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tupac17616

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  1. Their full names are Fredrik Berselius and Richard Kuo. Besides Corton/wd~50/Falai, their collective New York CV includes Per Se, Aquavit, Seasonal and a few others. I think what these guys are doing is great. I've gone once a week for the past month, and I still love it. Today I wrote up a post about the place, which I've copied below. And pictures of nearly all the dishes I've tried so far, should you be curious, are HERE... The last time I felt like I made an important gastronomic discovery, I was two years old. “Hambuhbuh… shoop shies… toke…” a tiny, curly-headed version of me would babble. I fancied myself a pioneer, a spokesman and tastemaker for gourmet toddlers worldwide. Once I learned of their collective existence, all I wanted was a hamburger, french fries and Coke — and I felt inclined to tell everyone willing to listen. Now I’m a few more than two years old. Whether or not I still babble is debatable. But again, I feel like I’m on to something. Or maybe I’m just on something. Coke is not involved but mushrooms keep popping up during dinner. Acid, too. At meal’s end, the effect of staring at a subtotal so unreasonably reasonable is mildly hallucinogenic. And now I’ve picked up a bit of a habit. I go to Frej every week. Fredrik Berselius and Richard Kuo always seem to have the good stuff. They start with small doses — snacks, let’s call them. Ah-muuuse if you’re feeling fancy. (I’m not.) These might be razor clams with pickled cabbage heart one night, or heart again on another. From a goat this time — thinly sliced, draped over nubs of celery root and hiding tiny pickled elderberries in its folds. The introductory nibbles change with each trip but always provoke and tease, using balanced little bursts of richness and acidity to make you anticipate the meal ahead without forcing you to plunge right into it. As you might expect out of one guy born in Taipei but raised in Sydney and another hailing from Stockholm who have collectively spent nearly twenty years in New York, the chefs here cook “simple, modern Scandinavian” food using local ingredients, says the website. But don’t bother searching online for what exactly that means. Merely a month old, Frej is still nearly un-Google-able. It’s also only open on Monday through Wednesday nights in a multi-use space in Williamsburg called Kinfolk Studios. With approximately the same square footage in my own kitchen I can barely throw together a decent grilled cheese sandwich. But these guys? They’re crafty, using the constraints of space and equipment as an impetus for creativity. They start with smoked fish. Brook trout usually, mackerel once. They serve it with a warm egg yolk emulsion, little discs of cucumber, fried rye bread, and approximately 47 different preparations of dill (fresh, oil, powder, etc). It’s excellent. Often that’s been followed by sunchoke, pear, elderflower and beef liver, a dish that immediately catapulted to one of my favorites at Frej. Alternating orbs of sunchoke puree and an irony beef liver sauce don crispy strips of sunchoke skin, pears pickled in elderflower vinegar, burnt hazelnuts and thyme. The combination is arresting, decidedly sweet but with rich, woodsy and bitter tinges. Even now in the restaurant’s infancy, Fredrik and Richard’s cooking is thoughtful, confident, nuanced. Ingredients are not neglected. A plate ostensibly showcasing Maine shrimp and pickled cauliflower provides equal spotlight for fingerling potatoes, crispy on the outside and bursting with creaminess inside. Those same potatoes star in a sequel, with the sweet shrimp singing backup, while bitter flowering broccoli and a funky sprat-infused milk sauce round things out. Fine dishes, both of them. Heartier dishes maintain that sense of balance. A soft-poached egg, oozy and satisfying, is surrounded by roasted mushrooms, pickled ramps, scallops and crispy bits of seaweed. Earl Grey tea-braised pork belly arrives with a smoked onion puree and peppery winter cress. Roasted rutabaga and apple cider lend sweetness to slices of flat-iron steak cooked in hay. Even lamb heart with smoked cheese and burnt celery root is a simultaneous display of power and finesse. I’ve loved the desserts so far, but most of all I’ve loved their effect: to end a multi-hour, multi-course meal on a high note. It’s easy to woo the diner with sugar, to beat them into final submission with butter or chocolate. It’s considerably more exciting to be pricked with the tart sting of freeze-dried raspberries as you tuck into a cardamom parfait with hibiscus cake and walnuts. Better still to be surprised by savory seaweed shortbread crumbled around a tangy goat custard, sweet roasted pears and crispy pear skin. The visual aesthetic of the food, for me, recalls Relæ and nods toward Noma. Maybe the ingredients have been deliberately placed there, or perhaps they’ve just fallen on the plate, amongst the same foraged garnishes that nature herself might provided. One can’t really be sure. One thing I am sure of is that I’ve fallen for Frej. I don’t know how long the restaurant will last in this incarnation, a pop-up serving 5 or so courses to 20 or so people a night. I’d love for Fredrik and Richard to have the opportunity to share their food with people on whatever scale they see fit. They more than deserve that chance. But for right now, I’ll keep going every week until I wake up from this dream. For right now, I feel lucky to be a regular here. Oh, and did I mention that the set menu costs just $45? Yep, basically the best dining deal in New York at the moment. You’re welcome.
  2. I wanted to love Elements, I really did. It was all just too much. Too many ingredients in each dish. Way too much protein. I can put away a ton of food, but I felt wretched after this meal. The gritty details of my demise are below, and the hopefully not-too-gritty photos are HERE. I’m generally about as likely to visit New Jersey as I would be to meet my life partner at Tasti D-Lite. Maybe it’s the GTL presence in the former or the regrettable absence of LDL in the latter, but something about going to either place has never felt quite right. But one day, every New Yorker wakes up feeling jaded and tired of all the restaurants by which he is surrounded. His mother comes to visit from out of state, and he wants to take her someplace nice. He is forced to think outside the boroughs. In the past, this scenario has pointed my own compass northward to Tarrytown. But tonight my mom and I are in Princeton, and we’ve walked past leagues of ivy-covered buildings to arrive at a restaurant called Elements. Our table is situated in the kitchen — Scott Anderson’s kitchen — and my dad is here, too. It doesn’t take me long to find the shovel with which I’ll dig our collective grave. I ask the gentleman I assume to be our server if some kind of extended menu might possibly be arranged. I assume — and acknowledge — that this will cost more than the standard tasting menu, so find myself a little frustrated to endure a stubborn sales pitch for truffles and wagyu beef. It takes literally four tries to convince him that we don’t need those supplementary flourishes. I just want to see Chef Anderson’s cooking, not his credit card statement. Early on we see a lot of vegetables, and this being late November, they provide tastes of autumn. Sweet potato soup comes dotted with sweet little cubes of compressed apple. Hubbard squash custard points us to maple and mustard. Salt-roasted beets take a decidedly funky turn with a cheese called Shropshire Blue, a simple duo that emerges as one of my favorites of the night. Chef Anderson’s larder also leans heavily toward Japan. Menu verbiage veers toward a vocabulary test. A finely minced tartare of hamachi, for instance, gets crowned with tonburi and yuzu zest. Foie gras fields wakame seaweed and umeboshi sorbet. Sea bass here is not just sea bass; it’s suzuki. And Anderson is as excited as any practitioner of kaiseki cuisine might be to have matsutake mushrooms in season. He’s made a consommé of them, and ladled it into a cast-iron pot brimming with fat nubs of mushroom and gossamer sheets of lardo. The sad part is that those seasonal ‘shrooms lack sufficient salt — to my taste, at least — and a composed carrot salad does, too. There’s a lot going on in that dish: nori and smoked ricotta cheese, hazelnuts and roughly-torn shreds of Japanese brown sugar bread. It’s a band with too many instruments, the work of a writer in need of an editor. Razor clams “casino” don’t fare much better. They’ve a chewy bounce that suggests over-cooking, and a distracting grittiness that makes me think they’ve been improperly cleaned, too. Imagine, also, my disappointment when a racquetball-sized potato, beautifully shrouded with black and white truffles, tastes and smells of nothing. Fortunately the rest of the proteins, on balance, save the day. That suzuki I mentioned holds its own marvelously against an assertive backdrop of yogurt and black truffles, a beguiling combination. Mangalitsa pork neck is impeccably tender, perfect atop a bittersweet pecan-and-black-sesame puree. Colorado lamb tugs us unexpectedly back-and-forth between Mexico (hoja santa and green mole) and southern France (aligot re-fashioned into a fluffy steamed bread), and we’re very happy to make the journey. It’s our favorite dish of the night. And that’s not to mention the most interesting — Scottish woodcock, in three services. The first is a “tea” brewed with its dried, smoked, and dry-aged meat in a French press. Then the heads of the roasted birds arrive, ready for us to pick their brains. My mom is, of course, giggling with delight at this point. In fact she’s so unable to control her laughter that she distractedly pushes every bit of roasted breast meat off of her plate and onto mine. My father does the same, bequeathing to me even the liver-filled porcini macarons that come with it. Now I’ve eaten basically an entire bird, and I’m so disgustingly full that I want to kill somebody. My parents, meanwhile, wear smiles, but there’s something murderous in their eyes. I fear for my safety. Granted, none of us can move at this point, anyway. We’ve been assaulted by abundance, beaten by bounty. I’ve given up on everything sacred in this world. Desserts — I hate to say it — are excellent. Concord grape sorbet with lemon verbena, smoked salt, and rose apple is a pretty prelude. Then we’re hit with some pumpkin cheesecake, and a chocolate/peanut butter/banana dessert that is undeniably delicious, unapologetically rich. There’s a candle stuck in that last one. It’s my birthday, actually. And if reaching the ripe old age of 27 has taught me one bit of wisdom, it is this: the next time I go out to dinner, when the server tries to take our order, I’m just going to shut the hell up.
  3. I've been a going very regularly to the Williamsburg location of Forcella for several months now, so at last night's opening of the Manhattan flagship, I was friggin' thrilled. I've been a long-time Keste devotee, but I have to say, I think my loyalties are shifting... Here's my story about why, and if you'd like to see some photos, then CLICKY. He looks like a jazz trumpeter, or maybe a saxophonist. The hair extending down from his chin is more thick stalactite than goatee. He’s lanky, with thick-rimmed, square-edged glasses, and he sports a type of hat that I can’t identify and certainly couldn’t wear. Giulio Adriani makes pizza. But right now he is making a face suggesting confusion, even concern. Why have I ordered so much, he asks? Why do I always order so much? I make a feeble excuse that just as there are by-the-slice pizzerias, there are by-the-slice pizza eaters — but I am not one. And if my proclivity toward excess once had me in Naples eating whole pies (at least) twice a day, every day, for a week, then it stands to reason that I should order two or three at a time if I’ve had to trek to Brooklyn. Go hard or go home, I figure. There’s also the more embarrassing excuse of the shopaholic blaming the inventory… You see, fried pizza used to be something one only found in Naples, or in beautiful dreams. I put on a staggering thirty pounds the first time I went to Italy and encountered such healthy snacks. And I’m poised to do the same now that Giulio has brought this one to New York at a place (well, two) by the name of Forcella. The classic form of pizza fritta looks like a calzone cross-bred with a beignet. Both bubbly and porous, it emerges from the deep-fryer and it glistens. To bite through the crust is to recall Rice Krispies — it’s got snap, crackle, dare I say even pop. Probably the most typical variety — filled with tomato, smoked mozzarella, ricotta and salame — is what I have here. The smoky cheese adds necessary depth to a specimen that never sees the inside of the wood-burning oven. The salame is coarsely chopped and toothsome. Overall, the thing’s got heft but it doesn’t feel heavy. At Forcella, there’s also the montanara, which occupies a category all its own — savory but almost sweet, fried but also baked, the love child of pizza margherita and funnel cake. Giulio fries a smallish round of dough first, punching down the center so the edges puff up but the center stays so thin as to be nearly translucent. While still warm, he spreads it with tomato sauce and dots it with mozzarella. It’s baked for slightly less time than a typical Neapolitan pizza — which is to say, not very long at all. Then I observe a moment of silence — sweet, gluttonous silence. During fried pizza consumption I am not to be disturbed. At this point I could be a tease and stop my story right there. For me to assert that the montanara is the single best thing to order at Forcella (probably the single best Neapolitan pizzeria I’ve ever been to outside of Naples) could save you further reading. But to not tell you about the regular pizza would be more than negligent on my part. It would be borderline criminal. Now, pizza napoletana happens to be my favorite food. And if eating more than my fair share of it all around the world has taught me anything, it’s that technique and ingredients count in equal measure in its preparation. All the “artisanal” ingredients in the world can’t guide inexperienced hands in crafting a proper crust, and no amount of pizzaiolo know-how can cover up rubbery mozzarella or insipid tomatoes. At Forcella, I’ve eaten most of the twenty or so pies you’ll find on the menu. I’ve yet to have found a flub. The crust, properly salted and perfectly tasty on its own, has all the textural variation I could want. It’s crisp on the edges and pliant throughout, charred but not incinerated, with the occasional air pocket but enough density that it’s not floppy. Adriani’s mozzarella, which he makes fresh every single day, is exceptional — its salinity a conduit, not a cover-up, for the dairy flavor. The tomato sauce pokes at flavors both sweet and tart, and the token leaf or two of basil hints at a balancing bitterness. Together, they make the margherita. Together, they are all I could ever want or need in life. But I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve tried the other stuff, too. I’ve gotten the requisite marinara, with the welcome addition of fresh cherry tomatoes and the welcome subtraction of overzealously applied oregano. Here there’s just enough. There’s also enough prosciutto crudo on the prosciutto-and-arugula pie that you’ll get some in every bite; enough prosciutto cotto on a pie called the Vomero that its sweetness is kept in check (it’s also got corn, mozzarella, cream, and ricotta, and it’s lovely). The margherita regina does no wrong, but why bother with buffalo mozzarella when Giulio’s cow milk mozzarella is so superb? I’ve had pies with mushrooms, pesto, figs, salame and zucchini flowers, not necessarily all together but all good. The pizza alla carbonara, too, is wonderful — eggy and rich and oh-so-pork-fatty just like the Roman pasta preparation. They probably wouldn’t do that one in Naples. Nor would they, as I have been known to do, take a pizza as a refreshing palate cleanser before dessert. But the Fuorigrotta — a white pie piled with lemon, arugula, and pecorino — functions perfectly as such. There’s likely been more fried stuff before that healthy greenery, of course… a crispy disc of dough topped with lardo and chilies, maybe a potato croquette or a rice ball filled with molten mozzarella. And then it’s time for sweets, which means it’s time for Nutella — slathered around the inside of an otherwise naked crust like hummus in a pita, or drizzled over little nubs of fried pizza crust Giulio calls angioletti (“little angels”). After this, it’s time for me to pay the same tab that the adjacent family of four has racked up. Hell, it’s time for me to get a life. I sent my friend a text message earlier this evening. It consisted of just three letters — “BAM”. I was not at the Brooklyn Art Museum. Nor was I channeling Emeril Lagasse. I was just a little excited, because tonight, the flagship location of Forcella had its grand opening party. Giulio said, “Let there be fried pizza in Manhattan,” and there was fried pizza. And Giulio saw the fried pizza. And it was good.
  4. ... or to wild inconsistency. It can be hard to know for sure, sometimes.
  5. Looks like this topic again needs an update. After reading about the place for several years, and avoiding it for various reasons, I finally visited Le Chateaubriand on my most recent trip to Paris in March. Somewhat surprisingly, it proved to be the best meal of our trip. My story about that night is below, and my pictures, should you want to see those, too, are HERE Sometimes I argue with the man in the mirror. I’m smart enough to know that he can be stupid, and I delight in proving him wrong. So in more ways than one, Le Chateaubriand was delightful. I had to go there on this most recent Paris trip, precisely because I didn’t think I’d like it. I’d read the menu scores of times, seen pictures and reviews by friends whose opinions I really value. But a frustrating dichotomy was at work, the words “best” and “worst” uttered too frequently in the same breath. I figured if I were going to investigate the matter for myself, a thorough approach was in order. First my girlfriend and I would visit Le Dauphin, the newer, arguably cooler little brother to Chateaubriand that’s down the block. Unfortunately after lunch there we learned that our date with the older sibling that evening was not, in fact, in the computer. By “computer,” of course, I mean the scribbled, folded, wine-dotted papyrus peeking out of our server’s pocket. Who, he asked, was our friend who’d made the booking for us, and what time would this hypothetical meal take place? Inquiring minds wanted to know. After a little horse-trading and a lot of eyelash-batting from my girlfriend, the dapper young dude conceded that we could sit at the bar. In the meantime we explored the city for a while before circling back to Aux Deux Amis for an apéritif with one of the most prominent Parisian gastronomes around. Who should we bump into there but Iñaki Aizpitarte, the chef whose food we’d eaten just hours before and would eat again just hours later. There was definitely grape juice in his glass. I can’t speak to whether or not it was fermented. But I can say I found him to be in rather good spirits. We were, too, when we slid up to the bar at Chateaubriand to find that our server was Urik, the same guy who had helped us sort out the booking earlier. This is not a bar designed to eat at, I should mention. Or not designed for humans with legs, anyway. Fortunately all we needed were our hands for the first snacks — gougéres, avocado in tiger’s milk, and duck hearts coated with coriander and sesame. My love of coriander seed notwithstanding, my favorite of the small bites were thumb-sized sweetbreads served with asparagus and finger lime. The taste was simple, clear and harmonic. A restorative celery root broth came shortly thereafter. With all this we drank a natural sparkler from Anjou — Jean-Christophe Garnier’s Brut Nature — that stood its ground beautifully with the spices and the innards. Fish and chips meant tempura pollock and potatoes two ways. Chips dusted with tamarind powder made sense to me, a touch of tartness to liven things up. I was less convinced by burnt fingerlings, a technique surely already mastered by many a distracted home cook. Yet my main gripe with this dish was its lack of a sauce, a dip, a cream, something to bring more moisture to the (albeit expertly fried) fish. But lemon sole smoothed everything over. It was the dish of the night, of the trip, hell, of the year. A sauteed fillet sat on a raw one, each bite bringing contrasting textures and temperatures. Chives and leeks made up most of the garnishing greenery. The overall effect was deceptively simple, but this dish more than any other showed me the clouds in which Aizpitarte can fly. I was riding a certain high myself, still smiling about the sole as I slid my knife through slow-roasted pork. Crab jus and a sea urchin sauce were good company, a touch of iodine to counteract the fatty meat. Pickled daikon, beet and onion had much the same effect. Then a trio of hyphenated cheeses – Ossau-Iraty, Sainte-Maure, and Brillat-Savarin — segued toward the sweets. Desserts here don’t change daily like the savory stuff, but as far as I’m concerned, our first one fully earned a consistent spot in the rotation. Orange sorbet came flanked by roasted endive, dusted with a crumbly powder of chicory and dried black olive. It was a pinball machine, slamming my taste buds against sweet, bitter and savory elements in rapid succession. I loved it. A chocolate finale, meanwhile, was just fine, with bittersweet cocoa powder and little shards of feuilletine mounded over celery root ice cream. Fresh mango pieces coated in fennel seeds — some candied, some not — ended things on a fresh note. I consulted no wine list that night, choosing instead to work my way through all four sparkling wines on the chalkboard to our left. And with this lineup, I was perfectly happy. We were both so happy with everything, in fact, that we tried to come back the very next night. A Saturday night. Hell Night for dining out. Aizpitarte’s sous-chef and right-hand man, Laurent Cabut, saw us near the end of the interminable queue outside. ”I’m going to run out of food, guys. Zis eez horrible! I’m sorry. I’m sorry…” He pulled out his cell phone, calling friends from other restaurants he might, in good conscience, send us to instead. For this incredibly generous gesture there was no need. Waiting it out stubbornly, our hope for a good meal whittled down to almost nothing, we ended up with a table at Le Dauphin. And the next time we’re back in Paris, you can bet that we’ll end up back at Le Chateaubriand.
  6. I was lucky enough to be one of the very few Americans in attendance at last month's The Flemish Primitives food festival in Ostend, Belgium. Top chefs from all over the world -- Redzepi, Bras, Bottura, etc -- came together to share with one another and with us their latest ideas, concepts, techniques, successes and failures. Meanwhile Belgian chefs showcased what's happening in gastronomy in their neck of the woods right now. Overall it was an awesome event. My experience there is below. My pictures are here: http://pocketfork.com/events/the-flemish-primitives-2011/ “You owe me, bigtime.” Those four words appear frequently in conversations between my girlfriend and I. By pure coincidence, I’m always on the receiving end. Her eyes alone shouted them at me now. Some curious little man, cracked out on Spanish ham and Russian caviar, had just swiped an Italian sparkling water bottle from her hands and flashed it before the Danish gentleman standing next to us while his curious little friend photographed the crime. The guy next to us was René Redzepi. And those two sneaky bastards were either chef groupies or desperate PR reps, maybe both. This was my poor girlfriend’s introduction to The Flemish Primitives, a food festival held last month in Ostend, Belgium. It was my introduction to the doghouse. She and I found ourselves there on the invitation of a very gracious buddy of mine. A smooth talker, he’d managed to convince somebody that we both deserved press placards, which meant full access to everything. The first afternoon held back-to-back Master Classes, each with a different topic and different teachers. Consistent with the festival’s concept this year — Exchanging, Engaging, Exploring — the lessons were collaborative efforts. Jack O’Shea, meat maven from London, was slicing a cured beef “ham” from Flanders as we walked into the first session. The sizzle and smoke of roasting flesh floated up from the grill and griddle on either side of him. Here butchers would meet chefs would meet us, the carnivorous public. This was Meat: Aging, Preparation, and Cooking Techniques. More reminiscent of prosciutto than bresaola, that ham had a mineral tang, a certain sweetness, and fat that melted into an instant of happiness. I enjoyed four such happy moments. Such are the advantages of sending a pretty girl to ask for the samples. Equally exceptional was a côte de boeuf dotted with olive oil from chef Giorgio Nava, whose cattle (and olives) came from Italy via South Africa. The grass and wild plants they eat on his ranch lent the meat a complex flavor I could neither pin down nor get enough of. Meanwhile from every direction came more treats — Kobe beef cheeks cooked for 70 hours at 70 °C and finished on the plancha, oxtail rillettes, veal crudo served with octopus, a fillet flipped every 15 seconds as it was cooked on the (dubious) premise that its moisture would be better-retained. It was pretty wonderful, all this “learning” we were doing. Seeking further snackage education, we took a cursory glance in the other classes. Spectacularly boring, they were, apart from a mille-feuille of ice cream the Passion Pâtisserie guys were making. All the classes were small enough to encourage questions and interaction, large enough that we secured seats early for the second session: Fermentation and Pickling. Here Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of Belgium gave a fascinating (if confusing) run-down of the various fermented soybean products from Korea and how he utilizes them in his kitchen. So if you ever want to have a heart-to-heart about the differences between gochujang, doenjang, cheonggukjang… well, ask him, because I didn’t quite absorb the intricacies. Now there I was, innocently eating some excellent pineapple-gochujang sorbet. I looked over and what did I see, but my girlfriend checking out a blond dude across the room! He had eighty-five different pickled things in front of him, and she wanted them. A vinegar fiend, she had spotted her next fix. Her dealer was Magnus Nilsson of Faviken in Sweden. With humility and reluctance, he admitted that he originally hadn’t wanted to do this class. He was no expert, he thought. Like breathing, pickling is a necessity in his neck of the woods. But like singing, he treats it as a satisfying pursuit in and of itself, a way to be more in tune with the changing seasons. This made him, of course, exactly the right man for the job, and we both decided we should pay him a visit in the near future. After a cursory glance at the rest of the second-session classes — the coolest of which was a Pascal Barbot solo — chance brought us to a press conference with René Redzepi. The grace with which that man fields asinine questions (“Do you drive a Porsche?”) and the wit with which he answers them (drawing brilliant parallels between Lady Gaga and Michel Bras, for example) are exemplary, I must say. From there, it was off to the Gala Dinner, a mash-up of some of the top toques in Belgium, a fifteen-course affair that ran into the wee hours. So how was the food? Well, the company was excellent. Oh, and the desserts. The desserts were very good. Right. Moving along… Day two was the main event, but from the groggy faces in the room early that morning, you wouldn’t have known it. Chefs and scientists from all over the world presented in pairs and trios, sometimes with a common link between them, sometimes with no apparent connection at all. Naturally, some of these collaborations were more successful than others. To my mind they saved the best for last, when Brazil met Belgium. Alex Atala blew our minds with raw ants (wildly flavorful! like sansho pepper, lemongrass, ginger, eucalyptus…) and a native Amazonian fruit called cupuassu. He pureed the pulp with whiskey and curry powder and made a paste from the roasted pods, creating a delicious mock chocolate. For show-and-tell he brought the tongue bone of the biggest Amazon fish, an indigenous people’s grater, and some yellow-fleshed cassava. Highly toxic in its raw state, Amazon cooks have learned that by boiling the root for literally a day, it becomes a highly effective food preservative. Meanwhile Dominique Persoone, Belgian chocolatier, provided accompaniment and surprise — with chocolate “sausage” after Atala’s blood sausage, and a “poisonous” chocolate frog laced with an anesthetic drug (“a mild one, I promise!”) to rub on our lips before consumption. On the breaks throughout the day we were assailed with food samples of every size, shape, and variety. Boiled baby shrimp, every kind of Italian prosciutto and Spanish jamón, cheese, chocolate, caviar, cookies, coffee… It was excessive in a way I fully support. We ate well that afternoon. The most star-studded session of the day was also the most challenging to watch — photographers, cameramen, and the hopelessly obnoxious stuck their backsides in the face of the crowd as René Redzepi, Michel Bras, and Sergio Herman took the stage together to talk about several dishes they’re working on right now. My girlfriend decided to take matters (and her press pass) into her own hands and join the mêlée. I was just so proud of the ladylike grace with which she threw elbows up there and snapped some great photos. It was a special moment. As for the rest of the day, I can only say that it was overwhelming, but in a good way. Kobe Desramaults, Alexandre Gauthier, and Massimo Bottura all piqued my interest. Chris Young gave us a slideshow overview of his and Nathan Myhrvold’s tome, Modernist Cuisine. A scientist showed us heat transfer maps for single- and double-fried potatoes. And a band of Belgians shared the stage for an hour, teaching us about the state of gastronomy in their neck of the woods. I only wish they’d gotten more time, and more attention. But time, and my girlfriend’s patience, were about up. I think the chef groupies – and their more demented brethren, roadies — we’d encountered had taken their toll on her. The caloric onslaught those two days had probably done the same. But if we’d earned a few grey hairs and packed on a few kilos, it was all for a good cause. I was honored to have been invited, so very pleased to have met so many great new friends in so short a time. To Exchanging, Engaging, and Exploring, I would add Enriching — to me, The Flemish Primitives was exactly that. I drove back to Paris with a satisfied smile on my face.
  7. tupac17616

    Roberta's

    I do. To me it's something special and unique in NY right now.
  8. tupac17616

    Roberta's

    Food was $160pp both times I've done it.
  9. tupac17616

    Roberta's

    Nice. Didn't know that.
  10. There's a lot more than meets the eye at this place. Great pizza? Yes. Solid brunch? Definitely. But dry-aged beef? Wild duck? Game, truffles, and caviar? Oh yes. There's some serious sh** going down in Bushwick, people. Some pictures are HERE, and the story's here... I’m not cool enough to lead the life I do. I step into a coffee shop and in no time they pop the question: “So, do you live around here?” No, I don’t. I actually took the train for forty-five minutes (two transfers!) to get here because I love your single-origin espresso. Not cool. After I down my macchiato in shame, I go to work for a restaurant group that exudes unmistakable machismo and a devil-may-care attitude toward customers and non-customers alike. Meanwhile I keep an Excel spreadsheet of my earnings there. A friggin’ spreadsheet! So not cool. I’m also embarrassed that there is not a single outfit in my wardrobe that lets me blend in at Roberta’s, currently my favorite restaurant in New York. My girlfriend, meanwhile, can only wear her one plaid shirt so many times. I think they are beginning to catch on. She and I went the first time because I’d heard rumors of a great brunch. We’ve since gone back again and again because the rumors were true. Navigating past the pizza oven as you step in the door, there’s no indication of exceptional fried chicken, no promise of unforgettable pancakes. But that crackly-crusted bird glistens next to a fluffy biscuit and Bibb lettuce with a tangy buttermilk dressing. Those pancakes change with the weather — sliced pears sneak their way into the batter one month while macerated strawberries or plums might climb on top the next — but their texture wavers not. There’s always an ultra-thin outside layer browned until almost crisp, an interior so light and airy that you clear the plate before your stomach knows any better. The wood-fired pizza here is charred, bubbly, and pliable, catapulting Roberta’s to salutatorian of the Neapolitan-style class in NY, just a half-step behind Kesté in my grade book. Toppings come in playful combinations with clever names like Millennium Falco and Greens, Eggs, and Hams, though sticking to the basic and beautiful margherita tends to be the most rewarding choice. Now if you disregard everything I just told you, you’ll see that the tasting menu at Roberta’s is where you really want to be. Carlo Mirarchi is the man you’re after. He’s the chef in charge of the non-pizza, non-brunch stuff. And he was in charge of what we ate one night not long ago. To start, there were small tastes of the sea: oysters with Calabrian chilies, fried shrimp heads with meyer lemon granita, raw glass shrimp with blood orange and poppy seeds. He brought us slowly ashore with sea urchin and stracciatella, caviar and pistachio. That tasted even better than it sounds, a simultaneous exercise in excess and restraint. Charred strips of cuttlefish disguised as noodles wore a hearty pork trotter ragu, and linguine luxuriated in creamy Hokkaido uni. I had tried Carlo’s sea urchin pasta before, but relished this reminder that his is the best I’ve encountered anywhere. Finally trofie with duck heart and liver primed us for a progression of protein the likes of which I could not have imagined. First was lamb breast, with a thin, crispy exterior that shattered when I cut it, and a gloriously fatty interior that melted like custard in my mouth. Then squab was roasted and presented — feet and all — with mascarpone, chestnut and kumquat. A beautiful côte de boeuf, aged over 50 days, had all the mineral funkiness one can ever ask for in a steak. Then Carlo came over with a wild Normandy duck. Heads turned. People freaked out. He had roasted it whole, and presented it to us that way in all its lacquered splendor. As we plowed quite contentedly through a serving of breast meat, he brought us the legs. They had a toffee sauce. In the future I’d like all the duck legs I eat to come with toffee sauce. Carlo asked me if we wanted to gnaw on the carcass, and you and I both know how I answered that. Let’s just say my lifetime duck fat quota has now been met. Things got pretty ugly. In a way, I felt like we were stealing. My restaurant sells comparably dry-aged steaks for the same price we each paid for this entire tasting menu at Roberta’s. And where else in New York would we have been able to find such well-prepared game birds on the menu at all? Any one of these treats alone would’ve made an exceptional centerpiece to a great meal. Eaten in succession, there was something almost evil about what was happening — this was truly Lucullan feasting. Now my only fear is that I’ve misrepresented Carlo’s cuisine. His is not a heavy hand, and there is a graceful balance at work here. Vegetables (many are which are grown in the garden adjacent to the restaurant) are treated with as much care as the meat; condiment and pasta are given equal love. A simple, sauteed treviso dish, the savory intermezzo between pasta and meat courses, was actually one of my favorites of the meal. It was topped with bottarga and an egg yolk-and-white balsamic vinegar emulsion. Who knew radicchio could sing like that? I did no justice to the pasta, expertly cooked and dressed, and leagues better than what you’ll find at even the most lauded places in Manhattan that charge $10-15 more for a plate of it. I failed to mention the cheese course, the dessert, or the pizza Carlo graciously supplemented at my gluttonous request (a thick-crusted “Working Man’s Slice” to start, and a “Cheeses Christ” pie to prolong that cheese course). I neglected to elaborate on the equilibrium he achieved in every dish — a touch of acid here, or a dash of sweetness there, to temper the richness of the protein parade. And worst of all, I’m not even sure how to explain the warm feeling of welcome that permeated the entire evening. I can only say that Carlo, in addition to being a wildly talented chef, is a humble, gracious, and hospitable host. But honestly I kind of wanted to keep all this to myself anyway. The existence of this tasting menu isn’t exactly widely advertised at the moment, but I’m going back for it again tomorrow night. The problem is, it’s way too good for me to keep quiet about. And keeping this particular secret just wouldn’t be cool.
  11. Sorry, Felix, I've got nothing for you this time! I finally got around to finishing the story of my noma experience, and you could definitely say I am enthusiastic about it. The pictures (and video), for anybody not wishing to read, are all HERE, but hopefully you'll check out the story first... Love, like an American supermarket, is a fascinating and scary thing. To walk its aisles is to struggle to distinguish what you want from what you need. To fully understand its intricacies is to know too much. In a frustratingly beautiful way, its true nature can seem inscrutable. Danish supermarkets aren’t much easier so far. This is the fifth one we’ve been to in Copenhagen tonight. My girlfriend and I have just eaten lunch — two days in a row — at noma, the restaurant some rank above every other one on the planet, and she is agonizing over which gummy candies to have for dinner. It turns out that she is to gelatin and sugar what Robert Parker is to wine or Roger Ebert to movies, a connoisseur of the highest ilk, an unequivocal arbiter of quality. I poke fun, but it’s actually quite fetching. I’ve always had a thing for Sour Patch Kids, so the match was meant to be. I also think she and I were meant to experience noma together. It’s been probably three years since René Redzepi popped up on my radar, thanks in no small part to a girl named Trine and a guy named David. But back then I couldn’t have pointed to Denmark on a world map. A neophyte in the world of fine dining, I was stupid and near-sighted. Fast-forward to a year ago and we were at el Bulli, eating hare brains and sea anemone while our friends and family gorged themselves on turkey to celebrate the most gluttonous American holiday. To this day I don’t have a clue how I snagged that reservation, but it set the bar awfully high for our future dates. So, too, did the live fjord shrimp we were served the first day at noma. My girlfriend shuddered and looked away in disgust, a sure sign that the date was going well. Otherwise she’d have shuddered, got up, and left. But there were many reasons to stay — thirty-five of them, including all the different snacks surrounding both twelve-course menus. I regret that I’ll only be able to tell you about the most compelling of them. Fruit leathers made with a crazy sour Scandinavian berry called sea-buckthorn made me think of my four-year-old niece. As a baby she would ask me for “froo yeh-yers” every time she came over, and I’d gladly comply. That’s love, too, isn’t it? We devoured these in her honor. Redzepi taught us about æbleskiver (“apple slices”) when he brought two over. Traditionally these balls of dough are pan-fried in cast-iron molds and eaten as a sweet snack in Denmark around Christmastime. But did I know of takoyaki, he asked? Noma’s are savory like that – with tiny smoked-and-pickled fish from Finland called muikko swimming through the center – but interestingly the Danish treat predates the Japanese version altogether. Deep-fried reindeer moss was easily the most obscure of the snacks. But with a sprinkle of porcini powder and a careful dip in crème frâiche, it was enticing, even familiar. Within the walls of noma, esoterica seemed to dissolve. It’s all so open and comfortable, the dialogue here between diner and chef. It is, to my mind at least, just about perfect. Redzepi and his clan of sous chefs deliver and explain the food. They’ve foraged for much of it, studied and then rewritten its history, and poured themselves into its preparation. It’s written all over their faces — they believe in what they serve. The first day — when Redzepi was not in the kitchen but instead in noma’s houseboat/research lab — brought a more protein-centric progression, and a smattering of noma classics. Day two held more flora than fauna, more restraint, and, for me, more intrigue. It was on day one that a razor clam wearing a sleeve of parsley gel got rained and then snowed on by clarified mussel juices and a frozen fluff of buttermilk and horseradish. The snow melted on my tongue and left a sour, lingering heat in its wake. Combined with the masked mollusk, its effect was to push the reset button on my taste buds. There is something truly primal about noma’s beef tartare. Cut by hand, it is eaten with the hands. We dragged the bright red meat through juniper powder and a tarragon emulsion. Wood sorrel and horseradish punctuated with a pop. Succulent Danish langoustines washed up on huge stones in front of us. Dotted around them, an emulsion of raw oysters, seawater, and parsley, like mayonnaise on a mean streak. Again using our fingers we dabbed the crustaceans in the sauce and then through powdered söl, an Icelandic seaweed. These last two were paired with pine juice a.k.a. liquid Christmas tree. We had the juice pairing both days at noma, and enjoyed it immensely. The progressions were different but the lineup the same: sea buckthorn, lingonberry, pine, elderflower, pear-verbena, beet, cucumber, and carrot, all made in-house and, it goes without saying, with local ingredients. The opening move on day two was raw squid with crispy rye bread, white currant granité, and dill oil. The texture of the squid was not to be believed — firm but yielding, scraped perfectly smooth and diced into uniform little cubes — a testament to both the freshness of the product and the meticulousness of those who prepared it. Each mouthful of this dish played out a most exciting crescendo and decrescendo — sour and herbal for an instant, but fading off smoothly with the touch of cream at the base of the plate. I was enraptured. From there, subtle flavors seesawed with more assertive ones — shaved fresh chestnut with bleak roe and thyme, slowly caramelized cauliflower with spruce and horseradish whipped cream. These both reflected a graceful balance which belied the list of ingredients. So did the pickles, which, of course, weren’t just pickles. They were a kaleidoscope of ten different vegetables, each prepared in a different brine. Smoked bone marrow and an unctuous pork sauce provided garnish for the vegetables, not vice versa. Desserts are the domain of Rosio Sanchez, and they’re so seamlessly integrated into the noma ethos that it’s hard to believe she’s been there for just over one year. Her pine “parfait”, as they called it (I called it a half-frozen sponge with personality), might not have worked anyplace but here. Beer and bread, as wonderful as they both may be individually, may not have snuggled into the same bowl together with such amazing results. And an edible snowman probably would have seemed downright silly had it not been for the blizzard blanketing the city twenty four hours a day since our arrival. In trying to tell you everything about noma I have told you nothing. I neglected to mention the edible branches hidden in our table’s plant arrangement, the fabulous sourdough bread, or the fact that I now have a not-insignificant fondness for elderberry “capers” (i.e. the pickled unripe berries). But the truth is that no amount of detail can do justice to the comprehensive effect that noma had on me. It would be futile for me to exalt just one dish or one meal, impossible to explain why if I don’t get involved with a place like this at some point in my career, I will have considered it a failure. I can only say that noma is the best restaurant I have yet been to by a margin so great as to be immeasurable. In the end I can only say I loved it, and thank goodness, my girlfriend loved her gummy candies.
  12. Anthony Bourdain sponsored an essay contest for Medium Raw not too long ago. The topic was, "What does it mean to cook well?". You can find my entry here and read the others as well. While I didn't win, I still wanted to share my essay here on eGullet, a website that over time has taught me a lot about what it means to cook well... Cooking well is what the little old woman in front of me does. She has approximately five teeth, one good eye, and two hands that orchestrate the movement of nearly sixty gargantuan shrimp on the grill in front of her. Her vocabulary and mine don’t overlap at all, but she knows what I want, and she smiles as I watch her work. Those aren’t shrimp she’s grilling, actually, but river prawns plucked from the Chao Phraya River here in Bangkok. From left to right in front of her, the crustacean color spectrum goes from a raw, translucent blue to a charcoal-kissed pink-orange. If the fire gets too low – below what’s left of her eyebrows – she grabs a small bellows and fans it back up. I laugh to myself when I compare her stature to that of the burly grunts I’ve seen work the grill station back home. And I practically giggle with delight when I taste what she’s made. Smoky, juicy, and plump on their own, the prawns are better still dunked in a fiery sauce that couldn’t have been much more than just fish sauce, vinegar, and some searing hot chilies. It’s a bittersweet moment, as she might not be back in this same spot tomorrow, and I know I won’t be. I’ll be on a plane back home, where the shrimp are a little smaller; the cooks, a little bigger; and the exhaust fumes from the cars and the grills of the sidewalk food vendors might not mingle in the same, beautiful way. Fortunately, cooking well is also what my three-year-old niece does, and she doesn’t even use fire. She’ll help me chop the tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos that grow in my parents’ back yard. But first, she helps me pick them. I want her to always know where food comes from. It doesn’t always come from the supermarket in those shiny plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam-padded packages, I tell her. Vegetables grow in the dirt. And she knows exactly how that dirt feels, as we dig around to yank up an onion or two. She’s got my mother’s gardening hat on – eight sizes too big for her – and a wicker basket in her hand. I won’t ever forget this picture. Back inside, we make pico de gallo, a chunky Mexican salsa made (in our kitchen, at least) with just those three ingredients and a generous splash of lime juice. She and I somehow always manage to make it a little too spicy, but by now I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. A bunch of scraps remain on the cutting board – onion skins, tomato stems, jalapeno seeds – and I’m about to throw them out. “Not there, Aaron,” she scolds me. “There.” She points to the compost bin. A three-year-old understands the idea of composting, of giving back to the soil that gave us lunch. I have a sneaking suspicion that this little girl will be cooking well for a long, long time.
  13. Definitely. Relae is on Jægersborggade in Nørrebro district. And there's definitely some stuff worth visiting on the very same block as Relae... Coffee Collective -- great coffee keramiker inge vincents -- really cool ceramic wares MANFREDs -- the casual/take-out sibling of Relae, directly across the street We also had dinner at Kødbyens Fiskebar on the strong recommendation of Rene Redzepi's wife. Really enjoyed that. Then two consecutive lunches at noma. We stayed very close by Sweet Treat -- another recommendation from Redzepi and company that we enjoyed on multiple visits. Among bakeries, we tried some sweet and savory goodies from Lagkagehuset, the bread from Bageri Bo Bech, and some really good cupcakes from Agnes Cupcakes. In two failed attempts to eat smørrebrød, we were a half-hour too late for both Schønnemann and Told og Snaps. That was pretty much it. And now we've got all sorts of ideas for next time!
  14. Nice to see you back, and what a great eating experience to share with us after such a long absence! I've been wondering what happened to you and your eating adventures (no longer part of A Life Worth Eating?), so it's good to know you're still eating well. Thanks, Rona! Life for me is still definitely worth eating, I'm just not part of that website anymore. That's been the case for over a year now, and I won't bother you with the long, messy blog break-up story. I'll just say I'm incredibly happy to be starting a fresh solo venture (with a beautiful girl to keep me company ). I missed writing. And I've got a whole lot still to talk about.
  15. I've been to Combal.Zero a good handful of times now, and though I know it's a controversial restaurant, it has become probably my favorite in Italy. The following story will walk you through a few of those meals, with a funny story unfolding along the way. All the pictures, if you'd like to check them out, are HERE. Hope you enjoy! Conventional medicine tells us appendicitis cannot be directly caused, that it just happens. I’m here to tell you that Davide Scabin gave my brother appendicitis, and that — sorry, bro — I still have to thank him for the meals that did it. (The surgeon and our insurance provider send the chef their warmest regards as well.) This story begins like most of our tales from traveling together — my brother Andre was poised to kill me at any moment. Still jetlagged and suffering a food hangover from the day before (and the day before that), he was being dragged to the third in a series of dinners so excessive I feel dirty just thinking about them. I was not the only one to thank blame for this gluttonous streak, however. I had an accomplice — one who combines the rambunctiousness of a child, the wisdom of a great-grandfather, and the appetite of an entire family. We’re not actually related, but he is our Uncle G. “Don’t worry,” Uncle G assured us when we sat down around 9pm — a worrisome omen if I’ve ever heard one. Without elaborating he scurried away to talk with chef Scabin, who, we were told, had promised us “a few very light courses… ten of them.” Naturally this tally did not include desserts, and I’ve always maintained that you can’t not have dessert. Thus began a slow downward spiral that would culminate in a trip to the operating room… but I’m jumping ahead in the story. “Let’s have just two tonight,” suggested Uncle G with a smile so warm you can’t say no to it. Being prudent in light of the prior nights’ bad decisions, he meant just two bottles of wine. Being imprudent, he was talking only about red wine. He and I both knew that white and dessert wines would bookend the reds, but the rest of our conversation took place in Italian so that Andre was none the wiser. As wine began to ease into our bellies, so did the food. A thin slice of raw Fassone veal came splattered with a creamy anchovy sauce and toasted hazelnuts. Nowhere but in Piemonte does veal taste so delicate and yet so flavorful at once. A few minutes later, tomato seeds — the fruit’s soul that is often banished to waste bin purgatory — and lemon oil provided the pleasantly acidic backdrop for single creamy oyster. Then roasted Carmagnola peppers were blended into a luscious soup with a tower of exquisitely sweet shrimp in the middle. Rabbit was prepared in a way that rendered its flesh like that of cooked tuna, and served with a hard-boiled egg-and-mustard condiment typical of Asti. Black cod — a fish too-often marred by miso in America’s fusion restaurants — came pan-roasted, stacked on roasted bok choy and various chicories bathed in a bright yellow tomato sauce. Gossamer layers of pasta enveloped burrata and basil, while tomato and an unexpected spark of lime zest tempered the richness of the filling. Triple frying — a technique I’d only seen applied to British chips and Korean fried chicken — was the treatment Scabin chose for a branch of rosemary that provided the garnish, and the intoxicating woodsy aroma, for a velvety chickpea soup. Its crispy shards graced every spoonful of what was probably my favorite dish of the meal. Later a fat chunk of veal fillet was breaded “Torinese-style” (with grissini) while two cuts of exceptionally tender lamb waded about in a sauce redolent of mushroom and black truffle. But let me not skip over the bonus round between those meat courses — eggplant “tataki” with a proprietary blend of three tomatoes Scabin had tweaked countless times before finding the right mix of flavors and textures. And speaking of flavors and textures, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more true representation of those contained in an eggplant. For that alone, the chef should be applauded. Getting the most out of a single ingredient is no small feat. Near the end of the meal, just when our guard was down, Scabin hit us with a loud riff (one which he would later illustrate theatrically for us on the air guitar). Kidneys with cucumber and an extremely potent gin sauce sent Uncle G into a state of rapture, but for Andre and I the dish was a little bit, well, challenging. It was a slap in the face, a shock, a cold shower just when we’d gotten warm and comfortable. A few desserts — including a lovely number involving pears and Pimm’s No. 1 — were scarcely able to bring us back to equilibrium. From there, dinner morphed into something else altogether. Scabin invited us back to the staff break room after we’d finished our coffees and chocolates around 1am. A certain number of gins were then poured, as were a few tonics, possibly at the same time. A crazy old bottle of Barolo was uncorked and emptied. Around 4 or 5am, Scabin figured we’d have regained our appetites, so culatello and an unbelievable salame from Lazio were hand-sliced and laid out before us. A mammoth wheel of cheese was broken down before our eyes, Scabin methodically cutting and dividing it such that four distinct cheeses — each with a completely different taste, consistency, and pungency — emerged where only one had been before. A box of colorful confections that Uncle G brought from Genova was opened and obliterated. Salt was the subject of conversation for about an hour; tomatoes, for two. My brother, as you can imagine, was bored to death enthralled. Before I know it, we’re in the car with Davide — with whom we are definitely on a first-name basis at this point — at 9 o’clock in the morning. He’s driving us back to our hotel in Torino, half an hour away. Never have I seen traffic regulations so thoroughly ignored nor with such nonchalance. I think I’m terrified, but I’m too tired to think. Much to my brother’s chagrin, the chef keeps insisting we “make a party.” He seems not to mind the fact that there is not a single person in Torino awake on this frigid Saturday morning with whom such a party might be “made.” Davide is older than Andre and I combined, but he makes us feel old, lazy, even uncool. We crave sleep, and back at the hotel, we indulge in it all day. That night, we are back at Combal.Zero. Davide has personally invited us this time. The dining room is completely full when we arrive, but we are led right through it into the kitchen. A smallish metal desk flanked on either side by tall shelves full of booze has been set for us. Tonight we’re having the “.Zero” tasting menu, here at this impromptu chef’s table. Of fourteen courses, every single one of them is executed with remarkable finesse. The Check Salad (so-called because one can “check off” a whole spectrum of tastes – – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami – as they eat their way across the plate) comes with a small perfume bottle full of a salt solution with which we are to season the salad. Being a mature adult, my first instinct is to spray my brother in the face, reliving a particularly nasty fight he and I had several years ago involving a bottle of Windex and lots of yelling. Ah, memories. We have several types of shellfish (lobster and scallop and oyster, oh my!), some fish, some meat, some do-it-yourself ravioli — you know, some stuff. Desserts are a lot of fun, especially the Hot Chocolate in the Wind. We dab some mint-flavored cocoa butter on our lips before sipping a bubbly hot glass of insanely rich chocolate. Every time we inhale and a chilly tingle passes over our lips, we understand perfectly where this dessert got its name. Clever. Several courses have made us smile, but the final one, Cyber-Eliocampari, makes us laugh. A small bag of mini M&M’s anchors a helium-filled balloon to our table. Inside the bag are concentric liquid-filled spheres of plastic. One has campari on the inside; the other, soda. We put them in our mouths and bite into a cocktail explosion. Then we eat the candy, suck the helium out of the balloons, and spew nonsense at one another until our squeaky voices run out. Just like the night before, we end up hanging out with Scabin well into the wee hours. Just like the night before, when we expect a check, there is none. To this day, I don’t really know why Davide treated us to those two wonderful meals, but I’m extremely grateful that he did. Maybe he knew that he had me at hello, that after the first meal I’d have to come back again and again (which I since have). Subsequent visits have included dishes both new and familiar, and it is in that duality that I have come to better understand Scabin’s cuisine. One newer creation is the Matrioska di Tropea, named for the Russian dolls that fit one inside the other. A Calabrian onion is disassembled layer by layer, filled with crème fraîche, licorice, onion seeds, and caviar, and painstakingly reassembled. The onion itself is cooked without salt. Drops of an oil infused with grilled peppers, squash and eggplant add a smoky depth, while the other garnishes bring acidity, salt, and sweetness into the picture. On the plate, it is just a wedge of onion. In your mouth, it is a dynamic dish that changes at every instant. Scabin’s Langa-roll is a simultaneous nod to Piemonte and Japan. An Italian interpretation of maki sushi, here thinly sliced Fassone veal wraps around thinly sliced foie gras and a bundle of fried vegetable artichoke, onion, and potato sticks. A reduced stockfish-and-mushroom broth served off to the side acts as the soy sauce. The contrast between crunchy and creamy, earthy and meaty makes this an immensely enjoyable dish. In a perfect world, I might just have 40 or 50 of these and call it a meal. Lastly I’ll mention LXL (“elle pour elle”). The first “L” is for lingua, or tongue, cooked in a spiced broth; the second is for Laura (Ravaioli, a well-known TV chef in Italy to whom Scabin dedicated the dish). On top of the tongue — which is unbelievably tender and delicious on its own — sit medallions of raw scallop. Underneath is a thick coconut cream. It is an aromatic, nuanced dish that reflects an almost — dare I say — feminine sensuality. These are not the dishes of a brash risk-taker whose food is weird for the sake of being weird. Yet most of the English-language reviews of Combal.Zero, of which there are very few in existence, tell ghost stories of such a chef. The real Scabin is not so. His is a deliberate, purposeful cuisine. He is a tireless researcher, and one of the world’s biggest proponents of what he calls Food Design. In fact, he has taught a class on the subject at the Polytechnic University of Torino. His curriculum explores how chefs can combine elements that touch every aspect of human existence — art, emotion, music, pop culture, ergonomics, functionality and so on — and curate them as they bring a dish from conceptualization to the plate. He clearly enjoys this game, and he wants dearly for you to enjoy it as well. In this sense, maybe he is a culinary provocateur. But he’s also an immensely likable dude, and I’m proud to call him both a friend and a mentor. The day after our second dinner at Combal.Zero, Andre and I are on a train toward Courmayeur, a beautiful mountain town in the Valle d’Aosta. Our plan, for once, doesn’t revolve around food — we’re going to take pictures of snowy Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco as they call it on this side of the border. My brother has been quietly grimacing for much of the ride, clutching his midsection. He suffers intermittent fits of nausea and appears quite dehydrated, but I figure he’s just hungover. Get yourself together, I tell him. We’ve all had stomach aches before. His face, though, is awfully pale. We get off the train, and I can tell we won’t be climbing any mountains today. He looks like a walking ghost. Frantically, I search my memory annals for the Italian term for emergency room — pronto soccorso — and we head to the nearest one. The rest, as they say, is history — his story, and a pretty good one if you ask me.
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