Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Alan Richman's House


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

Being a "food critic" usually means the assembled guests perceive you as the second-most interesting person at a dinner party, after the woman who used to be a stripper. It also elicits a corresponding amount of unwanted attention and triggers a number of predictable and, with repetition over a period of years, annoying comments (in addition to "You're a food critic? Really? I've never heard of you.").

"You're a food critic? What's your favorite restaurant?" is typically followed by disappointment bordering on argumentativeness when you name well-known restaurants universally thought to be excellent. People are hoping that, despite New York City's off-the-charts saturation of food media, some secret restaurant nobody has heard of is going to be the best restaurant in New York, and they think less of you for not having that inside scoop.

"Do you know Frank Bruni?" No, I don't. "Oh."

And then there are the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard words spoken by so many hosts: "I hope you're going to give this dinner a good review!" It's unfortunate that, even though I'm just about the least picky dinner guest in the world, and even though I'm a food critic nobody has ever heard of who doesn't know Frank Bruni, my presence causes the host that sort of minor discomfort. I have various ways of reassuring people, depending on when they introduce the subject and how worried they really seem to be. But come on, folks, do you really think I'm going to go home after a dinner party and write a review? Of all the ungrateful, uncouth, uncultured things I could do, that would surely be the lowest. I could scarcely think of a situation where it would be socially acceptable to return somebody's hospitality by writing a critical review.

Until now.

A few weeks back I crossed paths with Alan Richman at a James Beard House event. Richman and I don't know each other all that well -- we've had a couple of dinners together and exchanged the occasional email -- but I'm quite fond of him not least because when I stand next to him I don't seem particularly grouchy or cranky by comparison. It's similar to the appreciation I feel when I go to Applebee's and no longer feel fat.

Richman was complaining -- no surprise there -- that nobody comes up from the city to visit him in Westchester, where he lives. So I said I'd come visit him. Initially he said he'd take me out for lunch, then somehow the invitation evolved into him cooking dinner at his house for me and a couple of other guests. I said fine, but I'm going to write about it.

As the date approached, Richman displayed increasing regret in his emails. However, unlike the pity I feel when a normal host says "I hope you're going to give this dinner a good review," I positively reveled in Richman's discomfort. I even decided to bring my camera.

What follows is my review of dinner at Alan Richman's House.

By the time you get any actual food at Alan Richman's House, you've already been through three ordeals. First, there's getting there. Access to Alan Richman's House is via a dirt road in the back country of Mamaroneck, New York. The road is so narrow and foreboding that I drove past it twice before coming to terms with the need to drive down it. Barely wide enough to accommodate my car and maintained by people who were fired from the Cross Bronx Expressway construction project for being too careless, the path proceeds under looming trees and terminates in a clearing. Second, there are issues with the greeting. When we arrived at Alan Richman's House, our host (Alan Richman) appeared in the doorway wearing a plaid bathrobe and flanked by two Welsh Corgis sounding the alert. It took about 45 minutes for Richman to hit his stride, a process that included showering, opening a bottle of wine, and preparing pigs in blankets. Third and finally, never have I dined at an establishment that so aggressively undersold itself (with one exception that we'll get to later). Most chefs try to prepare you for a culinary experience by building your anticipation. Not so Richman. For example, he repeatedly claimed "I know nothing about cooking!" in the manner of a German philosopher announcing "I know nothing of philosophy!"

Having lowered our expectations to Ron Paul-campaign levels, Richman proceeded to impress. We started out with three appetizer courses served in the kitchen. He began by making traditional pigs in blankets. As he made them, still wearing his plaid bathrobe and with his Welsh Corgis at his feet, he explained his two tactics for improving pigs in blankets: first, use very little dough cut into narrow strips (Richman prefers Pillsbury, from the refrigerator section of the supermarket); second, briefly poach and then drain the frankfurters before wrapping them in the dough (his position is that this removes the "package taste" from the meat). I can't say I've ever had better pigs in blankets. I've even had pigs in blankets at cocktail receptions at the Four Seasons restaurant, where they make them with fancy dough produced by a professional pastry kitchen, and they're no better than Richman's.

gallery_1_295_39982.jpg

gallery_1_295_75055.jpg

gallery_1_295_865.jpg

Next we had a tempura course, which was one of the more impressive Richman accomplishments of the evening. Having just returned from Japan, where he was working on a story for GQ, Richman has upped his tempura game to quite a high level. The first batch of tempura, introduced as "a little undercooked" was cooked exactly right -- beautifully crispy and crunchy but short of browning -- and was as good as most any restaurant tempura I've had and better than most. A subsequent batch, which Richman felt was not undercooked, was to my mind a bit overdone by tempura standards -- it strayed more into American-style fried-zucchini territory. Throughout, Richman was apologetic that he hadn't been able to procure a Japanese yam, but apparently Mamaroneck is not the garden spot of New York. He quipped, "Mamaroneck is an old Indian word for 'no vegetables grow here.'"

gallery_1_295_22998.jpg

gallery_1_295_7907.jpg

gallery_1_295_24675.jpg

gallery_1_295_27284.jpg

We then had a shockingly good salad, basically a variant of Caesar salad, with a dressing made from red-wine vinegar, mayonnaise and vegetable oil, topped with quite a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano. Advertised as "over-dressed," it was dressed just right. I had seconds, then finished someone else's. Richman has promised the exact salad-dressing formula, which I'll provide later. The salads were served at the little table at the end of the kitchen, where I set my plate among a pile of magazines, a Zagat survey and Alan Richman's wallet.

gallery_1_295_42277.jpg

We then repaired to the elegant dining-room at Alan Richman's House for the main course, which involved three components. The centerpiece was braised beef, cooked in equal parts red wine and tomato puree. Richman prepared two different cuts: chuck and top sirloin, and served each of us some of both. Advertised as "undersalted," it was seasoned just right.

gallery_1_295_74648.jpg

In addition he prepared two vegetable garnishes: potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Richman cooks potatoes with the rigor of a Shanghainese chef, in a three-step process that yields a tender, crispy, well-seasoned final product. He begins by boiling the potatoes for a few minutes, then sautees them and finally roasts them in the oven.

gallery_1_295_42174.jpg

gallery_1_295_33203.jpg

gallery_1_295_45246.jpg

Richman got his Brussels sprouts recipe from Marc Vetri of Philadelphia (Richman hails from Philadelphia). It basically involves sauteeing the heck out of them.

gallery_1_295_16733.jpg

gallery_1_295_78415.jpg

gallery_1_295_31093.jpg

That last photo shows the dish at the exact moment of readiness. Unfortunately, due to the chef's inattention -- prompted no doubt by the presence of two pretty girls -- the Brussels sprouts were forgotten on the heat and the finished batch tended towards burnt. Still, if you picked out the good ones, they were delicious. Here's a finished plate of beef, potatoes and Brussels sprouts as served at Alan Richman's House:

gallery_1_295_62650.jpg

There was one more course to come, and this course had not been undersold. Several times over the course of the past few weeks, Richman had claimed that he makes great blintzes. Indeed, the whole evening was positioned as buildup to the blintzes: "We're going to have a bunch of things to eat and then we'll have the blintzes." Needless to say, by the time the blintz course was upon us, the anticipation was nearly unbearable.

Richman had made the crepe wrappers in advance and stuffed them with a mixture of farmer's cheese, pot cheese and cream cheese. Just prior to service he browned the blintzes in butter. The tension was glorious: a few drops of perspiration beaded up on Richman's forehead as he worried out loud that his blintzes might not live up to the hype. One of them opened when he turned it over, causing a human-canine panic in the kitchen. Richman seemed to care deeply what we thought of his blintzes. I thought to myself, "If these blintzes suck, even I'm going to feel bad." But I affirmed my commitment to write about it even if the blintzes were lousy.

gallery_1_295_35475.jpg

gallery_1_295_19012.jpg

gallery_1_295_53617.jpg

gallery_1_295_29724.jpg

gallery_1_295_79110.jpg

I was both pleased and disappointed that the blintzes were so great. You'll never get blintzes this good in a restaurant because they're too fragile for commercial food-service. The paper-thin wrappers and fluffy cheese filling give the Richman blintzes the elegance of an haute-cuisine dish while still maintaining the rustic shtetl underpinnings that make blintzes so satisfying. A triumph.

After dinner we had a tour of Alan Richman's House. He lives alone with his dogs Sophie and Rudy -- he's recently divorced from Food & Wine magazine columnist Lettie Teague and has no children -- in a rambling three-story 1870s house that could accommodate three families with kids. He works in an office on the top floor, sleeps in a bedroom on the middle floor, and cooks in the kitchen on the ground floor. The rest of the house doesn't appear to get much use, so if you're looking to rent a few rooms you may want to contact the man.

Of course the best thing about dinner at Alan Richman's House is that you get to listen to Alan Richman talk for several hours. Richman is a wonderfully cranky, grouchy complainer in the tradition of the great American cranky, grouchy complainers from W.C. Fields to Lenny Bruce. He never lets up. He has no secrets and his forthrightness is disarming, charming and exhausting. You don't want to be on the wrong end of Richman's pen, but in person he radiates warmth and it becomes clear that the Groucho Marx act is the protective layer around a soft, almost vulnerable core. I plan to recover from dinner by 2009 and hope to be invited back.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

alan richman is very cute!

will he invite me to dinner too? will he come if I invite him?

my husband was cheered that 1. alan richman met you in his tartan bathrobe and 2. that he served pigs in blankets which looked very fetching to him.

our jack russell was incensed at the idea of corgis, however.

cheers,

marlena

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for that post. It's the most surprising and delightful post I've read in years. Delightful because I love Alan Richman; surprising, because, well, how can one just be invited to dinner at his house a propos of nothing?

I just saw Ratatouille last night and when the critic Anton Ego appeared, it did cross my mind that Richman might be the inspiration. Your description of Richman in the last few sentences could be used, in fact, to describe Ego's character.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bravo! What an entertaining write-up! I immediately began to wish I had those pigs in a blanket and then wanted everything you described and photographed. I enjoyed minute

details, the Rx bottle on the counter, I was guessing what it was for, the Guy Buffet

placemats (my interview with Guy is in the Member's News section on page 2). The plaid robe was a highlight-good for Alan to greet you in such a relaxed mode I feel it must have set the tone in a way for the evening. And Corgi's who can resist a cute Corgi? He's at one with the Queen.

Many years ago (circa 1988/89) I had the pleasure of hosting Alan as a guest in the bed & breakfast that I was the innkeeper of. He was a pleasant guest and we had some good chats during his stay. He was working for People at the time and needed a story on Hawaiian Barbeque - so I chauffered him around to various places with what was at the time considered "BBQ" which is not like the Southern or Midwestern type. We had a car full of pork & beef from several places. We spread it all out and anyone who happened to be there was welcome to taste and evaluate. I took lots of pictures and wanted to send them to him but good old Long's lost them, dang! I recoil now thinking that when we had our wine and cheese we served chardonnay and perish the thought......White Zinfandel...........! He never said anything nasty about that and I thoroughly enjoyed his stay.

Thanks again for a great recap of what was surely a fun evening! A hui hou! :biggrin:

"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"

Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent! There's something about a good home-based dinner party that simply can't be reproduced in a restaurant.

What did you have to drink with dinner?

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What did you have to drink with dinner?

Alan Richman and I are on two different planets when it comes to wine. He's on a very big planet, like Jupiter. I'm on one of those crummy little planets where they debate whether or not it's legitimate even to call it a planet. The last time I saw him in a restaurant it was at this old-guard Upper-East-Side French place called L'Absinthe. I was drinking a $20 half-bottle of Sancerre and he was drinking some vintage of La Turque with like 200 points from Parker. He gave me a glass.

Needless to say, he has plenty of good wine at home. Unfortunately for me, though, I wasn't really drinking last night. I'm pretty rigid about not drinking and driving, so all I did was open the bottles and make sure the wines weren't defective. My lack of participation in the drinking also cut short the wine progression: he had selected something like five different bottles for the evening but the group only made it half way into the third bottle. To spare myself the anguish, I didn't really note what the wines were, though when I checked the red I thought it was delightful.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pretty interesting - it's good to know there's a food critic out there who can cook. For some reason, my image of a food critic's fridge is like that of Frank Drebin's from the Naked Gun. I don't know why that is - just seems like a natural case for "the cobbler's son has no shoes"

Let Alan know that he can get yamaimo and nagaimo, Japanese mountain yams, at one of the many Japanese or korean marts in Hartsdale or White Plains which is pretty close by - Daido, Meiji-da, etc.

And tell him that he should go work at Barfry - his trip to japan apparently endowed him with some basic knowledge - wok, hot oil, flash-fry - tempura goodness!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This just in from Alan Richman:

The Not Really Caesar-Salad Salad-Dressing That Fooled Shaw

- two heads Romaine, torn up (Don't be cheap --- throw out the cruddy, mottled outer leaves as well as the biggest, hardest white parts, although my corgis like both.)

- three-quarter cup coarsely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (coarsely grated by you, not Kraft)

For the dressing:

- one tablespoon mayonnaise (or maybe a touch more)

- one-third cup red-wine vinegar (decent stuff, please)

- one-half cup vegetable oil (not olive oil)

- three cloves finely chopped garlic (mine is invariably old and worthless, but that's because I shop for veggies in Westchester)

You'll have to work a bit to get the mayo and vinegar to mix well; I give it

a minute and then give up.  Add the dressing first, then the cheese. Feeds

eight.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm usually 100% supportive of my compatriots in the brotherhood of New York curmudgeons but somehow I'm really surprised to see Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu from someone who passes judgment on other people's cooking for a living.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm usually 100% supportive of my compatriots in the brotherhood of New York curmudgeons but somehow I'm really surprised to see Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu from someone who passes judgment on other people's cooking for a living.

I agree. This was a very interesting post and a bit surprising. I can never imagine Steingarten for example serving Pillsbury pigs in a blanket. I'd expect a lot more from Richman. There is a fine line between rustic and kind of lazy (the roast beef looks boiled). Although the tempura does sound good.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm usually 100% supportive of my compatriots in the brotherhood of New York curmudgeons but somehow I'm really surprised to see Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu from someone who passes judgment on other people's cooking for a living.

I agree. This was a very interesting post and a bit surprising. I can never imagine Steingarten for example serving Pillsbury pigs in a blanket. I'd expect a lot more from Richman. There is a fine line between rustic and kind of lazy (the roast beef looks boiled). Although the tempura does sound good.

"The proof of the pudding's in the eating"... if the food was good, I'm generally disinclined to care what the constituent ingredients were. Well, that, and I have a certain nostalgic attachment to those Pillsbury rolls :unsure: .

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm usually 100% supportive of my compatriots in the brotherhood of New York curmudgeons but somehow I'm really surprised to see Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu from someone who passes judgment on other people's cooking for a living.

I agree. This was a very interesting post and a bit surprising. I can never imagine Steingarten for example serving Pillsbury pigs in a blanket. I'd expect a lot more from Richman. There is a fine line between rustic and kind of lazy (the roast beef looks boiled). Although the tempura does sound good.

I get what you're saying, but note that Fat Guy found both dishes delicious, even if they are trashy. I kind of liked that Richman proudly served what he felt he made best -- he's a professional food critic, not a professional chef!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm usually 100% supportive of my compatriots in the brotherhood of New York curmudgeons but somehow I'm really surprised to see Pillsbury pigs in a blanket, mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu from someone who passes judgment on other people's cooking for a living.

I agree. This was a very interesting post and a bit surprising. I can never imagine Steingarten for example serving Pillsbury pigs in a blanket. I'd expect a lot more from Richman. There is a fine line between rustic and kind of lazy (the roast beef looks boiled). Although the tempura does sound good.

I get what you're saying, but note that Fat Guy found both dishes delicious, even if they are trashy. I kind of liked that Richman proudly served what he felt he made best -- he's a professional food critic, not a professional chef!

I get that. All I'm saying is that it is not what I'd expect (that's why I think the post was pretty interesting). I guess I keep comparing him to Steingarten who writes for Vogue and who seems a very accomplished cook. Pigs in a blanket are good, they are just not what I'd expect a guy who reviews restaurants and food from around the world to serve his guests.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The theme was Jewish food: pigs in blankets, braised beef, potatoes, blintzes. Though there were a couple of additions, he was basically cooking the traditional Jewish-American food that his mother cooked. I was a little surprised when I saw the Pillsbury dough but, as I said, I've had pigs in blankets at the Four Seasons where they use a fancy scratch-made professional pastry dough and the Pillsbury product, in the final analysis, worked as well or better. Had there been any flavor-based reason to criticize the choice of Pillsbury dough, you can be sure I'd have done so with relish.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

mayo based caesar, and such an eclectic menu

I'm not sure one tablespoon of mayonnaise makes a dressing "mayo based," nor is mayonnaise much more than eggs and oil -- nothing wrong with that as a component of a salad dressing. The menu, moreover, hardly seemed eclectic to me. Rather, it seemed old-fashioned Jewish-American. If you went to my mother's house for dinner in the 1970s the menu wouldn't have been all that different -- she even did tempura on occasion.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The theme was Jewish food: pigs in blankets, braised beef, potatoes, blintzes. Though there were a couple of additions, he was basically cooking the traditional Jewish-American food that his mother cooked. I was a little surprised when I saw the Pillsbury dough but, as I said, I've had pigs in blankets at the Four Seasons where they use a fancy scratch-made professional pastry dough and the Pillsbury product, in the final analysis, worked as well or better. Had there been any flavor-based reason to criticize the choice of Pillsbury dough, you can be sure I'd have done so with relish.

Did not know that was the theme or that this is traditional Jewish American food. Here's how I saw it Steven. A meal at Richman's house for guests who have never been there before, so I had high expectations and looked forward to checking what he'd cook. When I see what he cooked starting with the piggies in frozen dough, I was dissapointed and felt like he just threw it together (except for those blintzes) haphazardly. Like I said, I am sure it tasted fine. that is not my quibble with it.

Edit: typo

Edited by FoodMan (log)

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...