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“The Strong Buzz for August 20th: Dining for Darfur is Tomorrow, Lots of News, Events, My Dinner at ZoŽ”
Hello all and welcome to this week’s edition of THE STRONG BUZZ! Lots of News, Events, and My Dinner at Zoë Townhouse
Dining for Darfur
Dining for Darfur is tomorrow night, Tuesday August 21st from 6-9pm at the Puck Building. T Edward will showcase 400 wines from boutique wineries from around the world and Cookshop, Hill Country and Blue Ribbon will be serving their chef’s great food (Rock Shrimp Po Boys, beef brisket, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes, giant ice cream sundaes, and more.) Tickets are $125 a person and 100% of the money we raise goes directly to the IRC humanitarian work in the refugee camps in Darfur and Chad. To get your ticket now, please visit www.diningfordarfur.org/tickets.php. Tickets will be available at the door, as well, and I hope to see you all there.
Chefs on the Move
John Fraser has left Compass to open a new restaurant on West 77th Street this November. (He has been replaced by previous Compass chef Neil Annis.) His as-of-yet unnamed restaurant will be designed by Richard Boch (Masa) with warm woods, muted colors, and exposed brick. Fraser’s menu will highlight local produce and will feature a weekend afternoon tea service, prix fixe Sunday night dinners, and an extensive sherry menu.
New Chef at Island
Chef Josie Smith-Malave of Top Chef, Season 2, has parted ways with Island Restaurant and Lounge (35-15 36th Street, between 35th and 36th Avenues, 718-433-0690). She is opening her own project, The Speakeasy, in Fort Greene, set to open Fall 2007. Stepping up as Island's Executive Chef is Dan Morales (Mesa Grill, The River Café), who was the restaurant's Sous Chef. His new menu includes goat cheese gnocchi with smoked pulled pork and black truffles ($12); lobster risotto with carrot ginger risotto and coriander ($30); and New Zealand rack of Lamb with lamb merguez sausage, rosemary potato cakes, mint chutney and lamb jus ($28).
One of my favorite things about Mexican restaurants is sitting at the bar for a dinner that’s pretty much tortilla chips, guacamole, and tequila. (I am a model of good health, as you can tell.) You can plan on doing that several times over at chef Julian Medina’s new theater district restaurant, Toloache. Named for a plant famed for its use in love potions (get me some of that in my margarita, please), Toloache features a ceviche and guacamole bar, as well as a wood-burning oven, an open kitchen, and a cocktail bar with more than 100 tequilas and mescals overseen by resident “Mezcologist” Giovanni Campos. Yummy. The menu offers contemporary Mexican fare—tamales stuffed with pork topped with mole and queso fresco ($10), quesadillas roasted in the wood oven and filled with huitlacoche ($13), mole poblano ($22), and carne asada with chile relleno filled with potato gratin ($24). Toloache is located at 251 West 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenues, 212-581-1818.
The Little Piggy (Market)
Ben Grossman and Craig Samuel are making some mighty fine ‘cue out in Fort Greene, but they wanted to do something more for the neighborhood than simply serve them succulent ribs and smokin’ pork butts. (Awww.) So they opened Little Piggy (Market)—a Brooklyn Country Store that’s a throwback to the old-fashioned General Stores of yesteryear. Your day can start with fair trade coffee, roasted locally by Dallis coffee with homemade biscuits, brownies and cupcakes. Then stop by on your way home from work and pick up an artisan country ham, maybe one from Finchville Farms in Kentucky, or some cheese, maybe a nice black eyed pea salad, a green bean casserole, some local produce for a salad, and for dessert some penny candy (Charleston Chew, anyone?), and a cobbler made from juicy sweet peaches. If you don’t feel like eating at home, there are 12 seats for eating in. BYOB, for now. 64 Lafayette Avenue, in Fort Greene, 718-797-1011.
The Grey Dog’s Coffee
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was the manager of a restaurant called Isla. (It was a Cuban restaurant on Downing Street, for those of you who remember it. It’s now Mas, Farmhouse.) This was my first real restaurant manager job and it was also my first restaurant opening and I had no idea how hard it would be. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep a night and running around like a nut most of the day, hiring and training staff, ordering (everything from plates to liquor), and general stressing. Don’t get me wrong, it was also a very exciting time, and I probably learned more about the restaurant business in those six months than at any other time, but, well, it was pure madness. But for about a half an hour each day, I took a break to collect myself and get ready for service. I walked down to Carmine Street and into my oasis, the Grey Dog, had a cup of coffee and usually a sandwich or a big bowl of oatmeal and just sat there and unwound. Dave and Pete, the owners, knew what was going on at Isla and how stressed I was and they usually came over to sit with me for a few minutes to hear the latest drama. That meal at the Grey Dog was usually all I had to eat until the next day. I never had time to eat, and I was also training for the NYC Marathon, so I ended up losing about 20 pounds in three months. Opening a restaurant is the best diet ever.
Anyway, after I left Isla, I wasn’t really around Carmine Street that often and my days at the Grey Dog were over. But not anymore. Dave and Pete have just opened a replica of their charming West Village coffee shop on University Place and I’m now back to my once a day visits. Their second restaurant is just as sweet and friendly as their first, with that down home, picket fence vibe achieved by plank flooring, exposed brick walls, and eclectic Johnny Cash-styled soundtrack. You can stop in for coffee and homemade muffins or brownies (everything is baked in house), or something more substantial like the Grey Dog’s Breakfast ($10.95)—pancakes or French Toast with bacon or sausage and two eggs any style. At lunch, grab a pint of Hennepin and a Number 12—the roast beef press, with gruyere, sautéed onions, horseradish and au jus ($8.75). And for dinner, maybe a glass of red wine and a burger ($9) or chicken pot pie ($11.95)? The only thing you won’t find is Wi-Fi. Dave doesn’t even own a computer. But you can sit and write and read, and eat and drink and be merry, without surfing the net. Really, you can! The Grey Dog is located at 90 University Place, between 11th and 12th Streets; 212-414-4739.
At this point I am fairly certain I am the last writer in New York City’s food world to report on the opening of Southern Hospitality. Well, better late than never. (I guess.) So, as you have probably heard, Justin Timberlake, the man who brought sexy back, has followed in the steps of other music industry luminaries like Britney Spears (of the short-lived Nyla and recent car crashes while driving commando with a dog on her lap) and opened his own restaurant, a place that’s an ode to the barbecue he grew up on in Memphis. He’s even got his grandma Sadie’s recipe for pecan pie on the menu. (It’s quite impressive and I’d like to be adopted by Sadie.)
Credit to JT: This place might actually stick around. Southern Hospitality is very convivial and friendly joint, with a nice big bar (Abita’s on tap), a slew of high backed wooden booths inside, a nice outdoor sidewalk café, and an extremely sweet service staff (read: cute girls from the South). The food is somewhere between serviceable to good depending on what you order. There’s tasty fried chicken ($15.95), a decent pulled pork platter ($14.95), fine Memphis-style hickory smoked ribs ($22.95), but it’s really the sides ($4.95) that need more attention and love. The mac and cheese was clearly re-heated and barely warmed over, the tater tots were far from crisp, the collards were forgettable, and the fries were cold. Perhaps most unforgivable was that the biscuits were dry. JT, come on. You know better. Get Grandma Sadie up here on the case for a week and I am sure the place will be turned around in no time. But the missteps aside, the place is all about good vibe, and if it were closer to home, I’d stop in for an Abita and a pulled pork sandwich without question. And if I somehow managed to stay up late, I’d relive my college years with a few rounds of beer pong that gets set up after dinner service in the Memphis Music Room (the back dining room). Maybe JT would even play me. I’ll even promise to let him win. Southern Hospitality it located at 1460 Second Ave., at 76th Street; 212-249-1001.
I’ve heard a lot about the great steaks at Pampa and been saying that I have to go for at least a couple of years now and then of course it goes and closes. Bummer, man. Well, Pampa’s former chef, Fabian G. Manca, has opened his own temple of impossibly juicy and magnificently flavored Argentine steak—Caminito. His restaurant takes its name from a famous pedestrian alleyway in Buenos Aires in the heart of the La Boca neighborhood, and incidentally, used to be a barbershop and was featured in scenes from Carlito’s Way. No longer. It’s been transformed into a cute cubbyhole with room for 45 decorated with earthen walls and ceramic floors. Manca, who was born in Argentina and trained at L’Escuela Mendoza for Culinary Arts in Mendoza, is serving straight up Buenos Aires fare, with a signature menu of Angus beef off the parillada (grill), sourced from the Bronx’s Austin Meats. To start, there’s melon wrapped in Serrano ham ($6.95) and Argentinean Empanadas (beef chicken, or spinach and cheese, $4.95) and to finish, your choice of bread pudding, dulce de leche, and flan (all $6). Camintio is located at 1664 Park Avenue, between 117th and 118th Streets; 212-289-1343.
If you’re one of those people who go to weddings or Bar Mitzvahs or any number of fancy cocktail dress parties and stalks the waiters passing out pigs in a blanket, you and I are cut of the same brioche. I love those little cocktail wieners! So I was especially happy when I learned that the signature amuse bouche at BLT Market, Laurent Tourondel’s new Ritz Carlton perch for seasonal ingredient-driven cooking, will be zee pig in zee blanket!
Now aside from the haute dogs, Laurent will be serving a monthly changing menu that’s a reflection of the seasons and weekly blackboard specials signaling the first of the crop. Dishes on his menu sound like this: Big Eye tuna with tonnato sauce, avocado and fresh hearts of palm, grilled octopus with fresh cranberry bean salad with Valencia orange dressing ($18), halibut en papillotte with bunching onions and summer savory ($32), five-spiced glazed Long Island duck with roasted red plums ($34), and for dessert, Maine blueberry lemon curd on a warm biscuit ($11). Yummy. The restaurant is in preview mode until September 10th serving dinner only, with a discount of 10% on food. BLT Market is located at 1430 Avenue of the Americas at Central Park South; 212-521-6125
Personally, my favorite way to drink beer in the summer is poured into a cold frosty glass rimmed with salt, and tarted up with fresh squeezed lime juice. I am happy to report that chef Todd Mitgang (most recently chef de cuisine at Kittichai in Soho) is also a fan of this cooling concoction. I thought it was called Michelado, but he calls it Mordida-style beer, and he adds Tabasco sauce (a little heat is a nice touch). Anyway you call it, it’s great. And it’s the right partner for his menu at Crave Ceviche, a white washed, candlelit white stucco and exposed brick room, where the kitchen is dedicated to this oven-free method of citrus acid “cooking.” Literally everything on the menu (other than the rock shrimp tempura) is treated to some sort of ceviche “cure”—a citrus bath made from combinations like lime, yuzu, kumquat, and champagne that slowly “cook” the ingredient in question and leaves it tasting fresh and vibrant. Mitgang has created a tapas-style menu for a dinner of ceviche small plates that should start with the calamari salad ceviche’d with Clementine and kalamansi juice tossed with Shanghai shoots, shitake mushrooms and crispy kimchi ($8/$12), move onto the Maine Lobster Roll, ceviche’d with Meyer lemon and chives, topped with avocado mayonnaise and brown butter ($25), and then a pair of filet mignon sliders ceviche’d with lemon juice and Worcestershire Sauce topped with Manchego cheese, shallots, and house made sour cream and chive potato chips ($6 each). Finish off with a complimentary dessert—Latin-inspired caramel chili chocolate finished with tres leches. Crave Ceviche is located at 946 2nd Ave (between 50th and 51st) New York City; 212-355-6565.
EVENTS, compiled and written by Celine Valensi
SushiSamba’s Relief to Peru
In response to the tremendous earthquake that hit Peru last week, SushiSamba will begin a two-week food and clothing drive to secure items for victims and their families. Beginning on Monday, August 20th in SushiSamba locations in New York, Dallas, Chicago and Miami, guests can bring canned or boxed food items as well as blankets or clothing as a donation. The shipment will be mailed to Peru on Labor Day weekend in an effort to support those who need it most. For locations for drop off please visit sushisamba.com
“La Tomatina” Festival at Amalia
From August 28th to September the 1st, Amalia’s summer tomato menu will be in full swing. In true Spanish spirit, executive chef Ivy Stark will be serving up a tomato water gelée with osetra caviar, lemon thyme, and crème fraiche ($12); big zebra tomato and watermelon salad with sweet lemon and celery sorbet ($9); a moorish spiced poussin with roasted tomato rose petal jam and almond couscous ($26). To drink, she’s taking the Bloody Mary on a different route with “La Tomatina,” a cocktail is made with muddled heirloom cherry tomatoes, sweet lemons, Absolut citron, mint, and soda ($12). Amalia is located at 204 West 55th Street (between Broadway and 7th Avenue), 212-245-1234. www.amalia-nyc.com.
The Tasting Room’s Winemaker’s Dinner
On Wednesday September 5th, chef/owner Colin Alevras has invited a winemaker to share his kitchen. Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent Winery will cook side by side with Colin for a family style dinner that will feature Mark's marinated and grilled wild salmon with the 2006 Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc, and 2006 Vitae Springs Pinot Gris, followed by Mark's signature cassoulet with a 2005 Seven Springs Pinot Noir and 2005 Anden Vineyard Pinot Noir. Don’t expect Colin to sit on the sidelines, as he’ll have a hand in each course including the pairings for the St. Innocent library wines ('92, '93, '94) followed by cheese and dessert. Dinner starts at 6:30 and is $175.00 per person (plus 22% gratuity and tax). The Tasting Room Restaurant is located at 264 Elizabeth Street (between Prince and Houston). (212) 358-7831, www.thetastingroomnyc.com.
The Flatbush Farm’s Greenmarket Cocktail Hour
In conjunction with Slow Food NYC and Panforte Productions, the Barn at Flatbush Farm is hosting a shindig with tastings of five seasonally inspired Greenmarket cocktails made from gin, tequila, rye, and rum. The drinks will be paired with assorted tapas and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Stephen Browning. Bring your overalls to sample radishes and butter, deviled eggs, house-made pickles, cheeses, olives, candied and spiced nuts, and chocolate dipped pretzels. This roll in the hay will run you $40 and takes place on Sunday, August 26th from 4-6pm. The Flatbush Farm Barn is located at 76-78 St. Marks Avenue at Flatbush in Brooklyn. (718)-622-3276, www.flatbushfarm.com.
MY DINNER AT ZOË TOWNHOUSE
Zoë Townhouse is the new incarnation of the (sadly) short-lived Jovia, Stephen and Thalia Loffredo’s upscale and elegant Italian restaurant that opened in that space in 2006. When their concept fell flat, they had to retool and reconsider their options. They hired a new chef for Jovia at first, which didn’t really do it, and so they regrouped again. What they decided was to return to what they know best: the Zoë formula (read: contemporary American food, a stylish, comfortable setting, an all-American wine list.) It had worked for 15 years downtown, why not uptown? Why not, indeed.
While they began a search for a new chef, they brought in Jeffery Beers to strip down and redesign the place, transforming it from a museum-like space of adult seriousness into an easy, playful restaurant more suitable for a neighborhood looking for a regular haunt for pasta, chicken, burgers and salads—good crowd pleasing food. Down on the parlor floor, Beers’ has done a great job of brightening up the bar and lounge by opening up the kitchen, and adding a dazzling mosaic of sunflower yellow tiles and a wood-burning pizza oven to the bar (more on the pizzas that come out of that oven in a moment). Upstairs, he added exposed brick and mirrors to the walls and hung the far wall with cut raw barrels from Pelligrini vineyards for a warm and rustic wine cave effect that really turns the key in transforming the place from Jovia into Zoë.
To handle the food, they found a West Coast chef named Matthew Zappoli who was most recently executive chef at Fresh Seafood Restaurant & Bar in La Jolla. From what I found last week, he’s the right choice for Zoë North. He’s created an updated and rejuvenated version of the downtown menu with classic Zoë dishes like the crispy calamari and grilled yellowfin tuna club sandwich. But for the uptown Townhouse space, Matt offers two menus—a casual one down in the pizza bar that includes cute kobe beef sliders with Vermont cheddar, pickled jalapenos, and Walla Walla onion rings ($12), juicy beef burgers on brioche buns with hand cut fries and garlic pickles, $10.75), entrée-sized salads like rosemary roast chicken with purple potatoes, green beans and grape tomatoes ($13.75), and hand-tossed, rectangular pizza pies with ethereal crusts—light and bubbly and almost pastry like in consistency topped with bubbly toppings in simple (mushroom, margarita) to more elaborate like the one we had, a Spanish version that gets a layer of harissa-spiced ricotta topped with sheets of Serrano ham, shredded manchego cheese and circles of chewy, spicy chorizo ($13.50). It was terrific.
But Matt’s more sophisticated style of cooking was really allowed to come into full bloom in the second floor dining room, where the menu is approachable American fare, seasonally rooted, with a little bit of Asia occasionally accenting the plate. One of my favorite dishes of the night was an appetizer of tuna poke ($12)—a wide dice of Ahi is marinated with a nice heavy hand of ginger, seaweed, and soy, so the flavors are all perky and bright, served on a crisp lotus root potato chip over a bed of seaweed salad dressed with wasabi tobiko and a drizzle of eel sauce. I am comfortable saying that I’d eat this daily. His white gazpacho is also gorgeous—a seafoam green soup of cucumbers and Marcona almonds pureed into a cool and refreshing soup that’s almost soft and dewy in texture. Matt garnishes it gracefully with a bit of California olive oil and julienned radish and a pinch of microgreens ($9.75). The only appetizer I didn’t enjoy was the veal sweetbreads ($14). These are usually a favorite of mine, and while I loved the accompanying salad of fava beans, hen of the woods mushrooms, bacon, and pickled Berumda onions, the sweetbreads were not quite crispy, and instead were soft, flabby almost, lacking any crunch or textural contrast.
Matt’s approach to fish is two-faced (I mean this in a good way). On the one hand, he does demure, gentle flavors in a perfectly pan-roasted day boat halibut topped with sweet cherry tomato confit, bedded on a mound of baby spinach and a sweet creamy puddle of wonderfully velvety “popcorn” puree ($27). It’s a delicate dish that is comfortable being shy. Personally, I’d like a bit more flavor from that fish, so I might wrap it in pancetta. But if it’s big shameless flavors you’re after, Matt’s soy-balsamic glazed artic char is the yang to the halibut’s yin. This is a piece of fish with some acidity and sweetness, a nice amount of spirit and punch, that’s treated to a beautiful orchestra of vegetables—spring peas, honshimeji mushrooms, edamame, and baby bok choy ($21.50). Loved it. And while fish is clearly a strong point, I also enjoyed the Long Island duck ($23), which he serves two ways—a confited leg and a roasted breast, on jasmine rice with plump and juicy market cherries ($23).
Matt’s counterpart in the kitchen is pastry chef Jennifer Domanski, who worked at Jovia and has transitioned to the new restaurant. She might be one of my favorite newly discovered pastry chefs. Do you like Cherry Pie? Do you like ice cream sundaes? She does too, and to get the best of both worlds she takes a slice of cherry pie, and cuts it into pieces and layers them with vanilla ice cream inside a tall pilsner glass topped with bing and sour cherries ($8). You’re given a long stemmed spoon to attack it with which makes it easier that trying to reach your entire hand (or head) inside the glass. You’ll want to get to every last bit. Her strawberry tart ($8) was also spectacular. Fresh diced sweetest of summer strawberries are marinated in honey and piled on top of little baked almond cake and topped with a scoop of tart frozen yogurt sorbet. (Look out Pinkberry, if this gets into a soft serve form, you’re dust.) And I will add that the chocolate tart is nothing short of insanity. If chocolate is your drug, you’ve just found your heroin. Smoked chocolate fudge cake is filled with molten center of salted caramel and served with a slab of homemade Toffee ($8).
As we were passing plates and figuring out what to eat next, I thought about this new Zoe North, and the way the Loffredo's handled the "failure" of Jovia. It's hard when things you believe in don't succeed, when your vision isn't embraced the way you'd like. And it's even harder when you're a restaurateur and your success or failure is such a public spectacle. And there's something very impressive to me about their ability to turn that chapter around and give the place a fresh stab at success. In this case, it seems the second time's a charm.
Zoë Townhouse is located at 135 E. 62nd St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-752-6000. The restaurant will be closed Sundays through Labor Day Weekend.
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