April 2006

Allow Me To Astound You With My Kitchen Prowess and the Recipe I Made from my New Favorite Cookbook: Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks and Dijon Mustard from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” [Plus: Bread Pudding!]

Take a good long look at that picture. Study it, embrace it. What you are about to see, when you click ahead, are all the steps that went into making this dish–the crusty, golden exterior, the deep resonant sauce below: the braised leeks, the browned chicken, the herbed crumbs. This dish was an undertaking but an undertaking well worth it. Are you ready to proceed? Welcome to the world of extreme effort and extreme payoff. Welcome to the world of Lucques. [Cue dramatic music.]


Here are some quick non-food-related plugs for the non-food-related spirit in all of us.

(1) Yet again, I was given free tickets to Broadway Shows by a marketing firm to the astonishment of my friends and loved ones. “You got these tickets HOW?” they asked, as I allowed them to escort me to each of these productions. [And the seats have been amazing. It’s good to be the king!] The productions in question were: “The History Boys” and “The Wedding Singer.” Lucky for me, both of these shows provided a truly great evening: especially “The History Boys” which takes a simple premise–smart British kids and the teachers who try to shape them–and explodes it into three raucous hours that literally FLY by. Some of the themes in the play are slightly taboo for American audiences (particularly the light-hearted groping of young boys by their teachers) but who cares about the immorality when you’re having such a good time? And as far as “The Wedding Singer” goes, if you love 80s nostalgia you’ll love this show.

(2) This second plug comes COMPLETELY unsolicited, but I’ve been meaning to make it for a long time. When I got my book deal at Bantam/Dell, my editor–a great guy named Phillip Rappaport–gave me an advance copy of the book he’d just finished working on, “Apartment Therapy” based on the much beloved design blog Apartment Therapy. Well, for the first few weeks I was a bit too buzzed about my own deal to sit down and read it but eventually sit down and read it I did and I LOVED It. (Again, this plug is TOTALLY unsolicited so this gushiness is authentic.) Actually, that parenthetical is unnecessary because all my friends will attest to the fact that over the weeks I was reading this book I became obsessed with design and how one’s apartment echoes their psychological well-being. “The flow of your apartment is all wrong!” I told my friend Mark. “It’s got a bowling alley set-up so all the energy rushes in.” (Yes, he rolled his eyes.) But over the weeks I worked through the book, my apartment started getting spiffier and spiffier. I got rid of all my ugly CD cases and put the CDs into books, I built two new bookshelves and organized the disaster zones next to my desk. I bought a vacuum and vacuumed up all the nasty cat hair that Lolita sheds. I organized my kitchen and my closets, I bought earth-friendly soaps and detergents. I am, essentially, a new man. And now that the book’s in print–Congratulations, Maxwell!–I finally get to plug it to you guys. I say: go to Amazon right away by clicking this picture:


Or go to the book’s blog and buy it through another link. Either way, it’s so reasonably priced and so handy to carry around (it’s a convenient little paperback) you have no reason not to buy it. Why not change your life by changing your apartment? I was a heroin addict in heels before this book and now I’m a pipe-smoking billionaire. Need I say more? Go get it.

You’re So Levain (The City’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie at Levain Bakery)

There are certain bloggers who are known for getting the scoop. They break big news stories, create political scandals, get interviewed on CNN. And then there’s me: Mr. Laggy. Let me be known as the blogger, specifically the food blogger, who comes very late to whatever phenomenon is at issue. In this case the phenomenon is The Levain Bakery and the cookies sold there.

[Pay no attention to the man on the bench. He’s Craig, aka Mr. “I insist on being in this picture but I’ll pretend otherwise if anyone asks!”]

I first learned of the Levain Bakery when that distinguished Parisian Clotilde came to New York and wrote about it on her site. A reader tipped her off that Levain’s would be “the best cookies of her life” and Clotilde confirms this in her assessment: “This was exactly my kind of cookie — crispy chunky chewy and all manner of adjectives rhyming with “-y”.

I catalogued this information in that vessel known as my brain and because Mr. Picture Hog and I, Mr. Laggy, planned a day uptown I’d jotted down the address just in case we were close by. And sure enough, by late afternoon, we found ourselves on 74th on the west side of the park.

“Let us journey down this street,” I commanded. “And enjoy cookies between Amsterdam and Columbus.”

“Ok, Mr. Bossy,” quipped Craig.

We descended the stairs of Levain and allowed the aroma of cookies and bread to wash over us. The man there was quite jovial and quite understanding as we took our time to make cookie decisions. We ultimately decided to share both a chocolate chip cookie and the one Clotilde raved about, the dark chocolate peanut butter. Here they are in that order:


Here’s our assessment.







Specifically, we found the chocolate chip cookie to embody all the joyous attributes that flour, sugar, and chocolate chips can bring. It was mounded in the middle, so it was super thick and super rich. Also: it was warm out of the oven, so we devoured it.

The chocolate peanut butter cookie was not warm, but we still devoured it.

In conclusion, though I may be late to the game I still stepped up to plate and having batted against Levain Bakery’s cookie I can say, with great integrity, it’s a ______.

[Please note. That last sentence ended with a blank space because if I’d written what I intended to write–“grand slam” or “home run”–I would have lost my writer’s card for writing the lamest sentence ever. I hope you understand.]

Student Dining Day

Broadway shows offer student rush tickets an hour before the curtain goes up. You show your student ID, pay $15 and sometimes you get seats all the way in the back but other times you get seats all the way in the front. The concept behind this, surely, is to draw younger audiences to the theater–to make theater accessible to those who could never afford a $100 ticket.

Sure, the hotter shows–the Julia Roberts vehicles, “Spamalot,” “Jersey Boys”–aren’t so generous to students. Try getting there an hour early for a $15 ticket and they’ll laugh in your face. Actually, you won’t even get near the box office: a line of cancellation hungry groupies are already lined up outside. These people are willing to pay full price for same-day rejected seats. Some hot shows, like “Ave. Q,” “Wicked” and “Rent” do a lottery a few hours before the show starts. People put their names into a hat and 20 tickets are sold for $20. You’d think your odds would be good but when you see the masses gathered for one of these lotteries, you’re suddenly trapped in a Shirley Jackson short story. [Funny enough, my friend Dana and I once won a lottery for “Rent.” This was after our freshman year of college, “Rent” was new and hot and we found ourselves in the very front row center, electric guitars wailing over us, big smiles on our faces knowing we only paid $20 for our seats while those around us paid five times as much.]

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I think the highest end restaurants–the Daniels, the Jean-Georges, the Per Ses–should offer a day for students to come experience this type of food. When I say “this type of food” I mean food cooked at the highest quality prepared with the finest ingredients and presented in beautiful surroundings. Like a play by Tennessee Williams or a musical by Stephen Sondheim, these restaurants aren’t soulless corporate monsters–they’re not draining wallets so they can go swimming in dollar bills–they’re about something, they represent something, they strive for excellence and earn their accolades accordingly. And like all other bastions of higher culture, they ought to reach out to a younger audience: not so much to make regular customers out of them, but to expose them to what’s possible when a highly trained professional chef morphs something simple into something beautiful. It’s the same transformation that happens when Picasso applies mounds of oily paint on to a blank white canvas, or when actors and directors enliven words printed flatly on a page. Museums offer student discounts, Broadway shows offer student discounts, why don’t restaurants?

I think the simple answer is: they don’t have to. Theater, as we all know, is a dying form. Museums are eager to attract a younger crowd. But restaurants will succeed regardless of how young and eager their patrons are. It’s a sad fact that if a restauranteur had a choice between a wealthy big-spender client who could give two shits about the food, who is only there to soak in the scene versus an eager young person with little money, cheap clothes and a genuine interest in food they’d go with the wealthy client every time. This is where the question of whether food is art comes to a head: if food is art, shouldn’t everyone have access to it? Shouldn’t we encourage our children to experience the finest that New York kitchens have to offer?

I propose–perhaps naively–that New York’s finest restaurants make a day for students with a valid student ID to experience their cuisine at a discount rate. A $20 meal, maybe a lunch, served with as much flair as they’d normally serve a regular customer. This would be different from New York Restaurant Week which caters to an older crowd, mostly tourists, who come for a discount meal during a notoriously slow week for restaurants. Whereas Restaurant Week is a way for restaurants to lure in otherwise reluctant diners, this Student Dining Day (as I would call it) would showcase fine cuisine to eager young people, preferably college aged, who have an interest in food. Chefs could make a special effort to edify these young diners by exposing them to all the riches fine dining has to offer. I bet the chefs would enjoy it just as much as the students–an audience of people who actually care about what they’re eating. What could be better?

Chances are, though, this is merely a pipe dream. I guess I’m a romantic idealist at heart. But imagine the young college student who, seeing this Student Dining Day, decides to give fine dining a shot and suddenly finds themselves transfixed and transformed by the experience. What if they become the next Daniel Boulud, the next Eric Ripert, the next Jean-Georges? Well they’ll have ME to thank. I’ll put that in my pipe dream and smoke it.

Bonkers for Bouchon (aka The Samsung Cafeteria)

I seriously wonder how many people who walk past the newly opened Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center think it’s a restaurant owned by Samsung. As you can see in the picture above, a giant Samsung sign hangs over the large and strangely situated seating area. If you arrive on the third floor from the central escalators, you might not immediately connect this free-standing ambiguous restaurant with the bakery stand a tiny distance away. That bakery stand is the stand of The Bouchon Bakery, the civilian-friendly populist enterprise engineered by that titan of the food world, Thomas Keller.



One walk past that beautiful display of pastries, tarts and breads is a cause for celebration. And as you can tell by the line of people in that picture, New Yorkers are quickly catching wind of the wonders that await them in the giant glass aquarium on Columbus Circle.

Toasted Coconut Marshmallows FROM HELL


New York, NY. April 18, 2006—For foodblogger Adam Roberts, the night started out like any other. “I was crying into my pillow and cursing my existence like I always do,” he told reporters yesterday. “When I suddenly had the urge to make Ina Garten’s toasted coconut marshmallows.”

Roberts saw Ms. Garten make these marshmallows on her program “The Barefoot Contessa.” Roberts explains, “I’ve always wanted to be barefoot, I’ve always wanted to be a contessa. I felt like this was a perfect opportunity.”

Presto, Pesto

When Liza Minnelli married David Gest-o

She said, “Dear David, I get so depressed-o

when I feel a hunger in my chest-o.”

Dear David scratched his head.

“Well I have pine nuts, walnuts, garlic too

and a yarmulke cause I’m a Jew

I’ll process them ’til they’re chopped through,”

he answered her, in bed.

“But David,” groaned Liza, her voice real nasal

“What will we do with all this basil?”

And David said, “Brad Pitt’s eyes are hazel.”

Which really made no sense.


So Liza put the basil in

and gave the thing a great big spin

with salt and pepper–see her grin?

This marriage is intense.

“Now Liza, PLEASE,” screamed David Gest-o

“We must add oil to the rest-o.”

Which he did and said, “Now we have pesto.”

The blood inside her coursed.


Yet Liza learned from her friend Netty

that pesto’s worthless without spaghetti

Which she had for herself all ready

as she said, “David: we’re divorced.”


And that’s how pesto was invented.

Pretty Indian Food at Bombay Talkie

There are two types of Chelsea restaurants: those that are near Billy’s Bakery and those that aren’t. I have been known to plan entire evenings around Billy’s Bakery: “Well,” I will say, “We can meet at Billy’s Bakery, go find a place to eat and come back for a cupcake.” The biggest supporter of this type of plan is my friend Lisa, who also adores Billy’s Bakery. “I adore Billy’s Bakery,” she’ll frequently say.

On the night, more than a week ago, that I met Lauren for dinner at Cookshop (a Chelsea restaurant that is sort of near Billy’s Bakery, but not wildly close) I found myself walking across the street from Billy’s Bakery and in the process discovering not one but TWO interesting looking restaurants. One was entirely vegan the other was entirely Indian. “I will put these in my mental catalogue,” I told myself, “so that when Lisa and I have plans we can come to one of these two places and then do what smart, food-loving Chelsea residents have been doing for centuries: nosh at Billy’s Bakery.”

And so it was that on Saturday night, Lisa and I met outside Billy’s Bakery (her roommate and our dear friend Annette, who had walked with her, went inside to buy cupcakes to bring to a party) and made our way across the street to examine these two new restaurant finds. The first, the vegan place, looked very nice but the menu was too pricey. I take exception to a vegan menu where the entrees all cost more than $15. At the end of the day, these are just vegetables and whatever transformation you make to them, whatever pairing you give to them cannot–with few exceptions–justify such a hefty pricetag. (I think Angelika Kitchen and GoBo: Food for the Five Senses merit their menu prices, but even their menus have cheaper options.)

Next door, then, was the Indian Place: Bombay Talkie. It looked very cool inside, very hip and yet inviting. There was one table in the window sandwiched between two serious looking couples. “If we get that table,” I told Lisa, “Those people are going to hate us because we talk so loud. I hope we get a booth.” There were booths towards the back. “I don’t think we’re getting a booth,” said Lisa. “The booths look like they’re for parties of 3 and 4.”

We decided to venture in anyway and, once inside, the host–a lithe, muscled gay man (this is Chelsea, after all)–asked us if we had a reservation. When we said “no,” he told us we could sit at the tall communal table. “That’s ok,” I said which he took as a yes before I could finish, “we’ll go somewhere else.” Lisa heard me say the last part and laughed but his selective ears led us to the tall communal table where Lisa was hefted high above the ground. “Enjoy your meal,” he said.

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