November 24, 2008 | BITE: My Journal

Cracked Eggshells

I may be out at New York but I still have my hat and my passion.
I may be out at New York but I still have my hat and my passion.

        Break an egg is what I say to wish a food-world friend good luck. You’ve seen it on my website. And now…did someone say irony is defunct? Here I am, walking on broken egg shells. To be officially declared redundant by New York magazine, long the oracle and chronicler of what’s hot and what’s not, the seal of approval and the namer of eras, is painful. I pass a mirror and am surprised to see I’m still there.

        Had I thought I was embedded in the magazine’s DNA after 40 years of critiquing restaurants?

        I was pleased to have my weekly 246-word essay in the new New York, in its remarkable renaissance with Adam Moss’s shakeup and redesign, winning coveted media awards, full of must-reads. It felt good to have the first word on new restaurants in “The Strategist” – so cleverly larded with essential maps and lists and hot addresses, a medicine chest bulging with prescriptions for surviving and savoring the city. It struck me as instructive, even amusing, to have three viewpoints on eating out, a subject that consumes New Yorkers: Adam Platt, The Critic. Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, Underground Gourmet. And me, Insatiable Critic, passionate emeritus. So excuse my tantrum over being forcibly retired after 40 years. After a few days of narcissistic denial – “There must be some mistake. Downsized? Not me. How much can they save on my modest stipend? My teeny expense account?” – reality has struck. And I am very sad.


Beaujolais Nouveau Distractions

Franck Duboeuf delivers the family’s Beaujolais Nouveau with a posse of chef bikers. Jennifer Mitchell Photography

         It took so long for the depression of rejection to hit because I didn’t have time to think about being fired on Wednesday. I was too caught up in last minute details of Citymeals’ annual women’s power lunch – rewriting my welcoming speech, signing on one more $10,000 man (we let men join us for that generous fee), filling seats as they emptied – no-shows can’t send anyone in their place, we resell the seats as they empty.

        Then there was the annual Beaujolais Nouveau Lunch. For the first time, French chefs and sommeliers arrived on motorcycles. Chef-bikers, sommeliers and a few Harley Davidson stalwarts met at the Battery to pick up Franck Duboeuf and the first case of the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, the fruity adolescent of the 2008 vintage that prompts this yearly bash.  Since the Beaujolais rage began to play out here in New York, the wine has been flown in. This year it came by boat to reduce the carbon footprint as well as the retail price, as the press release pointed out, latching onto two of our town’s current obsessions.

        I rarely have time for lunch but I wanted to say thank you in person for a $,5000 gift to Citymeals-on-Wheels from Georges Duboeuf – presented by his son Franck and their U.S distributor Bill Deutsch. And I was also curious to see how David Bouley’s newbie Secession was maturing since my only visit on that fateful opening night when an angry man at the next table shouted “I want my food,” and half a dozen people at his table headed for the door in protest.

        Lunch was really fun, full of uncharacteristically relaxed journalists, wine dealers getting happier by the sip, the stalwarts of our French restaurant community, mostly in chefs’ whites, teasing and laughing and sipping Georges Duboeuf Mâcon-Villages. It was also vintage Bouley: with a stretched out baguette-devouring delay before the first course appeared. The steamed Connecticut farm egg with white and yellow polenta and early white truffles would have been marvelous if only the egg were still runny. It can’t be easy to feed several dozen of your peers after a bike ride from the Battery, I guess. I left before the duck with my Duboeuf check and an unexpected second, a spontaneous gift from a couple after hearing my comments about the austere lives of the invisible neighbors we help feed.

        It was only in the taxi headed back to my office that I remembered. I’m fired. I should have taken the subway.


Riding the Emotional Roller Coaster

Citymeals honored Martha Stewart for her support of gerontology research. Photo: Star Black

         Life went on much as if I’d not been thrown to the curb, as put it. Our annual Power Lunch at The Rainbow Room was immensely moving, as it always is. We already had raised $1 million dollars before I stood up to thank the sponsors and angels. “It’s my dream that we might somehow reach $1,175,000, enough to offset our losses from Wall Street supporters alone,” I said. At that moment, Joan Tisch stood and announced that, in honor of her late husband Bob, Citymeals’ board president from our earliest years, she and daughter Laurie, sons Jon and Steve, and granddaughters Emily and Carolyn would make a $100,000 challenge gift.

        “Does that mean we have to raise it now?” I asked from the podium.

        “No,” she answered.

        “Yes,” said Laurie, taking Joan’s mic.  “Now.”

        And with that, all around the room, women, and men too, began pledging $5000, $10,000, even $50,000! A friend who told me last week she had lost two huge accounts, stood up to give $5,000. Our unfailingly compassionate board member, Andrew Borrok, quietly handed me a check for $150,000. The total jumped to $1.5 million, the most we’ve ever raised at any event.

        I was flying when I got to my office that afternoon, in total euphoria as I answered questions from Glenn Collins at the Times about my “unceremonious dismissal.” I’m not sure what I told him. I was angry that New York had not recognized it would be diminished without me. I was amusing, I thought, disarming (I hope, brave and unquenchable too.) It’s only today that I’m having trouble hitting the keys through tears.



Cesare Casella, rosemary in his pocket, slices the prosciutto.  Photo: Steven Richter

         The last laugh is dinner, I said. I hope so. That night, in the bitterest cold so far, we went with writer friends Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg to Salumeria Rosi, a block from our pad. They brought shopping bags of apples for us and genial Chef-patron Cesare Casella, apples so intensely perfumed I could smell them, unseen, across the table.

Crowds in the café will drive a fever for take-home, Casella hopes.  Photo: Steven Richter.

        I ordered a grande
Il grande selezione. Photo: Steven Richter
salumi platter, fast, to eat while we pondered the menu. Dornenburg, co-author with Karen of What To Drink with What You Eat chose a $36 Galarej Barbara d’Alba that went with fiery red peppers salty from anchovy and capers, and the luscious seven bean salad (Casella is after all, the Tuscan king of beans, as Karen noted). Since it was their first visit and the two of them are devoted fans, Casella simply sent out dozens of tiny plates: Spanish mackerel marinated in champagne vinegar.  Sweet and savory caponata. Roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta and garlic. Sweet and sour onions cooked in balsamic vinegar.  And the chef’s signature soft-scrambled eggs with pancetta and market greens (it was eggier last time and I liked even more but either way it’s a must).  Butternut squash risotto, slow cooked tripe, spicy Tuscan falling-off-the-bone spare ribs, a sensational lasagna were new to me on a menu that changes every day. We ate twice as much as we wanted and the bill for two was $84 with tip.

        I am thinking the Road Food Warrior and I should make a standing reservation, since with items mostly $4, $5 and $6, it’s cheaper to eat here than at home.

283 Amsterdam Avenue near 74th Street. 212 877 4800.


On Daniel’s Planet

Watercress velouté with rosemary cream and langoustines. Photo: Steven Richter

        After its recent makeover, the freshly dressed Daniel feels like an oasis of France more than ever. Its style of welcome, the very proper French service, the emphasis on season, the look and refinement of the food, even with its fondness for modish unabashedly global flavors. There is always a “plat classique.” The night we submerged ourselves in that Gallic feel, it was rognons á la moutarde with pommes duchesse, and though I wasn’t in the mood for kidneys, I do feel the world is a better place because Daniel still offers them. Interestingly, it still feels very French even with a United Nations of crew on the floor and Maite Montenegro, from a third generation restaurant family in San Sebastian, Spain, as the new maitress d’.

        Now that Daniel Boulud’s empire is global – he just opened a spot in Beijing – I wonder if the cooking reflects his actual touch. How much does he leave to the new executive chef Jean François Bruel, from Lyons (like Boulud) who has moved through the ranks most recently running the kitchen at DB Moderne

By midnight the crowded room has thinned; you can see the makeover. Photo: Steven Richter

         Broccoli was the unifying concept of a trio of amouse bouches. Can a chef be too devoted to the market? I wondered. All three little thingums were full of surprises and deliciously complex, like the marvelous Nantucket bay scallop seviche with oysters, blood orange and radish that the kitchen sent out as a gift. I’m not sure why the splendid lobster bisque with its pastry dome needed to come with baby artichokes alongside or why a surprisingly languid watercress velouté with rosemary cream required an accompanying salad of langoustines and purple potato in black truffle vinaigrette. Except that possibly the extra touch makes the $105 three-course tasting feel like four courses. As guests of a generous friend we hope to see again, we resisted the six-course degustation for $175.

Steak two ways with sun chokes and hazelnut-potato croquette. Photo: Steven Richter

         Dishes that read like a shopping list – butter poached prawns with chorizo, avocado chutney
Supernal madeleines. Photo: Steven Richter
and glazed chayote – surprised me, somehow melding too much into a sensuous layering of flavor and texture that I imagine I can still taste. Cauliflower mousseline and caper-marcona almond gremolata obscured the usual majesty of properly cooked Dover sole – it looked tortured – but a familiar duo of black angus beef – red wine braised short ribs and seared rib eye with a hazelnut-potato croquette I wanted to monopolize – was first-rate. Some brilliant alchemy produced the juiciest partridge I (and our British partridge-expert companion) ever tasted.

        I would have been shocked if the quartet of sorbets was not perfect. They were. Warm Guanaja chocolate coulant with liquid caramel and fleur de sel was edgy, more thrilling than a small and timid brownie with mascarpone. Seven different little mignardises might cause a quarrel in some groups, but as I was the only one sampling, our trio did not come to blows. All of us found room for sugared madeleines in a napkin bunting, warm from the oven. Pastry chef Dominque Ansel honors Daniel’s madeleine legend. No one makes them this good.

60 East 65th Street between Madison and Park.  212 288 0033.