September 2007

My Alice Waters Moment

After watching that Alice Waters video last week and reading the accompanying article, I was determined to recreate the meal she made for NYT author Kim Severson. I’m not sure I recreated it exactly–I added too much oil to my aioli so it broke a bit; and I used purple carrots just because they were fun. But this was a simple, delightful, and mostly healthy dinner. Although, come to think of it, I did fry the potatoes in oil: but c’mon, who prefers boiled potatoes to fried potatoes? And don’t carrots and radishes cancel out fried potatoes? If you do the math, this did more good for me than bad.

Perry Street

If you leave a restaurant happy, does it matter if the meal itself was anything but perfect? Yesterday I had this very experience at Perry Street, Jean-George’s oft-ignored Greenwich Village outpost where savvy diners can enjoy a three-course lunch for $24. I’d been meaning to try Perry Street for a long time–ever since it opened–but an opportunity never arose. Then, yesterday, after a morning meeting, I was in the Village looking for lunch and soon I was face to face with Perry Street. The glass exterior was a bit daunting: what would it be like inside? Would I be dressed appropriately (in jeans and flip-flops)? Would it be crowded, empty, filled with nudist monks having an orgy? I took a deep breath and decided to try my luck. I’m glad I did.

Mexican Coke

One of the highlights of my trip last week to Arthur Avenue with Julie had nothing to do with Italian food: it was the Coke you see above. That’s a Mexican Coke–Julie told me I had to try one (they sold it at a Mexican grocery store in the middle of all the Italian places)–and what makes it special is it’s made with real cane sugar, no corn syrup. After eating a giant cannoli, I wasn’t in the mood for something so sweet but I caved in just to see what it was all about and I’m glad I did. The difference between Coke made with cane sugar and Coke made with corn syrup is the difference between brownies you make yourself and a Hostess cupcake: one is real-tasting and honest, the other tastes like the plastic it’s wrapped in. If you have the chance to try Mexican Coke sometime, do. Mexican Coke is it.

Me in the Window & WOR

Tonight, I went with Craig to see “Superbad”–my second time, his first–and on the way we passed the Park Slope Barnes & Noble and saw this in the window:

Hey, that’s me! I guess this reading is really happening. So, just another nudge: come on out tonight–Monday at 7:30 PM–and see me in the flesh as I read from my book. There’s a Q&A and a signing, it’ll be a blast.

For everyone else–well anyone else with the internet or a radio–listen to me today on Michael Colameco’s Food Talk on WOR. I’ll be on from 11:30 to 11:55 AM. Let’s hope my voice doesn’t crack the way it did in 10th grade English….

LIVE Book Reading this Monday in Park Slope

Mark it on your calendar: I’m reading from my book this Monday at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble at 7:30 PM. You’ll get to hear the words straight from the horse’s mouth, plus you’ll get to meet my friends, ask me questions, and have me sign your book. It’ll be tons of fun: I really hope to see all of you there!

Seasonal is the New Pink (An Essay with Visits to BLT Market, Park Avenue Summer and Blue Hill Stone Barns)

Can you imagine going to a restaurant 10 or 15 years ago, sitting down at the table, glancing at the wine list and enjoying the surroundings, only to have the server set down a plate–no, not a plate, a wooden box–with spikes jutting out and on the top of each spike a tiny tomato? That’s precisely what happened last night to Craig and I at Blue Hill Stone Barns, now officially our favorite restaurant. “I’ve never been to a better restaurant,” Craig declared halfway through our meal. “This is as good as it gets.”

Tomatoes on spikes as good as it gets? Were we out of our minds? What happened to cooking–good old fashioned cooking–where ingredients matter far less than technique, execution, saucing, plating, style? Is this seasonal food movement just a fad, the new “pink,” a craze with as much staying power as slap bracelets or Tickle Me Elmo? Without question, seasonal has become trendy: we saw Katie Couric at BLT Market when I went there with my family last week; and Park Avenue Summer, where we had brunch on Sunday, seems more concerned with the farm as a design motif than a philosophical conceit. Check out this bowl of fruit that came with my “seasonal” brunch:


Sure, peaches are still in season, and figs are too, but were these grown locally? The strawberries look supermarket plump and the taste made me think that some of these guys had spent the night before in the fridge; compare that to the tomatoes in the top picture and you can see how a concept travels from pure expression (fresh farm tomatoes, picked that morning) to empty posturing (a sad, flavorless fruit bowl). Is this what’s in store for the seasonal food movement? Disingenuous branding that taps into a collective need to return to the earth?

Alice in Marketland

This video of Alice Waters shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket is unbelievable; like watching Jimi Hendrix buy a guitar or Picasso in a paint store. This is a genius in her element, surrounded by the very thing that inspires her. Look how delighted she is by that striped eggplant, by the taste of that tiny peach. And look how people adore her, how they treat her like a goddess, which, in many ways, she is. The accompanying article by Kim Severson doesn’t gush, though: it’s level-headed and appreciative without being fawning. That’s why she writes for The New York Times. Me, on the other hand, I’m not afraid to fawn: that plate assembled at the end makes me want to become a farmer just so my vegetables had the chance to get the Alice Waters treatment. Fresh produce never looked so good.

[There’s also a lively debate about Alice on the Diner’s Journal blog; I left a comment, let’s see if you can find it.]

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