Monday, October 30, 2006

G. Lorenzi Fireplaplace Lighter

Once in awhile a piece of equipment comes along that changes my time worn habits and becomes an object that I can’t live without. As winter approaches and I start cranking up my fireplace, I renew my appreciation of my fireplace lighter from G. Lorenzi, the
brilliant store in Milan.

It’s simple enough device –a long piece of wood that looks like a branch with a butane mechanism inside that operates with a click of a trigger. No matches, no crouching down. There is nothing better than the perfect marriage of function and design and this tool embodies that. You use it and then it leans unobtrusively next to your fireplace until needed again.

When I ran out of butane last winter and had to go back to rolling up paper and looking for matches I realized just how much I loved the lighter and ever since I’ve made sure to keep at least two canisters of butane on hand. Even if you use your fireplace infrequently, you will like this tool as much as I do.

G. Lorenzi ships everywhere but if you ever find yourself in Milan, it’s one shop not to be missed…

G. Lorenzi
Via Montenapoleone, 9
20121 Milano

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tart Tatin Season

Apple season is here and it’s time for me to break out my tarte tatin pan and start baking this classic French dessert. A tarte tatin is an upside down apple tart, and though it is not restricted to the autumn months, apples are at their peak then so it’s the best time to make one.

While I was in Paris last spring, I stumbled across a small bistro with a sign on its door announcing Grillades au Charbon de Bois. I’m not great with French but I know the word charcoal when I see it. This charming little restaurant, “La Brocherie” in St. Germain des Pres , specializes in meats cooked over a wood fire and serves classic French deserts like crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, and of course, tarte tatin.

As I popped my head in, the chef was preparing a tarte tatin. My mouth was watering so I made a point of coming back for lunch.

On my return I ordered Entrecote Grillé served with a simple baked potato and a few vegetables and it was fabulous. For dessert my slice of tarte tatin came with a side of cream fraiche. The tarte was slightly warm and absolutely delicious. The trick of making a perfect tarte tatin is in the consistency of the apples. They should not be too soft nor too hard and the crust must not be soggy. I have been making this dessert for years and have found that cream fraiche is the perfect accompaniment because its slightly sour flavor is wonderful with the caramelized apples.

So what is the perfect recipe? Well, when I was working on my cookbook, “ I Am Almost Always Hungry”, I tested dozens of versions. I do not use a puff pastry crust, which many recipes call for because I prefer a pate brise crust. I also think using a copper tarte tatin pan makes all the difference. After my visit to La Brocherie I also learned that any deep copper skillet will work as well.

La Brocherie
3, Rue St-Benoit
75006 Paris

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Spice Market

One of the best, but not the best known, lunch spots in New York City is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to go there day or night because the food is so good, but lunch is a special treat. There are no maddening crowds at lunchtime; you usually don’t need a reservation; and you don’t have to suffer the noise from people lined 10 deep at the bar. Also, during the day the Spice Market takes on a different personality, one I think is incredibly well suited to the food. As midday light pours into the cavernous room and I sometimes feel like I’ve been transported to Indochine. Lunch is busier on the weekends but it’s still nothing like the evenings.

The first time I ate at Spice Market I had a dish that I fell in love with, and I still think it is one of the greatest rice dishes I’ve ever had-- ginger fried rice. It’s simply rice and scallions sautéed in sesame oil and topped with an egg that has been fried in panko breadcrumbs, ginger, and garlic. As you spoon the rice onto your plate the egg yolk coats the rice and the combination of flavors and textures is just magical. I could eat this alone for lunch but it’s even better with a piece of fish. One of my favorite fish dishes is the Cod with Malaysian Chili Sauce Thai Basil though every fish course here is always cooked to perfection. This cod is simply pan seared, served on a bed of a Malaysian Chili sauce, and topped with some finely diced celery.

The wine list and the wines by the glass are well chosen for this. I often order any gewürztraminer off the list but today I had a glass of Alsatian Pinot Blanc, which was crisp and refreshing.

Spice Market is one of the many reasons I love New York. I’m not sure if it could work anywhere else in the country. I’m just happy it’s located in my hometown.

Spice Market
403 W. 13th St.,
New York, NY 10014

Monday, October 9, 2006

The River Cafe In London

For years I've wanted to eat at The River Cafe in London and in early September I finally got my chance. This restaurant is a firmly established institution in London, and it's all about Italian food and wine. The menu changes twice daily and is based on the finest seasonal ingredients available—many, I've been told flown in daily from Italy (though I did not actually ask if that is true).

The sublime food depends on the quality of the ingredients and the discipline to keep it simple, which is the essence of great Italian food.

We started with a Bellini which is a fabulous drink made with Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and freshly crushed peaches. It transported me back to memories of my time in Venice sipping one at Harry's Bar. For a salad, I had the insalata di fici neri, (black figs with traditional balsamic vinegar, mint and rocket lettuce). Perfectly simple and the figs were perfectly ripe.
For the main course one of my dinner companions ordered the branzino in cartoccio, wild sea bass fillet baked in a bag with fresh porcini, thyme, butter and Greco Marlise. It was one of the best fish dishes I've ever had. The infusion of flavors and the texture of the fish was poetic. I had the stinco di vitello(veal shin slow roasted with thyme, garlic and Chardonnay with gremolata). It was cooked to perfection and the meat was falling off the bone and melted in my mouth. There is a light hand in the kitchen, which I love; nothing is oversalted or too oily.
The wine list is spectacular, and if you love Italian wine as much as I do, you have lots of choices. We started with a 2005 Moscato Giallo "Vogelmeier" from Alois Lageder that was crisp and refreshing. The unique fruit from the Moscato grape was so alive in the glass. We followed with a bottle of 1998 Valpolicella Classico Superiore from Giuseppe Quintarelli, which was lovely with all our entrees. They also have a great selection of older vintages.
We ended our meal with some delicious Italian cheeses for dessert, a perfect ending. On the bottom of the menu they say "We regret that due to a planning restriction all customers are required to vacate the premises by 11PM." I found that odd, but sure enough when the bewitching hour approached, bills came by pretty timely, service was very attentive and the restaurant emptied out.

All in all I was not disappointed in my pilgrimage to The River Cafe. My only warning is that it's pretty pricey. I guess flying over all those ingredients over does not help. The exchange rate is not in our favor either: the average entrée is 30 quid, around $60. But it was well worth it and I would go back. For those who may never get there the cookbooks are fantastic and available here.

The River Cafe_Thames Wharf_Rainville Road_London W6

Postscript to the River Cafe

Greco Marlise

Several friends have asked about an ingredient in my latest blog on the
River Cafe. The ingredient in question is Greco Marlise. Well, it's an
Italian white wine and I for one have never heard of it. I called the River
Cafe to find out more about the wine and they suggested using a chardonnay
in its place.

October 12, 2006

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Not many things could tempt me to leave New York, but the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco is one of them. Every time I visit it I’m blown away all over again.

The farmers’ market is set up outside the Ferry Building which also houses some excellent shops and restaurants that are open all week. A few of my favorites include: Hog Island Farms Restaurant, The Slanted Door; the esoteric Boulettes larder; and Michael Recchuti chocolates. Though the farmers market is open 4-5 days a week, Saturday mornings are by far my favorite time to go.

Here are some of the ingredients I bought recently and can’t wait to try: Pimientos de Padron from Happy Quail Farms; Puntarelle from Star Route Farms ( a bitter green you use for salads); Homemade yogurt from Sant Benoit; and June Taylor’s Tomato Ketchup. The market was also full of meyer lemons, early season persimmons, figs, and every variety of lettuce you can imagine.

And if this is not enough, there are great restaurants set up outside as well. One of my favorites for breakfast is Primavera where you can get the most delicious Mexican food imaginable. I usually order Chilaquiles Aquascalientes--organic scrambled eggs served with refried beans, sour cream, cilantro, queso-cotija and avocado along with freshly made tortillas. The beer battered fish tacos are amazing too.

If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area this is one place that can not be missed no matter what season it happens to be.

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
1 Ferry Building
Embarcadero & Market
San Francisco, California

Thursday, October 5, 2006


Last night I had dinner at Quince, a San Francisco restaurant that has made me fall in love all over again with the experience of eating out. Everything about it was perfect--the room, the staff, the wine list, and most of all the food.

It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at a menu and wanted to order everything on it, and it’s also been a long time since I’ve woken up trying to figure out how I could make a delicious dish from the night before for myself.

The menu is a wonderful take on classic Italian cooking using the amazing ingredients that are available in California in an original and provocative way. For example, I ordered a fritto of striped shrimp, Chelsea oysters & Orchard Farm broccoli which was inspired, I’m sure, by the Italian dish Fritto Misto. Quince has taken this idea to a new level. The local shrimp was the freshest I’ve had outside of Stockholm, and each ingredient was fried in a different batter and had its own unique texture. When I say batter, I’m talking light about a coating that is so light you almost don’t notice that it’s been fried.

Almost every dish at Quince is beautifully simple, usually containing no more than three ingredients, something I look for when I’m eating Italian food. The food is also appropriate to the season. My second course, chestnut gnocchi with red wine braised duck giblets and pumpkin, is a good example, the perfect fall dish. The gnocchi were so light and airy I could not believe what I was eating. The chestnut flour left a lovely aftertaste sort of like of Lapsang Souchang tea, and the braised duck giblets and pumpkin gave you a robust explosion of flavors with a sweet finish.

As soon as I get home I am going to try to make this, and I’m sure it will become a regular on my table in the fall. For my entrée I ordered Guinea hen al mattone with fagioli arrosti, broccoli, and Bianca invernale which again was just amazing. The Guinea hen was cooked perfectly and served on a bed of delicious roasted beans. Unfortunately, I was too full to order any of the cheeses or desserts which all sounded great. Next time!!

Last night I fell in love with Quince, and I know it’s the beginning of a long and delicious relationship.

1701 Octavia
San Francisco, California