Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blogging for the LA Times Magazine

I've just started writing a new blog for the LA Times Magazine's website. I won't be posting for another week or so. In the meantime check out my new blog, I'm Still Hungry.

I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


New York is a pork obsessed city and Porchetta is a good bet to become its temple of pig. I’m a bit pork obsessed myself and I’m also a believer in restaurants that specialize in one thing done superbly. So that’s two reasons to give Porchetta a leg up, so to speak, in my book. I’ve also noticed that many discerning people are not eager to go to a restaurant where you can order pretty much anything. (Our mayor is an exception. He once told me that diners are his favorite restaurants for exactly that reason). Serious eaters want the best hamburger, the best pizza, the best lobster roll or gelato. They won’t be satisfied by a place with an ethnic specialty like Indian or Spanish; they want specific excellence.

These days New Yorkers are lining up for Porchetta’s sandwiches in the East Village. Porchetta is the brainchild of Sara Jenkins, the chef and cookbook author who grew up in Tuscany. Porchetta is a boned out pig, which is then stuffed, seasoned with, among other things, fennel pollen, rolled up, and spit roasted. The genius of it lies not only in the delicious meat but also in the crackly crispy skin, the piece de resistance. Though Jenkins does not spit roast her porchetta over a wood fire, which is traditional, the results she gets are just amazing.

The porchetta sandwich is my favorite thing to order. It’s made on a Sullivan Street roll and must be eaten warm. They also serve a Porchetta plate with shell beans and freshly sautéed greens, again a winner. Crispy potatoes with burnt ends and the chicory salad with garlic dressing are also outstanding. This is a hole in the wall with just a few stools so it’s pretty much standing room.

Recently, they added a mozzarella sandwich probably to satisfy vegetarians but if you ask me vegetarians have no business being here.

My only complaint, which I’ve had to resolve myself, is that I think the sandwich benefits from a couple of shakes of Tabasco sauce. They don’t serve any sauces so I just bring my own now. I try to be discreet but the other day another customer saw my Tabasco asked to use it. I obliged happily.


110 East 7th St

NYC, NY 10009


Tuesday, September 1, 2009


You can’t always judge a restaurant by its name. CO (pronounced company, natch) is one of the recent and very welcome additions to my Chelsea neighborhood. Despite its cryptic name, it’s straightforward and great. I’ve been living around here for 30 years and all I can say is that it’s about time we got some really good restaurants.

Co. is a pizza joint started by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. New Yorkers have about as many opinions about pizza as they do about movies so opening up a new spot is a dangerous proposition. I personally want the pies to be made in a wood burning oven if possible; I want a good crust and a simple, fresh topping. Neapolitan style, Roman style, or new world style are not the point for me. Each slice just has to taste good and have great texture. Co’s pizzas do that.

I’ve been about a dozen times now and I have to say my favorite version is the fennel and sausage with crushed tomato, red onions, chili, buffalo mozzarella and parmesan. It’s nirvana. The crust is chewy with a slight sourdough finish, the Italian style fennel sausage which is blended with crisp sliced fennel is out of this world, I guess you could say I’m addicted to it. The close second is the flambé which is made with béchamel, parmesan, buffalo mozzarella, caramelized onions, and lardons. There are ten other pizzas to choose from but I’ve yet to try them. I do have my eye on the Popeye which the waiters keep telling me is wonderful. It is made with pecorino, gruyere, buffalo mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic. Next time.

Leahy uses a wood-burning oven and bakes the pizzas at about 700 degrees which gives the crust its bit of char and great flavor. His ingredients are top notch. Though he offers a simple menu besides pizzas such as toast with different toppings and salads and soups, the pizza steals the show. Depending on who is making the escarole salad it can be exquisite; it’s either perfectly dressed with bread crumbs, capers, anchovies, lemon and olive oil, or it is over -dressed and the ingredients struggle to swim to the surface.

Diners should be aware that the oven determines the pace of the restaurant. Sometimes dishes come out tout suite and sometimes they seem to take forever. I can forgive the wait for such fine results just steps away from home.

The wine list is excellent. Pretty much every bottle has a screw cap, which is not a problem for me but when you start paying 13 dollars a glass it might make some people wonder. The list is very well edited and though the wines by the glass are expensive, there is no compromise on quality. So order a bottle and relax. And by the way, the price by the glass is figured on the basis of four glasses to the bottle so you are paying for a quarter of a bottle when you order a glass. Fair enough.

I haven’t had the desserts though the banana split sounds interesting. Actually I did have the chocolate walnut cookie and it was quite good.

The restaurant has communal seating, which I like, though not everyone does. There are also a few seats at the bar. I love the fact that at the bottom of the menu they say “ Our pies are not always round.” I wonder if someone complained. If so, why apologize?

230 Ninth ave
NYC, NY 10011

Vinegar Hill House

I knew as I approached Vinegar Hill, a small neighborhood restaurant in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, that I was going to love it. It’s absolutely everything I want in a restaurant these days: simple, honest, delicious food, not too many choices, a good edit of reasonably priced wines, and great cocktails. Who can ask for more?

My friend Betsy who lives in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn first told me about Vinegar Hill a while ago and then several other friends mentioned it to me. Many New Yorkers shun a subway ride to Brooklyn and I was no different for a while, but no more. Manhattan is too expensive for a small operation like this to make it, but this is just the sort of well planned and personal place that I like. They keep the feel of the neighborhood and the food is never faddish.

Bria and I decided to sit at the bar. Actually she decided because she prefers to eat at a bar; I agreed because I was in the mood. Our seats had a perfect view of the kitchen. We started off with cocktails. Since I’ve been living bi-coastally, I’ve become quite obsessed with the cocktail scene in LA. One of my favorite downtown LA bars is 7 Grand that specializes in American cocktails. They make a superb old fashioned with Sazerac rye. The bartender at Vinegar Hill suggested I try his version and I have to say it was great. He makes it with Michters’s Rye served on the rocks, which is good, but I prefer the spiciness of the Sazerac.

I was impressed that they used Kold-draft ice which is the must have ice if you are a serious cocktailian. A whole new technology in ice, Kold-draft melts more slowly than other ice and the cubes are bigger. Bria had the margarita which was also delicious I can’t remember what they did that was different but it had a unique flavor. We then ordered the farmstead cheese and salami plate to go with our cocktails, and it was incredible: three different Vermont cheeses, pickled quail eggs, artisanal salamis, and homemade crackers, each flavor and texture complemented the other.

I wanted to try so many things on the menu but we settled for just a few. I started with the watermelon salad with feta and calamata olives and Bria had the black pepper fettuccine with shell beans and cherry tomatoes. My salad was just ok, the two varieties of watermelon were cool, but the feta did not work at all for me. I was thinking maybe ricotta salata would have been a better choice. Bria’s pasta was insane, perfect in every way, a marriage of textures and flavors that were speaking eloquently of the height of summer.

I was torn between the Cast Iron Chicken and the Red Wattle Country Chop. It was 95 degrees outside and I thought the pork would be too heavy. Everyone said that I had to try the Cast Iron Chicken and so I did. Bria ordered the Boneless Braised Short Ribs. Before my chicken was served a potholder was placed in front of me, a nice touch. The chicken came in a skillet and was quite good. It had some kind of vinegar sauce/reduction that I love with chicken. Bria’s shortribs were also good, but a dish I would prefer in the dead of winter.

A customer next to me got the pork chop. I was so jealous!!! I wanted to reach over and fork a piece for myself. It was sliced and served on what looked like a fingerling potato salad. I immediately began planning my return.

We ordered a bottle of Viognier from Alban Vineyards. I have a soft spot for Condrieu, which is a white wine made in the Northern Rhone of France with the Viognier grape and a very soft spot for John Alban who makes probably the best Viognier in California. This was not one of his single vineyard Viognier’s. Nonetheless it was a perfect wine for our meal.

I am not much of a dessert person, but Bria insisted I try the Guinness Chocolate Cake with a cream cheese icing. It was one of those desserts that you think, oh I will just have a bite, and before you know it, it’s gone.

If a restaurant can be judged by how soon you want to go back for your next meal, then I would have to judge this restaurant on a scale of 1-10 a 10!

Vinegar Hill House
71 Hudson Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11201