Momofuku Ko Wine Table

IMG_6991

Joanne has the practice of not naming anyone she dines with on her blog. Admirable restraint. Here, it’s the opposite: if we’re dining together, expect to get namechecked. In fact, expect more than that: after a few more months, we’re reviving Ken’s genius idea from back in the day and finding out who the various personages here can take in a fight. Stick around for that; good times assured.

Long way of saying that I went to a very special dinner at the new Momofuku Ko on Extra Place in the East Village last week with Joanne and Ken and Michelle and Lindsey, and Joanne beat me to blogging it. As per usu, Joanne’s got the complete rundown, so I won’t double up effort here. The crux of the thing is that the new MomoKo has two six-person tables adjacent to the horseshoe-bar where patrons normally dine, and executive chef Sean Gray and team are creating an experience that’s entirely different from the “normal” MomoKo deal — which, based on a friends and family tasting back in November, remains sublime unto itself.

Dave Chang explained it to me thusly: “I want the people at the bar to be jealous of the people at the tables, and I want the people at the tables to be jealous of the people at the bar.”

And so it shall be, eventually. We were only the second party to dine at the tables, which are being crafted as a wine-first experience by MomoSomm extraordinaire Jordan Salcito. Jordan and I talked in the days leading up to the dinner and picked four amazing wines to accompany what turned out to be a nine-course meal, depending on how you count things like amuses and canapes. Everything was a highlight, but especially the raw platter…

IMG_7001

… which everyone couldn’t not Instagram, even as Jordan and Sean looked on…

IMG_7002

… because the thing was it was a GIANT FISH STUFFED WITH SASHIMI, and that’s sort of the thing that in my experience one is drawn to Instagram. Pity the amazing uni atop pureed watercress, served with this course but in separate bowls, that didn’t merit the photographic attention.

IMG_7016

We were told there’d be pie, but who knew it would be meat pie, even after they showed us two perfectly roasted pheasants then severed up cuts from them alongside, both bathed in foie gras and black truffle sauce? If this isn’t one of my five favorite courses of 2015, then 2015 will have been a really, really good year.

IMG_7020

And that after that, we’d get an entire Tribute to an American Steakhouse, with creamed spinach encased in parker house rolls and twice-baked potatoes served along with the New York Strip? And yet, like Joanne, I wasn’t overly full either. It’s possible we’ve genetically adapted in some unforeseen way; studies to follow.

We finished with dessert and then canapes and still more wine. Mercy. All-in, we came to this conclusion: the Momo folks are crazier than ever, and God bless them for it.

Cosme

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.23.19 PM
[Duck carnitas at Cosme; photo by Daniel Krieger for Eater]

One goal for this blog is to use only photography taken by yours truly, but that’s not going to work for Cosme, the stunning Mexican restaurant from famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera that opened last fall. Cosme is shoehorned into one of those mid-block spaces endemic to the Flatiron which feature a small wall of windows facing the street and a space that stretches back into a forever darkness behind. This layout works well for few places, but it works at Cosme, especially since the owners torn down a wall halfway back in the restaurant that initially separated the bar area from the dining room. It’s a dark room, to be sure, but it works for the food, which is pretty much universally agreed to be great.

I’ve had two big meals at Cosme over the past two months, the most recent in the restaurant’s private dining room with a group of eight. Even more than the restaurant itself, the PDR is a dark den, made worse by the lack of noise baffles that made our dinner an echoey cacophony. At most restaurants, this would have been a huge problem. But the Cosme team made up for it as it does, with the food.

I haven’t had a bad dish at Cosme — or even a mediocre one. Everything here shines. Our PDR dinner was divided into five courses, with two or three family-style offerings per course. Course one, seafood: scallop aguachile, smoked raw sepia, octopus cocktail. Course two, vegetables: eggplant tamal, white ayocote bean sald, burrata with salsa verde and weeds. Course three, more seafood: broiled red snapper, half lobster pibil. Then, finally, the meat, which while fish and vegetables star here, must be seen to be believed. Which is why I’m putting Krieger’s photo of the duck carnitas at the top of this post (equally worthy are the other parts of our the fourth course: cobia al pastor and the New York strip steak tacos).

IMG_6937

The one photo I took that wasn’t terrible was the dessert course seen above (clockwise from top): husk meringue with corn mousse, sweet potato flan, and a chocolate ganache with mezcal and blood orange. As good as the rest of the meal was, this course may have been the highlight.

As our dinner wound down, someone in our crew spotted Pete Wells eating in the dining room. He hasn’t yet filed for the Times on Cosme. The immediate debate that erupted at our table about whether the place would get three stars — it couldn’t get four, right? Right? — recalled the early days of BruniBetting. And confirmed Cosme as a restaurant worthy of all the chatter it’s receiving.

Blizzard* of 2015

IMG_7087
[Pickup football on Peck Slip last night.]

I found myself bursting with manic energy last night after getting home from work. An impending blizzard will do that to me: it’s part of the deal of growing up in New England. I traded phone calls with Bro Steele and Mom Steele in Massachusetts, then bided some time until I figured the snow would really start dumping by researching past NYC blizzards. My first big one was the April Fool’s Day blizzard of 1997; more recently, I remember well the December 2010 storm that Lindsey and I raced in our car from Christmas in Massachusetts down through Connecticut, grinding out the last 50 miles at 25 miles an hour in blinding snow then finding ourselves in a late-night Lower East Side winter wonderland.

But my most memorable NYC storm — caveat: not counting Sandy — goes to the Presidents’ Day blizzard of 2003. It sticks in the mind because I had a couple, an Australian and a New Zealander, staying on the floor of my one-bedroom apartment that weekend. I’d met them traveling in Northern India in the summer of 2001, when they were on month 18 of an around-the-world journey that had so far cost them $6,000. By 2003, they were heading to South America by way of New York City, and might they crash on my floor for two days to save a few bucks? When the storm hit and their flight got rescheduled from Monday until Thursday, they offered to move out and find a hostel, but I told them no way and in return for the extended hospitality, they painted this wall of my place red.

Everyone who ever hung out at my old apartment, at 110 Rivington Street, has heard that story. Sorry about that.

The other lasting memory from that blizzard was going to Alexis’ apartment for the finale of Joe Millionaire — a wonderful show and a memory confirmed by my diary of the snow day I found last night while searching the web for a passage from a William Gibson novel in which two characters walk down a street in Soho or Nolita in the middle of a New York City blizzard. (I failed to find the passage. I think it’s in Pattern Recognition, which it seems I was reading during the storm in 2003. Huh.)

The Blizzard of 2015 ended up being a bust, dropping about 8″ down here at the Seaport. Were I to construct a numbered list a la LS.com 2003, it would read something like this:

1) Stood in a line wrapping around FiDi food store Zeytuna to procure cherry tomatoes, the one critical recipe piece that the wife hadn’t been able to procure at Whole Foods.
2) After dinner — chicken with shallots and tomatoes — I suggested that we walk down the block to enjoy a beer at Paris Cafe, our local, before the heavy bands of snow moved back in. Bundled up and ran down the street to find Paris pitch dark, shuttered up tight. Stupid 11pm subway curfew.
3) Back at the apartment, between episodes of our Season 2 of The-Wire-Now-in-HD rewatch, enjoyed observing various permutations of fun in the snow in the open median that runs down the middle of Peck Slip. This space had been occupied by construction equipment for years until the end of last summer when the work wrapped up and the city tossed some blacktop over it, with promises of a landscaped park to come. (About this, more someday soon.) Scaped in white, it played home last night to several snowball fights and a pickup football game. Today, it was filled with kids cavorting on the snow. Score one for public space.
4) And score one for my beloved Quinciple, which braved the storm to get our delivery through last night. Solid effort in an underwhelming storm.

A Weekend in Texas

IMG_7033
[Sunset over Hilton Garden Inn, Tyler, TX]

I love Texas. A pet theory of mine holds that the two greatest states in the Union are Maine and Texas, which means the Bush Family pretty much wins at life. So be it: both states are amazing in totally different ways, and I’m always excited for a trip to Lone Star territory.

This past weekend, Linds and I took a quick trip down thataway to the city of Tyler, Texas, to visit her Aunt Mary. Everything I know about Tyler I learned from Aunt Mary over the past two days: first, that it’s considered an old-money oil town; second, that it’s a whole lot fancier than I would have expected for a place a two-hour drive southwest of Dallas, seemingly in the middle of nowhere; third, that everyone there roots for the Cowboys, the idea of rooting for a Houston team sounding hilarious, if not hysterical.

We flew into Love Field (DAL) on Friday evening, an experience so superior to landing at DFW that I can’t believe I didn’t know this was an option until now. In all the ways DFW is remote and impossible, DAL is easy: directly adjacent to the downtown, with light and airy terminals. (Bonus: one need not drive past AT&T/Cowboy Stadium on the way towards wherever one is going after leaving the airport.) After landing, we made a quick escape from the Dallas environs, hit up the requisite pitstop at a Chik-fil-a off I-20, then drove a couple hours through the badlands of Texas to Tyler.

Our weekend was spent mostly at Aunt Mary’s house, entertaining our nephew and niece, in Tyler with their mother (Lindsey’s sister) and Dad. We did break out of the house for lunch on Saturday, because when in Rome:

IMG_7042
[Jalapeno Tree — Crazy Good Mexican Food!]

As solid as this joint turned out to be — and, for a fast-casual chain, it actually was just fine — get the quail kebabs — it wasn’t the best of what Texas has to offer, dining-wise. This wasn’t our trip for culinary exploration, but based on a Spring 2013 Texas dining roadtrip that I embarked on with Eater’s Amanda Kludt, here’s what you need to know: Austin is overrated, Dallas gets it done, but all the best places are in Houston.

Futher proof of these claims come from Eater roving critic Bill Addison, who named one spot from Dallas and two from Houston to his National 38 list earlier this month, while snubbing Austin completely. The two spots Bill chose in Houston — Underbelly and Oxheart — blew Amanda and I away too, as they have just about every major dining critic who has passed through town in recent years. We loved our meal at The Pass and Provisions as well. Bottom line: do not sleep on Houston. It’s one of the best cities in America right now for a weekend dining getaway.

If one needed an excuse for another Texas dining roadtrip, the gas prices seen outside of Tyler this weekend — similar to those seen near Dallas, too — certainly provide it:

IMG_7077

Next weekend, New Orleans. Brace.

Shall We Lunch?

The New York City media world owes something to Quantum Theory in the sense that all trends about the New York Media world are true, until one of them is observed and written about. At which point that trend ceases to be true, leaving only all the other trends.

This thought occurred to me anew while reading John Koblin’s Styles piece today on the death of the Power Lunch among the younger New York mediaset. John interviewed me for the story, and included a quote of mine that I’m immensely proud of: “Just walking down the street to go to Pain Quotidien is considered a massive, impressive lunch move.”

Whether or not this is entirely accurate is a measure of some dispute, but let’s take stock of the larger issue here. If lunches are OUT, what are we to make of this Styles piece from 2007 that declared that, among the young movers, power breakfasts are most definitely IN? I’ll let the me of back then make the case from a Balthazar banquette:

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 2.02.11 PM

New York media and Quantum Theory being what they are, I expect to be around and be quoted in 2021 when the Styles section declares afternoon snacking either absolutely IN or deeply, completely OUT.

The Verge’s Super Bowl Ad: It’s About The Future

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.28.01 PM

Moments after my flight from Munich touched down at JFK at 3:30pm yesterday, my phone lit up with text messages from friends. One, from a usually incredulous friend, read: “You guys are running a Super Bowl ad? Amazing.”

At this point, it was about an hour since The Verge had published, then unpublished, a post with the headline “DNP Verge Super Bowl ad” and some brief dummy copy by Nilay about how this space would be filled in before publication of the post on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1. Verge fanboys being Verge fanboys, many read the site via RSS, so the rogue post remained in their feeds and they immediately started chatting about the post on Twitter. It wasn’t long before several media organizations jumped on the story, and our CEO took to Twitter to confirm the commercial and release it to the world:

By now, Vox was fielding inquiries from the likes of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, both of whom quickly published their own stories on the news. After all, the story of a venture-capital backed online publisher, which happened to have just raised a $45 million round of financing, dropping $4.5 million of it on a Super Bowl commercial of all things, was irresistible. (A Twitter user superimposed the Pets.com sock puppet over a photo of The Verge staff.)

Which was all well and good until we let the cat out of the bag an hour later: The Verge was indeed airing a Super Bowl commercial during the game — but only in the local market of Helena, Montana, where to reach an audience of 30,000 we’d agreed to pay the going local rate of $700 per 30 second spot. This led to a round of revisions in the original media reports, and a wonderful new New York Times headline:

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.37.20 PM

I’ll leave it to the masterminds behind the troll — Nilay Patel and Jonathan Hunt — to write the full tick-tock of the matter, but suffice to say that I adore a good media stunt, and this one worked out about as well as one could have ever dreamed. (The team, naturally, took the greatest delight in having roped in Sam Biddle, although the local Helena media reporting on the story also proved particularly LOLworthy.)

The story isn’t over yet. Might The Verge send someone to cozy Helena, Montana, on Super Bowl Sunday? Do stay tuned. But for now, the final word to the CEO of T-Mobile, John Legere:

DLD in Munich

IMG_6976

I spent the Martin Luther King Day weekend in Munich, Germany, at the DLD15 conference. It was my first time at DLD, a conference that serves as something of a staging pad for those on their way to Davos. The mix of people, although heavy on media, is interesting. I ended up in a great conversation with a founder of a global clean water initiative; gave an interview about Vox Media to an Austrian outlet, which is likely to have a major impact on our global mindshare; and advised a young German journalist on whether he should start a site in the spirit of Vox.com for his country (of course!). And, natch, I spoke on a panel that included Kate Lewis from Hearst and MailOnline publisher Martin Clarke. We were fiesty and fun.

That this panel was held at 9:05am on Monday morning, after I’d stayed up watching the Patriots dispatch the Colts — a game that wrapped just before 4am Munich time — and that I looked so fresh-faced, as evidenced in the photograph above — is a testament to the excellent meats and beers of this fine city. I’d last visited Munich on a summertime Eurorail trip through Eastern Europe in 1993; my friend Sesh and I had dipped into Munich after exploring the Czech Republic because we had a friend living in the city for the summer. My lasting memory is the group of us openly urinating in the street sometime on the other side of midnight.

IMG_6969

This time around, no such luck, although I did get some good eating in. Sunday night, I snuck out of the kickoff dinner and met Felix and Michelle at Brenner. I approached the restaurant, above, across an open square, and was delighted but unsurprised when I found out that’s where we were dining. It’s a mediterranean menu in a big open mod-Bavarian space; I had an excellent steak. A group of journalists including John Gapper, Marcus Brauchli, and the entire senior Fusion team joined our table which led to a massively hilarious meal and the self-satisfied feeling that I was at last networking appropriately.

IMG_6979

Two other straight-up Bavarian meals of note: Monday lunch with Kate at Zum Franziskaner (two giant, crackling pig ribs); and dinner with a different iteration of Felix’s crew at Zum Dürnbräu (a perfect viener schnitzel and table tastings of this craziness.)

Davos invite lost in mail, so it’s back to America today.

Traffic Bonuses

As part of his promised return to blogging in the new year, Nick Denton said something somewhat shocking last week — that Gawker Media, which pioneered the practice of paid traffic bonuses for bloggers, will no longer dole out rewards based on traffic in 2015.

It’s about time. Or perhaps, long past time: as Nick acknowledged in his epic year-end memo, Gawker’s traffic bonuses clearly led to unintended consequences: “Editorial traffic was lifted but often by viral stories that we would rather mock. We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm.” (Great line, btw.)

So how did Gawker end up there, at the end of such a long but seemingly obvious road?

Recall that a decade back, Gawker sites were written by a single blogger paid a monthly stipend. The company, like many young companies, ran on a shoestring. And so to both find ways to pay people a bit more money if they succeeded, Gawker implemented traffic bonuses. Made a lot of sense. Then, as the sites started to grow in staffing size, and the concept of virality (then, hilariously, what we termed “spikes”) first emerged, it became clear that traffic bonuses based on each month’s traffic didn’t make sense; one big hit could warp the math. So Gawker — by this point I was working there and helping to engineer these changes — moved to a quarterly bonus system in which three-month goals were set for pageview growth, and site leads were empowered to divide any bonus amongst their teams as they saw fit if they were successful in hitting bonus over an individual quarter.

This quarterly plan corrected for short-term hiccups, rewarding longer-term growth. But giving site leads discretion on how much money to give to who caused a new set of headaches. Complete subjectivity, and money, aren’t a great mix.

So when I shifted to running Curbed full-time, I took part of the Gawker formula — the quarterly structure — but changed the reward portion such that each team member had a bonus number they could achieve, or fail to achieve, together. (This plan was of course imperfect in its own ways too, namely that a strong team member could carry a weak team member, but I figured we had other ways of sussing out weak team members.) Given the relatively small size of Curbed’s editorial teams, this worked all the way through 2013.

Vox CEO Jim Bankoff takes a different view of traffic bonuses: that they’re asinine. Well, maybe not asinine, but that they encourage the wrong kind of behavior. And, moreover, that they’re perverse in the sense that, as Jim put it, “If we’re hiring the best people, why would we expect less than their best on any given day?”

So when we joined up with Vox Media, we did away with traffic bonuses for 2014, and never looked back. Result? Traffic across the Curbed/Eater/Racked group of sites grew 4x-10x in 2014.

In fact, traffic growth across all the Vox Media properties in 2014 was strong: the company finished the year with an audience size more than double that at the start of the year, which is remarkable considering the size of the audience we’re talking about. We did that in part with aggressive goal setting. And so we’re starting 2015 with a fresh set of goals, split across three buckets: traffic, social traffic, and video. (I won’t go into the way we break these buckets down more granularly, but rest assured, it’s pretty granular.) What do the goals serve, in the absence of a paid bonus structure? The ability to make sure all parts of the company are on the same page about what we need to achieve this year to be successful, and goals to strive for, for success’s sake. With a deeply motivated group of people, that’s more than enough.

Meantime, what now for Gawker? Denton, again: “Stories that generate attention will be noted and rewarded, but only those that Tommy Craggs and his colleagues deem worthy of that attention. A layer of subjective editorial judgment will return. Newspaper traditionalists will no doubt see this as vindication.” Putting aside the hilarity of that last line, I wonder about the “noted and rewarded” bit. If that’s a return to bonuses for work being decided on a totally subjective basis — well, that’ll be a lot of fun for all involved.

Me, I’m glad to be out of the traffic bonus game, no matter how happy that makes those vindicated Newspaper Men.

Flood the #DawnWall

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 11.17.14 AM

Yesterday, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson finished their historic free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite Natonal Park. It’s a story that I got sucked into following almost exclusively via The New York Times, about which, a few thoughts.

I first encountered the story when the Times ran this piece about the quest on the bottom of A1 on Monday, January 5. At this point, the expedition had been on the wall for about a week, having arrived at the toughest part of the climb. It felt like a good, quirky choice for an A1 story: the right mix of quixotic quest with heroic sheen. I followed the climbers on Instagram and Twitter, figuring this would be about the last I’d read of the quest in the Times, or any mainstream media.

Wrong. From there out, the Times went full court crazy on the story of Caldwell and Jorgenson. Tuesday, January 6, a detailed piece on the front page of the sports section. Thursday, January 8, back on A1 (the story that birthed the famous “Kyrgyzstan, not Kyrzbekistan” correction). Friday, January 9, an op-ed on “Climbing and Tweeting.”

On Saturday, January 10, the print edition of the Times sports section gave over nearly the entire front page to a graphic of the Dawn Wall, and the pair’s route up it. Here’s when the digital side of the Times really dove into the story, creating an interactive graphic of the Dawn Wall, complete with scrollable photo illustrations. Yesterday, the interactive team was at it again, creating a zoomable photo of the Dawn Wall to track the climb’s progress. And twice more this week, the story would wind up back on A1, including a photo today of the successful climbers summiting the ridge.

Now, I’m probably one of the few people left who reads the Times in print every day, but the frequency with which this very soft news story hit A1 blew my mind. Howell Raines, the Executive Editor who popularized the phrase “flooding the zone” — a concept we used liberally at Curbed, and still teach to our editors — would be proud. Yeah, don’t get me wrong: I completely support and encourage good zone flooding in general, and think the Times nailed it here. I got sucked into a story I wouldn’t otherwise care about as it carried along for two weeks.

Also of note is the exceptional work of the Times interactive team, which I think sets the bar on the web right now for interactive storytelling experiences. That the organization can get zone-flood buy-in across print and digital is impressive. Makes me think about how we can flood the zone even harder on the stories that matter to us at Vox.

The National 38

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 1.14.36 PM

Yesterday, while my plane from Vegas was somewhere over the Great Plains, the first-ever National 38 debuted on Eater. This is a big deal: it’s the first time that Eater has endeavored to name a best-of list for the whole country, and the culmination of several years of thinking about how best to do that.

The idea of a roving critic for Eater first came to Amanda Kludt and me during a trip to the Pacific Northwest in September 2012. We were dining at Canlis, arguably Seattle’s best fine dining restaurant, and the Canlis brothers joined our table, where talked turned to the lack of professional restaurant coverage in their city. What if, Amanda and I wondered, Eater could employ a critic to roam around the country, essentially doing for the best restaurants in America what Pete Wells does for New York City at the Times?

The idea, of course, required big resources — much bigger resources than Eater had at that time. A year later, though, when the company was acquired by Vox Media, we suddenly had a mandate from Vox CEO Jim Bankoff to think larger about what Eater could accomplish. Our thoughts returned to the roving critic idea. We’d need not just a well salaried position, but a travel and dining budget to match the ambitions. And then we’d need to find someone crazy enough to spend 40 weeks on the road, eating everywhere and anywhere the burgeoning restaurant world took them.

We found that man in Atlanta, in Bill Addison. Bill started at Eater in April, and from then through year-end 2014, by his own math, ate 263 on-the-clock meals in 29 cities during 147 days in the field. I’m not sure there’s ever been a dining binge of this magnitude, at least not one chronicled in realtime as Bill did with The Road to the 38.

When the road work was finished, it was time for the final summation. We didn’t want the National 38 to be a list just of fancy tasting menu places, as the Pellegrino 50 Best list largely is. We also didn’t want to rank the restaurants in order, because all Eater 38s are unordered. I think Bill did a brilliant job threading that needle in compiling the final list, including restaurants from Alinea in Chicago to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, broken into several useful categories.

It’s the definitive dining roadmap to 2015. Get after it.