Category Archives: Food

A Weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana

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As we get older, traditions become more important. They are especially important when traditions are of the guys’ weekend variety. Example: We must all leave New York City and go somewhere fun for Super Bowl Weekend because we have always left New York City and gone somewhere fun for Super Bowl Weekend.

In fact, this year’s getaway was Super Bowl Weekend V, and really technically just Super Bowl Weekend IV because last year we substituted my bachelor party on the weekend previous to the big game. No matter. This year, for the first time together, the Hotline Crew would take New Orleans, a city where one of us went to law school, two of us have visited frequently, and two members of our crew — krewe? — had never set foot. Oh, and for the first time since the extremely ill-fated Super Bowl Weekend III, the Patriots would challenge for football’s world championship before the weekend was over.

My last visit to New Orleans came during Jazzfest in 2010 — a time before Airbnb, or at least before I’d ever heard of Airbnb. This time, it was the obvious choice, and we ended up in the three-story townhouse in the Lower Garden District seen above. Tremendous spot…

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… and not just because the house was directly next door to the establishment Tacos and Beer, where the group of early arrivals enjoyed pre-dinner on Friday night. This patio would swell with Seahawks fans on Super Bowl Sunday, their cheers driving into my skull like rusty nails, but until then, hey — Tacos and Beer.

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Restaurant report: all Donald Link all the time. We took Friday night dinner at Cochon, complete with fried oysters even larger than I remembered them. The vibe at Cochon is great, and though the food on this visit didn’t blow me away, hard to think of a better place to start a weekend of epic consumption.

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After a late Friday and a lazy start to Saturday, lunch came in the form of a 20-sandwich platter pickup from Cochon’s next-door spinoff, Cochon Butcher. I am on record stating that their may be no finer establishment in the United States of America than Cochon Butcher, an opinion arrived at after lunching there back in 2010 and confirmed after this trip. They’ve more than doubled the size of the room, making it a much easier place to sit and lunch, and the menu’s grown as well [PDF], though we didn’t venture outside sandwiches on this trip despite MOP’s plea that the boudin is terrific. (Next time.) The Cochon Muffaletta, the cold roast beef, and a pressed-pork creation all absolutely killed it, along with sides of Brussels sprouts and potato salad.

The one glaring omission from our sandwich binge: the Blackboard Bacon Melt, which Eater’s Bill Addison recently declared the finest sandwich in the country. (Addison: “A genius construction of thick, crisp-soft cured pork layered with stewed collard greens, pepper aioli, and Swiss cheese on buttery toast. I crave it more than any other sandwich in America.”) Didn’t realize we’d missed it until Bill commented on my Instagram of the platter. Fuck.

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After an afternoon wandering the French Quarter, getting our two Nola virgins up to speed on Cafe du Monde, then grabbing Buds at old favorite the Chart House, dinner went down at Peche, another Donald Link restaurant and one new to the city since my last visit. Last year, the James Beard Foundation handed its award for the best new restaurant in America to this place, which seemed as good a reason as any to try it.

The space — like Cochon, it’s in the old warehouse district — is airy and cool, and the vibe, like Cochon, active and fun. We went with a bunch of shared starters (the shrimp toast, though boring in name, is absolutely sublime) before splitting a large whole redfish sauced in salsa verde. Excellent. Would eat again.

After dinner, the crowd outside swelled for the Krewe de Vieux parade, one of the first in the season leading into Mardi Gras. Now, for various and uncertain reasons, we somehow managed to miss the parade, but we made it into the official afterparty, which: insanity. Next year we do it right and costume it up.

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Super Bowl Sunday dawned warm and wet across the Bayou, and I walked around the corner from our rental to find the Cajun Boy and his renowned dog Sazerac. Cajun took me to this perfect hipster coffee spot, then toured me his house and neighborhood. The plan was to watch the game at a bar right by there, but fate had other ideas, and we ended up watching the game at our townhouse. It was a good game.

Monday dawned with several housemates having made a pre-dawn run to the airport. I followed in mid-morning to find flight into LGA already delayed two hours. Simple sleuthing made it clear that, with weather conditions deteriorating in New York, a flight out that afternoon wasn’t going to happen. When the departure time got pushed back to 6pm, I switched my flight to a Tuesday AM departure and headed back into the city.

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Where, over a late lunch at Cochon Butcher, I finally ate the Blackboard Bacon Melt. Worth the whole trip. (Dined solo on Monday night at Sylvain in the French Quarter, which I’d also highly recommend. Good food but an alleyway-entrance vibe that entranced me. Like a divier version of McCrady’s in Charleston.)

Thanks, New Orleans, and thanks, New England Patriots. Les bon temps rouler.

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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:

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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 Year in Eater

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[The garden at Narcissa. Photo: LS.com]

Every year, Eater asks its colleagues and friends to sum up the year that was in New York City dining, and publishes the results in the week leading into the new year. Here now, my selected responses excerpted from the full shebang:

Top Restaurant Newcomer
I tend to binge on restaurants when they open, which is what I did this summer at Bar Primi and Claudette, and this fall at Dirty French and Marta. Love all those spots, but my newcomer of 2014 is the restaurant I wish I’d dined at way more often: Narcissa. I first ate at John Fraser’s reinvention of the haunted Standard East Village restaurant space in January, right after it opened, and was blown away. I dined there again early in the summer, and then outside, tucked into the garden, in early September. Each meal was among the best I had all year. Three times just didn’t cut it; I’m doubling down on Narcissa in 2015.

Top Restaurant Standbys
My lunch standbys rarely change from year to year — Lure and Rosemarys, now and forever — but my wife and I did discover a new dinner standby in 2014, right under our noses: Mark Joseph Steakhouse, on Water Street in the South Street Seaport. Living in the neighborhood, we’ve long been fans of Mark Joseph, a chophouse cast unapologetically in the Luger tradition (albeit with better wine and drinks). But we’d never made a go-to move of dining at the bar at Mark Joseph as often as we did this past year. Becoming a regular at a steakhouse is a strange and wonderful thing, good for the soul if not necessarily the diet, but I expect us to be perched there as often next year as we were this year past.

Best Dining Neighborhood
Midtown West. When Eater HQ relocated from its longtime perch near Astor Place to the Vox Media offices on West 40th Street near Bryant Park last spring, let’s be honest: we feared for our stomachs. First we sussed out Culture and Cafe Grumpy, two real solid coffee shops. The sandwiches and salads from Maison Kayser almost made us forget Il Buco Alimentari. (Almost.) Then someone figured out that Szechuan Gourmet delivers, a fact which changed the life of Eater’s head of product, Eliot Shepard, and everyone on the 10th Floor forever. Toss in this fall’s opening of the Midtown outpost of sandwich shop Alidoro, and well, dude, it’s all happening in Midtown West.

Single Best Meal of the Year
A year of eating across the country and the globe proved again that we’ve got the best of it in New York City. My meal of the year came unexpectedly in November, when a group of old friends gathered for a new monthly tradition of enjoying dinner at a restaurant deemed special by one member of the group. Our first month’s organizer deemed that we’d dine at the original Blue Ribbon on Sullivan Street, for all the reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s ever dined there. They gave us the big circular booth near the front of the room, and oysters, and from there it unfolded into the kind of night that confirms why we dine out so often in this crazy, beautiful city.

A few additional notes that didn’t make it onto Eater: I haven’t dined at Bâtard, Drew Nieporent’s upscale Tribeca addition to the New York City dining scene, but it topped Pete Wells’ list of the 10 best restaurants of the year and, back in November, won the Eater Award for NYC Restaurant of the Year. I’m pissed I haven’t made it to Bâtard yet; Drew Nieporent is pretty much the fucking greatest.

That said, it’s now clear that the NYC Restaurant of the Year is Cosme. That it didn’t open until September cost it from consideration in the Eater Awards, and Wells hasn’t even filed his review. I didn’t make it in for my first proper meal until early December, when Ben Leventhal invited me to join him and Charlie Bird impressario Robert Bohr at Cosme for dinner. We ate practically the entire menu, hit after hit. This is Mexican cuisine like I’ve never tasted in this city, which explains why this has become one of the toughest reservations in New York recent memory. The move: the bar, of course, which recently started serving the full menu. When we showed up at 8:45pm for our 9pm reservation, we easily grabbed two bar seats.

(You know this, but the restaurant of Winter 2015 is the new Mission Chinese on East Broadway. Haven’t been yet. Who’s in?)

My top meal of the year regardless of locale was, yeah, Noma. Other nights that register strong in the memory in the five boroughs: a January night at Blanca, the tasting restaurant behind Roberta’s; my first meal at River Cafe since Sandy, with ice floes floating by on the East River; an ribeye large format at Momofuku Ssam Bar with a big fun group in the spring; and the string of meals at Dirty French in September and October when I almost made good on my plan to dine there 93 consecutive nights.

Beyond NYC, I remember sushi omakases in Los Angeles at Sushi Zo and Sushi Park that reminded me why it’s almost not worth it to bother with serious sushi omakases on the east coast; my two meals at April Bloomfield’s Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, which might be the most perfect dining room in the country; the fascinatingly odd dinner at Odd Duck in Austin (Eater’s restaurant of the year); every meal ever at Hominy Grill in Charleston, the best pure southern restaurant in the south, for my money; a summer-finishing meal at Portland, ME’s new standout, Central Provisions; and everything in Nashville.

(Final bonus/new year thing: I contributed a thought to Doree’s What People in Media are Excited About in 2015. Now, enough recapping and predicting; on with it.)

Week on the West Coast

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Hola amigos. It’s been a little while since I rapped at ya. Seems I’ve been on the West Coast of the United States, first for a birthday weekend celebrating the man, the myth, the 40th birthday party that is MOP, then in Los Angeles for a few days of Vox Media work supplemented with speaking at Brad Inman’s Luxury Connect event in Beverly Hills 90210. They don’t yet have blog software on the west coast, so sorry for the radio silence. Here’s what went down.

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NAPA VALLEY HILLS
Mike had quite the entourage for his birthday weekend — about 50 folks, all told — but a group of us from college got the nod to stay at an Airbnb he arranged in the hills above Yountville. As Mike observed, it was as if the owners decided on the exact spot for the hot tub, then built the rest of the place around it. No complaints.

GOTT’S ROADSIDE (top)
I’ve been to Napa a bunch of times in recent years, mostly for fancy meals as part of Team Eater. No complaints about that either, but it was a blast to start the Napa weekend with a big group dinner at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena, a place I’ve driven past a bunch of times but never stopped over at. You know the menu, and you know exactly how good it is (especially when supplemented with special wines brought in by Mike’s mom and stepdad). Should you go, do not miss the onion rings.

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CHATEAU MONTELENA
The group activity for Saturday, presented by Mike’s Dad: a tour of the Chateau Montelena winery in Calistoga, as far north in Napa Valley as I’ve ever been. The winery is famous for 1976′s Judgement of Paris, the first time California and Oregon wines faced off against French wine critics on the home terroir of France and beat the French at their own game. Although Chateau Montelena won back then for its chardonnay, the winery is better known for its reds. We tasted rieseling, then a flight of cabernets from 2010, 2005, and 2004. I thought the 2004 walked away with it, but I might just have been picking the oldest year to sound like I know what I’m talking about. (Above, me with the one and only Gaby Darbyshire.)

CALISTOGA INN
Late Saturday lunch after wine tasting at the unassuming Calistoga Inn nearby. Waiting for our table of ~12 to be readied, ran into Courtney and Zach and their li’l tyke, which, small freaking valley, my friends. Had a fresh fish special and made friends with a few folks in the birthday party I didn’t already know. Good vibes, good vibes.

TRA VIGNE
Saturday night dinner: a seated affair at Ristorante Tra Vigne back in St. Helena. Another place I’ve driven past a bunch of times but never sat down and eaten at, but will again; the meal was first-rate. I had to split the next morning but dropped by brunch at Boon Fly Cafe and grabbed a few of their famous donuts, which are exactly the size of a ripe peach and equally delicious, albeit less organic-slash-healthy.

Onward to Los Angeles.

KANPAI/GJELINA
Upon arrival at LAX, met by Meredith, who took me to a hole-in-the-wall sushi place called Kanpai on the drive between LAX and Venice. We picked up sushi to go which inevitably tasted better than 95% of all pricey sushi in New York City. The next day we lunched at Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney in Venice, a place I’ve eaten about a thousand times and, God willing, will eat at least a thousand times more. Gjelina, now and forever.

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SUSHI PARK
After a night at Meredith’s new apartment in Venice, checked into hotelier Jeff Klein’s Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood on Sunset, one of my favorite hotels in the world. Among the perks: walking distance to Sushi Park, a restaurant that then-Eater LA editor (now, having moved back to NYC, Eater’s editorial producer) Kat Odell first took me to in 2010. Sushi Park is one of those only-in-LA (or Tokyo) sushi restaurants situated on the second level of a strip mall, with decor to match, that has strict rules about what you can and can’t expect. Attention must be paid.

Walking into the one-third filled restaurant at lunchtime, the hostess stopped me. “Reservation?” No. “First time here?” No. Which relieved her a great deal, because Sushi Park clearly deals with a lot of folks who wander in having no idea what they’re in for. If you’re sitting at the sushi bar, as I did, it’s omakase only, and worth the hefty price tag for one of the best omakase (omakases?) you’ll ever eat. I’m convinced that a few omakase meals of this variety in Los Angeles last winter ruined me for Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village, Zagat’s top-ranked new restaurant in NYC this year that I thought couldn’t hold a candle to LA sushi. Really not Nakazawa’s fault.

FREDS AT BARNEYS
Also lunched one day with new Eater LA editor Matthew Kang at the brand new (opened two weeks ago) outpost of Freds at Barneys in Beverly Hills. If you know Fred’s at the Barneys in midtown NYC, expect the same vibe: an epic ladies-who-lunch scene abetted by a menu tailored for them. Our pasta and pizza both looked gorgeous but lacked, well, taste. Probably could have called that.

ORSA & WINSTON
Final night in LA, dinner with Mimi at Orsa & Winston in Downtown LA. The chef, Josef Centeno, oversees a crazy group of great restaurants — Bäco Mercat; Bar Ama; etc. — that are insanely all located in the same one-block radius. Critics like the LATimes’ Jonathan Gold are gaga for this place, which serves tasting menus of five or eight courses in eclectic fashion. We loved the whole night, but the plates were hit-or-miss. Given that the menu changes nightly, we may just have hit an off night. I’ll be back.

Fall Dining: Marta and White Street

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Halfway through October! Seems a good time to take stock of the autumn arrivals to New York City’s dining scene. After four visits — out of an eventual 93 — I can report that I still adore Lower East Side newcomer Dirty French. Only Dirty French regret so far: not yet having tried either of the for-two entrees, the chicken with crepes or the côte de boeuf. On the latter, a cadre of friends have expressed interest, so we’ll make that happen in November, when the cold rains come. On the chicken with crepes side, if you want in, hit me up and let’s get this done.

September saw several other heavyweight openings, none bigger than Danny Meyer’s East 29th Street newcomer Marta and the return of Chef Floyd Cardoz at Tribeca’s White Street. Here now, the exclusive LS.com report on both.

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I’ve been to Marta twice now, both for lunch. The restaurant, the latest from Danny Meyer, is situated in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel on East 29th Street — and, wouldn’t you know, it feels like you’re dining in a hotel lobby, albeit one with two huge wood-fired pizza ovens at the rear. And pizza is very much the thing here. But not just any old pizza. No, chef Nick Anderer (also of Maialino) and his team are aspiring to Roman-style thin crust pizza. Or, as Meyer likes it, Thin and Crispy!

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The menu divides the pizzas into two classes, Rosse and Bianche, and switches out seasonal ingredients on the regular. The two pizzas we consumed in my first visit, above top, squash blossoms and zucchini, a truly excellent pie; above bottom, tomatoes and corn, which tasted of the season but had so much on the crust that one couldn’t accurately describe it as Thin and Crispy. Both pizzas are now off Marta’s menu.

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Second visit, we again went one rosse, one blanche, this time opting for, above top, the Salsiccia (mozzarella, pork sausage, crimini), a solid take; above bottom, the Patate Alla Carbonara (potatoes, guanciale, black pepper, pecorino, egg). This second pizza appears to have emerged as Marta’s signature pie — check out Eater’s photoessay on its creation with Chef Anderer. It’s definitely cool that it tastes like carbonara on a pizza. But that’s a lotta toppings for any crust to support, and the middle of our pie was defiantly soggy.

Which is my only issue with Marta — that in piling up the pizzas with toppings makes for pizza that is quite delicious but not always thin and crispy. Also note that it’d be easy to have a great meal at Marta without ordering pizza at all. There are some very good salads, including the lovely Marta Salad seen at the very top of this post. And rabbit meatballs, because you’re not a new restaurant in fall 2014 in New York City if you don’t have rabbit on the menu, #factsonly. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the service is crisp, professional, and friendly. This is always harder than it seems.

Final pro-tip: haven’t yet been to breakfast here, but I’m reliably told it’s out-of-the-park fantastic. Which makes perfect sense if you know how good the breakfast at Maialino is.

WHITE STREET

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Service was the big problem at Floyd Cardoz’s new restaurant, White Street, on West Broadway above Franklin in Tribeca. From a sheer looks perspective, the place is spectacular. And on the rainy Monday night we were there, nearly ever table was filled with your typical cross-section of fancy Tribecaites. Wouldn’t expect more or less from a restaurant co-owned by Dan Abrams and Dave Zinczenko, among other dudes.

Cardoz worked with Danny Meyer for years, first at the long-shuttered Madison Square Park Indian restaurant Tabla, and lately of North End Grill in Battery Park City. Here, he’s saddled with a less experienced service team, and it shows. Wrong dishes brought our table, confusion over our wine order, and the like diminished our enjoyment of a more straightforward menu from Cardoz than one might expect (including, the night we were there, white truffles over gnocchi, above). I’ll let the kinks get ironed out for a spell before giving it another go.

Quinciple

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In the scheme of services I love in New York City, Quinciple is the one I love the most.

I owe Eater’s Amanda Kludt for the recommendation, about a year ago. At the time, Linds and I had tried out Blue Apron and initially enjoyed it. All the ingredients you need to cook three meals a week, delivered to your apartment in a box, with recipes! But over a few months, the sheer paint-by-numbers approach of each recipe — to the point Blue Apron includes a small pat of butter when the recipe calls for butter — started to bore us. And we experienced this problem.

Which is when Amanda recommended Quinciple. Glorious Quinciple.

Quinciple is roughly the same concept as Blue Apron, with a few upgrades. It’s a box of food, mostly the kind of things you’d find at a farmers’ market if you really knew how to shop a farmers’ market. There’s lots of seasonal fruit and vegetables (this week: pears, tomatoes, honey nut squash, mustard greens, multicolor string beans, among others). There’s always a fresh loaf of some kind of interesting bread, and a hunk of farmhouse cheese. There’s one protein a week — squid a few weeks back, grass-fed pork chops, and this week, sweet Italian ground pork. And often a pint of farm-fresh milk or eggs. It’s not everything you need to cook a bunch of great meals, but it’s most things you need. That’s a photo of most of the contents from our box this week at the top of this post.

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Even better, perhaps, is the media provided with each box. There’s a clear, well designed guide to each week’s products, and three recipe cards (this week’s set, above). As a fan of high quality media, I honestly have no idea how the Quinciple team pulls off this feat each week, but the recipe cards are all fantastic and worth saving, and the ingredient guides have made me a better consumer of food.

For now, Quinciple’s just a New York City thing, offering delivery in areas of Manhattan on Monday and Thursday, and in parts of Brooklyn and at selected places for pickup. Each week’s box costs $49.

But this month, Quinciple’s running a first box free promotion. Give it a go.