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Robert Schonfeld

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Everything posted by Robert Schonfeld

  1. For me, the principal attraction of L'Absinthe has always been the very pleasant room, and the fact that you can get a decent choucroute garni. Some places are just fun to go to.
  2. Can't resist. Why would these be the best, Steve? Why would they be better than the latkes being made by thousands of talented Jewish cooks in their homes all over the city this week? Why are they better than those produced by the the carefully-constructed method used by the FG in his prizewinning effort last year? Why can't they just be *among* the best, or the best you've ever had?
  3. I don't know. How does it taste? Are the wrappers the artisans and Christo the artist? If Christo is an artist, is he also an artisan? Are the line cooks at Jean Georges artisans? Is their food artisanal? Is Vongerichten an artisan even though he's not present?
  4. Does the food in a restaurant where the name-over-the-door chef is not present qualify as artisanal? Not the ingredients, the finished dishes? edited to remove duplicate article
  5. A gold star on the FG's chart. Thanks for googling. My feeling is that some part of the increased use of this term refelcts the larger societal longing for its revised view of "the old days", or "simpler times". It also seems more convenient that any of the available adjectives for craft or craftsman. Let's see, "Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands". There are no more chestnut trees, and damn few smithys, but I'm sure the ones that are about are manned by burly artisans, doing artisanal things artisanally.
  6. "I repeat myself: Artisanalish" Jinmyo, I had no idea you speak Yiddish. I don't see any reason why artisanicity should not extend to "handwork" in the laboratory. Still no examples of use of this word in other than its noun form outside the food world. Happy Thanksgiving!
  7. Not yeasty, britcook! Pure sourdough. No commercial yeast. Sorry for the ot comment. Pure sourdough is yeasty. Sourdough is "trapping the wild yeast" that naturally occurs in our environment, maintaining and developing it over time and using some of the old to develop new batches, but it IS yeast. This can be kept on topic if we posit that sourdough bread is artisanal, and bread made with commercial yeast is, well, commercial. I am not necessarily subscribing to this position. Briefly, wild yeast (Sacchraromyces exiges) and commercial yeast (Saccharomyces cerrivasae) are distant cousins. The crucial difference is that wild yeast is comfortable in the acidic environment created by the also-present lactobaccilli, whereas commercial yeast is not. These acids, lactic and acetic, are what sometimes give the bread a sour tang. Tang or not, they are the foundation of the rich, complex taste of great sourdough bread, something that can only be made by a skilled craftsperson. Steve would say it is artisinal because of the resulting taste. But "yeasty" is not a desirable description of bread, commercial or sourdough. It means that there is too much of the stuff, concealing the true flavors that should be evident in the loaf. In competitions, judges will often first smell a slice of bread. They are looking for that yeasty smell. If it's there, it's a detraction.
  8. Not yeasty, britcook! Pure sourdough. No commercial yeast. Sorry for the ot comment.
  9. Steve, I've had my share of Poilaine's bread. It's good bread. It tastes good. Poilaine designed a bakery with an elaborate setup that allowed multiple bakers to be fed raw materials which they would then use to make bread from start to finish at their own station and their own oven. In a real way, he succeeded in increasing production while maintaining individuality, a terrific business school case study if ever there was one. Whether the people ahead of you in line felt there was better bread to be had is beside the point. Poilaine achieved mass artisanality. I'm not sure whose argument this supports, but I thought you might be interested in the facts. I'd still like to see specific usage of this term in other fields than food - the adjective, not the noun.
  10. Is there any other craft to which readers have seen this term applied? Vague recollections don't count; extra credit for specific citations. I also like the sound of the word, but I'm not sure I like its usage. If I saw a chair, or a cap made from llama wool described as artisanal, my antennae would go up. One concern would be that the popularization of the term in the food trade and food journalism would result in its retrograde application to other crafts, which have gotten along nicely without it until now. I'd be against that. The likely spelling would be "artisanal", with the accent on the second syllable. The use of a second "i" probably comes from accenting the third syllable with a "long i" pronunciation.
  11. It seems to me that the adjectivial form has been brought into use recently in food writing. I have never seen iy used in writing about art or other craft, while the noun is used frequently. This leads me to believe that there is a forced, invented quality to the adjective, one that invites inference (more economical than the assumption of implication), and, worse, manipulation at the hands of marketing people, which is what Steve is talking about. Can someone check the OED? Does the adjective officially "exist"?
  12. If you insist, FG. My error, though, for not having gone back to the top and checked. Perhaps if you had been explicit about your motive, your readers here could have been more direct in their replies.
  13. In typical fashion, the FG has asked a complex question simply. What do we think the word artisinal means? Not "How is it defined in the dictionary?", which is a much easier question to answer. Just look it up. Some individuals here have given a definition relating to craft, to handwork. This is accurate. Steve has given the definition as the term has been loaded with baggage and foisted by marketeers upon less careful-thinking consumers. This is also accurate. I said on one of the Italian threads (and Toby has echoed in her post) that what we call artisinal, the Italians call living. That's the way I prefer to think of it.
  14. I was fortunate to get the last three bottles of Jaybee's riesling from Acker Merrall (thanks, Steve). Also got their last three Prum '98, as well as a sancerre and some Ravenswood Zinfandel for those who have to have it.
  15. Is that wine available in Manhattan, Jaybee?
  16. Mazal makes everything. She won't allow help, hired or otherwise in the kitchen. Bringing things is out. Our tradition is to invite as many of our friends who have nowhere else to go as will fit in our small apartment. This year it's 11. No family. My job is to baste the turkey, and to contribute sourdough bread for toasted cubes for one of the dressings: Roasted Spiced Nuts Celerie Ravi Remoulade Roasted Squash Soup Turkey (kosher, not brined, 18lbs.) Apple Shallot Currant Dressing Wild Rice Dressing Casserole of Pureed Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar Crumble Topping Galette of Sweet Potatoes and Apples Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts Baby Peas Cranberry Sauce Cranberry Relish Corn Sticks Giblet Gravy Apple Tart Pecan Tart Pumpkin Pie all a la mode
  17. As the FG noted on another thread recently, Batali has been very succesful at delivering some idiomatic Italian food (like porchetta) in New York (as has the Bastianich family), and in so doing, giving us a new view of the idea of authenticity in NYC Italian restaurants. The food is also very good. Mazal and I also had a number of pork dishes at Lupa recently, all of which were most enjoyable. One in particular, glazed with rosewater, was especially delicious. Does anyone else find the rear room there to have the feeling of an afterthought? We found the lighting to be dull, and one of our dining companions remarked on the absence of wall decoration other than the sconces. Certainly, a minimalist approach can be very effective, but in this case, we thought it was just lazy.
  18. It's better because the yeast "eats" the complex carbohydtrates in the flour. That's the fermentation process. The slower this happens, the more time the dough has to develop its flavor before it runs out of rising power, and the yeast need to be fed again. If you want the actual science, there are plenty of sites that can inform you, including some on cereal chemistry, but for the average home baker, that's the idea. Sourdough bakers use no commercial yeast at all. The taste of bread - and pizza dough - made this way is like nothing else.
  19. Even though commercial pizza bakers use high protein flour, which, when developed vigorously either by hand or in a machine, will produce a very tight web of gluten, their dough is still stretchy. Bakers call this extensibility, and it is achieved through a combination of rest and turning. During the period that your dough is fermenting, whether in the refirgerator or not, try taking it out three times at evenly spaced intervals and gently degassing and turning it over on itself. If you do the last of these turns at room temperature, you will find that you have a very stretchy dough. If you've used a high protein flour, you should be able to stretch the turned and well-rested dough in the pizza shop manner, tossing and all. A fast bake at the highest temperature your oven will allow will help this dough to come out chewy and flexible. The stone should be as thick as possible, and should be preheated for at least 45 minutes. An hour is better. Bear in mind that most commercial pizza ovens are at about 750 degrees, and many use coal or wood, so a close approximation is the best you can hope for. It can get pretty close, though.
  20. It's a convenience, and it makes achieving the desired degree of thickness easy. Some commentators have noted that machines extrude the sheet, while hand rolling stretches it, the latter method providing a more effective surface for interaction with the sauce. I roll mine by hand. Sometimes I feel like I'm being really authentic; other times I feel like I'm being just stubborn and stupid. Note that, in some places, ravioli are made by preparing a rectangle that receives spaced portions of filling. This rectangle is then folded over the fillings and cut to size, resulting in three cut sides and one folded side. Sometimes, you can feel really authentic doing this; other times, you can feel just stubbron and stupid.
  21. The DB burger is breathtakingly priced at $29., or within a dollar or so of that. It's irrelevant whether I find the combination of braised short rib and foie gras appealing; (I prefer each on its own.) More to the point, neither was distinguishable in my burger, and both detracted from the "burgerness" of the experience.
  22. The DB burger has been nearly universally praised for its brilliance of conception and for its deliciousness. I recently had my first, and found the idea of it overwrought, and the eating of it disappointing. Let's dismiss the bun right away. It is described as a "parmesan" bun. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Mine had no discernible parmesan taste. It was a bun. Burger size: not big. In ounces? I don't know. The famously stuffed burger only confused my mouth. The foie gras was there, the braised short rib was there. They were surrounded by what I would describe as a casing of hamburger meat, maybe ground, maybe chopped, I didn't notice. Ordering this thing medium rare didn't seem to have much purpose, as only the "casing" could be so prepared. The braised short rib and the foie gras occupied sufficient volume of the modest whole as to render the experience of eating a medium rare burger all but moot. Yes, the hamburger meat was cooked to medium rare, but its relatively small volume obviated the bite, the mouthfeel, the chew of a medium rare burger. Niether were the other elements - the braised short rib and the foie gras - identifiable except to serve the purpose of indicating to the mouth that something besides burger meat was present. As I say, this muddle of meats resulted in the feeling that I was getting less, rather than more, burger. It seems to me that the DB burger's appeal lies in its description, and in a mistaken inference of glamor; that is to say, "Look what this talented haute cuisinier can do when he sets his sites on an American classic. Isn't that remarkable! He has redefined the hamburger just as he has redefined the upscale semicasual dining spot." I'm just guessing that there are a lot of people ordering this burger, and then thinking they wish they'd gone to Smith and Wollensky instead. Thinking it, but not saying it, because, you know, this is the darling item of the moment and we're supposed to kvell over it, all the while allowing ourselves to be made fashion victims.
  23. Restaurants are businesses. They exist, as do all businesses, with the ultimate purpose of maximizing the return to their owners. As has often been pointed out here on egullet by the FG, and on this thread by Steve, economics plays a role, a decisive role. A huge capitalization, a choking rent, relentless operating expenses; the upshot of it all is the taking of great care to give its customers what they want, not just in the flush of opening, when spirit and vision may have more freeway, but over time, when customers with the ability to return regularly will make a decision about whether to do so. Wilfrid may well be right that what such customers want is to be comforted with generalized familiarity, not to be challenged. When we wonder about why high end customers in New York City won't support a high end restaurant array such as is available in France or Spain, we inevitably reach the conclusion that these customers, when they go out for their dinners here, don't want that experience repeatedly, nor do the tourists of the same level of financial capability. When they want it, they go to France or Spain. The Lespinasse dinner under discussion now is a case in point. Look at the room. Look at the other customers. Do the same at Le Cirque, to name just a couple. They are mostly getting what they expect, what they want. The lapses in menu and dish design and execution, which to you or me - to us here - are inexcusable, go largely unnoticed, or uncared about by the core customer. Steve is right too that the economic impetus is downwards and outwards, and the Vongerichten example is a good one. I had the garlic soup and frog's legs recently, and the scallop and cauliflower. They were fine; they were good, but the whole event was, well, it was dull. The competitive economic environment in New York City still breeds innovation. Artists find lofts in the Bronx instead of in Soho or Chelsea. Special places to eat will still be found outside the high cost core. (When Chanterelle first opened, it was in a tiny space, I forget on which street.) But the stakes for a French model, certainly for an El Bulli, are just too high. They would burn bright and burn out. The same has happened to our high end dining scene, such as it is. The light is gray because the steady customers are gray.
  24. Thanks, stellabella, for a rich, evocative report. I offer you the highest compliment: it made me hungry. I have relatives in Dallas. They crave the Gotham Bar and Grill here in NY; I crave the Mexican family there that sets up card tables in their driveway and serves one outstanding, nameless dish after another out of their garage.
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