December 9, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

A Blizzard of Winter White at Park Avenue


White feels a bit chilly as the season switches at Park Avenue Winter. Photo: Steven Richter

White feels a bit chilly as the season switches at Park Avenue Winter. Photo: Steven Richter

             After a carefree summer and a cozening autumn, the new season is straining the imagination of Park Avenue Winter. To change the name, the menu, the walls, the uniforms, the chandeliers.  How quickly this charming romp through the seasons has developed a cramp in the hamstring.


             I can go along with the winter white décor, sleek and shimmery.  The staff in funky white tuxedo jackets.  The sensational chandeliers with crystal balls in white gauze with bare winter tree branches. Though I must say for me winter is more a Ralph Lauren fantasy: deep gem-colored velvet and plaid taffeta, evergreens and mulled wine in front of the fire. Thankfully, I brought my stole.


              But winter white food is ridiculous.  The seasonal menu is not only seasonal, it’s a joke.  Cod and brandade.  Coconut basmati rice.  Coconut angel food cake.  Puleeze.  Instead of the great dishes of winter, we have foods that remind us it could be snowing outside.  Did the designers from AvroKO do the menu too? Spectacular Nantucket Bay scallops and baby gnocchi, so amusing, they look exactly alike…till you taste.  Oh yes, that’s a scallop.  And hmmm, that’s gnocchi.  But what about some flavor?  To glaze them would have made them delicious but brown, alas.  And a trickle of lime butter doesn’t do the trick.


             I admit we got off to a bad start – at a depression-bare wooden table under the speakers with an especially irritating thwacking beat and no music.


             “Can’t you turn that off?” snaps our puckish friend.


             The maitre d’ nods his head, understanding, if not sympathetic.  “We’re still working on the music,” he confesses.  Indeed, they are. All night, sometimes vapid, sometimes insistent, right in our corner.


 A garlicky blanket of savory green adds zest to a juicy veal chop. Photo: Steven Richter


         Alas, not even remarkably voluptuous and lively venison tartare can make up for the stupidity of bringing four of us starters and leaving the fifth guest to wait 10 minutes while the tartare is blended tableside.  Shall we wait politely while the soup gets cold or rudely start and feed the orphan nibbles? How about staging the tartare fandango and then bringing the other appetizers?


        Still, I ate so well in summer and fall (and I’ve sent so many friends and readers here) I expect the kitchen to live up to billing.  And Chef Craig Koketsu does with porcini plumped ravioli on Swiss chard and his kataifi-wrapped tiger prawns in a puddle of tangy grapefruit nage.  Three nearly raw slabs of almost invisibly seared tuna are almost too rich to finish. And a wonderful, juicy grilled veal chop with a thatch of  green-garlic bread crumbs makes the too-cooked red snapper seem even more boring. Black sea bass is overshadowed by its brioche-crusted poached eggs. The menu warns that it’s “roast” chicken “coq au vin,” but I am expecting more of the long-simmered classic, not  dried out chicken from the oven with mushrooms and onions “au vin” on the side.


         Happily, our table of Park Avenue-Whatever-Season first-timers are provoked to wild enthusiasm by pastry star Richard Leach’s desserts. They love the warm gingerbread with apple puree and spiced raisins…are wild about the flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter brittle. And charmed by the angel food cake with caramel panna cotta, although not by the coconut curry sorbet.


         Still I admit it is cruel to greet Smith & Wollensky scion Michael as he introduces himself to the table with my suggestion that “Soft jazz would be perfect for your crowd. These Park Avenue seniors.”  He looks around the room, as if seeing a mirage of young hotties, clearly stung. Instantly, I am sorry. I must stop speaking my mind and save it for Word.



Fairwell, Murray: May Flights of Sturgeon Sing Thee to Thy Rest

 Caviar Warrior Murray Klein with Zabar’s troops, Kenny Sez (R), Sam Cohen (L).


         Murray Klein, the Wizard of Zabar’s, was my guru and courtier in the 70s and 80s, often slipping me a jar or a sliver, dropping a whole cake into my tote or a slab of barbeque. “Shush. Taste. It’s a sample.” He stocked the shelves.  I documented the revolution. I wrote that Fauchon was the Zabar’s of Paris.  He liked that.  And inevitably Zabar’s began taking on Fauchonesque airs. He cackled over his own cleverness, fought the caviar wars with Macy’s as if he were Caesar. I remember how he worried that the mythic clutter of Zabar’s would be fatally lost in its creeping expansion toward 80th Street.  “If I walk onto Zabar’s floor and I can see my shoes, it’s not busy enough,” Julia Moskin quotes him in the Times obit. Murray died December 7 at the age of 84.


     My portrait of a morning in  “Nosher’s Valhalla” (New York, April 18, 1988) celebrates Murray Klein in his prime:


     “It's a little after six on a Sunday morning, and Klein is already at Zabar's, the nosher's Valhalla that continues to gobble up real estate on upper Broadway. He has been running the store for 45 years, and he admits he's tired. “‘I'm trying to retire a little, to come in at eight instead of six. But I wake up at five anyway. I'm too impatient to read or watch TV. I'm thinking of all the disasters that could be happening. I have no hobbies. I need Zabar's more than Zabar's needs me.’"  For more, go to Nosher’s Valhalla



Cookbooks for Voyeurs



         I once was a cook.  I was a wonderful cook.  I didn’t ever actually love cooking but I loved having cooked – the mewings and ecstatic sighs, the instant gratification.  I used cookbooks then, as the stains attest.  Marcella Hazan’s never failed.  I loved Simca’s Cuisine.  I took Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco to Morocco for a travel guide.  I stole the chocolate velvet from Paula Peck’s Art of Fine Baking and made it my own.


         Now I devour cookbooks as sensuous pleasure. Okay, food porn. Why not?


         My holiday gifts list books you might buy for someone who already has too many cookbooks but is hopelessly addicted. Many have recipes one might actually want to try should the urge itch. One or two insist on being read. I find big cookbooks make nice side tables. A few favorite food books must be kept in the bathroom just in case you get locked in.  You can also stuff books you love under the springs of your bed and you’ll never need worry about the bed caving in. If I were to die as the Collier brothers did when a pile of books topples and crushes me underneath…is that really so sad?  In no significant order (I don’t alphabetize my spices either):


ALONE IN THE KITCHEN WITH AN EGGPLANT, edited by Jeni Ferrari-Adler (Riverhead) $22.95. These “Confessions of Not Cooking for One” from food writers you think you really know are wonderfully intimate and revealing.  I want to have this book if just for the belles artes of Wolfert and Hazan.  Click here to buy this book now, from


A GREAT AMERICAN COOK: Recipes from the Home Kitchen of One of Our Most Influential Chefs, by Jonathan Waxman. (Houghton Mifflin) $35. Imagine, matinee food idols and Iron Chefs keep churning out cookbooks like gerbils while Jonathan Waxman, elder statesman of the new American Cooking, only now delivers his first. A must, for the sure taste, simplicity and flavor mastery of the chef peers and protégés revere.

Click here to buy Jonathan's book now, from


BEARD ON FOOD, “The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom from the Dean of American Cooking," (Reissued by Bloomsbury) $26.50.  A collection of James Beard’s syndicated newspaper columns and an introduction to the Great Gourmand Missionary in essays larded with his philosophy of cooking and eating.  “Too much of James Beard can never be enough for me” I once wrote.  Click here to buy this book now, from


AMERICAN MASALA, by Suvir Saran to Delhi article. (Clarkson Potter) $35. (Also an advertiser here)  It would be a crime not to actually cook some of these lush and flavorsome dishes from my friend Suvir’s home kitchen. American classics get a subtle touch of exotic spice, nice to fantasize about, better to eat.  Click here to buy this book now, from          


THE BACON COOKBOOK, by James Villas (Wiley) $35. In this era of The Pig, of course, all the fatback you can savor without challenging the arteries.  Bacon does make anything taste better (except ice cream).  Click here to buy this book now, from


MY LAST SUPPER, by Melanie Dunea (Bloomsbury) $39.95. Photographer Melanie Dunea asked 50 chefs the question we food professionals always get asked. Her striking photographs, the whimsical dialogue, the imaginations unleashed are fascinating. To quote Jacques Pepin’s last supper fantasy: “We would cook, drink and eat together until the end  -- weeks or months later -- when I would die from pêché de gourmandise.” As I wrote in my newsletter some weeks ago, it’s a lot of book for just $40, given the price of lamb chops these days.  Click here to buy this book now, from


LOST DESSERTS:  Recipes from Legendary Restaurants and Famous Chefs, by Gail Monaghan (Rizzoli) $45. I am deliciously drunk on nostalgia from reading Lost Desserts and to think it’s all calorie free. I’m sorry not to find my mom Saralee’s famous three-color cherry jello mold with sour cream and canned Bing cherries in this sugar plum-stuffed documentary of indulgence over the decades. I had almost forgotten the Zausner Crème Fraîche Cheesecake. The recipe came in a small packet pasted on the lid at a time when avant garde foodies were discovering France. 


What a treasury: Edna Lewis’s peach cobbler with nutmeg sauce, Fredy Girardet’s tarte raisiné, Michael Fields’ chocolate torrone loaf  (I actually made it once), Fernand Point’s marjolaine, Miss Grimble’s chocolate and orange marbled cheesecake, Windows on the World’s chocolate pastry cake, the bombe Pavillion, C.C. Brown’s hot fudge sundae. Click here to buy this book now, from



THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD, by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter) $35. I feel an almost religious obligation to include this book because Alice is the Mother Teresa of our time and I like her and appreciate her devotion to Citymeals-on-Wheels. Of course, right away I feel guilty I don’t really enjoy making a garden lettuce salad as much as I enjoy eating a salad like she does…and I don’t have a compost bowl to toss the wilted leaves in.  I don’t usually toss greens with my hands but I eat them with my fingers (so we have that in common).  Click here to buy this book now, from


ASIAN FLAVORS OF JEAN-GEORGES, by Jean-Georges Vongerrichten (Broadway Books) $40.  I would pile some pillows at the head of my bed, put a box of tropical fruit gels on the night side table and linger over the photographs --- then I would make a reservation at Spice MarketClick here to buy this book now, from


EGG, by Lyndsay and Patrick Mikanowski (Flammarian) $45. Now that the egg, once a force of the axis of evil, has been acquitted by reason of DNA, it’s time to celebrate. But I’m also taken with a certain weirdness of the photos (chefs on the horizontal) and the proverbs. Like Michelin three-star chef Alain Passard of Arpège quoting Carlos Fuentes, “Sex without sin is like an egg without salt,” or Margaret Thatcher’s, “It may be the cock that crows but it’s the hen that lays the eggs.” The Egg team -- she is a landscape designer, he’s in advertising and product development -- put together the charming Tomato and that’s led to a small bookshelf. There’s some silly stuff here: nasturtium flower foam, for one, and bits of macaroni studded into an egg shell by Yves Camdeborde, a chef whose food I adore. It’s like a box of chocolates. If you don’t like basil-peanut butter, you can always find a caramel. Click here to buy this book now, from


 THE OXFORD COMPANION TO AMERICAN FOOD AND DRINK, edited by Andrew F. Smith, Oxford University Press $49.95.  Unlike
the rather soulless Oxford Companion to Italian Food, this is fun, stuffed with surprises, information you might need some day to settle a bet. On one page alone you’ll find Brewing, Breyers, Bridge Luncheon Food, Helen Evans Brown.  Scandal and gossip is discreetly omitted.. And it’s sad to see Larry Forgione and Michael Romano placed in the kitchen of Regine’s at its New York launch but not Patrick Clark. Zabar’s appears only in a paragraph on bread. And no mention of New York magazine’s inspirational role. No mention of…ahem…me.  Well, maybe it’s the concise edition.
Click here to buy this book now, from


CHINATOWN NEW YORK PORTRAITS, RECIPES AND MEMORIES, by Ann Volkwein (Collins Design) $34.95.  No way to resist this book with its vintage photographs and post cards from long gone Chinatown restaurants. I would overlook its rather superficial glance at the restaurants and the pedestrian prose because it captures in riotous color the essence of a Chinatown that is so quickly changing. Click here to buy this book now, from


AMERICAN FOOD WRITING, an anthology with classic recipes edited by Molly O’Neill (Library of America.) $40.
Even if it didn’t reprint my “Lessons in Humility and Chutzpah,” I would want this collection of pieces from everyone who has ever written provocatively, petulantly, amusingly or authoritatively about food.
Click here to buy this book now, from


YUM! Tasty Recipes from Culinary Greats, (Cumberland House) $28.95.  Not everyone can handle a book
called YUM! but it’s sponsored by Microplane for the benefit of the National Kidney Foundation.  That’s why you’ll find my recipe for scallops with salsa cruda inside.
Click here to buy this book now, from


INSATIABLE: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess,  by Yours Truly (Warner Books) $13.99.  Audio $24.98.  The vicarious cook and gourmand must have this book, if I say so myself.  Click here to buy this book now, from


WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Bulfinch Press) $35.  When you want only the most perfect pairing of food and drink, my passionately dedicated pals, Andrew and Karen have done the tasting and queried the experts for you. What to sip  with everything from aioli to zucchini blossoms and why...And what to eat with everything from Aglianico and Ale to Zinfandel, it’s all covered in this handsomely designed volume that won IACP “best food book of the year.” Click here to buy this book now, from                                                                                            





Iris Prints on Watercolor Paper by Steven Richter

 Venice in winter.

         The vivid color and images that make this web site special are mostly quick shots without a flash taken by my guy, Steven Richter, by profession a street photographer. The photographs he takes for the travel pieces we do are closer to his first love, photographing life captured in hours of walking wherever we go. A few of them can be found in our Travel pieces (click on the top navigator).


     To see his portfolio of iris prints on water color paper, go to click on Gallery, click on Artists, click on Steven Richter. For Information or an appointment email Richter

Mona Lisa wall on First Avenue.

     Prints from the portfolio, including some market photographs (for food lovers) are perfect gifts. Currently he is selling framed prints from a 2004 retrospective at The Aspen Institute for the price of the print alone.  The larger size from an edition of 20: paper size 31" x 43," image size 24" x 36," $2400.  The smaller size from an edition of 40: paper size 19" x 25," image size12" x 18," $1200. 

 Drying fabric in Saganer, outside Jaipur.



         Send the warmth and joy of feeding a frail homebound elderly New Yorker, possibly minutes from where your privileged friend lives. Make a gift in her or his name by calling Citymeals-on-Wheels, 212 687 1234, or go to the website,, and buy 10 meals for $60, 50 meals for $300, 100 meals for $600, feed 8 people for a year on a block in a neighborhood your recipient can specify for $5472.





Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers