Archive for February, 2008

C-CAP Benefit 2008: A Taster’s Digest

February 28, 2008

Revolution and Sterno were in the air at the tenth annual C-CAP benefit as sweet beat out savory for the first time in half a decade.  In another surprise turn, the once ubiquitous soup shooter was nowhere to be seen.  Tuna and lemon (from Meyer to regular to -grass) were the new favorite ingredients, while pork bellies, truffles and foie took a well deserved rest from center stage.  Below are a few highlights from this year’s offerings. 

1. Blue Hill: Pork Part Petits Fours

A ganache of pork offal purée rolled in cocoa nibs and sandwiched between Mexican-spiced chocolate crisps.   Sounded awful, tasted great.  Reminiscent but not derivative of Wylie Dufresne’s now classic foie, anchovy, cocoa nib creation from a few years back.  Added points for creating a single-serving portable portion on a night when so many chefs favored plates better suited to sharing amongst a seated threesome.

2. Dovetail: Rabbit terrine and kumquat skewers

After Fraser’s 2007 foie and Rice Krispy masterpiece, I knew his stars (had two, has  three) were on the rise.  This year’s rabbit terrine on a skewer confirmed it.  Loved witty allusion to 2006 C-CAP (Year of the Kumquat) in fruit accompaniment.  Kudoes as well for producing plateless dish easy to carry and fun to eat.  Skewers also good for poking people dithering in front of Craft dessert station.  

3. Craft: Caramelized banana tatin and malted milk ice cream

Butter, sugar, banana, milk alchemy.  Everything elevated comfort food is supposed to be, especially on a typically cold C-CAP benefit night.  Speed and consistency with which DeMasco turned out toaster tatins were a reproach to all of us with small kitchens: It’s not the equipment; it’s the cook.  For the record, I only “doubled down” the first time chef offered…and the second time her back was turned.    

4. Four Seasons NY: Lobster saltimbocca

“Saltimbocca” was taken literally at this highly interactive station: They just about put the generous chunk of lobster in your mouth while ladling the sauce with it.  Souvenir chin drips of sage-infused brown butter were delicious and blotted from face only after spousal reprimand.

5. Town: Squash parfait

Kabocha squash interleaved with goose mousse and set against blood orange emulsion renewed my faith in foam and kept the foie for fatty liver’s amazing versatility. John Johnson makes the best composed cheese plate in New York.  Little did I know he could produce similar wonders with an unsung winter vegetable. 


Felidia: Burrata and asparagus

I love the burrata’s delicacy and the spike of spring flavors from the delicate asparagus spears.  On a side note, Chef Fortunata Nicotra should win a chef’s award for trying the most dishes by his colleagues.  I was in line with him at half a dozen stations and saw him at a dozen more.  

Aretsky’s Patroon: Steak tartare

Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide with steak tartare.  Everything must be right and everything was.  Peet pulled it off again this year in a perfect bite size (canapé, mezze, tapa, you name it) portion.  Went well with the night’s red wine selection. 

Aureole: Lemongrass yogurt and passion fruit tapioca

C-CAP superstars Rachel Lansang and Amar Santana delivered again this year.   Sweet-sour balance was pitch-perfect on the palate.  Tastier and less baroque than the tapioca pearl masterpieces by Claudia Fleming at the North Fork Table & Inn and Pichet Ong at Spice Market, this tightly edited creation left my tongue so perked up that I made another run at the savories.   

Gotham: Alaskan king crab risotto with assorted delicious things

Hard to get texture and temp right with risotto in a crowded room over Sterno.  Portale’s team nailed it.  Only gripe was horizontal nature of plate.  I had high hopes for a signature vertical creation.   Pleasure wasn’t lacking, just more gustatory than visual.   



Restaurant Daniel’s Enduring Charms

February 25, 2008

Like an ever-expanding collection of Barbie dolls, Daniel Boulud now offers himself dressed up in Restaurant, CaféBistro and Bar outfits.   While the 2008 model’s  pulp fiction menu of blood, guts and feet en gelée has its peculiar appeals, I think I’ll stick with the easier non-violent charms of the grande old dame.  Here are a few reasons why.

1) Danny Meyer’s brother from another mother: Starting with the name, it’s hard not to see a bit of Danny Meyer in Restaurant Daniel.  Hugs both virtual and real begin at the door, continue at the coat check, follow you down the stairs to the bathroom and sweep you back out to your town car at the end of an evening.  This is as warm, reasonable and democratic a four-star as you’ll get in New York, both the most French—Lyon not Paris—and the most American—St. Louis not New York.

2) Liberty, fraternity and equality on the wine list:  If “Subway” is a restaurant or means of transportation you make use of often, then you’ll be pleased to know that no one’s blocking the door to your enjoying a glass or bottle on this revolutionarily (French) democratic list.  I was stunned by the number of bottles under fifty dollars and by the lengthy selection of half-bottles at a variety of price points.  Easy to explore and hard not to.

3) Keeping the faith for foie gras: Despite the crise de foie in more craven establishments, Mr. Boulud continues to fight the good fight for God’s greatest goosely creation.  On a recent visit, five different interpretations made eating one’s liver far more delicious and far less nutritious than mom intended.  

4) Parting pleasures: Petits Fours are my favorite part of the meal: they are invariably delicious, and I rarely have to share them.  Most people restrain themselves when feeling full, fat and drunk.   I don’t let feelings get in the way.  My most recent meal was no exception.  Next time, however, I might cut back to a single serving of Marc as accompanying digestif.  My car could have made it to the Major Deegan on the fumes alone.  

The Smith: Dull Name, Duller Food

February 18, 2008

If Candace Bushnell is your preferred author of erotica and Miracle Whip your favorite condiment, then by all means, crunch on through the Smith’s hipster candy coating and sink your Redi-Brite teeth into its kindergarten comfort food.  Cisco on the stereo and Sysco on the plate are the orders of the day at this low cost high calorie TGIFriday’s wannabe.  Below are five of the high and low lights

1) Convivial packed house:  Fun to visit a winner, sad to see that this wins 

When every table is full, and every seat at the bar is taken, and everyone has had a drink or three, it’s hard to argue that a restaurant isn’t on to something.  Then again, by that logic the Olive Garden managers in Paramus and Natick should be tenured professors at Cornell’s hotel school.

2) Mac and Cheese: A greasy smear of  textureless pap

The overheated hype surrounding the Smith’s flavorless fat bomb smacks of lazy food writing swiped from press releases.  Nothing for mind or mouth to chew on.

3) Tasty Potato chips and Blue Cheese Sauce: Thanks Blue Smoke

A step up on airplane snack food, a step down from Blue Smoke’s far superior version.  

4)  Dumbed down desserts are dumb:  Saccharine isn’t sweet

The peanut brittle, caramel and ice cream sundae proves sometimes too much is too much. A chocolatey pint of stout is a better option in dessert fare and a deal at five dollars.

5) Bargains at the Bar: Reasonable Draught and Wine List

 The wine list is spartanly described—grapes only, no producers or vintages—but well selected for by the glass ordering.  Familiar pinots (blanc, noir, etc) are balanced by marginally exotic malbec and almost interesting torrontés and riesling.  Same idea for beer. 

 Conclusion:  If Disney made a Brooklyn hipster restaurant for Epcot, this would be the Universal Studios knockoff.