In the New York Times
Going on Bake-ation
APRIL 12, 2019
I’m going to California to see my daughter, son-in-law and cousins, my preferred ocean, and friends who have known me since I was younger than my daughter is now. I pack for happy: four pounds of apples, a vacuum-packed trio of vanilla beans, 10 favorite recipes tucked into a plastic folder. The right size tart pan.
I am going on a bake-ation — my word for any trip that involves good weather and the opportunity to make dessert for friends and family.
The Evolution of a Restaurant Dish, From Vision to Revision
OCTOBER 30, 2018
Standing beside a table of four at Rustic Canyon, a casual but ambitious restaurant here, a server described an elaborate new special for two or more to share: an entire spatchcocked chicken, cut into parts, with blueberries and chicken jus, and grilled chicken hearts on rosemary skewers. He detailed the three sides: housemade toast with chicken-liver mousse and poached gizzards; polenta that used corn six ways; and an okra confit with gribenes, crispy bits of chicken skin.
Jeremy Fox, the executive chef and an owner, expected that most diners would pass judgment on the dish, which was being introduced that night in July, well before the server’s spiel was done. “If it’s something really good and appealing,” he said, “you’re like, ‘I’m getting that. You can stop talking.’”
For the State-of-the-Art Wedding Feast, ‘Look Is Everything’
JUNE 18, 2018
All the tasting-menu options that Susan Shek and Noah Sexton have sampled for their August wedding are delicious, but they want food that makes a visual statement.
They’re leaning toward caviar on a buckwheat blini that bears no resemblance to a blini; it’s a squat little tower made of reconfigured blini ingredients. The caterer has also suggested the steak frites, a slender rectangle of beef encircled by a flat ribbon of fried potato that floats inches above it, anchored at the base.
These are just two of 16 image-forward hors d’oeuvres offered by Pinch Food Design, a Manhattan caterer. Other potential menu items include “tartare Jackson Pollock style” — the sauce spattered over chunks of raw salmon or tuna — and shards of chocolate bark dangling from the spokes of a large umbrella that a server carries at the reception, inviting guests to pluck at will.
What to Do When Laptops and Silence Take Over Your Cafe?
FEBRUARY 13, 2018
Kyle Glanville should have been thrilled. All 70 of the outdoor seats at Go Get Em Tiger were taken, only three days after he and his partner opened the cafe in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.
He was not. “Everybody was at a laptop wearing headphones,” Mr. Glanville said. He strode inside, unplugged the device that provided free Wi-Fi and tossed it into a bin in his office.
He wanted a courtyard where people talked to one another, not a silent office for remote workers. And while anyone with a cellphone hot spot could connect without his help, he had made himself clear. On a recent weekday morning, almost a year and a half later, the courtyard was still full of people, but this time they were talking to one another. Only one was at his laptop.
Lights! Camera! Culinary School Will Teach Instagram Skills
OCTOBER 2, 2017
HYDE PARK, N.Y. — Check out the tray liners at Martina, Danny Meyer’s new pizzeria in the East Village, which were designed as branded Instagram bait. Each has what the executive chef, Nick Anderer, calls “a frenetic doodle” of contemporary Roman slang phrases, images of wineglasses and pizza, and at the bottom left, the restaurant’s name.
And if you wonder why your Instagram shots of Martina’s pies look so good, credit the lighting system, which allows the staff to adjust bulbs individually, with “a warmer hue in the dining room than in the kitchen,” Mr. Anderer said, “so it doesn’t cast too much shade against the pizza.”
To Survive in Tough Times, Restaurants Turn to Data-Mining
AUGUST 28, 2017
The early diners are dawdling, so your 7:30 p.m. reservation looks more like 8. While you wait, the last order of the duck you wanted passes by. Tonight, you’ll be eating something else — without a second bottle of wine, because you can’t find your server in the busy dining room. This is not your favorite night out.
The right data could have fixed it, according to the tech wizards who are determined to jolt the restaurant industry out of its current slump. Information culled and crunched from a wide array of sources can identify customers who like to linger, based on data about their dining histories, so the manager can anticipate your wait, buy you a drink and make the delay less painful.
Red, ripe and renegade: Berries that break all the rules
APRIL 17, 2017
OXNARD, Calif. — It ought to be easy to find a single ripe strawberry to sample in a 20-acre field. But Rick Gean picked two bright-red specimens and looked dubious.
“This one should be O.K.,” he said, sounding not quite convinced. Then again, his definition of ripe is more stringent than most.
Mr. Gean and his wife, Molly, own Harry’s Berries, a strawberry farm on the inland edge of this coastal city north of Los Angeles where they do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.
Is New York too expensive for restaurateurs? We do the math
OCTOBER 25, 2016
The New York City restaurateur’s perennial lament — that staying afloat is tougher here than anywhere else in the country — grows louder each time another restaurant closes. Rents are astronomical, the complaint goes; wages are rising, regulations are byzantine, and don’t even talk about the price of fresh produce.
But is it true? Is New York any less hospitable to independently owned restaurants than other big cities?
Recent figures suggest that it may be: The number of independent restaurants in the city fell 3 percent from March 2015 to March 2016, slightly more than the 2.7 percent drop nationwide, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks consumer spending.
In Rome, using ‘Roman Holiday’ as a guide
OCTOBER 18, 2016
The silver-haired gentleman in the perfectly tailored dark suit made a sweeping gesture and gave me a wistful smile.
“It was right here,” he said. “1952.” He pointed to a particular spot on the floor. “That is where she stood.”
If he was alive in 1952 he was a very little boy, but every guide I speak to at the Palazzo Colonna in Rome knows and reveres the spot where she stood. “Roman Holiday” was the first American film to be shot in its entirety in Italy, and “she” was Audrey Hepburn in her first starring film role, playing a princess on the lam who spends one glorious day in Rome with a journalist who figures he has the scoop of his career. Gregory Peck was the journalist; it didn’t take long for the scoop to turn into a brief romance.
Private eyes in the grocery aisles
APRIL 4, 2015
Mansour Samadpour makes his way through the supermarket like a detective working a crime scene, slow, watchful, up one aisle and down the next. A clerk mistakenly assumes that he needs help, but Mr. Samadpour brushes him off. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
He buys organic raspberries that might test positive for pesticides and a fillet of wild-caught fish that might be neither wild nor the species listed on the label. He buys beef and pork ground fresh at the market. He is disappointed that there is no caviar, which might turn out to be something cheaper than sturgeon roe. That’s an easy case to crack.
Loss leaders on the half shell
FEBRUARY 22, 2014
The joint is jumpin’: Three mixologists in striped dress shirts, dark slacks and suspenders pour drinks almost as fast as three shuckers send platter after platter of raw oysters to their fate. A bluesy soundtrack wafts over the standing-room-only din as patrons sip and slurp, oblivious to the crowd that has gathered outside for what can be a 90-minute wait.
It feels like 9 o’clock on a Saturday night. It is 4:30 on a dank weekday afternoon.
This is oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — a selection of 15 different kinds of oysters, most of them for $1 each, with a handful at $1.25 because they had to fly in from the West Coast. Krystof Zizka, a co-owner of the restaurant, says he doesn’t make a penny on the oysters, though they are one of the reasons his three-year-old restaurant is so successful.
For a chef, 41 years in the kitchen takes its toll
AUGUST 24, 2013
STARTING as a dishwasher at the age of 17, the chef Mark Peel worked his way up at some of the great California restaurants: Ma Maison, Michael’s, Chez Panisse, Spago, Chinois and, finally, for more than two decades, Campanile, his own place in Los Angeles.
Those 41 years in the kitchen have brought him considerable fame: Campanile won the James Beard award as outstanding restaurant in the United States in 2001. They have also brought him carpal tunnel syndromein both wrists and thoracic outlet syndrome in his shoulders, resulting from repetitive stirring, fine knife movements and heavy lifting. He has a bone spur on one foot and a cyst between toes of the other from constantly standing. He has had three hernia operations and lives with a chronically sore back.