joearay@gmail.com / +1 206 446 2425


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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WORLD’S BEST? THAT’S UP TO YOU.

I love the hype surrounding the announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants* – it somehow points out how goofy and subjective it is to rank them (where are Pinotxo and the Agawam Diner?!?!) while reminding us how wonderful they are.

For anyone interested in a trip down memory lane to the places on the list where I’ve been lucky enough to eat, here we go…

noma – Rene Redzepi (see photo)

El Bulli – Ferran Adria

El Celler de Can Roca – Joan Roca

WD-50 & Daniel

Le Chateaubriand

Pierre Gagnaire & Plaza Athenée - Pierre Gagnaire & Alain Ducasse

St. John

Finally, two conspicuously absent personal faves:
Restaurat Jean-Marie Amat
and
Les Cols


*Congrats to my pal Lexy Topping for breaking the 50 Best story for the Guardian – woop woop!

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Monday, March 08, 2010

MOVING THE ROCK

GIRONA, Spain

Living in Ferran Adrià’s shadow is not an enviable position. Or maybe it’s liberating. Or maybe it just is.

Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca is one of the greats in a region of greats like Santi Santamaria, Carme Ruscalleda and, of course senyor Adrià - and his style is closest to the latter.

Roca’s also got a ‘James Bond of the Catalan culinary set’ thing going. He’s a bit of a tough guy with some cool gadgets - he’s a big cheese in the world of sous vide cooking, for example, writing the book on the subject long before Thomas Keller did. After the service is finished, you can imagine Roca, standing by the entrance, smoking a cigarette and looking cool.

Every once in a while though, the Adrià comparison’s gotta drive him nuts. Early on in our meal, it seems as though most of the dishes in the ‘snacks’ catetgory (little amuse gueules that come out before the tasting menu really starts) could have been nicked from Adrià’s book - like little ‘caramelized olives’ which arrive dangling from a bonsai olive tree, little Campari ‘bonbon’ balloons served on a bed of crushed ice or Parmesan ‘tulips’ nesting in a rock - but then - poof! - it’s gone; you stop comparing and start enjoying.

This might have been about when the sea urchins arrived. On the menu, the dish is called “crustacean velouté with cauliflower toffee and tangerine,” but my notes read “little, edible sexual organs from the sea.” RRRRRRROW!

Soon after, there’s a plate called ‘artichoke with duck liver, eel and orange’ - that launches ‘brown food’ into the stratosphere, followed immediately by a single grilled sole filet flanked by individual dabs of olive oil, fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nut and green olive emulsions. The whole thing’s got a musical look to it, like a deconstructed music scale - and there’s Roca, standing by himself in the middle of a big field, smiling, waving.

When we try the cod pot-au-feu, which draws a direct line to some perfect chowder of my youth and I come to the realization I needed - I want Roca to teach.

“He does,” says my dining partner - most notably at Girona’s catering and tourism school.

Adrià has so much to teach, but it’s a specialized class - I don’t want 1,000 little Adrià copycats running around out there, but I want as many as possible with a foundation built by Roca.

Desserts, by brother Jordi Roca, are as good, complex and beautiful as the mains. Josep Roca’s wine list has wheels.

Tasting menus run from 90 to 135 euros. Spend as much as you like on wine.

El Celler de Can Roca - MAP
Can Sunyer, 48
Girona, Spain
+34 972 222 157
www.cellercanroca.com

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



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Saturday, February 13, 2010

BEEF HEARTS AND HOME RUNS

I was a bit sad when Chateaubriand changed hands a few years back - I loved the feel of the place, the beautiful anglophone woman who owned and ran it, her polka dot dresses and 50s-era swoopy hair. Most of all, I loved that the house specialty was beef cheeks - it takes guts to stake your reputation on a dish like that - but they were right in doing so; it was fantastic.

That said, chef Iñaki Aizpitarte, became a media darling when he took over and it was well-deserved.

It still is. I was here almost a year ago and have no trouble remembering what I had for lunch: blood sausage on a bed of squash puree with little bits of almond and pear to add flavor and texture. Recently, we visited again again - my first Aizpitarte dinner - and it was even more memorable.

Aizpitarte does a 45 euro, four-course tasting meal that changes frequently and places him squarely in front of the modern edge of the gastro-bistro movement, trying bold and inventive pairings that will keeps the meal at the center of conversation.

The star of the meal was a smoked herring broth with fall vegetables and cubes of foie gras. Inside, slightly-cooked chestnuts, charred button mushrooms and black radish shared space with triangles of pickled onion that lent elements of surprise and fun to the dish. The foie gras - something I rarely rave about - melted slightly, giving depth and texture to the broth and made everyone at the table wide-eyed and happy; every dish afterward was watched very closely.

A big, luscious block of cod followed, served on a sauce with sweet onions and flanked by king oyster mushrooms. The fish held form until it reached my mouth; I could have stopped there and gone home happy.

A meat course - veal covered with a black radish ‘paper’ served with a cod-liver sauce, and a little dollop of onions macerated in fish sauce - didn’t quite work; mixing fish and meat is the chef’s equivalent of big game hunting (I once sat in on late-night telephone lessons between an aspiring chef and a three-star chef on how to cook beef heart and cuttlefish in a Dutch oven), but it signals Aizpitarte’s larger intentions - where his heart is.

After one bite, I spent ten minutes trying to explain my thought - a double on a home run swing - to the French diners at our table.

Besides, he followed up with a crowd-pleasing triple, mixing beets and pears at dessert.

Dinner is 45 euros, plus wine. Smiles are free and plentiful.

Le Chateaubriand - MAP
129 Avenue Parmentier
Paris
+33 1 43 57 45 95



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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monks At The Table

MANHATTAN

There’s a lot to notice when we arrive at WD-50. The most outstanding is a booth of guys who look like they could be fraternity brothers, yet they’re silent as monks, paying close attention to what they’re eating; the antennae are up, they love the challenge.

You have to be up for the ride. Chef Wylie Dufresne bristles at the thought of preparing anything leaning toward making standard bistro fare for his customers. He’s just not interested.

What would he rather do? Stuff like floating plump scallops and pine needle udon in a bowl of grapefruit dashi. He deconstructs eggs benedict. He chars avocado. (?!?!) Even if his family is in the business you have to wonder how he thinks of this stuff, but when you put bites in your mouth, the combinations and preparations will stand hairs on end and leave you wondering how no one thought of it before.

Daniel Boulud’s kitchen at Daniel has a beautiful wall of spices sourced from around the world while Dufrene’s wall has pectins, starches and syrups. Yet the adjectives Dufresne cuisine inspires are words like ‘clean’ and ‘clear’ – you leave feeling like you’ve eaten a healthy Japanese dinner. His parsnip tart somehow makes me rethink my understanding of the vegetable. Parsnips!

Some argue the validity of this type of experimental cuisine - they should eat here to join the converted.

Finally, all hail Dufresne for having the confidence to keep and highlight the work of pastry chef Alex Stupak. Instead of a clash of egos (that would usually lead to the latter getting dumped), you just sit there and say ‘wow’ all meal long.

Count on about $65 plus drinks if you go à la carte. The tasting menu runs $140 plus $75 for wine pairing.

WD-50 – MAP
50 Clinton Street
New York
+1-212-477-2900
www.wd-50.com

Full disclosure: I ate at the restaurant while working on an upcoming story about Dufresne and his collaboration with chef Daniel Boulud. That said, Dufresne didn’t realize we were in the restaurant for dinner until dessert was over and the check was paid.



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Friday, October 30, 2009

Taking off The Cuffs

Chef Daniel Boulud recently picked up a third Michelin star for his restaurant, Daniel, only a few weeks after I spent an hour interviewing him for a Centurion Magazine story.

I was impressed by his attachment to the city – at this point, he’s more New Yorker than Frenchman and when I asked what was most ‘New York’ about Daniel, he replied with a bit of native French impishness: “Moi.”

…and???

“Service – it’s unique to NYC,” he says. “Europeans always find something in the gentilesse of the people here.”

Clearly, this Frenchman has lost his way, giving up his Gallic roots and praising service.

What turns out to be most impressive about Boulud is his openness to outside influences – he is a big fan of experimental chef Wylie Dufresne of NYC’s WD-50 and Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak.

For my story, Boulud works to create a tasting menu with Dufresne, and there’s a huge Asian influence in one of the plates he suggests, pairing scallops with miro, miso and black garlic.

My brow arches.

“Nothing to do with French,” he says flatly.

It’s like he’s cut off the cuffs.

Three stars, indeed.

For a little bit of back and forth between Francois Simon and the New York Times, check out their differing reviews of Boulud’s new restaurant, DBDB.

FS said:
http://francoissimon.typepad.fr/english/2009/10/daniel-boulud.html


NYT…
http://events.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/dining/reviews/14rest.html?scp=3&sq=boulud&st=cse

Courtesy photo by T. Schauer



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