Restaurants to Watch: Burger & Lobster and Tramonti Pizzeria

29 Jul

tamontiHere they are: Two New York dining spots heralding three of America’s most-revered things to eat: Burgers, lobster, pizza. As someone aching for simpler food these days, I find the casual, straightforward, ingredient-driven approach to the British-born Burger & Lobster, and the decidedly southern Italian Tramonti, refreshingly satisfying. Many thanks to food trends guru Michael Whiteman — a most affable dining companion and critic.

Burger & Lobster

London’s fabulously successful Burger & Lobster chain has just opened its second New York location, this time adjacent to Times Square. As you might surmise from its name, this restaurant venture is built are just two types of food: live lobsters of varying size, lobster rolls, and a roster of inventive hamburgers … with varying combinations of the two.

The basic deal is for $20 you can get a one-pound Canadian lobster, or a 10-oz hamburger with bacon, cheese and onions, or a lobster roll, all with excellent skinny fries and salad. At the other extreme, you might select a 14.5-pound lobster from one of numerous tanks right at the restaurant’s entrance; it is large enough to walk on a leash, costs $377, and comes with unlimited fries and salad. Their top-of-the-line $33 London Burger is topped with freshly-steamed lobster meat and truffle mayonnaise. Lobsters are expertly steamed or grilled and served with drawn butter or a most-addictive lemon-chive sauce. (You’ll want to dunk your fries in it, too.)

More modestly, we ordered a 1.5 pound lobster ($28), their standard burger, and a corn-meal crusted lobster roll with spicy remoulade, and can proclaim them all to be well worth the money. And since lobster rolls in this city’s self-service food halls cost around $20, the roll here is a deal. This is especially true for large families on-the-splurge who fill up their tables for not a lot of money, or for people seeking a pre-theater dinner that is gentler on the wallet than most other places.

People who just can’t decide may order a grand combination called The Tower – any two burgers, any two lobster rolls, two whole one pound lobsters, any three sauces, unlimited fries, unlimited salad and any four specialty cocktails or a bottle of Cava – presented on a two tiered tray. Desserts are served in trendy jars – fabulous chocolate mousse or strawberry “cheesecake,” and the wine list falls into the category of pretty good. There are great beers on draft.

The 160-seat restaurant is located mid-block on 43rd Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway next to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and you enter via a theatrical arcade of lobster traps. In addition to a cluster of these restaurants in London, there are Burger & Lobster franchises in Dubai, Bangkok, Kuwait, Stockholm and Jeddah, and we’ll probably have more in the US as well. It is, after all, a refreshingly satisfying place to go. Say hi to the brilliant Vladimir, the operating partner who is spearheading the U.S. expansion of B&L and other concepts, or to the terrific executive chef, Danny Lee, who has cooked in some of the best fish restaurants in town. (132 West 43 St., 917-565-9044)

Tramonti Ristorante Pizzeria

You’ve probably never heard about ‘ndunderi. Or re fiascone tomatoes. Or past’ e patane. Or melanzane al cioccolato. Except for the melanzane al cioccolato — a chocolate eggplant dessert that I wrote about several years ago — all these dishes are new to me, too.

They have two things in common: they’re ancient foods from the Amalfi area of Italy; and you can find them at the East Village pizzeria called Tramonti. New York is full of Italian restaurants calling themselves “authentic,” but the recently- opened Tramonti is the real thing.

First, I must tell you about the pizza. The dough incorporates millet, barley, rye and whole wheat — all traditional to the ancient mountain town of Tramonti from which this restaurant derives its name. It starts with a pinch of yeast and is left to rise for 48 hours, which accounts for its deep flavor and lightness of texture. This restaurant’s classic pizza marinara, topped with intense re fiascone tomatoes (see below), oregano, tiny slivers of garlic and olive oil was a revelation. Tramonti’s calzone was another stunner filled with some of that same tomato pulp, smoked provola, fresh mozzarella imported from Tramonti (of course) and hot soppressata (from a small producer in New Jersey); it tasted “Italian” in a manner that few restaurants here can muster.

The place is run by Chef Vittorio (Giovanni Vittorio Tagliafierro) and the food I’m describing was his everyday fare in Tramonti. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother made ‘ndunderi from a recipe left behind by the Romans who established the town. They are large dumplings made of ricotta and flour, served in an intense sauce of those tomatoes and braised beef, topped with his amazingly creamy mozzarella. UNESCO says ‘ndunderi is one of the earliest forms of pasta.

Past’e patane consists of broken spaghetti cooked al dente with small bits of Idaho potatoes and then quickly sauteed with garlic, basil and olive oil. The potato’s starch subtly coats the pasta and adds body to the sauce it is served in. You may have it with a dollop of tomato sauce but it isn’t really necessary.

Re Fiascone reportedly were the original tomatoes on pizza margherita. Cultivated in the 1900s around Tramonti, they went into decline and only recently have been replanted in the area, the successful result of a crowd-funding effort. They are pulpy and intense, and Chef Vittorio exclusively imports vast quantities — no sugar, salt, herbs, or even olive oil are added.

And now for the chocolate eggplant dessert, found in many of the towns abutting Tramonti: I went hunting for it in 2011 near Ravello and finally found two versions in a small town on the coast, neither of which compare to what’s offered here. Theirs look like pancakes. Chef Vittorio’s consists of thin layers of fried eggplant that are sugared and spiced, separated by layers of ricotta, and then enrobed in bittersweet chocolate — as if it were a decadent square of lasagna. Melanzane al cioccolato originated in the Franciscan Convent de Polvica in Tramonti, spread to other religious orders and thence to local housewives. It often is spiked with concerto — an heady ancient liqueur originally made by local nuns but now concocted in various domestic versions. You might find some in Tramonti’s rendition of this dish.

Chef Vittorio, who has worked in New York’s most upscale pizzeria (including Mezzaluna) is a hearty raconteur and it doesn’t take much encouragement to launch him into the food history of his childhood, all of which rounds out a most delicious evening. (130 Saint Marks Place, 212-260-1441)

Festive Fourth of July Food

3 Jul

While these sparkling recipes are designed for July 4th fireworks, they are perfect for entertaining all summer long. Three cheers for the red, white, and blue! Hope you have a festive holiday.

COOL BLUE MARTINIStumblr_nr2lhnfhXP1rsdtszo1_500

This recipe is for each drink but they can be made by the pitcher. These are really “light martinis” as there is more bubbly and less vodka or gin than in standard martinis.

– 5 ounces chilled Prosecco

– ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) gin or vodka

– ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) blue Curacao

– 1 tablespoon (or more) simple syrup

Stir everything into a shaker with a few ice cubes. Shake away! Strain into a chilled martini glass.

MAKES 1 DRINK

BOMBAY TURKEY SLIDERS with HURRY-CURRY SAUCEtumblr_mp2it2CMwI1rsdtszo1_1280

These are a cinch to put together and both the sauce and the sliders can be prepped early in the day.

HURRY-CURRY SAUCE

– ½ cup light mayonnaise
– ⅔ cup plain yogurt
– 4 teaspoons curry powder
– 2 tablespoons ketchup
– 1 small clove garlic, finely minced

BOMBAY TURKEY SLIDERS

– 1¼ pounds ground turkey
– 2 teaspoons curry powder
– 1 teaspoons ground cumin
– Large pinch chipotle chili powder
– 3 tablespoons finely minced scallions
– 4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or basil
– 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
– 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 12 little dinner rolls, split and toasted
– 12 thin slices Kirby cucumber
– 12 thin slices plum tomato

Stir together ingredients for sauce. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Put turkey in a large bowl. Add the curry, cumin, chili powder, scallions, cilantro or basil, ginger and mayonnaise, plus 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until blended. Form into 12 small (2 ounce) burgers. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook burgers over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, turn over and cook 2 minutes longer. Place the burgers on the buns and slather with curry sauce. Top with a slice of cucumber and tomato. MAKES 12 SLIDERS.

RED, WHITE AND BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKEStumblr_mp4dvrL0St1rsdtszo1_1280

This luxurious dessert is worthy of fireworks. Wonderful if you can get tiny ripe strawberries from your local farmer’s market. The light touch of lemon zest in the biscuits and thin layer of lemon curd makes these truly memorable. Garnish with edible flowers.

LEMON-BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

– 1½ cups flour
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– ½ teaspoon baking soda
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
– Grated rind of 1 lemon
– ⅔ cup buttermilk

SHORTCAKES

– 1½ cups heavy cream
– 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– ½ cup lemon curd
– 3 cups fresh berries: raspberries, tiny strawberries, blueberries
– Edible flowers for garnishing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and incorporate into flour mixture. Add lemon zest and buttermilk and mix lightly. Turn dough out onto floured board. Roll out to 1-inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch round and place on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake 16 to 18 minutes until golden. Let cool.

Whip heavy cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla until very thick.

Cut biscuits in half. Spread lemon curd on bottom half of each biscuit. Spoon whipped on top and add fruit. Top with biscuit “hat” and add more berries and whipped cream. Garnish with edible flowers. SERVES 6.

New Website Launch

9 Jan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                             January 9, 2017

 

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-5-49-51-pmROZANNE GOLD LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE

Website Represents the Past, Present, and Future from “The Food Expert’s Expert”

NEW YORK, NY — Celebrated chef, journalist, author, and four-time winner of the James Beard award, Rozanne Gold announces the launch of her website (www.rozannegold.com) as a resource to home cooks and professional chefs alike. This new site acts a mini-archive of Rozanne’s forty years in the food world— as a woman chef, an innovator of trends, mentor, teacher, and advocate for culinary change.

Here, visitors can access dozens of original recipes and photographs from an assortment of her award-winning books and browse her newspaper articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and become up-to-date on her trendsetting blogs from the Huffington Post.  Hundreds of articles from a variety of lifestyle magazines are also featured, from Gourmet to Cooking Light, as well as from her five-year stint as entertaining columnist for Bon Appétit. 

A revolving photo gallery of noteworthy images from Rozanne’s culinary life will also be featured: with Julia Child at the 1996 opening of Windows on the World – Rozanne was head of the culinary team who helped “win back” Windows in 1996; with her boss, Mayor Ed Koch; Rozanne with Prime Minister and Aliza Begin in front of Gracie Mansion – where she lived for a year as chef to the Mayor; in the kitchen at the Rainbow Room (where Rozanne was consulting chef for thirteen years); with Mimi Sheraton, Dr. Marion Nestle, and Amanda Hesser as moderator of Les Dames d’Escoffier’s recent forum, The Next Big Bite.

Website guests will find links to Rozanne’s television appearances and tune-in to National Public Radio to listen to her award-winning “1-2-3 Recipe Challenge” with Leonard Lopate.

Rozanne helped shape America’s culinary landscape as a pioneer in the food revolution that began in the 1970s. A recipient of the Julia Child/IACP award, she started her remarkable career at the age of twenty-three as first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch. As Chef-Director of the renowned hospitality consultants, Baum + Whiteman, Ms. Gold helped re-create the magical Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center (where she was co-owner and consulting chef for fifteen years), Windows on the World, and three of New York’s three-star restaurants, including the Hudson River Club, where she helped launch today’s locavore movement.

Known for her philanthropic efforts, Rozanne established a satellite kitchen called CBE Feeds in Brooklyn to respond to the victims of Hurricane Sandy (more than 185,000 meals have been prepared); “rescued” Gourmet magazine’s library by purchasing it and donating more than 6,000 books, brochures and ephemera to Fales Library at NYU; mentors many young women and men in the industry; and is a Trustee of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, where she continues her work as an end-of-life doula. A recent graduate with a MFA in poetry, Rozanne teaches “The Language of Food” at the New School.

Come visit. New recipes, photos, articles, and appearances will be posted regularly. For more information contact:   evan.nisenson@gmail.com or rozannegold@mindspring.com

Restaurants Without Seats? Big Trends In 2017

4 Jan

Food trends are fascinating; we are obsessed with what we eat. But more importantly, these trends tell larger stories about who we are. Looked at yearly, they depict the shifting sands of consumer behavior.

For example, I’ve just learned that ordering food delivered from restaurants surges, improbably, on … Valentine’s Day! It’s not because of the death of romanticism in America or because restaurants are heavily booked. Just the opposite: Lured by the ease of Internet ordering and speedy delivery by Uber or Amazon, people increasingly are “eating out” at home and abandoning restaurant dining rooms.

So a big trend for 2017 will be companies opening experimental kitchen-only restaurants whose sole purpose is to send prepared meals to your home. They are called “phantom restaurants” (also known as ghost restaurants) because no one ever visits them. They’re located in low-rent locations but staffed by real chefs and cooks. Even Olive Garden, just last week, said that it was considering building kitchens in warehouse districts that could deliver to a major city, an idea earlier floated by the fast-growing Panera Bread company.

I’ve attached an article on this very subject by Financial Times’s restaurant critic Nicholas Lander as reprinted in last week’s blog by Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s premier wine experts (and someone I’ve adored for decades). Expansion of delivery-only kitchens is reshaping the restaurant business — and perhaps also our waistlines. Or it may simply satisfy an innate desire to nest.

Every year I write about food trends as gleaned from the best in the business, and there are many exciting ones on the horizon. Is seaweed the next kale? Are wildly creative sandwiches reshaping how we think about breakfast? Will congee be the next new thing? (I am crazy about it; any time of the day.) There’s all this and lots more in the 2017 food and beverage forecast from Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants, which you can read about here. Most intriguing in this report is an analysis of why vegetables are becoming the new “comfort food,” and whether that means we’re saying goodbye to mac-and-cheese.

What are some other trends on the horizon? Well, gentrification of the $4 “chopped cheese” for one. A sandwich, made famous in the bodegas of Harlem and the South Bronx, went viral this year, causing a stampede to the upper reaches of the city. This mélange of ground beef, American cheese and condiments, all piled on a hero bucks the trend of highly contrived, super-creative, attention-getting food served elsewhere at more like $4 a bite.

Another trend? Chef magicians turning food-waste into delectable things to eat. I am one of them and among the first to fry carrot tops to use as a garnish, and definitely the first to boil the peelings of fresh asparagus to resemble fettuccine. I also make “compost soup,” and transform leftover bits of iceberg lettuce into a wondrous vegetable by simply sautéing with olive oil and lemony sumac. I pulverize old gnarly carrots into “nibs” and toss them with couscous. So good. And essential to creating a sustainable planet.

Other trends? Chefs who use menu language in new ways and intentionally break from traditional forms. I now teach a class at the New School for Social Research (in New York City) called “The Language of Food,” which looks at menus as a form of literature. And chefs, like poets, use the fewest possible words to express desire and hunger, getting to the essence of a dish quickly, like good haiku. More? Specialty drinks with LED lights inside the ice cubes has a certain poetry of its own, as does “candy floss” (the British word for cotton candy) used in brand new ways.

More? It’s time to click on Whiteman’s forecast for 2017 – sporting the 13 hottest food & beverage trends in restaurant & hotel dining, not to mention 23 prescient buzzwords. According to Nick Lander’s in December’s Financial Times, “Michael Whiteman is a striking example of a lifetime well spent in the American hospitality business.” As the guy who (with his partner Joe Baum) created the world’s first food courts and five of New York’s three-star restaurants, including the legendary Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room, he knows a thing or two about what’s happening.

London Now: Restaurants to Watch

26 Nov

candles-aboveOn a recent trip to London with trends guru Michael Whiteman, I had the luxury of drinking the world’s best martini – made with Cotswolds Gin. The distillery, located 1-1/2 hours outside London (in charming Shipston-on-Stour) is an alluring introduction to the idyllic landscape, known for lush patches of lavender and gentle hills. Ask proprietor Daniel Szor to give you a tour. Eat at the nearby gastropub, “The Kingham Plough” (20 minutes from the distillery), and then head on to bustling London, a world-eats destination, and stay a few days. Giving thanks, here, to MW (husband) for succinctly mapping the brilliance of three of London’s best new dining spots.

Without a great city street map you’d be pressed to find Beast, but every London cabbie knows the location. Beast comes from the creators of the sizzling Burger & Lobster chain but this time the menu focuses on humongous king crabs and great steaks from several countries. You pass massive tanks holding angry, prehistoric-looking crabs and lobsters with claws almost the size of your shoe before entering a bustling underground room full of wooden communal tables with candelabra. There’s a festive roar, mostly from men spending more than your last paycheck. A short assortment of starters (shrimp tempura with Cajun mayonnaise and avocado is sold by the piece but everyone seems to order a platter) leads you to “The Beasts”, all sold by the gram.

Next to us, four petit women from Paris shared some starters and a king crab beast that arrived on a silver platter; they then collapsed into a caloric stupor and gasped “fini.” Three of us, on the other hand, hoovered up a miraculously sweet crab and then carved into a great slab of corn-finished double sirloin from Nebraska grilled over charcoal. We’re partial to grass-fed Basque Holstein, but they were out that night and our other choices were beef from Scotland, Australia and Finland.

Our meal was rounded out by thrice-fired potato wedges and a green salad topped with juicy smoked tomatoes, which were infinitely better than expected. Do not request bread to sop up the salad juices or meat drippings because there is none.

The knowing wine list is full of big bruisers and first growths and, as befits a steakhouse, Beast is rightfully expensive. Don’t be surprised if this celebratory restaurant migrates to New York or Dubai where there already are busy outposts of Burger & Lobster.

Beast

3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone

+44 20 7495 1816

beastrestaurant.co.uk

Portland is the ideal neighborhood restaurant: smallish, warmly lit, gastronomically ambitious, acoustically sensible and fairly priced. For this reason, most people take taxis to this restaurant in the Fitzrovia neighborhood. Portland is one of three admirable London places run by Will Lander (the others being Quality Chop House and nearby Clipstone). The menu appears concise but then you’re struck with the “I want everything” dilemma. A recently bestowed Michelin star is so well deserved.

A smooth chicken liver parfait is offset by crisp chicken skin, candied walnuts and pickled grapes, and Devonshire crab is rolled with lovage into a thin slice of kohlrabi — both exercises of texture as well as taste. Evidently not one for gastronomical grandstanding, chef Merlin Labron-Johnson, who previously worked at Belgium’s famed In De Wulf, transforms complexities of ingredients into watercolors of flavors, as in foie gras with endive, clementine and raisins soaked in Alsace muscat — bitter flavors balanced by sweet. Roasted heritage carrots get the same attention with brown butter, aged nutty comté and toasted buckwheat. Cornish cod with green cauliflower, sorrel and smoked cream, and hay-baked guinea fowl with chestnuts and mushrooms were sublime and comforting on a rainy London evening.

Our waitress, fresh from Gramercy Tavern in New York, provided flawless service and there was nothing she didn’t know about the food.

The wine list is an endless work-in-progress since it changes almost every week, and is full of thrilling things you’ve never heard of — which is no surprise since Lander’s mother is the estimable wine writer Jancis Robinson (his father is food writer and critic Nicholas Lander).

Portland

113 Great Portland St.

+44 20 7436 3261

portlandrestaurant.co.uk

StreetXO is a rollicking transplant to London of a tapas bar in Madrid. That statement is akin to saying that Audi is an automobile. StreetXO is an underground, wackadoodle fusion restaurant where Michelin-starred chef David Muñoz layers Asian flavors onto traditional Spanish tapas, with occasional detours to Mexico. The resulting food erupts with umami and spices. A croquette that in Spain would be bound with a simple béchamel here is filled with sheep milk, XO sauce, lapsang souchong and kimchi, then topped with a slice of toro. If you fancy crunchy pig’s ear dumplings and pickles spattered, Jackson Pollack stye, with strawberry hoisin sauce, this place is for you.

There’s a long, brightly lit open kitchen “counter” where a gaggle of chefs— dressed puzzlingly in strait jackets — prepare these over-the-top inventions and serve you directly, each dish accompanied by an explanatory recitation. This is where you want to sit since the remaining space is night-clubby black, dark red and rather gloomy, but probably appropriate for date nights.

We particularly enjoyed a show-stopper of octopus, tomatillo and green apple mole (a faux guacamole) with “fake Chinese wok noodles” that turned out to be an amazing umami-laden tangle of enoki mushrooms. Muñoz’s steamed club sandwich is a pillow-soft bao with suckling pig, ricotta, quail egg and chili cream. And so it goes — tandoori chicken wings with pickled onion, trout roe and bonito flakes; Iberian pork belly with mussels in escabeche and sriracha; paella with sea urchin, chicken, bergamot and yellow aji — a carnival of animals and seafood.

StreetXO had opened only a few days before we dropped in and London’s trendoids already were clamoring for reservations.

StreetXO

15 Old Burlington St, Mayfair

+44 20 3096 7555

Eating Well in Asheville

2 Jul
Photo Credit: Michael Whiteman

Photo Credit: Michael Whiteman

Asheville is a lovely town in North Carolina where hipsters meet farmers, artists meet artisans, street food meets street people, and where adventurous restaurants lure masses of hungry tourists. With an influx of Floridians escaping the heat and New Yorkers escaping the cold, it feels less “southern” and more small-scale cosmopolitan.

On business a few weeks back, I took in both its thriving arts scene and its far-reaching gastronomic offerings. I say far-reaching because (for example) you can queue for a biscuit as big as your fist at Biscuit Head, filled with regionally appropriate salty country ham buffered by a fried green tomato, some cheese, a runny egg and one of seven gravies. But this is no sloucher place — on the menu are: sriracha slaw, smoked chevre grits, kale salad, seitan sausage, brie, and smoked tomato hollandaise. There’s a stupendous marmalade bar with at least a dozen varieties of freshly-made jams to pile onto your still-warm biscuit.

At the other end of the gastro-spectrum is Curate, an always-crowded tapas restaurant run by (now famous) chef Katie Button who rose to stardom after working under José Andrés and Ferran Adrià. You’ll find a deep list of authentically Spanish dishes and a curated assemblage of Spanish sherries and wines. Don’t miss warm octopus with Spanish paprika and silken Yukon gold puree; spicy chorizo wrapped in a crisp potato chip; Moorish-spiced lamb skewer; patatas bravas (a must-have) and Spanish tortilla (a classic potato-and-onion omelet). Curate has an open kitchen with a bar-counter where you can watch a dynamo of cooks turning out small plates and excellent cocktails.

White Duck Taco’s food is equally worldly. Non-traditional fillings include Bangkok shrimp, jerk chicken, Korean bulgogi, duck with mole and banh mi tofu. They’re cheap so order lots for lunch, then walk off your meal by exploring numerous nearby galleries and workshops in the River Arts District. There’s also a branch downtown.

Not easy to find, but so worthwhile is The Bull and Beggar, which abuts the yellow-ish, hipster-ish, biker-ish Wedge Brewery, with an outdoor cinema and food trucks serving creative snacks to the assembled thirsty. The menu at rustic Bull and Beggar looks “frenchified” with terrines, rillettes and shellfish platters, but it is a rock-solid restaurant run by an extraordinarily talented chef. You’ll want one of everything, but we reveled in chef Matt Dawes’ fatted, truffled duck liver parfait; charred octopus with a memorable romesco sauce; seared broccolini with chili and anchovy; beets with fromage blanc and cumin; and roast baby chicken with wild mushrooms, red currants, game chips, upland cress and liver toast. Quirky, wonderful wine list.

Formerly chef at much-lauded Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, where he re-invented Southern cookery, John Fleer now runs Rhubarb in Asheville. Rhubarb specializes in boldly flavored dishes that range across the globe. Roasted oysters with country ham and greens, Mongolian lamb ribs with collard green kimchee, rhubarb glazed duck confit with sweet potatoes Anna and shaved asparagus, and IPA-marinated cauliflower steak with flageolet cassoulet and arugula pesto (Whew! The ingredients just keep coming). Well organized wine list that’s easy on the wallet.

The Bull and Beggar, Rhubarb and many others in town get their vegetables and greens from Evan Chender’s Culinary Gardener, which I wrote about two weeks ago.

Barbecue addicts can’t do better than 12 Bones, on the edge of the arts district. A big smoker out back slowly transforms all manner of protein into redolent and succulent barbecue sandwiches or platters. A go-to sandwich is Hogzilla, a layering of sugar bacon, bratwurst, pulled pork and pepper jack cheese. Although I can’t quite wrap my mind around the concept, blueberry-chipotle is their most ordered sauce.

Here’s how to start a perfect evening: Head over to Battery Park Book Exchange in the Grove Arcade. This quirky used-book store contains a lovely champagne bar with a large by-the-glass selection and comfy places to sit, sip and snack.

Here’s how to end a perfect evening: Climb the stairs to Nightbell, a restaurant-lounge run by Katie Button. Signature cocktails are perfect and desserts are first-rate.

And here’s how trendy Asheville is: The menu at Table includes barbecued fish collars, asparagus chawanmushi, and striped bass with nasturtium butter. All Souls Pizza mills it own flour and offers hand-cut rye noodles with fermented turnips and charred spring onions, and smoked sardines with salsa verde. Curate’s menu tells you which dishes are vegan or gluten- lactose- and tree-nut free. At the hot Mexican restaurant Limones, your “Mayan margarita” glass is crusted with chapulin salt, “chapulin” made of dried, ground crickets. Down at a nearby farmers market, Cricket Girl sells cricket-based protein bars and is aiming for veggie packed smoothies thickened with her insect protein-flour combination. Toto… we’re not in Brooklyn anymore.

Sugar and Sweets

23 Jun

2015-06-22-1434996407-3265210-51ZKEQuJQiL._SY344_BO1204203200_.jpg

In my formative years as a budding chef and food writer, I did an unusual thing and read the mammoth Larousse Gastronomique, all 1,168 pages with its thousands of entries, cover to cover – or shall I say, from abaisse (a term used in French cookery for a sheet of rolled-out pastry) to zuppa inglese (a Neapolitan pudding). The first English edition appeared in 1971, when I was 17 and already a bartender mixing Negronis in Queens, New York. (For those who might remember, it was the Olde London Fishery on Union Turnpike.)

This memory was triggered when a voluminous book, The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (Oxford University Press, 2015) about the size of a three-pound box of Godiva chocolates, appeared on my desk last week. With more than 850 pages and 600 articles about the arresting history of sugar and sweets, I have decided to repeat my own history and take this encyclopedic work to bed with a cup of tea or a pony of alkermes. Poignantly, this book, too, ends with an entry about zuppa inglese (written by author Clifford A. Wright) with an interesting debate over the dessert’s true origin (is it from Naples as friend and food writer Arthur Schwartz insists, or Lazio, or Tuscany, as others suggest?)

The book begins, not with abaisse but with another nod to the French, a la mode – followed by a three-page entry about sugar addiction, contributed by Ashley Gearhardt. Such is the width and breadth of this alluring new tome. Under the brilliant baton of food writer and historian Darra Goldstein, 265 experts in the culinary world have weighed in with well-researched commentaries about an irresistible subject. A la mode, by the way, translates to “in the current fashion.” According to contributor Carolin Young, “In France a la mode refers to a traditional recipe for braised beef, which at one time was considered a new fashion,” whereas in America the phrase refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream served with a slice of pie.

Evocatively, the first line of the book’s foreword begins: “I can remember easily the first time I stood deep in a field of sugarcane in full bloom, a field already marked for harvesting. It was spring of 1948, and I had just begun fieldwork in Puerto Rico.” Written by Sidney Mintz (who is 92 and considered “the godfather of food studies”), this triggered another profound memory. The year was 1962 and I was standing deep in a field of sugarcane when I was eight years old. The location was Belle Glade, Florida, where my cousins ran a plantation and owned the local movie theater. I will never forget the sickeningly sweet smell of extracted molasses wafting through the wet heat of the day from the factory nearby. It made me woozy. Which, of course, is what sugar does, and accounts for, in part, why we love it and sometimes loathe it.

The history of sugar is not all sweet. There is much suffering in the quest for this cherished foodstuff. Our hunger for sugar fed the institution of slavery, led to ugly legacies of racism, to the invasion of weaker nations by stronger ones to manipulate sugar prices, and to the exploitation of children and minorities who worked the fields. Bravo to the book’s editors for not sugar-coating the more painful aspects of its past.

Whereas this is an encyclopedia, meant to be dipped in and out of at leisure, it is unlike any other I’ve seen. There are hundreds of illustrations including mouthwatering paintings by Wayne Thiebaud (a personal favorite), Andy Warhol, and Will Cotton, a handful of historical recipes, and more than 600 erudite essays by pastry chefs, neuroscientists, food historians, and chemists, about what has become a grand metaphor for human pleasure. Equally satisfying are the book’s comprehensive appendices – anthologies of films, songs, outstanding pastry shops, and museums around the world, dedicated to our universal, and historical, predilection for sugar and sweets, first evidenced by Eve and an apple.

I’m not sure if I’m more excited learning about wasanbon (the most famous sugar used in traditional Japanese confectionery), or sitophilia (which describes sexual arousal involving food), but lurking between the candy-coated endpapers of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, is something gratifying for everyone.

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