticed was there were no slackers waiting for a table, and the crowd was dressed to kill. Nice.

Lastly, call ahead. This isn't a place you can just "drop in" on and get a killer table. This is a special place, so treat it as such.

When the holiday season rolls around, I take time to thank my lucky stars for the things in this life that make me truly happy.

Thank you Da Umberto's.... and may you have the happiest of holidays in this season of giving.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What A Friend You Have In Chesses

Tis the Season To Give The Gift.... of Cheese

So, gone is Thanksgiving. Time to dust of the box of holiday decorations, break out the Christmas card rolodex and start making lists.

About this time of year, every year, I start searching for unique, regional food gifts for friends and family. This year, I have found a wonderful option. Cheese.

My favorite cheese shop in New York is the one and only Murray's, and sure enough, there is a CHEESE CLUB at Murray's that will keep the love of your life neck deep in cheese for as long as you wish.

Additionally, they sell special cheese sets (american, italian, cheddars, etc), cool gadgets, apparel and other goodies. How cool is it to get a Fondue Kit in the mail, along with all of the cheese you need to get it going?!

But wait... there's more! Murray's also ships salami, nuts, oils, vinegars, crackers, toasts, chocolates, etc... not just cheese. I'd think if you have a epicurean on your list, you could make their head swim with all of the goodies you'll find here.

Plus: Great selection, top quality, beautifully presented and shipped

Minus: Expensive as hell, uh, expensive as hell. But it is Christmas, right?


Just as tasty and maybe even more trendy at the moment are our friends at Artisanal, the incredible cheese emporium in NYC that like Murray's, deals in quality stuff. They too have a cheese of the month club, and feature an even wider array of the stinky stuff. Throw in cheesecakes and breads and you have yet another killer option for those who need more than Hickory Farms on the table during the holidays.

Of course, if Hickory Farms is your thing, and by that I mean a nasty cheese crock and a beef log made of mystery meat, you can find them here. Just don't tell your giftee that I sent you there... although I loved that stuff at the mall when I was 12....

Need one last choice? Well, when all else fails, send them Gouda. Henri Willig makes award-winning gouda on his cheese farm, and you can get a 2-pound hunk of the stuff here. I've ordered several times, and love the stuff. Henri makes good gouda.

Need more suggestions? I'll be filling this page with juicy bits during the holidays so check back often. Next up?.... Chocolate!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mail Order Magic

It's Time To Get The Goods For Thanksgiving

I love the holidays. I mean love love.

Why? I get to see my friends and family, take a few days off... and eat amazing stuff.

One tradition of mine that will never change is my obsession with food from home. Those years when I spend time visiting relatives in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, I arrange shipments of food to arrive when we do. These items usually include homemade Louisiana sausage (for grilling and the gumbo that follows Turkey day), boudin (the amazing "rice dressing" sausage that is good to snack on constantly), chickens stuffed with jalapeno sausage, jalapeno sausage bread.. and other goodies.

There are several places that are reputable, but I'll take this opportunity to share my favorite spots so you too can surprise your family this holiday!


First, do some research. My favorite site to read about boudin is The Boudin Link, a site dedicated to amazing Louisiana Boudin in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge area. Some of the places on this list will ship, but if they don't, don't worry.... Bourque's will. This place isn't just great for boudin, but their sausage (pork and beef varieties are simply these best you'll ever eat) is out of this world. Also, this is where you get the stuffed chickens. If that isn't enough, they have great Turducken as well, if thats your thing.

Warning: If you haven't had a turducken, it may not be a great idea to order one and replace your Thanksgiving Turkey with it. Turducken is an acquired taste, and your first one should be on the side. This is a rich, rich dish... and as the name states, is a stuffed chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey... all boneless.

To order these goodies, I suggest you order from these folks, in this order:


Great boudin, smoked sausage, breads and stuffed chickens


These guys ship crabs and crawfish in season, as well as the best boudin balls in the world

They have decent stuff here, but the quality can't touch Bourques or Tony's

Amazing Sausage Bread from Bourques


Years ago, this was a novelty that few people ate. Now, my friends in California and New York are experts. You can order Fried Turkeys online, but they just don't taste that good, as they are meant to be eaten warm and fresh.

If you live in the NYC area, you can get a fried turkey from the folks at JIVE TURKEY in Brooklyn. They have way too many flavors, but the cajun is good.

Of course you know, fried turkeys can't be prepared inside... under ANY circumstances. You can get a frying pot almost anywhere these days, so plan to get outside if you crave a delicious bird prepared in this fashion... most people I know only prepare fried turkeys, since they just taste so good.

If you plan to do it, here is what you'll need to do:

Cajun Fried Turkey Recipe


12lb turkey (no larger)
Chef Williams Cajun Injector Creole Butter Marinade
Creole Seasoning
3 - 4 gallons of oil (preferably peanut oil, or cottonseed)


Remove giblets from turkey, rinse with warm water, pat dry (especially inside cavity) and leave whole. Drain cavity completely.

Inject 4 oz. of Creole Butter Marinade on each side of breast (you can order this from cajun grocer). Inject 2 oz. in each leg and thigh. Use about 16 oz. of marinade per turkey.

Rub Seasoning Salt on outside of turkey and on the side of cavity.

Set up the outdoor cooker.

Hold the turkey by the legs and lower (breast first) slowly (very slowly) into the oil. Make sure all of the water is drained from breast cavity before placing bird into the oil.

Deep fry in 3 to 4 gallons of oil at 300F for 3-4 minutes per pound.


Sure you've had fried turkey, but have you fried a pork roast? Well, if you haven't, they are amazing. Here is a recipe for a pork roast, with marinade. If you don't want to make homemade marinade, go ahead and use the stuff in the bottle... it will still be great.


A deep fryer made or designed to fry turkey's
Frying thermometer

Whole Pork Roast

Injection Mixture

1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbs. garlic juice (your choice)
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic (not powder)
pinch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
3 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
Prepared Mustard (the yellow stuff in a jar)
Tony's or Old Bay Seasoning
Peanut oil to fry in

Prepare the meat:

Trim the roast leaving just a little fat on it.

Mix all the ingredients above except the Mustard. Bring mixture to a boil then let cool stirring every few minutes to release the seasonings. Draw mixture into an injector and inject the roast putting the needle as close to the center of each muscle as you can (doesn't have to be perfect). Rub the outside of the roast with mustard then sprinkle a little Tony's or Old Bay seasoning all over it. Put the roast in a zipper lock bag or in a covered bowl. Put it in the fridge overnight (at least 8 hours).

Preheat oil to 350ºF [Follow the fryer instructions - this oil will cook you if it hits you]. Cook about 8 minutes per pound.

Keep the oil at 325-350ºF, no more no less.

Take the roast out and put it in a pot on the stove with about a half inch of water in it. Put the fire on medium-low and let the roast loose some of the browning to make a small gravy. Turn the roast to get all sides. Do this at least 5 minutes on each side. Season the gravy with Old Bay and black pepper.

Slice the roast and put it in a casserole dish. Pour the gravy over it!

Enjoy your holiday everyone!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Blue Ribbon For The Upper West

Don't Look Now, But There are Sexy Fish on 58th Street

For those of us “Upper West Siders” who are long time Blue Ribbon fans, the thought of the new Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill was too good to be true. Now that Bruce and Eric Bromberg’s terrific sushi spot is open, the bottom line is clear… quality Upper West dining comes with a price.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that New York restaurants come with a price tag, but unfortunately this spot has a price that will prohibit a weekly visit.

That said, everything the Bromberg brothers set out to do in this store works. It is hip, fun, sexy and mostly delicious.

In NY, and especially the Time Warner Center area, your space needs to scream “cool”. This one does. With a bar up front, the long narrow space opens into a surprisingly hip back room… with a sushi bar jammed with 8-10 sushi chefs.

If Frank Lloyd Wright had been Japanese, this would have been his design. A mix of expertly crafted raw and finished woods, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a design connection between the space and the cedar sake box before me. It works.

For sushi purists, the menu is overwhelmingly spectacular. There are a jillion varieties of fish here, and fresh is the rule. Sure there is tuna, mackerel and amberjack… but you can’t always find Japanese snapper and orange clam lingering around a menu in this area. The prices are steep ($4 a bite, or a California roll with King Crab for $17.50) but you get what you pay for.

For example, my $9 spicy tuna roll was good (fresh fish, but not very spicy)… but for 4 tiny pieces, I thought ahead to my next visit with friends, thinking a large dinner for four would get expensive fast.

The early star of the show was easily the San Daikon, a three radish salad in a terrific ginger-miso dressing. We coupled this with one of the good-looking specials, a platter of rock shrimp tempura with spicy sauce on the side. The dish was ok, but would be improved a great deal by frying the shrimp about one minute longer, and tossing the hot crispy shrimp with the sauce and heaping them on a platter with something fresh on the side (cucumber would be perfect).

The rest of the menu can be hit or miss. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t bad food here, I just feel that some dishes fall a little short.

Point in case:

For dinner I veered off of the sushi menu and ordered the salt and pepper shrimp, a dish that really showed me some of the limitations of the kitchen. Although the shrimp had good flavor, there was very little flavor on the shells… which were also very hard to peel. The manager made a point to make his way to our table and tell me I could (and should) eat the shells, but being from Louisiana and eating shrimp since birth, I know that one doesn’t digest shrimp shells easily. Let me cut to the chase… this was a platter of four medium large shrimp for $19.00. I wasn’t expecting a platter of ten, but for that price, they better be some bad ass shrimp. They weren’t.

In contrast, my companion stuck with sushi rolls and was happy happy. Again the freshness of the fish was front and center… and as you know, when you are dealing with fish of this quality, it’s hard to screw it up.

Blue Ribbon offers land lubbers several options here… a nice steak menu and their famous fried chicken… an option I may opt for when I return… and their desserts are simple if not underwhelming.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible sake collection, both pasteurized and unpasturized. We ordered two boxes of unpasturized (recommended by our waiter) and loved the choice. There is also a good wine selection and cocktails of all shapes and sizes.

The skinny? Well it’s good. For those like me that aren’t high-end sushi connoisseurs, it’s just enough. For those who are into sushi, it’s a haven. For everyone, it’s expensive. But hey, this is the new Upper West Side, right?

photos by Robert K. Chin

Monday, October 29, 2007

Del Frisco's: Closing The Gap to #1

Don't look now, but Del Frisco's is quietly kicking some steak ass in Midtown.

You can’t slam a joint for not being from New York.

As much as I’d love to throw rocks at Del Frisco’s, the massive, gleaming 6th Avenue meat factory, I can’t. The fact is… expensive as it may be, the food is downright terrific.

Case in point: a recent lunch at Del Frisco’s.

First, the setting is ridiculous. This place doesn’t have one or two floors… it has three. With three bars. And an escalator. A first floor that resembles an airport hanger dressed in mahogany, an beautiful upstairs with view of 6th Avenue… and a quieter underground with cozy tables where you can close that all important business deal.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I like a place where you can blow $100 on lunch, as well as get a burger for $13. This is that place. And believe me, the fantastic $13 Prime Beef Burger with skillet potatoes is as filling as a steak, or anything else you might get… so don’t feel guilty. I’ve been preaching about the filet tips and mashed potatoes on the bar menu for 2 years now (yes, they are still there for $10), but the burgers are worth the trip.

That said, the steaks are superb. I found the 10oz ribeye with chateau potatoes tender and perfectly cooked ($27) as well as the Filet Mignon tips (melt in your mouth) with pasta ($19).

There are decent seafood options here in tuna, scampi, salmon and scallops… but the steaks are front and center and deservedly so. The sides are large enough to split between 2 or 3, and on a recent trip I enjoyed a platter of steak cut, hand dipped onion rings… as well as buttery mushrooms.

If you don’t feel like fretting over the menu, there is a business lunch special for $29 that includes a salad and choice of filet mignon or salmon. The hot, crispy loaf of sesame bread comes free of charge.

Dinner prices are a bit steeper, but the quality doesn’t disappoint. On this menu you’ll see the nighttime debut of a bone-in veal chop ($39), porterhouse for two ($99) and prime lamb ($39). A delicious Osso buco also makes an appearance, with fresh lobsters and various seafood offerings. Any of these sparkle with a side of creamy Maque Choux Corn, a recipe more often found in South Louisiana than midtown Manhattan.

Generally, all of the side dishes are terrific, and the wine list is above average in quality and value.

So, why isn’t Del Frisco’s at the top of every list?

Several reasons.

First, the service can be uneven. They often try and oversell here, and they don’t need too. It’s easy enough to run up a hefty tab here without feeling guilty for missing dessert, so back off.

Next, this is not a New York dining experience, as the place seats about 500 people. It is big, loud and noisy… and tourists and businessmen on expense accounts call this place home.

Lastly, it’s not a native New York steak joint. Sounds crazy, but this town is loyal to its steak-shrines. Let’s get over this and enjoy some good eats, shall we?

Del Frisco’s. Now you know. There’s good meat on 6th Avenue and for once, it isn’t coming from a food cart.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Telepan: Is This The Best Of The Upper West?

Lacking Attention to Detail Can Turn a Good Thing Bad

I think I know why the Upper West Side gets a bad wrap.

The fancy schmancy food isn’t very good.

Actually, let me correct that. The food can be OK. There can be good value here. There is tradition.

But more often than not, food and service on the Upper West falls short.

I don’t want to generalize this realization, as I know some UWS spots are headed in the right direction. But after a visit to one of the “best” UWS spots, I was left disheartened.

The Story Begins

My visit to Telepan was greatly anticipated. I know of the reputation, have read the reviews, yada yada. All that is fine and dandy, until I get my chance to kick the tires. That’s when I know the real score.

Well, the visit to Telepan, nice and full on a fairly busy Wednesday evening… started fine. I waited for my colleague at the bar with a nice glass of champagne, and marveled at the well appointed dining room. If “Design Within Reach” was in the restaurant business, this would be their place… trendy green paint, box lights and all. It was comfy and cozy, if not a bit bright (turn down the lights a touch?).

From there, the evening started to drift downhill, as once seated getting someone, anyone, to serve us a drink or take our order was getting to be a problem.

I’ll leave my service gripes for a moment and talk about the food.

Both my colleague and I… lovers of trying as much and many as we can, both opted for the tasting menu. This decision was a fairly high priced one for the UWS, especially with wine.. but what the hell. This is supposed to be one of the best spots in… well, in NYC. So, I’ll fork over the cash.

Here We Go.

The amuse bouche was nice, but seemingly out of whack. The mini three-taste presentation included a crispy pancake-like bread (very good), carrot soup (ok, bland) and salmon tartar (fishy and average). Hmmm.

Our apps fared better, but not by much. My fried Blue Prawns should have been reworded “Blue Prawn”… a single medium fried shrimp on a plate over a basic bean salad. Being from Louisiana, this was an average fried shrimp… the variety I would tuck into a shrimp poboy and devour for lunch. The other dish, their famed “Egg In A Hole” was better, but still lacked an oh my god moment. The brioche was delicious, the mushrooms ok.. but overall just OK.

The mid-courses looked amazing, and we had a hard time choosing. Unfortunately, both choices were bad, as both dishes disappointed. The “Cauliflower with Black Pepper Noodles” was lacking distinction… meaning the dish had no center. No buttery finish or creamy sensations… just a cream based pasta dish with very bland cauliflower. The noodles packed no punch.

The other dish, a promising lobster Bolognese also fell short. Nicely presented, it also lacked flavor and richness in a tasteless broth. I understand wholeheartedly that the chef is going for subtle and fresh here… it just didn’t get there.

Lastly, the entrees were hit and miss. The Heritage Pork plate, complete with a loin, belly, shoulder and bacon piece was tasty… alone. The collards that accompanied were a good idea, but again the dish fell out of balance as I searched for something a bit more acidic on the plate. Perhaps a bottle of pepper vinegar for the collards would have done the trick. That aside, I like this dish…

The other dish, the organic lamb, was just plain overcooked. When asked if a rare piece (uh, maybe a juicy cut that is also tender?) could be found, the answer was just… “no”. Not exactly the answer you are looking for when you spend good money on food you believe will be expertly prepared.

And You Are Who?.....

Which brings me back to the service on this evening. It was nonexistent. The dishes we never presented by the server, but rather the busboys, who really knew nothing about the dishes. Our waiter stopped by on occasion if we flagged him down, otherwise we were on our own. There was no “how are things?” or “can I get you something”… it was gone with the plates and here comes the next course.

As far as the wine is concerned, going with the tasting was a mistake. Our sommelier seemed very knowledgeable… which is good, unless he is making two fairly informed wine connoisseurs feel like kindergarteners. Even when presented with wines we weren’t particularly fond of, we were told why they were great, and he poured. Shame shame.

Note to Telepan patron: We could have done a much better job from the list, and actually enjoyed what we drank.

And last?

Dessert was dessert.

I hate writing this blog, as I love living and eating on the Upper West Side. I love my corned beef from Artie’s, I love the steak frites at Nice Matin, I love my flat sesame bagels from Tal. There are good eats in our neighborhood… and a few institutions that can present terrific meals.

But on this evening, Telepan wasn’t one of them. Was is good for the UWS? I guess so. Can it compete on the level of food and service with a joint down in the village. Uh, no.

But I guess that’s I don’t want to give this area a bad wrap.

I mean, this is the Upper West Side.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Find My Egg Rolls: Win $50

An Addiction to Frozen Eggs Rolls Leaves A Blogger Desperate

Someone once said that you could find anything in New York... and if you couldn't, it wasn't worth having.

I beg to differ.

I am addict. I'll admit it. My addiction is anything wrapped up in a pillow of dough or wrapper... and steamed, baked or pan fried. The dumpling, pot sticker, ravioli, pierogie and egg roll.

But what makes this addiction hard to deal with is the difficulty in obtaining the goods. Sure I can find a box of frozen egg rolls in the grocery store, but as those who share my addiction will attest, there are very few brands worth putting in your cart.

The king of egg rolls? Easy.

The brand is Michelina. The man is Jeno Paulucci. The magic?

Yu-Sing brand, Chicken Egg Rolls.

Those junkies out there that know egg rolls, may know Jeno. He is one of the most famous frozen food entrepreneurs alive. The son of Italian immigrants, Jeno began his incomparable career as a fruit stand barker in the 1940s, paving the way for him to begin his improbable Chinese foods company Chun King. He would go on to create Wilderness pie fillings and Jeno's Pizza. Yes, Jeno's pizza rolls! He would later open Michelina's, a tribute to his mother... and by far, his best venture.

But make no bones about it, the Yu-Sing brand Egg Roll is the best egg roll on the market today (this is coming from yours truly, a frozen egg roll connoisseur). If this was vodka, we'd be talking the Ketel One of Egg Rolls (compared to the current Chung King variety, which I would liken to a bottle of Popov).

If you hadn't had these gems, I would liken them to crack cocaine. Why?

They're perfect. The wrappers are super crunchy and never greasy. The fillings are great, and not full of some nasty paste made of cabbage and mystery meat. They are large in size and not tiny like the inferior and generally disgusting egg rolls on the market.

I first got addicted to these about 6 years ago. Living in Southern California, I had a terrible time finding them in LA (Albertsons would carry them on occasion, but rarely). Having a cabin up in the mountains, I would make the trek to Lake Arrowhead several times a month... and always stop at the terrific gourmet grocery store "Jensen's" to pick up my wares for the weekend.

Low and behold, they carried the egg rolls.

I bought so many boxes, the manager made sure he reordered in time for my next visit.

Imagine a shopping cart with fresh pasta, breads, San Marzano tomatoes, asparagus, peppered brie, ground veal, cornichons and 10 boxes of frozen egg rolls.

So here is your challenge. Find these egg rolls. Win money. I need my Yu-Sing.

Here are the rules:

1. First person to email me ( with the location of the egg rolls wins. Egg rolls must be in stock at the store when I arrive. Price doesn't matter, I'll pay anything.

2. The brand must be Michelina's YU-SING Chicken or Shrimp Egg Rolls. No others will qualify, period.

3. The egg rolls must be located in Manhattan. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Can you find them? No doubt, some Mom and Pop grocer carries them in NYC, so off you go. I know you could use the $50.... hell, thats an appetizer at Per Se!

Get Your Pierogie On

Moving to NYC, I was thrilled to learn that a thriving polish community would allow me to feed my pierogie fetish. Growing up eating cajun/polish food, I fell in love with pierogie at a young age, but almost never ate them.. as my polish grammy lived in New Hampshire.

Over the years I have learned how to make them myself... a rewarding but long process, that leaves you with a sore back. 8 hours in the kitchen can do that.

A few years ago, I did find an alternative.... mail order. And as much as it pains me to say it, these little babies are as good as any I can pick up in the East Village. If you don't believe me, order a few dozen and see for yourself!

Pierogies Plus

Online, from their little shop in Pennsylvania

One word. Helen. She's been making pierogie for 50 years. And these guys make them by hand. This is the real deal.

I've never been a potato pierogie guy... my variety is sauerkraut and mushroom. She also makes a terrific sauerkraut and kielbasa. I understand the hot sausage is quite good as well!

Order online and wait. They come fresh, to your door. Then, get out your non-stick skillet and heat it up. Add a chunk of your favorite butter, and place them in. Fry the pierogie in the butter, turning them until they are crunchy golden brown on both sides. Salt and pepper, a dollop of sour cream and Katie bar the door.

Fall Is Here, And You Need Your Gumbo

Yes, fall is finally arrived in the big apple, and it's soup time.

Well, at my house, that means gumbo and a hunk of crusty bread. For those of you who have no idea how to make a pot of real gumbo, I am re-publishing the recipe for you here. Remember, this recipe may look big, but having a quart of the stuff in your freezer on an icy day is a good thing.

Andre’s Gumbo Like I Like It

(Shrimp and Okra Version)

4- 5 Quarts Chicken Stock
4 pounds frozen okra
1 lrg can of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of diced tomatoes
2 large white onions, diced fine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/⁄2 teaspoon chopped garlic, fine
1⁄/2 teaspoon salt
1/⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
3/⁄4 cup all purpose flour
3⁄/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoon of lea and perrin’s
2 tablespoons crystal hot sauce (or frank’s)
1 1⁄/2 tablespoons of creole seasoning (Emerils or Tony’s or your own)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1⁄/2 teaspoon thyme
2-3 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped parsley, fine
4 pounds peeled medium shrimp
Chopped green onions

In a separate pot, heat 3 tbl vegetable oil, and sauté white onions. Add garlic, frozen okra and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium low heat until tender (at least an hour, if not longer). Okra should be very tender and want to break up. In a large stockpot, heat oil (3/4 cup) and add flour to make roux. Stir constantly over medium heat, making sure not to burn. Bring to desired color… peanut butter color is recommended for best flavor. Once desired color is reached, whisk in chicken stock, 4 qts first and save the rest if needed (chicken base dissolved in water can also be used , but NOT bullion). Add seasonings (wet and dry) and kitchen bouquet for desired color (a rich, dark brown is perfect). Add okra mixture and bring to boil. Reduce to low simmer, and cook for 1 1/⁄2 hours. Last half hour, add shrimp and parsley and simmer and very low temp, not to overcook shrimp. Serve in bowls, topped with a scoop of cooked long grain rice and top with sprinkle of green onion.

Gumbo is best if cooked day before. Make sure to cool completely before storing in fridge.... if not, the mixture will bubble and MUST be thrown out, as the onions will certainly turn.

*** Tips on Making a Roux

More than anything else, it's the roux that gives gumbo its particular character. Making roux is something of an art. It may take some practice to get good results. If dark specks appear, or if you smell something burning, you'll need to throw out the roux and start over. Don't try to base your gumbo on a burnt roux!

That said, let's make a medium colored Cajun roux, peanut butter in color. A Cajun roux is just flour cooked in fat until it acquires a darker color and a rich, complex, somewhat smoky flavor with nut-like overtones. Some folks have claimed that one can make a roux in the oven or even in the microwave, omitting the fat, but the one true way is to cook the roux on the stove top in a deep, heavy skillet or Dutch oven. The catch is that it will take plenty of time to cook the roux at the proper temperature so that it doesn't burn, and that you will need to stir constantly, working pretty hard the whole time. Some use a large whisk or a large spatula to keep the roux moving, but I find that a large, long-handled wooden spoon works best for me.

The choice of fat does affect the taste of the gumbo. Lard and bacon fat are the traditional choices (sometimes blended together), but other animal fats, or even vegetable oil or shortening, may be used. I prefer using a good vegetable oil. The choice of fat may be influenced by the kind of gumbo you are going to make -- duck fat for a duck and sausage gumbo, for example. You may decide to use vegetable fats for a seafood-only gumbo, and animal fats for your other gumbos.

Regular bleached all-purpose flour is fine for a roux. The proportions of flour to fat vary depending on how thick you want the roux to be. Approximately two parts flour to one part fat works well for me. If I need about a cup of roux, I use a cup of flour and about half a cup of oil, perhaps increasing the quantity of fat by a tablespoon or two depending on the result I'm looking for that day.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Toloache: Can Good Lead to Great?

There is promise, but little time for this midtown newcomer

First things first. New York is short on good Mexican restaurants. Period.

This is not an observation, but unfortunately a fact. While there is many a place slinging messy burritos, there are few places in the city that can give you a memorable dining experience in this genre. You know it to be true (and don’t be bringing your Rosa Mexicano all up in this).

Alas! Toloache enters the fray.

When I first heard of Toloache I reacted like most…. hmmm, a mexican place in midtown, and worse, in the theatre district. Here comes Chi-Chi’s.

But after a good deal of research, I learned that this effort was honest, and that a great deal of attention had been given to this launch... from design to menu. There is hope!

And then, I went.

Where Toloache actually falls is kinda in the middle of what I had hoped for…. either a killer baja taco joint, or an exquisite regional Mexican restaurant (think of Frontera Grill or Topolobampo in Chicago).

Let’s look at the good and the bad.

First the good.

There is genuine effort here, and it shows. The menu is eclectic, the dishes well made and the space functional.

The bad?

It is waaaaay overpriced, even for midtown… and there is little subtlety in the creation of dishes that could very easily go from OK to amazing. There is very little balance here.

The real question facing the owners and kitchen is will Toloache make the small, detailed changes that flips good restaurants into great ones.

The menu itself is more sexy at first look until the dishes are explained. It’s then you learn that the taco plates (priced from $9 - $14) are actually two small, 2-bite baja-sized tacos. Even as an appetizer portion, ouch.

I love love love the idea of a fresh guac bar, but at $20 for 3 small bowls, don’t come hungry. The guacamole is well made and inventive, but the scarcity of the guac itself is a shocker when sharing with a party of 4. They need to rethink this one.

In my opinion, the main course dishes are somewhat out of balance… taste wise. My highly recommended and wonderfully tender Carne Asada, a grilled grass-fed skirt steak with and inedible potato gratin, bland guacamole and incredibly overbearing mole cheese enchilada was a dish gone wrong. I find it hard to imagine screwing up a dish when you start with such a great cut of meat… but the sides on this plate were so out of whack, I literally ate the steak and left the others. A fresh mixture of citrus-based sides with a well seasoned starch would have been just fine with a great cut of beef… what I got was a mole so strong I could smell it when it left the kitchen.

The Enchiladas De Pollo, with dried fig mancha manteles salsa, green apple salad and various mexican cheeses seemed to have a better basic recipe, but still lacked the wow factor I was looking for. It looked to be a large, filling choice… but if you are looking for a value plate of Mexican stuff, you should locate the Chevy’s a few blocks away.

The “Carnitas De Lechon” brick oven roasted suckling pig with habanero-sour orange salsa, cactus avocado and chicharron salad was thought to be the most exciting prospect of the evening, but again fell short. The dish was aggressive in gamey pork flavor, an aspect the other ingredients couldn’t overcompensate for.

Again, the intentions here were good… the preparation not so good.

I don’t want to discount what Toloache is doing here, because some of it is cool. Although the room itself (downstairs and up) is cramped and tight, this would be a great after work meeting place for a margarita and a few small plates… including the avocado or cactus fries. The guac bar is a cool addition. The open kitchen is full of energy. The design is hip and appropriate.

That said, the bar has it’s failures (a $10 frozen margarita is tasty but expensive for what looked like a lime slurpee in a cocktail glass… and a tequila shot came in a wine flute) but can be fine for an app and cold beer.

The verdict?

Refine. Look at the dishes. Adapt. Attention to detail… including taste and textures. The food is coming through this kitchen at such high speed that there is no way anyone is doing any type of quality control. Tweaks to the basic menu as well as an upgrade in service will in me over.

Until then, I’m still looking for a decent baja taco joint.

251 W 50th St- Btwn Bway & 8th Ave
New York, NY 10019

212 581-1818

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shendy's Halal Cart: Chicken and Rice is Oh So Nice.

The demise of the NYC hot dog rears its delicious head

It happens every time.

I'm walking down 6th Avenue... running and errand, meeting a friend at McCormick and Schmick’s for their fantastic happy hour special... cutting across midtown... and it hits me.

The smell.

Sure, NYC food carts emit smells (and some emit odors)... but this smell is special. It's the intoxicating smell of marinated chicken, onions and peppers with some crazy-ass magic juice splashed on top.

I stop, stare at the cart, and contemplate.

Can I eat this? Is there time to eat this? Have I eaten already? Do I have dinner reservations in an hour? Is there a bathroom nearby? Crap that smells fantastic.

Then, I slowly walk up, pretending that I was going to eat there the entire time, and place my order.

"I'll have a chicken and rice, with a pita. White sauce and hot sauce."

Then the magic begins. The dude uses his samurai spatula and drags a pile of simmering chicken over to the hot side of the griddle. He pauses to grab the grill scraper, scrapes the griddle clean...(purposely long) and continues to cook and chop my chicken.

Meanwhile, he grabs a white container with some lettuce already aboard, and scoops 2 or 3 generous spoons of a yellowish rice pilaf thing in to the bottom. Here we go.

At left, a photo of a typical chicken and rice container in Midtown Manhattan

Soon, he chops the remainder of the chicken, gives it one last squirt of magic juice, and transfers the chicken to the rice container. He slices my grilled pita into 8 wedges, covers the chicken in a white "tahini-yogurty" type sauce, gives a squirt of hot sauce (almost like a Chinese chili sauce) and transfers the prized 3-pound box of food to my waiting arms.

"That's 4 bucks."

I am thinking, this is the deal of the century.

So if you think you know which Halal Cart I am referring to, you should pause a moment... it's not the famed cart across from the Hilton on 53rd and 6th.... it's actually Shendy's Halal on 52nd and 6th.

Sure, the cart on 53rd is amazing, but who has that kinda time? I mean, I compared the two, and really couldn't tell the difference… well, maybe the white sauce, but again….

Now, the other carts that serve halal-style chicken and rice up and down 6th Avenue... should be avoided. For instance, the halal carts in front of my building on 50th and 6th are just bad. The flavor is lacking, they can be largely messy, and to top it off, the chickens still come with some joint bones, etc... which makes for a crappy meal.

Shendy's does more than chicken and rice, but doesn't pretend that chicken and rice isn't their best dish. The lunchtime demand reinforces this daily.

What the hell is halal?

Well if you look it up, it basically says "In Arabic-speaking countries, the term is used to describe anything permissible under Islamic law".

This is directed at diet in this instance, meaning that everything in that cart was A-O-K... well, if you come from and Arabic-speaking country.

So what are you waiting for? Go get ya a chicken and rice from Shendy’s. The line will stink, it will take 10 minutes and the container will burn you hands.

But it will be worth it. Take it from me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden: A NY Treasure

Step Back In Time, and Eat Like a (Czech) King

If I wouldn't have gone for myself, I would have never believed it.

It was only a week ago... and there I was. Sitting under the trees on park benches, drinking cold Czech beer and eating pierogies... with about 500 people.

The place is the famous Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens, and if you haven't been... well, you haven't experienced one of the most authentic destinations in NYC.

Why is the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden magic?


1. They have just about every beer brewed in Eastern Europe, and most of them on tap. They come in great mugs that refill from your enormous pitcher. This they bring you while you sit under a tree outside in their Beer Garden, under an umbrella or shady tree. Got your attention?!

2. They have an outdoor grill that grills homemade Klobasa sausages, and serves them with rye bread, fries, sauerkraut, dumplings and cucumber salad. Here we go.

3. They have a real menu of... ready?.... Chicken Paprikash, Chicken Schnitzel, Chicken Bohemka, Beef Goulash & Dumplings, Potato Pancakes, tender Mushroom Pirogi and Smažený vepřový řízek & příloha (thats Breaded and fried pork cutlet served with Czech potato salad... oh my god). All of it is fantastic, and the real deal. Insane.

4. Almost nobody speaks decent english, and they don't care. You gotta love it.

5. It's affordable, and can be reached by by subway.

Take my word for it, this is simply a terrific place to bring a group, or even a buddy. It's screaming with history (the Beer Garden opened in 1919) and is infectious in spirit. WHere did these places vanish to?

Not to mention the size. I'm fairly sure this much property in Manhattan would run ya about $20 mil.

All of the info you need is in this link, so check it out and get the info you need to make the trip over. The hours can be a little funny, so make sure you don't arrive too early, or you'll be walking around the neighborhood for a while.

Have fun, and eat a plate of Goulash for me!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fig and Olive: Slip Sliding Away

After a Decent Start, the Upper West locale falls into blah.

Ever since I learned about the hip and trendy "Fig and Olive" on NY's Upper East Side (and now downtown as well) I wanted to check it out... I mean, I am all about the concept of this place. Small plates... olive oils... great wine... I get it.

Well perhaps I waited too long, because my visit to Fig and Olive was a massive disappointment.

After being greeted kindly at the door, we were shown to an awkward, cramped table for three... which resembled 2 cocktail tables pushed together. OK, well, if the food is happening I can deal with this. But, I do like being comfortable when shelling out good money. Whatever, I'll deal with it.

From there, the evening (company aside thank god!) just failed.

Out came the bread. A basket of thin sliced, bland and chewy bread. It came with a dish of three olive oils, but I couldn't tell you what was what, as nothing was explained to us. I can tell you the olive oils were not high in quality... and this is coming from a cook (that's me) who has some pretty kick ass Olive Oil in his pantry.

The front page of the menu, a listing of small plates consisting of veggies, cheeses, crostini and tasting plates... were average if not below average at best. I ordered three crostini... the Artichoke Tapenade-Asparagus-Tomato-Parmesan, the Bresaola-Goat Cheese Black Olive Tapenade, and the Shrimp-Tomato-Basil-Lemon. All three were horrible on soggy lifeless bread (my god toast the bread at least?) and were quickly thrown together. The ideas here were good, but poorly executed. A crostini of warm grilled bread topped with the same ingredients and presented properly would have helped a great deal.

The group also ordered the fennel starter (again, average at best) as well as the Prosciutto Melon Carpaccio, which was by far the best dish.

Service waned here, and I'll be the first to admit that the three of us were talking up a storm (old friends catching up)... but the attitude from the waiter that we were putting him out by not having our order ready was inexcusable. Note to FIG and OLIVE: uh, we are the customers.... that means, we can take our time, visit... drink.... talk... whatever. So, get a grip.

When we finally placed our dinner order, the entrees solidified my feeling that the entire place had thrown in the towel. I ordered the Rigatoni Mediterraneo (shrimp, tomato, garlic, cilantro, chives in Sundried Tomato Olive Oil). This dish had decent flavor even if the pasta was overcooked and flat, but the 2 inches of oil in the bottom of this bowl showed the sloppy nature of lack of caring by this kitchen. What a waste.

My partner ordered the whole Branzino fish which was plopped down in front of her without an offer to debone. Our other guest ordered the Rack of Lamb special which he found decent. Nothing stood out.

Let me take a moment to remind those of you who read this blog that I don't go to restaurants to find things wrong. There is nothing I love more than a spot that gets it right. But when so many details are swept under the rug, I feel obligated to warn anyone who is planning on going. I have had far superior meals (even tapas) elsewhere... and after dropping $300 (food and 2 bottles of wine) I expect more.

So sadly, I blog about this place, disappointed and let down. It's a perfect example of an establishment that has decided to mail it in... after having some early success.

Well, in NYC, you need to bring your A-game, day in and day out. Those places that continue to push the envelope nail the details, and rethink their menus on a daily basis. At this rate, this Upper East Side locale will struggle to retain their buzz, and by looking around the place, I wasn't the only disappointed patron.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Fig & Olive
808 Lexington Ave- Btwn 62nd & 63rd St
New York, NY 10021

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Landmarc Making Waves At Time Warner

Don't Look Now, But The Newcomer Is Proving It Can Hang With The Big Boys

I've often complained about the food in the Time Warner Center. Bouchon Bakery aside, my main compliant hasn't been the quality of the food (god forbid).... it's been the price. I'm not screaming for an Orange Julius mind you, but when you and the wife want to go out for a great burger, bowl of pasta or side of hanger steak... well Per Se, Masa, Porterhouse and Cafe Grey don't fit the bill.

Enter Tribeca staple Landmarc, the terrific and gallant answer to this quandary.... and a space worthy of calling a Central Park destination.

What do they get right at Landmarc? Well, just about everything. The first thing they figured out... breakfast. They serve it. And well. Baguettes, chocolate chip pancakes, egg sandwiches and killer omelettes. Wash it down with a Bloody Mary and you're ready for that 9am meeting with the boss. Remember, I warned you.

They get lunch right, too... but it's dinner when Landmarc shines, when the food is right on and can match the spectacular views over a lush Central Park. Stunning.

Dinner for myself and companion of 17 years started with a perfectly shaken martini and a half bottle of Pino. No wines by the glass at Landmarc may be their lone mistake (at least carry ONE you can call the house pour and charge $12) but in their defense they carry a wide variety of half bottles and bottles in affordable fashion.

While I am a fan of several of their salads, I'm not sure that any can come close to the Sauteed Shrimp with Frisée, artichokes and capers. Tossed in a warm mustard vinaigrette, this dish could steal the show at damn near any restaurant in town.... I'm just glad it's in my neighborhood! The balance of flavor in this dish is terrific, and I'm fairly sure the guys in the kitchen know it. Home run.

Landmarc carries a well crafted pasta special daily, but I tend to stick to the base menu as the dishes have been time tested.

Steaks are a fine choice at Landmarc, if not a safe one. The ribeye, full of flavor and very tender, is a no-brainer. With a number of sauces on the side (bernaise, peppercorn, etc) you can get the flavor just right even though they survive well on their own.

The grilled pork chop is terrific, the quail well above average and the rock shrimp risotto is downright decadent. With it's bright neon-orange color, the perfectly cooked risotto is loaded with tender shrimp and lobster butter, making for a rich, rewarding meal. I didn't even mind the "heavy" rosemary the waiter warned me about.

There are specials here too, such as oysters, sweetbreads, calf's liver and steak tartare... but all of these dishes can be had at much stuffier joints, for much higher prices. Not that Landmarc doesn't nail them... I just can't get a burger and an ice cream cone at Bouley.

So by now you are getting that I like this place. Yes the location is spectacular, and yes, the food is terrific... but it's neither that make Landmarc a winner.... it's the little things.

It's the obvious attention to detail by the owners and staff. The smile and greeting at the door. The great cocktail. The never empty water glass. The honest recommendations. The superb design. The hot food. All things you have come to expect at a good NYC restaurant, but sometimes have problems finding. This is where Landmarc wins.

Add it all together... and you get solid. Solid as a rock.

10 Columbus Circle- At 60th St
New York, NY 10019

212 823-6123

André recommends: Sauteed Shrimp Salad, the burger, any steak, risotto and ice cream cones and cotton candy for desert.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Worth The Trip

Put Down That Nasty Cart Stuff, Maoz Is Simply NYC's Best Falafel

It wans't long ago I was hanging out in Amsterdam near the T.O. Centraal Station, figuring out how to get to my hotel. Hungry for something, I spotted a small falafel kiosk across the street with a line out the door. Hmmmmm. More often then not, lines = good food.

Little did I know that the Maoz kiosk right there in Amsterdam would change my life. Yes, for a lover of falafel, it simply is the best, anywhere. I would wind up eating there 4 times in 5 days.

So imagine my excitement when I found out that Maoz, the little falafel shop that could, was opening in NYC... incredible.

Over the weekend (on my way to watch my New Orleans Saints at a downtown sports bar) I made a little detour to the Union Square area to grab one of these gems, and wasn't disappointed. They are still simply the best.

What makes them special?

To begin, it's the falafel itself. This isn't grainy, bland stuff. This chickpea blend is moist on the inside, not dry... and crunchy on the outside. The mixture is spiced with a great blend of spices... and it is served hot. It is packed with flavor, which makes for a great sandwich.

Then, you get great fresh pita. White or wheat, name your flavor.

Next, our friends invite you to dress this masterpiece yourself, with a bar of condiments that make you downright giddy. Terrific salsa-type toppings (Chili, cilantro, etc), fresh onions, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage salads, etc..., as well as yogurt and tahini sauces. By the time you are done, you are trying to figure out how to put the damn thing in your mouth.

Now, if you are reading all of this, and it sounds great, but you aren't a falafel fan... listen up. NEITHER WAS I! But there is just something about this sandwich which will convert the biggest of beef lovers.... and it is taste. You owe it to yourself to make the trip and get one of these babies.... you won't be sorry.

Maoz. It really is the world's best falafel, and we have our own store now... right here in NYC.


Being a self proclaimed lover of cart food here in NYC, I had a container of chicken and rice from Shendy's last week (corner of 51st and 6th). Low and behold, it was downright fantastic. Get it with pita and the white sauce. Hell yea.

Sushi hot spot KOI has the famous crispy tuna roll, the sushi that liberated Los Angeles. If you hadn't had yours yet, impress the hell out of your friends and get there.

Eat Out 07 is happening next weekend, so if you need tickets, you can find them here.

I sure as hell hope you use Menupages as often as I do.

If you haven't tried Chicago legend GARRETS POPCORN,now in NYC... you have no idea what you are missing. The blend of cheese, butter and caramel is insane, and will have you waiting in lines you never thought possible....

Monday, September 03, 2007


Done with A Summer of Projects, André is back and In action......

Greetings Foodies. I'm back!

Not just kinda back, or back in a bi-monthly way... I'm back with you this fall season to guide you to the best eats in NYC... on a regular basis.

I've missed you!

To jump squarely into the middle of the fray, I won't blog any one joint today, but I'll give you an overview of what is shakin here in NYC, as well as a few bites from my recent travels up the coast. I'm headed to Paris this week, so please chew on these goodies for a week...


As our friends in LA continue to bake in the "I told you Global Warming Was Real" summer heat, Mario's "Osteria Mozza" continues to dominate the headlines. Unfortunately for Mario, it's not all good. As I had a good experience, I have heard from several of very uneven meals, if not just downright bad. Given the newness of the venture and the pressure to be on every single night, I'll cut them a small bit of slack here... but one thing is for sure... the celebs love the joint and as long as it remains hot, people will flock and spend.....

Of course, Katsuya continues to attract the beautiful peeps as they ready to open their newest outpost in Hollywood.... but hey, you don't need to be a celeb to love the crispy tuna roll, do you? (Do yourself a favor and visit katsuya on 3rd and save $50 a person :)


I recently had a chance to decompress on a quick visit to beautiful Camden and Bar Harbor and came away with these thoughts on my experience....

First, it's simply too bad that everyone and their mom now knows how beautiful the Maine Coast is.... the crowds were massive, and the traffic no fun. Add hour long waits for a table at the local lobster joints and the place gets downright pesky.

Next, don't go looking for luxe accommodations in Maine. You can find charming, sweet, friendly, quaint and homey... but not luxe.

And last, it may not matter. The scenery in Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park) is so incredible, you feel as if you have entered an Disney-esqe theme park of natural wonder. I met 100 people who had the same "oh my god" look on their face I did, as the fog rolled across the sound and swirled around the lighthouses. This is spectacular stuff.

DINING TIP OF THE DAY: Local lobster shantys: GOOD. The lobster place "Stewman's" on the water in Bar Harbor? HORRIFIC. The biggest tourist trap in the state of Maine contines to pack em in, but I can tell you that I've spent my last dime being treated like some ding-a-ling that just feel off of a bus from Des Moines. Shame on you, Stewmans.... Thurman's is worth the drive across the Island, and the lobster is sweeter, too!

Where to begin??!! Here is a quick blast to get you in the know....

Quality Meats is still All That.

I hit Quality Meats a week ago and can happily report that they are still doing great things. Everything we ordered that night was right on, and the wine and cocktails were perfect. Hey, if you are gonna spend some cash, might as well get what you pay for, huh?

Landmarc Turning Heads at Time Warner Center

I waited what seems forever for a normal restaurant to open in the Time Warner Center, where you can spend all of the money you never had on decedent junk... and I am happy to report that Landmarc was worth the wait. With a cool bar, excellent cocktails, a hip lounge area on the side and view of Central Park, this spot is now my first call in the area, without spending $200 a person on dinner (and thats on the low end in that building... Per Se, Masa, Porterhouse, etc....) The steaks and chops are great, the pasta well prepared, the sides creative... and dessert...... well, when is the last time the waiter brought the table a wispy cloud of banana-flavored coton candy? I though the kids at the next table were going to have heart attacks.

La Esquina, Say It Ain't So!
In case you missed it, the underground lair of magical molé has been shuttered... as it seems our friends La Esquina never got the basement permitted by our friends at City Hall and the NYFD. Now that I think about it, a fire down there could be a bad thing on a busy Friday night....

Get Ready For Pierogies
I placed a call to the folks at First Avenue Pierogie and Deli (not sure about the deli part, as they really only sell pierogies and borscht) at 130 First Ave, and have been told that the dear old polish woman will reopen this week, after her annual break. Finally, I can get off of the crap from Dagastino Grocery and get the real crack that I deserve :)

Gemma a Miss
The new Bowery hot spot Gemma opened recently, and I met a friend for a quick bite and chat on a hot, deserted afternoon. I understand the mood and feel of the dreary day dictated the crap service I received, but the horrible food makes me scratch my head and wonder.... what the hell they are thinking? There is a bar of quality in this town when it comes to Italian food, and unless you are over the bar, you should save the time and effort and serve Beefaroni.

BLT Market is now open on CPS and the smells wafting onto the sidewalk are almost too temping to stroll past... my favorite quickie dumpling joint RICKSHAW DUMPLING BAR has opened a store near NYC on 8th.... BarFry has finally opened in the West Village for those of you who need to eat all of your food fried, all of the time..... For those of you who enjoy a good cigar now and then, Davidoff in the Time Warner Center has re-opened their tiny smoking room in the back... Has anyone been to SpotLight??? I wish Dylan Prime had better food.... Koi, the sexy japanese joint in midtown actually serves the Crispy Tuna Roll, the single dish that set LA on fire..... Turtle Bay on the East Side (52 and 2) might possibly be NY's worst run bar....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Let The Games Begin: Where Is The Top Dog?

It's NYC vs. LA in the War of the Wiener

Before the complaints begin, yes, I know, it is entirely possible that the best hot dog in America doesn't exist in LA or NYC.... could it be the Varsity in Atlanta? or perhaps Gold Coast Dogs in Chicago?.... dare I say a Lucky Dog cart in the French Quarter?

Well for the sake of a massive case of indigestion and incremental yet substantial weight gain, I'll keep this initial battle between the two cities I know best... NYC and LA.



Grey's Papaya: The old, cheap stand by is the self proclaimed king of street eats

Nathan's Famous: The dog that started it all

Katz's Deli: The famous village deli can make a mean deli style dog


Pink's: The reigning champ is having it's share of problems

Skooby's: Coming hard and fast to take the top spot

The Weiner Factory: Is LA's Top Dog in the Valley?


Stop #1 on this, the battle of the wiener, was Skooby's... the hot little stand on Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles.

The Place
Don't expect much. Skooby's is a smallish, cramped space on a somewhat scary stretch of Hollywood Blvd. There is one lonely table within (a horrific experience if the place is packed) and a counter and 2 tables outside. It is somewhat clean, and organized which is a good thing, as when these guys get busy the place can look as if a bomb went off inside. Generally speaking, they do a fantastic job of getting you served in short fashion... with hot food.

The Bun
Extra points here. These are more than Hot Dog buns, they are homemade rolls that are grilled to perfection, warm and toasty. Genius.

The Wiener
A classic, meaty, snapskin dog. It is mild in flavor, and although I like mine with a bit more spice, it was still way better than 90% of the lifeless, bland dogs you'll usually find out there.

The Deal
Skooby's has a belief, which I concur... the best Hot Dog is often one you make yourself... I mean, only you know exactly how much mustard you like... so, basic dogs at Skooby's come plain, so you can dress them with the basics, found on the counter... plain and spicy mustard, onions, relish, kraut, hot sauces, etc....

Other dogs include a chili cheese dog with Guinness Chili and a garlic dog... but skip the extra dogs, you won't need them. The fries here are the deal. They are homemade from a box of real potatoes in plain view, and fried to crispy perfection, served with an addictive garlic aioli... (think Zankou sauce, but creamy and made for fries). Oh yea, the make delicious fresh squeezed lemonade as well. Look out Pinks.


Killer stuff. Great work on the details have vaulted Skooby's to the top of the LA heap in many peoples minds. This will certainly be a high contender to win my TOP DOG award. Pink's get ready... the bar has been set high!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mario's LA "Osteria Mozza"... It's All That

And You Think Babbo and Lupa are Good......

Hi There Foodies!

Well, I guess another apology is in order. It's been ages since I have updated this blog, and I am guessing that many of you have moved on. But for those of you who find themselves looking for straight talk, I've wrapped my globe trotting assignment, and I'm back and raring to go.

The bad news for you New Yorkers is that this installment of Fork NY is about a restaurant you may not be able to get to easily... Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's new Osteria Mozza, on the corner of Highland and Melrose in sunny Los Angeles.

Let's talk about food.

For those of you who haven't heard about the Batali-Silverton partnership, it is one made in heaven. The duo opened Pizzeria Mozza nearly 6 months ago, to much fanfare. Expectedly, the joint quickly became a favorite.. and was crowned King of LA pizza.

But make no bones about it, it's the Osteria that foodies have been waiting for, and last Friday the doors to heaven opened.

Lucky for me, a swung a reservation this week, a feat that most have been unable to accomplish. With most reservations taking a month or more, I luckily landed what I now believe to be a cancellation, and boy am I happy I did.

When you enter the space, you can't help but notice that 1. It's a handsome space (even if it is facing a gas station and a Jiffy Lube), and 2. There is a mozzarella bar smack dab in the middle of the room.

The menu is basically divided into Antipasti, Mozzarella, Primi, Secondi and Contorni.

As a group of 4 we ordered 2 antipasti and 2 mozzarella dishes, and devoured all four plates in about 3 minutes. The Gnocco Fritto with affetati misti was wonderful... mixed sliced ham and salume with lightly fried square pillows of dough, but the grilled octopus stole the show. The marinated, smoky octopus was incredibly tender, and surprisingly addictive.

As for mozzarella, we couldn't help but order the burrata with asparagus, walnuts and brown butter... as well as the bufala with pesto. Both were winners.

As we moved towards primi selections, I reverted back to my Lupa ways. At Lupa, I often don't order a secondi... I order another primi (love the pasta). Since I firmly believe that Mario's strong suit is pasta, I get my fill... and this meal was no different. I guess this makes some sense, as 2 others at the table also ordered a second pasta.

Let's talk pasta.

There are no huge suprises here for the Batali crowd... you have the signature pork infused dishes here and there, but as usual, the simple dishes like the Linguine cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is out of this world. The orrechiette with sausage and swiss chard was hearty and fragrant, the Goat Cheese Ravioli near perfect... and the large fresh riccota and egg raviolo (one massive ravioli) with browned butter was nearly an out of body experience.

Wonder why we ordered more?

There was also tortellini, an agnolotti with butter, an amazing looking gnocchi, a classic spaghetti with clams and panceta... and a perfectly cooked garganelli with a light bolognese. This is pasta heaven, and Mario's hand is present in the perfectly cooked pasta, always on the al dente side of firmness.

The other dishes looked incredible.. a pink snapper, an orata filet, a grilled salmon, grilled quail, grilled lamb, grilled beef (so they like the grill I am guessing) as well as slower prepared Beef Brasato and a Guinea Fowl with liver panceta sauce the waiter nearly forced us to order (we opted for the pasta). One of the diners in our party did order a wonderful pork "arista" with fennel and onions... and took it home as we had warned... to much food.

Side dishes looked spectacular, and included roasted potatoes, long cooked broccoli, marinated peppers, yellow wax beans, cipolline, spinach and broccoli rabe.

Deserts also looked amazing, but feeling mighty full, we passed....

So yes, the place is fab, and yes the food is great... but don't worry Mario fans, he and Nancy are all about the details. Our drinks were carried from the bar, the cheese dishes were carefully crafted and the orrechiette topped with fresh, crispy bread crumbs for an added texture that made the dish. It's all there.

So make the rezo, or walk in early early. You'll have a killer meal. The days of those who love terrific regional italian food missing out are over. I love many LA italian spots, but mark my words.... the king has arrived.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Around The World in 80 Days

André is Back In The US And Has Stories To Tell

First, I guess an apology is in order. As some of you may know, I am producing the worldwide and domestic broadcast of LIVE EARTH on 7.7.07, and the workload and schedule of this project hasn’t allowed me the opportunity to contribute to this blog as often as I wish… so I’ll use this opportunity to talk about world travel and eating across the globe.

Not to ignore New York or LA where much is happening on the scene…. In New York, where the Dept of Health continues its post-Taco Bell rat rampage, some of the city’s more famous spots continue to shutter...and then reopen. The NYC scene is the most vital and everchanging in the world today, so I would suggest you hit to stay on top of it.

In LA, where the newest Pinkberry location shares headlines with the stargazing at the insanely popular Mozza, the scene is heating up. Culver City is becoming a destination (did I actually say that?) and West Hollywood continues to blossom. While the new Katsuya may be the sexist joint in LA, this is a town where the new Dougboys location gets the same amount of press in the blogs.

Traveling around the world the last few months have been a culinary eye-opener for me… as I revisited several of my favorite spots, and discovered new gems. To try and keep these thoughts somewhat organized, lets blast through the world in an orderly fashion, shall we?


Getting There:

My airline of choice remains Virgin Atlantic, where even a coach seat feels more special than some business class trips I have been on. On Virgin, Premium Economy is now the deal of all deals, as these seats have been exchanged for wider, more comfy reclining seats for a slightly higher price, and Upper Class… well, it’s simply the best class of service in the air today. Is there another airline that offers flat beds with duvets, order-at-will meals, a fully stocked bar and in flight massages? Thank you Sir Richard Branson.

What’s Great:
The pub scene remains unchanged, although a smoking ban is on the way. Still, is there nothing better than a plate of fish and chips with a cold pint in a pub that’s been around for 200 years? I think not. Sure, the Indian food remains the best in the world, the Chinese food in SoHo is killer and the mini celeb-chef community (Brian Turner, Gordan Ramsey, etc) continue their dominance, but the sum of these parts still equal a rather boring and lifeless scene compared to NYC, and Tokyo. Maybe this will never change.

What’s Not:
The money situation. Already expensive hotels and restaurants are now insane, thanks to the Pound dominance over the US dollar, now nearly 2-1. Broken down this means your taxi ride from Heathrow into the city will cost you $100 US dollars, a decent lunch $40 and a pint of beer $7. Ouch.

Final Thought:

Not much has changed here in the last 10 years, other than the giant wheel on the Thymes and the decline of the dollar. Do yourself a favor and hit Spain, where the scene is a bit spicier. Hell, Paris may be a better deal these days.


Getting There:
A number of airlines fly into Johannesburg, but again I recommend Virgin from London if you begin this trip on the other side of the Atlantic. The red-eye flight from London is smooth, and waking up with your feet on South African soil is cool as it gets.

What’s Great:
Jo’berg (as it is referred to) is one of the most evolving cities in the world today. Known for its natural beauty, extreme poverty and renown crime streaks, the city is bursting at the seams with creative expression… evolving from a society now free of apartheid. The warmth of the people in South Africa is infectious, and their climb to become recognized as one of the world’s great destinations is inevitable.

Not knowing much about South African food, I was lured to “The Butcher Shop”, one of the more famous eateries in the country, at Nelson Mandela Square. Having been told that the beef would be some of the best I had ever eaten, I was skeptical…. I mean, I live in NYC.. give me a break.

Well, I stand corrected. This restaurant serves the best steak I have ever put in my mouth.

The secret? A small farm outside of Jo’berg that raises the cattle. The aging process. The preparation. Flawless. I’ve had Argentinean beef, Kobe beef, USDA Prime. Forget them all. This is the real thing. On top of the astounding quality of the meal itself, I scarfed down a large steak, giant baked white sweet potato, asparagus, 2 glasses of wine and desert for $37.25. And that was with a generous tip. Amazing.

What’s Not:
Well, there are many things not great, although signs point to continual improvement. The poverty is obvious as you drive through the city. The poor line the streets in affluent neighborhoods selling wares and cooking food on the sidewalks for those who work for the rich. Safety is a concern. Like in all cities, you need to be careful in Jo’berg as the areas change quickly.

Final Thought:
As I was leaving South Africa, I was already thinking about a return trip. For all of the problems here, the people and natural beauty are too much to overcome. There is a love of life and enduring spirit here that makes us pause in thought… this is the place where we evolved as humans (Maropeng is an hour north, where many believe is the birthplace of man). Humans shares over 99% of the same DNA… and nowhere is this more evident than South Africa… where you feel part of one human race.


Getting There:

Take your pick. Americans can fly from the US into many Germany cities (I was in Hamburg). Inter-euro flights on airlines like Easy Jet are cheap and fast. Train travel may be the most efficient in the world, next to Japan.

What’s Great:

Well, I have a soft place in my heart for Germany, and it’s mainly the street food. Yes, the wiener.

Is there anything better than walking up to an immaculate streetside kiosk, and ordering a hot, grilled bratwurst with mustard and crusty roll? Or a currywurst, in its sweet and tangy sauce? I think not. Forget German restaurants. I’m thrilled drinking cold German beer and eating off of the street.

Did I mention that Germany is clean? Having been to Berlin many times, my first trip to Hamburg was a completely different experience. This is one of the greenest cities on the planet, with lush, leafy trees lining nearly every city street. The inland lakes are stunning, and the Hamburg residents take every advantage of their natural surroundings by crowding beer gardens and cafes from morning to night.

Oh yea, you can buy just about any shoe on earth here. Hamburg folks dress to impress and love their shoes. Not to mention this is the birthplace and home of Nivea, so skincare and cosmetics are a big deal, too.

What’s Not:
Where Germans in Hamburg are polite, they are not downright friendly like the Italians or Polish. Don’t expect to get invited into someone’s house for dinner. Additionally, our friends in Hamburg don’t cater to english tourists. You’ll rarely find menus in english unless you are in a touristy area, and that’s if you are lucky.

Final Thought:

It’s all about the sausage. And the cigars. Yep, you can find good deals on Cubans here, so remember to take the bands off when you walk them through customs. Germany is a wonderful place to visit, but this isn’t one of those trips you begin looking for people with your same last name in the phone book or pretend you are apartment hunting. Enjoy and move on….


Getting There:
I prefer ANA Airlines. The folks at ANA may have the best service in the air, and the business class cabin looks like someone’s apartment. It’s that clean and nice. And you get cool ass Japanese slippers, too. The seats are built into beautifully crafted wooden encasements that include privacy dividers. The seats are comfy, even for those of us of large girth, and the food is terrific.

What’s Great:
Well, Japanese service. I’ve said for many years that Asian hotels set the world standard in service, and I still believe it. My stay at the Hilton Tokyo wasn’t the Park Hyatt in terms of opulence, but was terrific in it’s own right.

The other thing that makes Japan remarkable is its ability for the ancient and modern to coexist side by side. Make no mistake about it, Japan leads the world in technology and they use it in all facets of daily life, including urban planning. It’s fascinating to watch the millions of people in Tokyo move effortlessly through the city, and even more amazing to stumble across a Buddhist Temple a block away from a Starbucks.

Food wise, Japan is loaded with what you might think… sushi and noodles. My favorite dish, Tonkatsu, or a fried pork cutlet with steamed rice and Japanese pickles, is such a staple that there are outlets in the city that serve only that dish. There are still street side robato bars with tender, marinated grilled meats as well as steamed buns filled with sweet red bean paste. But believe me, there is more to Tokyo than traditional Japanese fare.

American and Euro-styled cooking is hot in Japan. Four and Five star restaurants abound in the city… and now more than ever, young upcoming chefs are traveling to Japan to craft their trades.

What’s Not:

Well, being from North America, jet lag still remains the #1 challenge of a trip to Japan, closely followed by the overwhelming amount of non-english signage. Did you see Lost in Translation? To top it all off, the longer then life airplane trip over is followed by an hour and a half train trip to the city from Narita Airport. Ouch. Lastly, as easy as it is to find people on the street who speak English in Europe, it is equally as difficult in Japan. You’ll be fine in tourist areas, but veer off the beaten path and you are on your own.

Final Thought:
I simply love Japan. From the modernist buildings and amazing hotels, to their ties to ancient tradition, this is a country that everyone should visit, if only once. Once the most expensive city in the world, Tokyo is now somewhat affordable… opening the doors to many who are now making it a destination of a lifetime.


Getting There:
Good luck. It’s so far that no matter who you choose, your butt is going to be on fire by the time you get there.

What’s Great:

My trip to Shanghai was an adventure. I had been to Hong Kong, but let me tell you, Shanghai is about as different from Hong Kong as two cities can be.

Shanghai is the fastest growing business hub in the world today. In fact, 1/5 of the world’s construction cranes are in Shanghai. It’s taken Shanghai to build as many buildings in 12 years as it took NYC to build in 40. The buildings in Shanghai are unlike any you have ever seen… incredibly modern, gleaming structures, that look like a hybrid and Manhattan and Las Vegas. Really.

The hotels in Shanghai range from just OK to downright fantastic. The Westin Bund, a 10 minute stroll from the famous “Bund” walk, is an incredible facility with what I firmly believe is one of the best breakfast and lunch buffets in the world today. Imagine a buffet scattered throughout an opulent, lofted hotel lobby, that includes every item in an American, English and Japanese breakfast… and then add Chinese dumplings, steamed buns, noodles, tender pork, chicken, well you get the picture. Unreal. We ate for 2 hours.

Outside of the hotel, the experience is one of a kind. Walking the streets of Shanghai, vendors wok noodles and veggies on the sidewalk, shopkeepers water their produce and salesmen hawk cheap wares and cigarettes. I visited one of the most expensive restaurants in China as a special guest, and was rewarded with a setting that resembled a palace from the Ming Dynasty… almost like a movie set. While the food was delicious, the meal of my trip came later in the evening (or about 2:30am in the morning when the restaurants are still doing business) when I ate the best salt and pepper crab I have ever tasted in my life. Did I mention the pork dumplings? Wow.

By the way, the stuff I bought on the street was 1/10th the price of the hotel and airport shops. Do some street shopping and you’ll be well rewarded. I filled a bag with goodies and had spent $11 bucks.

What’s Not:
Getting around ain’t easy. Additionally the airport is an hour out of town, and in the middle of nowhere. Do yourself a favor and arrange a pickup from your hotel before you leave. Also, hailing cabs can be tricky, as the color of the cab usually dictates the expertise of the driver. Consult your hotel staff before you start hailing cabs off of the street in Shanghai. Believe it or not, many have no idea where even some simple places are located (or at least they pretend not to).

Final Thought:
Go. Go to China. They love meeting Americans, and they love selling their wares. Also, many of the misconceptions you may have about the far east will be put to rest. China has much to offer the world, and we should all be connected with their society as 1 in 6 humans live here. This is a fascinating culture, and I continue to understand more and more about them on each visit. Here is your opportunity to do the Olympics and visit an amazing place.


Getting There:
Any way you can, that doesn’t include a flight on Delta, the worst international carrier on the planet. If I meet one more 60 year old flight attendant, I’m going to jump out of a window.

What’s Great:

Well, Rio starts and ends with its beaches. The beach life here is hard to put into words, as life itself revolves around the sand on Copacabana, Impanema, Leblon and Bahia beaches. They hit the sand at dawn and remain until the wee hours of the morning, when they go home, take a nap, and repeat. They love life and enjoy simple pleasures.

Food in Brasil is rather straight forward… its all about meat. Churrasaria Porcao remains the favorite of the locals in Rio (you can find locations in NYC and Miami as well) but recently, more international friendly if not upscale restaurants have been stealing the headlines. That said, you can get the cutting edge fusion food anywhere, so why not embrace the meat? When in Rome.

What’s Not:

Well, it’s hard to look at the window from the ride into town from the airport without a lump in your throat. The poverty is so overwhelming, you can’t imagine anyone living in those conditions. Brasil has a long way to go to elevate their social classes and they know it.

Additionally, traffic is a major problem here, and continues to worsen. As the population grows, the roads continue to crumble… meaning that city leaders will need to take serious measures, and soon.

Final Thought:

Rio is unlike any city in the world. The terrain is special…and the city rests within the steep cliffs and green mountains of what you could call a visual paradise. Even though crime continues to be a real problem, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip as long as you stay in main areas and surround yourself with lots of people.

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