September 27, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Is That a Volcano on the Upper West Side?

A preview for the right types could help Ed Brown at eightyone come December
A preview for the right types could help Ed Brown at eightyone come December


         How hot is the Upper West Side?  When Alain Ducasse needs cash to open Benoit at Bistro La Côte Basque, he comes to the oenophiliac Lewis Pell, who owns Compass on West 70th and considers it his clubhouse.




What did Pell tell Alain?


        "I love the guy. When you get past the crust, he’s a great guy. Let’s just say, I’m considering it."




It’s a Long Way to December


      The best taste in my mouth all week came, not in a restaurant (though it was a good week for gourmand grazing) but at a table in an apartment on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson. It was fabulous dim sum thin ravioli enclosing scallop and foie gras, afloat in a sunshine yellow Vin Jaune sauce with the first froth I’ve tasted in weeks that had an actual flavor...a foam by any other name that actually enhanced the dish instead of coating it in pallid ick.


     (If you don’t recognize that name it’s because this wonderful wine from the Jura is rarely found in New York.)


      And there basking in the gasps of pleasure was Ed Brown in brand new chef whites, showing off menu ideas for eightyone – his ambitious new spot at 45 West 81st Street across from the Planetarium – for a December opening. “Well, we better be ready then,” Brown says. “We’re booked for a party for the grand patrons of the Opera the first week in December.”


     Somehow I got invited to taste along with a collection of editors and media powers with deadlines months in advance. Brown had his entire crew on parade to feed the dozen fussy mouths assembled: a chorus line of waiters that looked like they’d been chosen for cuteness and trendy coifs.  And he was seconded in the kitchen by the all-stars recruited for the first ever restaurant all his own, Chef de Cuisine Jean Cuevas, Executive Sous Chef Yuhi Fujinaga, pastry chef John Miele and mixologist-partner Nick Mautone.


     Brown wanted to be sure we noticed that after all those years at the Sea Grill, he has no problem mastering meat.  Proof lay in the crisp-skinned Niman Ranch pork belly with beluga lentils, and his braised lamb shank on ferro with cauliflower, Brussel sprout leaves and tomato confit. This is real food, meticulously sourced, handsomely presented without pretension, for a clientele in blue jeans or pin stripes, with or without their hair combed.

 Tom Valenti, upper Broadway pioneer, will open West Branch. Photo: Steven Richter


      We, the dozen tasters, were surprised to discover that everyone at the table, and Ed himself, are Upper West Siders. And then – not really surprised at all. Why did it take so long for Brown to make his move for independence?  “I was waiting for the moment. I never understood why it took so long for chefs to follow Tom Valenti at Oeust…and now the time seems right to me.”


     Indeed, Chef-Owner Michael Psilakis has been seen pacing 72nd Street scouting a spot to create a roomier Kefi, his rustic Greek taverna at 222 West 79, seedling to the upscale Anthos he shares with Donatella Arpaia.  (By the way, Arpaia has found the perfect midtown location to relaunch Dona, their much loved Mediterranean venture that was bought out to make way for a new tower on East 52nd  Street.)


     West Side rents are heating up too.  The asking price for the Morris Brothers site on Broadway at 83rd is $350 per sq. ft., according to Rafe Evans, Walker Malloy’s restaurant wrangler.  He did the deal with the Chinese owners of Amber, a hot sushi shop on the east side.  They’re paying $50,000 a month for 221 Columbus Avenue, the former Aegean, a new high for the neighborhood, according to Evans.


     We Upper West Siders properly obsessed with the spiritual state of our stomachs don’t need a seat in the Rose Planetarium to see the constellation of shooting stars headed our way. Daniel Boulud in Bar Boulud on Broadway near 64th Street, moving into what was a deli, across from Lincoln Center. Tom Valenti and Zak Pelaccio cheek-to-cheek in a pair of storefronts on Broadway at 77th Street that once housed Fishes Eddy and Zen Palate. Jonathan Waxman and his partner at Barbuto opening Madaleine Mae on Columbus Avenue at 82nd Street. John Fraser (most recently at Compass) in Dovetail, in an odd little duplex last claimed by En Plo Estiatorio at 103 West 77th Street.  We’re even getting our own branch of Magnolia Bakery where Lenge was a long time serious sushi destination before it slid into oblivion.


     The Valenti/Pelaccio Siamese twin act on Broadway was supposed to be a Jeffrey Chodorow coup.  But Valenti says Chodorow called one day and suggested he and his partners take the lease themselves for what will be West Branch next spring.  “I am delighted he was so amenable to passing the deal along to us,” Tom tells me.  (Chodorow has not returned calls or emails so I can’t guess what he’s plotting next.)


     Opening date for Daniel’s casual 100 seat Bar Boulud has drifted from August to September to October and now a realistic guess brings it to December. In a challenge to Italian salumi masters, the Lyon-born Boulud has allied himself with his friend Gilles Verot, a third generation Parisian charcutier, “His fromages de tête have won every award there is,” the chef’s right hand amanuensis Georgette Farkas enthuses.


     Dispatched by Verot to be the wine bar’s full-time charcuturier in his own kitchen-within-the-main-kitchen, Sylvain Gasdon was rehearsing his moves Monday night. A table set up by Daniel’s catering wing, Feasts & Fêtes, on the sidewalk outside the home of Citymeals-on-Wheels stalwart Roger Yaseen, welcomed board members and stopped traffic.


     Gasdon’s hams, cut unto marbled chunks, were splendid, and so were the terrines. Ohmigod, I thought, fat is back…Did it ever go away?


     “New Yorkers who know all about soppresata and Iberian pigs have more to learn,” Farkas observed. “Daniel has said, ‘If I can get a ballerina to eat boudin, I’ll know that charcuterie has arrived in New York.’”


     Meanwhile, northward, Waxman is waxing poetic about his plans for Madaleine Mae, named for the wife of one of his partners.  Why, I ask, is a man conceived in Brooklyn and born in California, going Southern on upper Columbus?


     “Well, my wife Sally is Southern, of course.  And I do have alternate personalities.  This is one of them.”  Waxman notes that his grand uncle had a bar on 98th and Broadway before the clan decamped to a chicken farm out west where he was born. He grew up in a family of cooks and was forced to become a cook himself at 11 “because my parents used to abandon us to eat in restaurants.” 


     “I don’t know how to cook,” he says he told his folks. “I’m just 11.”  But he had The Joy of Cooking. “I made us peanut butter cookies for dinner.  And short bread cookies.  Then my Mom got Julia Child’s book and I didn’t understand it but I plowed through the recipes.”


     For 80-seat Madaleine Mae, “user friendly and neighborhoody,” ultimately with a sidewalk café, he hopes, Waxman sees crab cake salad, Anson Mills grits, smoked meats and bar food that goes with infused rums.  He’s off on reveries. I can’t stop him. “Wonderful biscuits.  Good homey apple pie.  Peach cobbler. I’ll have fried okra my wife’s way, in buttermilk batter. I’ll do she-crab chowder. Red beans and rice, something I feel very strongly about. Berkshire pork crackling salad. Fried green tomatoes with Hudson Valley ricotta on top.”


     “Promise you’ll do old-fashioned sour cherry pie?”  I beg. In his alternate Southern persona, he promised and he committed to taking reservations too.




Papa Comes Home Again to Rain

        I’m also counting Thai chef Taweewat Hurapan as a nice little blip in the cuisinary renaissance of the Upper West Side. “I can make other people rich but I can’t make money for myself,” he told me as he explained why he had to abandon a proud stand at Hurapan Kitchen on Seventh Avenue South. My rave for his delicious riffs on Thai classics was not enough.

        So Hurapan and his son are back home at Rain where he is busy restoring his dishes on the menu. Look for juicy tamarind sticky ribs, rare beef in spicy salad with lemongrass and Fuji apple, thin-pounded scallop slices in a sophisticated saffron tapioca bath with chopped grape tomatoes, and Peking duck entrée tucked into soft bread pockets to dip into Cabernet-hoisin sauce.

100 West 82nd St. nr Columbus 212 501 0776



From Suvir’s Kitchen


      My signed copy of Suvir Saran’s new cookbook, American Masala (Clarkson Potter), arrived yesterday with my quote on the back cover. So I’m already on record as loving how he has infused Indian flavors into American dishes here.


     I always feel trapped when a friend asks for a book quote but I had no problem loving this book. I’d buy it for the outrageously rich macaroni’n’cheese alone. I almost slipped under the table comatose from eating more than my share one Christmas Eve at Suvir’s place. Yes, our lives have become entwined since, he corralled his powerful friends to welcome us on a three-month trek through India.  Not long ago we shared a nostalgic few days tasting street snacks in the food market of Old Delhi with him two years ago. (See Insatiable in Old Delhi on my Travel pages.)


      Suvir and chef de cuisine Hemant Mathur have bought Devi, their brilliant creation, and my favorite Indian restaurant, at 8 East 18th Street. Devi devotees, shocked by its abrupt closing just weeks ago, will be pleased to know they plan to reopen soon with new ideas and new dishes on their splendid tasting menu. 



Aspen at its Sleepiest



     The Road Food Warrior was homesick for his old stamping grounds in the Rockies, so he went off to Aspen last week where the hills are golden – with just a very rare daub of red.  The tourists are gone.  Anyone who can afford it is off to France or Hong Kong or whatever remote spot they haven’t crossed off their list of 1000 Places to See Before You Die. For a brief magical moment, Aspen belongs to the locals.


      If you only know Aspen amid the clamor and chaos of Christmas or in the forced intellectual playtime of summer at the Aspen Institute or communing at the Music Tent…you might want to luxuriate in how Aspen feels when it’s almost empty.


      Great trails for walking and horseback riding are still open before the snow falls. You can drive to Maroon Bells where Steven took the photograph above…once it snows, the road will close.   Hotel prices drop. Most restaurants are open. You might be able to crash The Caribou Club for dinner at locals’ Thursday prices.  Tell Billy or Louis I sent you.




The Better Half


     Be sure to get home from dinner Wednesday, October 3 by 11 p.m. so you can see “Better Half,” Bravo’s latest shot in the war between the sexes. Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, “Top Chef” Season One winner Harold Dieterle and I will choose the winners between two couples vying for $20,000, in this case two professional chefs will attempt to train their neophyte wives to cook and run a kitchen. All within 48 hours. Knifes and emotions get a workout.




Cafe Fiorello