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Chicago Redux

When an opportunity comes my way to travel to a city known for its food, almost any excuse will do.  When it is a town on my top five list, no arm twisting required. Living in New York City tends to narrow my view of dining.  More and more restaurants that open seem driven by the same formula: a downtown location, a sexy crowd, and food that serves the needs of those who treat food as dressing, while also appeasing to the so called discerning foodies.

Aside from high end restos, cheap ethnic dining is best, offering real value for your food, packed with real flavor.  If this were a BYO town such as Philly or Chicago, we would have something here.  But how would the restaurants pay the rent.  One can get easily caught up in the notion that New York is the center of the universe in dining, and neglect other foodtowns, USA.  New Orleans disproves this theory.  San Francisco, Charleston, and (fill in the blank)head the list.

This weekend Chicago was the venue, and year after year, I leave with a great impression of a food culture that is thriving and genuine.

After arriving on Thursday afternoon and checking into the Affinia Hotel, I was treated to a surprise, an authentic Chick-Fil-A.  We don’t have it in New York, and I haven’t tried it.  But chicken would have to wait, as I had a date with Carriage Bakery, a small shop run by scientific dudes, dedicated to making pot pies and pasties, British style, with all the trimmings, peas, chips and malt vinegar, mashed potatoes and gravy.  Country ditties on the screen reminded me of Deliverance, but the only revelation was just how great these pies were, filled with steak, chicken, stew meat, or the special of the day, cheese and potato.  Washed down with a hibiscus soda, I couldn’t help but think that in NYC, another meatball or bao bun shop opened up instead.  A necessary cup of coffee from neighboring upstart Bridgeport was proper and enjoyable.  Auspicious beginning.

That evening I headed over to the Purple Pig, which was hopping at 6 pm.  I always forget that in the Midwest, people prefer to dine early.  With no reservation and a party for six, we were grabbed a two hour wait.  The reservation system was handled on a piece of paper and not well managed.  They were overwhelmed.  We were crammed at the bar.  I checking in several times and witnessed several spaces we could have been squeezed into, but I was told that people were running late. I watched as a family of six with four kids arrived late and took the space.  A huge pet peeve of mine, no kids at wine bars during peak times.  They drink soda!  After some nice cocktails and cidre from Normandie, we ordered a bottle of lambrusco.  After 15 minutes, it was clear that our order was forgotten. Note to self, dine after nine in Chicago.

When the time had elapsed, the hostess offered us a table out in the Chicago cold.  I expressed my displeasure, and stated the obvious.  That If I had been informed after waiting for two hours standing at the bar, that I was to be offered seating outside, I would have left accordingly.  All was forgiven when we finally were seated and comped the Lambrusco.  We ordered off the vast menu.  Some dishes were quite memorable.   The charcuterie plate was bright anchored by a creamy testa. Pork rillettes were rich and devoured.  Almonds fried in pork fat was eye opening.  Iberico lardo on toast points will be stolen and put on my menu at home.  The star dish was a balance fried, sliced pig’s ears salad with pickled peppers and fried kale, a real stunner.  The quail and roasted marrow bones were tasty albeit small in portion size, the mussels and octopus less successful.  The wine list was well put together offering many reasonable choices.  We had a bottle of Movia sauvignon blanc, LDH Tondonia Blanco 2001, and a Cerasuolo di Vittoria, all at great prices.  The cheese course was tame, and I wished for more aggressive offerings.  Time spent in total: 5 hours.

The following day we took in the Field museum and the Genghis Khan exhibit, whose DNA is responsible for 16 million Mongolians, The Red Queen supreme.  We paid a visit to the Bongo Room for their famous brunch, and comparing it to certain NY bruncheries, it held up its own, with intellgentsia coffee and great bacon and pork sausage.  I will have to return for the pancakes, which looked fabulous.

Squeezed in a Chik-Fil-A which was not bad, but nothing to write home about.  Moderately moist chicken, sorry bun, interesting, albeit sweet sauces.

A quick pit stop for oysters and cocktails in the C-Room (the hotel resto), and all was fine, but one could not detect Chef Marcus Samuelson’s stamp on anything.  It certainly was no Red Rooster.  A trip to the United Center was only overshadowed in anticipation of an evening at Publican, my favorite gastro pub anywhere.

Great seats by the kitchen, artisanal craft beers and pork rinds, heaven’s gate now open and the true games begin.  Hamachi crudo, pickled corn, onions, and pickles, boudin blanc, and more pork rinds, ethereal cheese and vinegar spiced, the perfect bar food.  The beer list is so well selected, you almost can’t bring yourself to order wine, but slightly sweet gruner and halb-trocken Riesling cut right into the fat of the steak tartare, brilliantly prepared.  The service is impeccable, and I truly lament that they don’t open a branch in NYC.  To follow up, lovely cocktails were had at Maude’s, a sleeper in my book.  Their house smashes took me out.

The next day I had my mind set on a burger, and we were advised to experience Kuma’s Corner for some heavy metal and all the fixings. There was a three-hour wait, so we ordered take-out, which was prompt, seven burgers and fries, mac n cheese in half an hour.  It was a little chilly for a picnic, but that was the only viable venue option.  Aside from the novelty nomenclature, I found the burgers to be good, enormous, and the toppings to be slightly more interesting than the burgers themselves.  No comparison to Pat La Frieda’s black label or The Burger Joint here.

Quick digestion was necessary, as some hard to procure seats at Schwa for 8:30 were waiting, a meal I have been looking forward to all month.

Outside Schwa looks like a shuttered storefront, shades down and abandoned looking.  The cab offered to keep the meter running.  We walked in without an escape plan, and to our delight, they were open, alive and kicking.

We were well armed for the BYO nine-course affair.  Larmandier Bernier Terre de Vertus Blanc de Blancs, Domaine Servin Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis 2008, and Mastrobernardino Radici Taurasi 1999 Riserva purchased fom Binny’s, apparently the only game in town.   There was no Chamber’s Street in sight, and I will have to look into the wine selection availability more in depth in the future.

Enter a non-descript rectangular room anchored in the rear by an open kitchen as seen through a square porthole, with smoke and fire wafting through the ceiling, as modern hip hp blares and thumps thorough the Polk speakers.  At first it seem disjointed, all that rap, and the recessed down attitude.  But after we were seated, you just have to surrender, which was upon observance the only option exercised by the rest of the patrons.

One menu, nine courses, and service by the chefs who finish a dish and bring it out to the table.  Silver-plated ceiling above, back graffiti sprayed walls surrounded by silver blinged lighting fixtures: Odyssey 2000 meets Harlem meets El Bulli on American soil.

One could say it’s all about the food, but the music is there, thumping, causing you to rock back and forth or bow your dome in rhythm, a rap opera setting.


Amuse:  Chocolate cherry bomb Manhattan, Flower tonic

Cassoulet : deconstructed w pig ears

Baked Potato deconstructed into a soup

Raviolo Truffle Egg

Tortelloni Crab Apple Celery broth

Roe, Passion fruit, violet

Fruit Loops

Salmon Sous Vide

Cocoa Crusted Halibut in apricot and curry

Squab w/ Bourbon flavors, Dr. Pepper

Rice Crispies


The cooking is inventive, refreshing, and ballsy.  The flavors are balanced, bright with acidity, and artistic on the plate.  This is no apology cooking from Chef Carlson and crew.  You can tell they are doing it “my way” and if you are open for the experience it all makes sense in the end, expert technique and an approach to food that is playful, whimsical, thought provoking, and delicious, a feeling I had not had since dining at El Bulli.

In New York, Romera tried its hand, and failed, panned by critics and misunderstood by New York’s “educated” and “sophisticated” diners.  I wonder what reception Schwa would receive in NYC.  It is a shame that this type of cooking does not exist in my home town, save for Chef Wylie.

Followed up the great performance with some jazz from Joanna Connor at Kingston Mines, swizzling Goose Island until close.

Couldn’t leave Chicago without a deep dish pizza, but logistics steered me local for some rather good Hawaiian and meat stuffed pies, nothing that will replace the Napoletana craze back home.  Next time I want to try Smoque BBQ.

I leave Chicago with much respect, a little bit of envy, great satisfaction, basking into the arms of my diversely ethnic melting pot of comfort food, celebrity chef type and people watching venues that stand in for restaurants nowadays in NYC, anxiously waiting for the food to be the star.









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Escape from New York?

I like to think that my ideal living arrangement/lifestyle would be eight months in New York City, three months in Europe, and one month in the Caribbean.  I measure my success by the approximation to that goal.  So far this year, I have been late to travel, and only managed to squeeze in a week in Cancun to satisfy the “beach” element to my program.

It almost felt unnecessary to leave NYC, given the spate of warm weather, but a beach is still a beach.  I was warned about late January weather in Mexico, but found this to be a true bonus.  It rained the Friday I got in, and was cloudy the day I departed.  In between, however, sunny to partly cloudy skies, a fabulous constant breeze and mild temperatures.  The kind that allows for tanning without scalding, sleeping and reading on lounge chairs without sweating, encouraging for late night starry walks without the company of mosquitoes.

The other piece of advice I received was to stay in Playa del Carmen, a newer, less touristy, hipper part of Cancun, but because of the deal I sought out, Cancun it was.

There are two main problems with staying in Cancun.  One is that most of the hotels are all inclusive, which for a person looking to sample local cuisine, is a death trap.  Eating the same hotel food day after day is boring, often inedible, and not adventurous.  I chose a hotel with no all-inclusive, Le Meridien.  There are two buses that travel directly to the center of Cancun (R-1, R-2) which are inexpensive and run frequently.

After reading countless reviews on Trip Advisor and spending some time at the Barnes and Nobles travel library, I jotted a few places to try and decided to wing it.  Instead of being my usual obsessive self about the food, I decided to not to sweat it.

After establishing that the food at the hotel was inedible, the strip of the Zona Hotelera revealed various pitfalls as well, but I got a little lucky.  A small cafe at the back of a touring/rental company served a basic menu of eggs, tacos and sandwiches with drinks  with a view of the laguna.  Fred’s House, seafood restaurant, sister of the more expensive Harry’s Grill, did a great job with ceviche and grilled fish.  The chocolate (named for the shell color) clams were pristine, and oysters on the grill meaty and good.  The chef prepared the local hogfish with a 7 chili rub and various habanero sauces.  I struggled through a bottle of sauvignon blanc fom Mexico, but more on that later.

At Captain’s Cove, also on the strip, there is a Sunday buffet with omelettes and tacos to order.  They served cochinito pibil and rajas, but the stars of the meal were the hominy and pork crackling soups, deep, earthy, and hangover relieving Yucatan specialities.

A big blank was drawn at an attempt for sushi at Katsu ya, which prepared barely edible rolls, and were out of sushi grade tuna and hamachi.  I know what you’re thinking, but I just had an obviously non brilliant thought that fresh fish equaled good sashimi.  Not.

The saving grace to all of these establishments were their proximity on the laguna.  There is something to be said for dining at tables waterside, feeling the breeze, listening to the waves, and watching the sun or starry skies.

Then there was the afternoon of trying to find bars with working satellites to watch sports, (more Knicks games televised here than in NYC) which was responsible for drinking at Maragaritaville (ugh, during a kids party), and Champions outlet bar (double ugh).  Some satellites worked, others didn’t.  You can’t follow your sports team in Mexico unless its Chivas.

But, among those bad experiences good decisions were made too.  A romantic relaxed evening at Habichuelos complete with garden and tableside Caesar’s salad preparation made for a memorable meal of soft shelled crab, ceviche, mole, whole snapper and banana chocolate crepes. Behind the Parque de las Palapas, there is a plaza with street vendors selling tortas to tacos  of all varieties.  Mexico at its best.

On the bustling Avenida Tulum, a great show can be caught at La Parilla, a Tex Mex stalwart with giant drinks, flaming food, and a theatrical circus waiter who balances everything on his bald head.   Mariachis swing from table to table while the waiter climbs a ladder to perform a pyrotechnic Mexican coffee.  Pictures secured by camera phones and safety disregarded when it sure looked to me like everything was going to come crashing down on the patrons.

Very nice Oaxacan cuisine at Calenda, in case you missed out on your chapulinas (grasshopper) fix.  Moles, and stuffed peppers round out the menu.  And don’t forget the mescal.

More mescal and proper tequilas can be had at the Plaza de los Toros, in the bars surrounding the bullfighting ring.  There’s a style for every one, just make sure it is your style.

After the thirtieth margarita, my palate leans back towards wine.  I found that virtually every wine list had the same list of wines on the menu, only changing the price according to the type of restaurant.  The choices were awful, and overpriced as if I were in Venice.  I tried to taste some local wines, but could not stomach the alcohol content, and the oak.  Apparently, there are just two importers in the area, and they dictate the wines to be sold.  Oh well, back to mescal.

I found my appetite to be somewhat diminished and tame.  Perhaps the limited options did not inspire, or maybe the sun provided enough nourishment, but after seven days of eating in Cancun, I couldn’t wait for my 9:00 pm res at Mas La Grillade in the West Village.

Postscript:  Mas La Grillade was great, smoked romaine salad!  Thanks to Shiraz and Galen for a memorable evening and welcome back to my home town.

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The Role of the Critic

With all the shuffling going on at the New York Times Dining Out section desk (Bruni to Sifton to Asimov to Wells), I can’t help but reflect and compare the writing styles, pedigree, and accuracy of the reviewers.  It brings me to think about the deeper question in a more macro sense of what the role of critic means.

First, I would like to list what I want in a critic.  Above all, I want a critic who is experienced, world traveled and fed, and knowledgeable.  It is a plus if the critic actually cooks, or even better, has been a chef in a kitchen.  Chefs can appreciate good food, and know what painstaking efforts it takes to open and run a successful restaurant.  Then there’s integrity of course, which I understand is difficult to keep in line especially when one is spotted and drowned in freebies and preferential treatment.  The third component is writing, which must illustrate verbally the overall picture, ultimately spending the heart of the review discussing the food and the alcohol.

Now taking into consideration the NYT readership and who the Dining Out section is actually marketed to is important.  Certain restaurants must be reviewed, as popularity demands it.  Same goes for chefs of celebrity, and in an attempt to be politically, globally correct, ethnic cuisines to follow.   Since there are few if any top tier ethnic eateries that makes the decision making quite simple.

I have tried my hand at a few reviews myself on my own personal web blog, and can tell you that it is a lot of work, albeit fun.  To get a real sense of the place you have to dine there at least three times, and true anonymity is a great advantage.  The only special treatment I received was a result of fostering a relationship with the staff, or having dined with a restaurant, which I can assure is a night and day experience.

I try to take into account the ambiance, the food and beverage, and relate it to the price as compared to other experiences.  Consistency is important, and not falling prey to your own tastes and fads is difficult.  For example, I am not much of a vegetable lover, but make it a point to try the vegetables offered on the menu to judge the cooking.  Moreover, I tend to review restaurants that I am interested in.  Finally, if I don’t like a place, I won’t write a word about it.  Again it is incredibly difficult to make a restaurant work, and just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean others won’t too.  If a concept or effort falls short by my standards, that doesn’t mean effort and hard work are not being put into the project by real people.

Critics are useful to me especially if I can align my taste with theirs.  For example, Parkerized scores in wine help me to do my shopping.  A 95 score means fruit bomb and a no no for me.  Conversely, I might look more closely at a bottle that scores an 89.  Customers do this all the time.  I trust Chris’s judgment at Chambers Street Wines because we have similar palates in Spanish wine.  I also know he does his homework.  So when he recommends something out of the ordinary such as an albillo, I go for it.  At the very least, I know I will find the wine interesting, even if not to my exact taste.

Which brings me to the New York Times reviewers, who I have found to be good in certain aspects of their body of work and also limited in certain respects.

Starting with Mr. Frank Bruni, I have found his reviews to be very well written, with a global touch, as influenced by his station work in Italy.  He quite often nailed what a restaurant was like, the all important vibe, which can often be more important than the food, especially in this town, where I feel the majority of readers rely on to be seen at the next trendy hot spot.  Bruni was great at this.  I could just close my eyes and imagine a scene, and more often than not he was spot on.  My issue with Bruni is that there was never enough discussion about the actual food and wine.  Like leftovers on a plate that a waiter whisks away when you turn your head for a second before having the opportunity to mop up the sauce with the bread, I seldom got the impression that Frank actually likes food, or even enjoyed himself.  Then when his book came out about his struggles with food and obesity it all made sense to me.  Every meal was a struggle, as well as each review, and therefore something forgiving was left out, like the love needed to make a great red sauce.

Then came Sam Sifton, whom I have met a few times, ambitiously minded for higher work, and it showed.  I trusted in what Sifton had to say because I felt like he enjoyed dining out with his family and friends.  He looked for value and real cooking, but wasn’t critical enough.  I followed suit on some of his reviews and found his information a bit off, his experiences a bit different than mine.  There is a margin of error there as he may have received the aforementioned special treatment (I knew nary a resto that didn’t have his photo pinned to the bulletin board).  But I suspect that while he was hard at work, his mind was elsewhere, like dining and eating, two pleasures I rarely combine, as they are too competing and interfere in my taking in the experience fully, the path to real understanding.

I must obviously make mention of my relationship with Eric Asimov, a friend, dining and travel companion for years, who I met a long ways back training in martial arts together at the Kokushi Budo Institute.  His food journalism credentials are all there, having written and created the 25 and Under column, and I have been lucky enough to be a guest at many of those meals.  I have also been privy to a few road wine trips in recent years, and watched as he created a chief wine critic position to follow his passion about wine, beer and spirits.  When Eric says he is tired of eating molten chocolate cake it is because he has been served it a million times.  He is brave enough to take the chicken dish at order time and really reports on what’s what.  We always voice our opinions.  He listens, but does not sway.  In his recent review of Fatty Cue, he awarded the resto two stars.  Solid one star in my book (* but the star system needs changing). His writing style is not flowery or full of fancy imagery.  Rather he is telling you a story, a short history about food as it evolves.  Most importantly, he has the common touch.  Until his photos became available, he was as anonymous as could be, like dining with the average white guy.  On most occasions he received no special treatment.  His experience would be most likely yours too.  Things have changed of course, as his connections are vast and he is spotted everywhere, but Eric has remained the same.  Just trying to tell a story man.

As for Pete Wells, the actual impetus for my writing this blog entry, his body of work as chief critic is open and short, but it is his last review of Romera that has me worried.  I have not been to Romera, but do plan to go, at the behest of trusted eating partners from my crew whose opinion I trust.  From reading his review, and knowing something about the type of cooking being performed at Romera, it is probably true that there were consistency issues.  A few degrees here or there can alter the state of the dish, especially on that high level of cooking.  But what is modernist cooking?  I am waging that Pete just missed the point.  There is a reason why the most important food movement of our time hails from the Basque region of Spain.  There is a reason that these restaurants cannot be found in what is supposed to be the dining capitol of the world.  The foodies or sophisticated diners of this town are simply not ready for it.  It takes a certain amount of eating and drinking evolution to appreciate what is going on at Romera, and most foodies think they have a more developed palate than they actually do.  They think that if they follow Grub Street, Dining Out, Eater, Serious Eats, and watch Tony Bourdain’s show, that constitutes understanding food and wine better.  They think that if they can snag a res at Ko, get into Minetta Tavern, and Locanda Verde that they know restaurants.  Which on the surface is somewhat true, but only to a certain degree.  It’s great to go from PBR to Geuze, but the journey is paramount, and cannot be attained with shortcuts.  I once spoke to a wealthy wine collector who ate at El Bulli and told me his meal was garbage and forgettable.  I was fortunate enough to dine there once and had one of the most magical dining experiences of my life.  Perhaps because I have been traveling to Spain for over twenty years to follow food and wine gave me a different perspective.  Perhaps because I cook and own a Spanish wine bar that helps my appreciation too.  I am certain that ten years ago, I would not have understood what Ferran was doing either.

In a recent review of Mas (Grillade), Mr. Asimov mentioned his experience at a Basque resto called Extebarri, which specializes in smoking all the ingredients.  Now a critic could have written about the use of smoke at Mas and done a fine job.  But he enhanced the review by drawing from his vast experience, in this instance a small mountain top shrine to charcoal and wood, the zenith of smoke shops.  Having dined there as well, I was transported; my memories took me to my first smoked foods, to that amazing afternoon with smoked butter and ice cream and sea urchin etc.  It lends to a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the chef at Mas is trying to achieve.  A vital element in any assessment, one that was perhaps missed at Romera.

There is no perfect critic.  We just have to trust in a knowledgeable, experienced, ethical writer who can best convey a dining experience so that we can either live vicariously through, or gain vital information for ourselves, perhaps learning a little something along the way.


* As a final note, it would be great to move to a five star system for rating restaurants.  I have dined at so many two star establishments, which would be one star on a five star scale.  Service being the main criteria for the downgrade along with quality vs. cost ratio.  For example, compare the cote de boeuf at Minetta Tavern vs. Fatty Cue.  Check out the portion size in relation to the price.  The extra star would allow for true wiggle room as many two star restos should probably be one star and the trickle down effect could follow.









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October rolled by quickly, but not before I gave a yearly check-up to one of my favorite food towns, New Orleans.  The climate in New York has been whacky, what with the lack of seasons.  October is just about the time NOLA is tolerable, warm, but not balmy or humid, sunny, appetizing, and thirstworthy.

I usually over plan, scheduling three solid meals, leaving room for street fare and oysters in between.  Upon Saturday arrival and an early Monteleone check-in, I made a b line for a new joint, Sylvain on Chartres St.  A quaint resto with outdoor seating, clearly a place where cocktails are taken seriously.  My eating companion Michelle and I tried the aviation, aunt rose, pressure drop, mojito, and bloody mary, all delicious and well concocted.  The menu, albeit limited for brunch, still stood up to the bar skill.  The meal started with an app of bright smoked salmon rillettes, pickled beets, and a warm potato soup.  We split a large plate of pan fried pork shoulder and grits, tender and crispy.  After watching the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich parading around the room, I had to order that too, overkill, but worth it.  I am certain the nightlife there must get hot and sweaty, and is duly noted for my next visit.

After an obligatory siesta at Café du Monde, and a few beignets, a walk through the French market was warranted along with a little shopping and enough time for a nap and a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Carousel.  We walked to my favorite street pronunciation, Tchoupitoulas, to have a grand meal at August, chef John Besh’s upscale financial district restaurant.  We had drinks at the bar, which serves as a rather gloomy waiting room dressed in dark wood sans any NOLA charm. Inside the dining area was another matter entirely.  High ceilings revealing towering bouquets and bright crystal chandeliers, solid brick set against soft hues, an inviting atmosphere indeed.  There is a connecting cellar room, which is extra cozy and romantically lit, juxtaposed to another room with tall banquettes.  We decided to sit surrounded by the steep and narrow wine staircase library above us.

It was difficult to make choices because many of the menu items sounded very tasty.  But the staff is very southernly hospitable, and the sommelier really knew her grapes. The focus of the menu was clearly farm to table with a foundation on Louisiana roots. First course a lemonfish crudo, bright with citrus and clean.  A consommé of gulf shrimp and bacon Ramen was next, surprising in its flavor profile versus everything else on the menu.  The noodles were tight, the yard egg a real zinger.  Crispy zucchini blossom filled with sweet corn and heirloom tomato was a satisfying winner.  The Pfeffingen 2006 riesling paired nicely throughout.  Apparently everyone orders the gnocchi and who could argue with accents of black truffle and bluecrab elevating the pillowy creamy clouds of gnocchi.  The topper was a Mangalitsa pork tenderloin, crispy and tender, accompanied by cheek raviolo, sweet corn, purple plums, and chanterelles.  For sweets, we had the exquisite banana rhum cake and the napoleon nougatine, a real treat, paired with a glass of Chateau Laribotte and macchiato, splendid way to end a great meal.

We had enough steam to grab late nite cocktails, but surprisingly, the Hermes Bar and French 75 Bar were winding down.  Maybe a sign to pack it in.  The next morning we ambitiously but foolishly tried to walk to City Park from the Quarter, when a streetcar ride on Canal would do.  Live and learn.  The brunch destination was Ralph’s on The Park, a convivial brunch place across from the park with a piano player (although he played in the adjoining room away from the diners).  Ralph’s offers various types of bloody maries, from mild to spicy with twists such as basil.  As turtle soup is not a standard in NYC, we had to share a bowl of that with the obligatory sherry, as sherry improves just about anything from a dish to a bad mood.  The biscuits were recommended and worth it, dense and flaky all at once.  Perhaps the unnecessary splurge was the pigs in the blanket, but I had A Confederacy of Dunces in my head.  Chicken and waffles did not disappoint, and neither did a very rich plate of slow cooked lamb and eggs, knocking us right on our NYC behinds.  The bonus was walking through City Park, with its majestic and stately trees, solemn air and various bridges, all the way to the NOMA (museum of modern art), nice if you have the time.  The real attraction is the sculpture garden, which is not to be missed.  Streetcar back to the Quarter in time for oysters and football game.  Alas, the Saints lost.

We took a long cab ride way out to Feret Street to try the libations at Cure.  We started with the classics, a Manhattan and a sidecar, bourbon (I prefer bourbon).  Proper and civilized,  we moved on to the punch and the Angel drink, got hungry (surprise) and noshed on the meat and cheese plate (lacking in ham), stuffed dates, Jamaican meat pie, and banana and black rice.  Pretty good, if not strangely eclectic.

I was anxiously anticipating Monday lunch at the famous Parkway Tavern.  Heaven in a Po’boy.  Roast beef, fried shrimp, lots of gravy, sweet potato fries, Barq’s in a bottle.  Picnic benches out back.  All walks of life setting there, enjoying the moment.  True NOLA.

More oysters, the JETS game, and Cochon for dinner.  Rabbit Livers with pepper jelly, alligator, wood fired oyster roast, gumbo, chow chow shrimp, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, chicken thigh washed down with a Kurt Darting Riesling.  I know it’s a crime but no room for the cochon or smoked ham hock (at least I had it last year).  Room for upside down pineapple cake though.  Superb.  My kingdom for a Cochon in New York.  Some more cocktails at French 75 bar, followed by a great discovery of an upscale dive bar called Bar Tonique on N. Rampart St., which featured a $5. Pimm’s cup special, and five dollar specials every night.  Proper.

Breakfast Tuesday morning at Cake Café Bakery, a sleeper of a joint with great cupcakes but solid breakfast and lunch fare, such as shrimp and grits, or egg salad sandwich.  Serve and seat yourself, and this place grows on you by the cupcake.  Locals only it seems.  Try to dress the part.  Pre-flight drinks next on the list, but not before a stop at Central Grocery for a muffelata for the plane ride back and late nite snack.  We headed to the Roosevelt Hotel for another take on John Besh’s Italian fare at Domenica, which has a fabulous happy hour from 3 pm to 6 pm of half priced pizzas and wines by the glass.  Best deal in town, and we New Yorkers are pizza snobs/fanatics.  There some crazy large 900 degree oven churning out those bad boys with great crust, excellent toppings and serious wine program.  Leaving that bar was tough.

Back in NYC with NOLA blues, Spotted Cat still on the brain, great cooking still on the palate.  Until next year, adieu New Orleans.

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Heat Wave

Trying to acclimate to NYC, with its inexplicable absence of spring or fall seasons has been more painful than watching the Red Sox sweep of the Yankees.  Having recently returned from France where the flowers were blooming, the skies blue, the sunshine bright and the breezes blowing, this weather makes me want to defect.  Maybe New York is just not the place to be in the summer months any more.

There are some saving graces such as the Highline, food truck mania, the upcoming BBQ festival at Madison Park, reservations practically anywhere, but who wants to go out into a thicket of humid air mass?  My only solution is to treat this summer like a winter.  Hibernate.  I hit the 97th St. Farmer’s Market and bought everything in site.  In the comfort of A/C, I will make pesto, tomato sauce, pickle vegetables, hot sauce, and ice cream.  I will freeze all the fresh meat products for a balmy day and only come out of my cave when the temperature is below 85 degrees.  With food, wine and a/c, I will survive this harsh summer.  Cooking will take the heat off.  Being in the kitchen, where it is supposed to be hot is far more gratifying than the alternative – traveling via train anywhere.

Let’s start with a simple pesto recipe, one I used recently with some fresh spinach and cheese ravioli from Eataly.


2 cups basil, 1/2 cup evoo, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup pignoli (pine nuts), 1/2 cup grated parm reggiano/pecorino romano

In a food processor, add all ingredients while slowly drizzling olive oil.

Store in a tight jar with a film of olive oil on top to preserve color and freshness.