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CATCH OF THE DAY

Parisian Pumpkin

Pumpkin Pie
The first Parisian pumpkin pie ever?

by Bryan Pirolli

I don't get homesick. I'm not sure what the magical vaccination was, but I'm glad I had it now that I'm living in Paris. That being said, I'm not totally immune: Paris doesn't do nonstop subway service, it doesn't have good diner food, and it surely isn't the City of Reese's--all very much to my dismay. But I refused to believe that I'd lack pumpkin pie this autumn, even if the French don't embrace Thanksgiving.

I could have purchased a whole pumpkin and created a pie from scratch, but my little galley kitchen did not smile on that idea. And of course, no normal Paris grocery store carries canned pumpkin purée. Some specialty shops have hard-to-find American products; Thanksgiving, located in the Marais, sells overpriced Campbell's soup and Zatarain's jambalaya mix, but who wants overpriced?

Continue reading "Parisian Pumpkin" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Pierre Thiam Shares a Famous Recipe

Chicken Yassa
Thiam's version of yassa ginaar.
Photo: Yolele!
Recipes from the Heart of Senegal

by John Oseid

Set inside an old warehouse in New York's trendy Chelsea district, the Rush Arts Gallery was an incongruous setting for restaurateur Pierre Thiam's celebration of the publication of his cookbook, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal. The party, hosted last week by artist and curator Danny Simmons, attracted more than just food fans--there were culture vultures who dig the gallery's collection of emerging artists, plus music lovers who trek to Thiam's Clinton Hill restaurant, Dakar, for the live shows. A traditional ngoni (lute) player was on hand, and there were endless platters of Senegalese hors d'oeuvres. We're always excited to try delicious new recipes, and Thiam's cookbook is full of them. After the jump, he shares his recipe for Senegal's most famous dish--and our new favorite. 

Continue reading "Pierre Thiam Shares a Famous Recipe" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Antoine's Restaurant and What Hurricane Katrina Did to Its $1 Million Wine Collection

WaterDamage
Sucking Katrina out of Antoine's
Restaurant in New Orleans.

Photo: Rick Blount

by Guy Martin

Like rogue elephants, or directors of sub-prime mortgage companies, hurricanes don't really give a damn about you. 401k down 40 percent in the last two weeks? Tough luck, Dude. If you get in the way of a hurricane, you still have to pay for being in the way of a hurricane.   
The official hurricane season has another five weeks to run until November 30, so the storms are just now tapping the keg of their mid-term Oktoberfest. Last week, Hurricane Omar nipped at the eastern Caribbean and curled back east over the Atlantic to Africa.

Point is: Even when hurricanes go, they stay. As Houston, Galveston, and southwest Louisiana pick up the pieces from Gustav and Ike--having suffered $15 billion and $27 billion in damages, respectively--it's instructive to examine the process of hurricane recovery, as exemplified by one legendary cultural institution in New Orleans. Because Big Momma Katrina is the hurricane that truly keeps on giving.

Antoine's Restaurant began 168 years ago as a small pension by Antoine Alciatore, a young genius of the kitchen who emigrated to New Orleans from Marseilles. Antoine's is owned today by his fourth- and fifth-generation descendants. Antoine's son, Jules Alciatore, invented Oysters Rockefeller in this restaurant's kitchen, on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. Generations of the great and near-great have dined there--FDR, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Pope John Paul II, Tennessee Williams, not to mention the kings and courts of the Mardi Gras krewes of Rex, Comus, Proteus, Twelfth Night Revelers, and Hermes. Antoine's was--and is--the spine of Creole New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina cared for none of this. "Well, she ripped the top wall down on the Royal Street side," says Rick Blount, Antoine Alciatore's great-great-grandson and the restaurant's CEO. "You could see floor joists poking out where the wall used to be. So, my first priorities were to shore up the building, and to find our people, meaning our waiters and cooks. That's the soul of our restaurant."

Continue reading "Antoine's Restaurant and What Hurricane Katrina Did to Its $1 Million Wine Collection" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Michael Pollan and Tim Stark: Farmers, politics, and tomatoes

Starck
Good eating down on Tim Stark's farm.
Photo: Mollie Chen

by Michael Snyder

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine released its food issue, coinciding with the Food Network's New York City Wine & Food Festival. Michael Pollan's feature article in the issue, titled "Farmer in Chief," considers the rising political, social, and economic significance of America's food culture. It's not a pretty picture, but there is hope. Across the American political spectrum, Pollan sees Americans "paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance, and its healthfulness."

Maybe it was just the bright October sun in the sunny main room of chef Scott Conant's restaurant Scarpetta, or maybe it was the free-flowing prosecco, but when Tim Stark, guru of the heirloom tomato and luminary of the American slow food movement, spoke at the Wine & Food Festival he didn't exactly seem to be worrying--at least not about politics. He was more concerned with plucking fast-ripening tomatoes from the 20,000 plants on his farm outside Reading, Pennsylvania. As he read from his new book, Heirloom, describing his former life as a starving writer and relating anecdotes of his current one as an upstart tomato farmer, Tim seemed interested in only one thing: tomatoes.

Continue reading "Michael Pollan and Tim Stark: Farmers, politics, and tomatoes" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Sam Mason and the World's Top Kitchen Labs

30_tailornitrogen_lg
Mason and his liquid nitrogen dispenser.
Photo: Melissa Hom for New York Magazine

by Michael Snyder

Marrow beads, miso butterscotch, beet parfait: these are dishes you might find on a typical night at Sam Mason's year-old restaurant, Tailor. So it was no surprise that the chef served a deconstructed PB&J at Food Network's Wine & Food Festival this past Sunday in New York. As he dripped grape juice into a bowl of liquid nitrogen, I thought I might be watching a kids' science show.  Then I noticed the tattoos and the slightly off-color language, and I realized that the beverage Mason was carbonating wasn't apple juice, it was sake, which he'll use in his Japanese riff on a classic Black Velvet cocktail. When I got my little cup of frozen grape juice beads with peanut butter powder and toast, the biggest shock was just how much it tasted like the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I used to munch on as a kid. 

This kind of tongue-in-cheek culinary high jinx is par for the course for Mason and the growing ranks of chefs experimenting with molecular gastronomy (a term despised by some of its pioneers--but who wants to call it food science?). This year, the three top chefs in the world, according to the English Restaurant magazine, have all been influenced by this scientific approach to food; now is the time to put your taste buds (not to mention your sense of adventure) to the test. Here are some of the world's best places to sample molecular gastronomy at its most cutting edge:

* El Bulli: Ranked world's best restaurant time and time again, El Bulli is Ferran Adria's laboratory. Here in the Catalonian countryside of Barcelona, he spends half the year developing new techniques and half the year serving the mere 8,000 people who manage to nab tables during the six-month season.

* The Fat Duck: Heston Blumenthal's restaurant in the small English town of Bray vies with El Bulli for the top spot in the world, and has even managed to wrest that accolade from Adria's hands.

* Alinea: Home of Grant Achatz, winner of this year's James Beard Award for Best American Chef, Alinea has been showered with praise for what some consider the most creative food to be found on this side of the Atlantic.

* wd-50: New York's food science pioneer Wylie Dufresne works nightly from the kitchen of his casual 70-seat Lower East Side restaurant.

Further reading:
* Grant Achatz's take on the PB&J
* Wylie Dufresne plays with ingredients on Gourmet.com
* Ondine Cohane's gastronomic tour of Spain takes her to El Bulli
* Catch of the Day

CATCH OF THE DAY

Chicago Chef Shawn McClain's Take on New Zealand Cuisine

Newzea
Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park.
Photo: Concierge.com

by Mollie Chen

Chef Shawn McClain of Spring, Green Zebra, and Custom House in Chicago, has just returned from New Zealand, where he spent some time as a North American culinary ambassador to the country (quite the title!). Below, his favorites from the land of Kiwis:

Auckland:
* A short boat ride to Waiheke Island is a must; it's full of wineries and beautiful scenery. Have lunch at Te Whau winery overlooking the bay.
* Dinner? Dine by Peter Gordon, a wonderful restaurant in the SkyCity Hotel.

Wellington:
* Visit any one of many cafes--Wellington is known as the capital of café culture. Awesome coffee and the freshest ingredients you can find.
* Logan Brown for dinner. Great modern cooking, an old bank as its setting, and probably the coolest people you've ever met. I had the chance to dive for fresh abalone and sea urchin with the chef, Al Brown.
* If you can schedule it right, you must see the annual rugby sevens tournament in Wellington. It's like the SuperBowl and Halloween rolled into one. You have to see it to believe it!

Continue reading "Chicago Chef Shawn McClain's Take on New Zealand Cuisine" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Tom Colicchio's Tuesday Dinners

TomColicchio
TOM means business.
AP Photo

by Julia Bainbridge

Chefs just want to have fun. At least this was the tune being sung by Tom Colicchio this morning at his Craft restaurant in New York. Starting October 14, Craft's private dining room will become TOM: Tuesday Dinner, a 32-seat, farm-to-table restaurant serving tasting menus based on the greenmarket--and Tom's mood. Because he'll actually be there; not expediting, not calling the shots while leaning against the walk-in with arms folded and brows furrowed--he'll be cooking, over a hot stove.

Does this return to the line mark the end of the so-called celebrity chef's reign? Quite the contrary. He's at the point where he can make his Top Chef production team clear his schedule every other Tuesday for the next year, he has appointed various staffers to take the helms at his gazillion other Craftspots, and now, he just wants to cook. (For the record, Tom's not a fan of the aforementioned term: "Celebrity chef; I hate that word.") 

The cost of TOM's set-price menu will range from $150 to $250 per person, depending on the ingredients sourced for each dinner. Colicchio says the menu will both speak to his new culinary cravings and resurrect dishes he used to create for Mondrian and Gramercy Tavern. Think squab with honey-glazed onions and black licorice root, and his famous sea urchin/crab ragout. Reservations are accepted up to six weeks in advance--and the phone lines open today.

Further reading:
* For reservations at TOM: Tuesday Dinner, call Elena Silva at 212 400 6495
* The "restaurant" Web site will launch in a week, so wait until then to hit tomtuesdaydinner.com
* Check out Colicchio's other restaurants
* And here, his own blog (from last season) as Bravo's Top Chef judge numero uno

CATCH OF THE DAY

The Tipsy Texan on Margaritas

Margarita
The Mexican Martini has a blurry history.
AP Photo

Guest blogging for the Daily Traveler today is David Alan, a.k.a. the Tipsy Texan, a freelance writer and co-publisher of Tipsytexan.com with partner Joe Eifler.

In a city where craft cocktails are still on the cultural fringe, the go-to drink in Austin is the margarita. It wasn't invented here and its main ingredient isn't produced here, but it undeniably reigns supreme here.

The inevitable question arises: "Where is the best margarita in Austin?" As the drink is an essential part of the Tex-Mex cuisine that dominates the city, this topic is as controversial as "Where is the best barbecue?" (The joke goes that we have two major food groups: queso and barbecue.) Below, I give you not a definitive answer, but some guidelines.

First, I must address a fascination of mine, the Mexican martini. Like the margarita, the provenance of the Mexican martini remains obscured by cocktail history's inebriated memory. At its simplest (and in my opinion, best), the drink is essentially a margarita presented in a cocktail shaker and then poured tableside into a cocktail glass rimmed with salt and garnished with a jalapeño-stuffed olive. At its worst it is shaken with Rose's lime juice or other adulterants.

Continue reading "The Tipsy Texan on Margaritas" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

A Toast to Madam Geneva

Doublecrown
The bar aside Double Crown's main dining room serves gins from Boodles to Cadenhead's Old Raj.

by Mollie Chen

These days my bar adventures seem to lead to bookstores. There was the port-based "Baltasar and Blimunda" at Death & Co. that inspired me to spend two weeks powering through Jose Saramago's beautiful, if a tad dense, novel of the same title. Working on our upcoming story about Kentucky bourbon, I dusted off my copy of The Great Gatsby--the novelist found inspiration for Jay Gatsby over bourbon and cigars at Louisville's legendary Seelbach Hotel.

Last night was no exception. Design firm AvroKo previewed its new restaurant, Double Crown, a sprawling paean to British colonialism, complete with Pimm's Cups and fried white bait (my favorite item on the menu by far). But the best part of the night was hanging out in the restaurant's sister bar, Madam Geneva, a dark and cozy space with low leather couches, black lace-like wall decorations, and a gin-based cocktail menu. Permit me a William Safire moment: the word "gin" has its origins in genevrier, which is French for juniper. During the eighteenth century, when Brits couldn't get enough of bootleg gin, they began referring to their rough, homemade versions of the spirit as "Madam Geneva."

These days gin has come along way, and Madam Geneva (the bar) is giving the spirit its due with ultra-simple cocktails: Beefeater gin is shaken with lemon, poured over crushed ice, and served with a spoonful of house-made preserves on top. The preserves will change regularly, but look for the orange cardamom--the slightly bitter orange peel and aromatic spice are a nice match for the herbaceous gin. According to Brian McGrory, who is heading up the cocktail program, they're planning a long list of sipping gins and will be changing up the preserves weekly. Which leads me to the newest book on my reading list: Patrick Dillon's Gin: the Much Lamented Death of Madam Geneva.

Further reading:
* Madam Geneva's Web site
* Spirits writer Gary Regan, a.k.a. The Cocktailian, drinks with Madam Geneva
* NPR: Great American writers and their cocktails
* Catch of the Day

CATCH OF THE DAY

Street Noshin', Bangkok Style

Bangkok
Produce delivered in the morning,
on your plate by night.
 

by Julia Bainbridge

Most people who enjoy nightlife, food, and travel (and especially those who enjoy these things at the same time) know that Bangkok's street food is the best tummy-filling grub for your buck. (Seriously, a plate of noodles costs the equivalent of less than a dollar.) We've heard reports of the most slurp-worthy soups, the most pleasingly spongy fish balls, and, of course, noodles, noodles, and more noodles.

Here's something new--and this may shock some readers, but--Bangkok boasts the best fried chicken I've ever had. Sorry, 'tucky, but it's true. What's more, it wasn't far from Khao San Road, Grungy Backpacker Central, where I stumbled upon this magic booth of crisp. Behind it was a man, grey-bearded and wrinkled (and surprisingly clean looking despite the heat and what I imagine must have been a good 10 hours standing in front of his wok-turned-deep fryer), with just the right touch. He turned out countless batches of the stuff, each time producing bourbon-colored, tender chicken wings--a true feat, since, when frying chicken, the oil must return to a cool enough temperature not to burn the product but must stay hot enough to cook it through. (I can't even do it with professional tools.) If I spoke Thai, I would have asked how he spiced his flour--there was something distinctly south Indian about the flavor--but alas, I left him to his secrets.

The October issue of Condé Nast Traveler reveals another hot Bangkok street spot: Sukhumvit Road Soi 38. Here, from 6 P.M. until 2 A.M every night, a few dozen carts serve up pad thai with fluffy prawns, egg noodles with barbequed-pork gravy, and porridge made with pig's liver, stomach and kidneys. Just the thing before you hit the hay, huh? Check out the October issue, our Asia issue, for more Far East eats.

Further reading:
* The New York Times reports its Bangkok favorites
* Jaunted's BKK food field trip
* Travel idea: Thai cooking school at the Oriental Bangkok
* Read all Catch of the Day posts

CATCH OF THE DAY

Butter Tarts: Canada is more than poutine

Tarts_st1
Gooey goodness, Virgil's Pie Plate bakery, and more gooey goodness--and pie.

by Mollie Chen

Until last week, my knowledge of Canadian cuisine was limited to maple syrup and poutine, that greasy-good combination of crisp fries, cheese curds, and melted gravy. But now I have a new favorite from up north: butter tarts. Small tart shells are filled with a mixture of butter, sugar, and eggs plus optional ingredients like raisins or pecans. The result is a combination of flaky crust and slightly gooey, intensely sweet filling--dangerously good.

Wikipedia assures me that they are "one of only a few recipes of genuinely Canadian origin." And judging by an informal survey I conducted in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Canada's Napa Valley), they're almost universally loved: "Ooh, butter tarts. You don't have those in the States, do you?" said a woman pouring us tastes at Tawse Winery. "You're missing out."

We made up for it by embarking on a mini quest to find the area's best butter tart. After sampling the wares of many a fruit stand and bakery, we found our winner: the oven-fresh, slightly rustic tarts at the Pie Plate, in Virgil. We stopped in at 10:30 one morning intending to grab our tarts and go, but there were peach pies coming out of the oven and it seemed criminal not to try them. Peach pie, butter tarts, and a bowl of vanilla ice cream: breakfast of champions.

Further reading:
* Catch of the Day
* Northern Composure: David Rakoff escapes New York's summer heat for Canada's maritime provinces
* A whole new Canada: Calgary, Halifax, Ottowa, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Winnipeg

CATCH OF THE DAY

Chef Patrick Connolly's St. Louis

Bottleworks
The brewing at Bottleworks.

by Mollie Chen

I've never been a huge beer drinker (unless I'm at a baseball game), but after three days in St. Louis, I may have seen the light. My sister, Annie, and I were on a mission to check out the city's best gastropubs and breweries. Before we left, we got some tips from chef Patrick Connolly, a James Beard award winner who recently decamped from Boston to New York. The STL native gave us a run-down of his favorite local spots and we tried our best to hit them all, though we missed out on the toasted ravioli at Imo's and the signature sandwich ("something I crave constantly") at Amighetti's. Connolly's favorites, plus some of ours:

Schlafly: As far from Anheuser-Busch as you can get, the favorite local beer has a gastropub downtown and a brewery in nearby Maplewood. We loved the tour of Bottleworks, in part because our super-friendly (and cute) guide was a vast reservoir of beer trivia. Over sips of the brand's oatmeal stout and pale ale, we learned the difference between an APA and and IPA, and about the convoluted laws that came out of Prohibition.

Dressel's Pub: Starved after our Schlafly tour, we grabbed a booth at this civilized Welsh pub. Connolly used to run the kitchen here and had instructed us to get the Bavarian chips with rarebit. (Note: I am now convinced that my favorite way to consume beer is in a messy cheesy dip.) We followed up with cornmeal-fried oysters, thick French fries, and a huge half-pound burger. In between bites, I read Annie snippets of owner Jon Dressel's poetry from the posters on the walls.

Continue reading "Chef Patrick Connolly's St. Louis" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Reisling-Filled Nights at Terroir

Pauil Grieco
Paul Grieco schools us all.

by Mollie Chen

Perhaps I haven't been going to the right kinds of events, but I have found that wine tastings are often high on posturing and low on fun. Not so with the "Summer of Riesling Festival" at Manhattan's Terroir.

Last night, the sliver of a wine bar hosted an intensive Alsatian wine tutorial led by general manager Paul Grieco. Grieco, who oversees the wine program at Terroir as well as at its sister restaurants Hearth and Insieme, may be the city's most exuberant (and most quotable) sommelier. The first clue that this was not going to be a typical tasting was the (temporary) gothic-style Riesling tattoo running along Grieco's arm; the second was the list of "safety tips" on the table, which included "Do not drink and drive or accept a ride from someone who claims that they don't like Riesling" and "Always carry enough money for another glass of Riesling."

Continue reading "Reisling-Filled Nights at Terroir" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Good Eats Coming to LA

XIV: Mina in LA
Mina's take on goat cheese at XIV.

by Mollie Chen

You say Los Angeles, I think Pinkberry. But perhaps it's time I shook off my East Coast prejudices and faced the (long-established) fact that there is serious eating in the City of Angels. My former editor, who has since decamped for the fabulous Bon Appétit, writes me rapturous food-filled emails (oh my God! the farmers' markets! the weather!); she's luring me west this fall with the promise of fresh produce and a Sunday supper at Lucques.

Last week I got even more incentive to take an LA trip from two well-known chefs who are rolling out two very different restaurants. First Michael Mina came by the office to talk about his latest high-profile launch of XIV, a slick collaboration with LA hotspot-maker SBE (Katsuya, SLS Hotels). This new restaurant has all the requisite hip elements--Philippe Starck design, plum location on Sunset Boulevard--plus a novel dining concept. Mina is debuting an eating formula (one that necessitated a 34-page explanatory press book) he calls "Social Dining." I understand it as a small plates-themed Choose Your Own Adventure spot: the entire table picks a line-up of dishes, and for each course the waiters bring large silver platters with individual portions of those dishes.

To avoid the logistical nightmare that comes with any group dinner (and XIV will handle 180 seats' worth of these orders), the waitstaff will tap away at Palm Pilots, diners will keep the same flatware throughout the meal, and the 25 chefs in the massive open kitchen will have a huge plating table at their disposal. "There's no doubt it's going to be complicated," Mina says, but he wants to do away with the fussy pomp and circumstance--and the interruptions--that accompany most tasting menus.

Continue reading "Good Eats Coming to LA" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

What Houston's Best Chefs Can't Get Enough Of

Houstonfoodguide_2

by Mollie Chen

I've got the Lone Star State on my mind. Between my fellow DT blogger (and wannabe Texan) Julia Bainbridge's food-filled accounts of her Houston and Austin trips, and planning my own Dallas trip for the fall, I've been having serious barbecue cravings. It doesn't help that I just received a sneak peek at the forthcoming Ultimate Food Lover's Guide to Houston and an invite to the book's September media bonanza (16 chefs, two days, and surely too many margaritas). I'm looking forward to meeting all the Texas chefs, especially since the invite is packed with the kind of insider info that we can expect from the finished book.

I'm dying to know more about Woody's smoked pork jowls and the CheesyGirl "Buff" chevre  that Michael Dei Magi, of Max's Wine Dive, can't get enough of. I now know that Reef's Bryan Caswell always has Blue Bell ice cream in his freezer; that Ibiza's Charles Clark harbors dreams of being a jazz trumpet player; and that the best place to find The Grove's would-be archaeologist Ryan Pera will be at Lupa, where he's planning on inducing a "pork fat hangover." Ah, gotta love those crazy chefs.

CATCH OF THE DAY

Keep Austin Wonderful

Austin
Austin skyline from Lake Mead.
Photo: Concierge.com

by Julia Bainbridge

Before this summer, I'd never set foot on Texas soil. Now, though, I've planted both feet firmly in Houston and Austin--I've even stood in front of the Texas State Capitol at sunset (impressive dome, I must say). And I fell for Austin like Lucy fell for Ricky: it was hot, it was weird, it coaxed me back for another visit in three weeks. (Longhorns are growing from my temples as I type.)

This weekend was a full-blown Austin eating, drinking, and shopping fest. I started off with a roaring-big plate o' smoked meats at the Salt Lick, a stone ranch kind of place a handful of miles from town in Driftwood. This is true Hill Country, folks. The BBQ bonanza started after I watched a stream of about 1.5 million bats fly out of their home under the Congress Avenue Bridge (it was dinnertime for them, too).

Saturday, I caught a light lunch at Zocalo (thanks to a suggestion from Food & Wine magazine's fabulous deputy wine editor, Ray Isle) and a flick at the Alamo Drafthouse. This theater warrants an "amazing": I enjoyed all two and a half hours of The Dark Knight while sipping on the Alamo's house-brewed amber ale, which waitresses brought right to my table. Yes, my table. (Check the DT later this week for a nationwide roundup of vintage-y, full-service movie theaters.)

Continue reading "Keep Austin Wonderful " »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Jennifer Jasinski's Favorite Denver Digs

Jennifer Jasinki
What Jasinski does off the bike.

by Mollie Chen

Scheduling meetings on Fridays is usually anathema for me, but last week I made an exception because Denver chef Jennifer Jasinski was in town. The Santa Barbara native has two of the city's most popular restaurants: Rioja and Bistro Vendôme.

Jasinski and co-owner Beth Gruitch didn't disappoint, filling me in on all the preparations for Denver's upcoming Democratic National Convention, plus their favorite hometown spots from Japanese izakaya dens to sleazy dive bars. (FYI: Some of those spots? Sushi Sasa, Duo, Wazee Supper Club, and Izakaya Den.) With Obamafest about a month away, the city is scrambling to pull things together. For Jasinski and Gruitch that means planning parties, fielding calls from desperate reservation-seekers, and figuring out how they're going to get to work once the DNC effectively shuts down the city center. The last part is simple: bike.

The two are already devoted to two-wheel transport, logging six-mile bike commutes every day and planning a cycling (and eating) tour of Spain in 2009. They're big fans of Mayor John Hickenlooper's "Freewheelin" initiative, which will place almost 1,000 bikes around the city for anyone to use. "It's the most practical way to get around," says Jasinski, "and Denver has beautiful rides along the river and through town." After hours, however, the chef and her crew have been known to do bike bar crawls--margaritas being their poison of choice. (You might find them at Lola, Pour House, Red Square, or Lancer Lounge.) Stay tuned to Daily Traveler for an August post on more Denver restaurants and drinking holes--and the best way to experience them, wheels or no wheels. 

Further reading:
* Or viewing, rather: Jasinski's recent CBS Early Show appearance

CATCH OF THE DAY

Weed Wacky: Foraging in Vermont

Berry_picking_in_tanzania_2
Berry picking in Tanzania.

by Sara Tucker

I was brought up to eat what's on my plate, so when some Hadzabe bow hunters once offered me a bite of their roasted bushbaby, I accepted. Dessert was bee larvae. But to be honest, when it comes to wild food, I prefer plants. That's why I was so excited to learn that in Vermont, where I live now, there's a school where you can learn all about edible wild plants from expert foragers. Vermonters are very big on this type of food, which is nutritious, plentiful, and free. Dandelions, fiddleheads, milkweed, stuff like that. Plus, foraging is a nice excuse for a walk, which is what I had been doing with my Hadzabe friends--enjoying the scenery. (The bushbaby was an unexpected extra.) Combining slow food with slow travel makes obvious sense, so on Friday I plan to mosey up to South Woodbury, Vermont, to check out this place. I'll let you know what I find. If you're in Vermont this summer, you might see what's on the menu at one of my favorite restaurants, Hen of the Wood, which is named after a wild mushroom. The restaurant is in a converted grist mill in Waterbury, and the last time I was there, I ate wild leeks for the first time. They were tastier than bushbaby, and I wasn't haunted by their little faces and big eyes.

Further reading:
* Wisdom of the Herbs School Web site.
* Vermont foragers Nova Kim and Les Hook will teach a workshop at Shelburne Farms on August 3.
* These plants are NOT food.
* New York City's best-known forager was once arrested for eating a dandelion.
* Tennessee's Smoky Mountain Field School hosts edible plant workshops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

CATCH OF THE DAY

Slow Food Primer

Knoll Farms
The otherwise beautiful scene
of the snob.

by Mollie Chen

Last October I attended a farm dinner at Brentwood's Knoll Farm, where I was seated next to the president of a regional Slow Food convivium. Initially excited to share the experience with someone so obviously in love with the farm-to-table concept, I was quickly turned off by his, how do you say, pompous attitude. After about two courses of listening to the Italian expat go on about how Americans don't know anything about appreciating food and living properly, I picked up my glass of biodynamic wine and moved to the far end of the table.

Despite that unfortunate run-in with a Slow Food snob, I am little-kid excited about Slow Food Nation, a three-day bonanza happening in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. It's more than just a big party with great food and top chefs. As Kim Severson points out in her thoughtful New York Times article this morning, Slow Food Nation is a chance for the organization to reinvigorate itself and expand its influence and appeal.

Since coming over to the United States a decade ago, the movement has been criticized for everything from its supposed lack of socioeconomic diversity to its stance against technology to its good old-fashioned elitism. Which is why all eyes are on the upcoming 50,000-person Bay Area party and its potential to catalyze a major good food movement. As for me, I'm planning on checking out some of my local Slow Food NYC events--perhaps August 6th's Greenmarket mixology class at Astor Center? Because there's no better way to win new converts than with tasty cocktails.

CATCH OF THE DAY

The Business of Burgers

Burger
AP Photo

by Mollie Chen

Condé Nast Traveler contributing editor Susan Hack is our expert on all things Middle East, from Dubai's booming art scene to Egypt's most famed antiquities guru. She has a must-read piece on the changing Arab world in this September's Power Issue--but for now, Susan has a lead on the world's best burger. 

Every summer, she and her family decamp from their Cairo home to New York. This year she has a very important mission: to determine whether New York has a burger that can rival the one served at her favorite Cairo diner. Lucille's Mermaid Columbus, an American-owned restaurant in the city's Maadi neighborhood, has maintained a loyal following of both homesick expats and locals, even through the unstable post-9/11 years. Susan says, "It was and is the place that unites people, however they regard the U.S. government and its disastrous Mideast policies; you see veiled women as well as Texan oil workers." Everyone comes to Lucille's for its burger, which Susan claims is the best she's ever tasted (Time agrees). What sets this restaurant apart is the perfect ratio of lean, responsibly sourced beef to belly fat and the homemade toasted bun.

Continue reading "The Business of Burgers" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Cachaça Love, Part Two

Sagatiba

by Julia Bainbridge

For day two of our cachaça tutorial, I traveled to the Ribeirão Preto region of São Paulo--well, vicariously so, through Sagatiba.

If Mãe de Ouro is the Alexander Wang (young, edgy, with indie cred) of the cachaça world, then Sagatiba is Valentino. (The jet-setting fashion designer celebrated the Gramercy Park Hotel Private Roof Club's unveiling with Sagatiba cocktails, by the way.) The company's got both a ready-to-wear line and a couture collection in the brand's Pura and Preciosa, respectively.

I recently tasted the 23-year-old Sagatiba Preciosa with master distiller Nahor Gustavo Lanza Luz de Faria. Yes, his name is a mouthful, and so was his cachaça: It tasted round and woodsy, with that sweet/bitter thing that caramel does to the tongue. I never knew cachaça could be drunk by itself--like a fine bourbon--but this one might have to take Pappy Van Winkle's spot in my liquor cabinet.

Continue reading "Cachaça Love, Part Two" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Cachaça Love, Part One

Mae De Ouro

by Julia Bainbridge

A few weeks ago, Mãe De Ouro U.S. brand manager Dave Catania came by the DT office to talk cachaça. I was familiar with the spirit from the selfless tasting I did for Food & Wine magazine's cocktail guide, but my colleagues (who I promptly bored with talk of stills) were befuddled. At their request, a quick and dirty guide to the most unpronounceable spirit (for the record, it's ka-CHA-sa):

Basically, cachaça is a rum-like spirit made largely in Brazil. Unlike rum, though, most cachaça is made from sugarcane juice--not molasses.

As for Mãe De Ouro, Catania (a.k.a. Cachaça Dave) said, "As far as I am aware, we are the only brand in the U.S. that is 100 percent made on one estate, without any raw materials coming from outside sources." Made from unburnt sugarcane, which producers hand cut and crush immediately to preserve freshness, the liquid goes through a fermentation process using natural yeast and is then transferred to traditional Alambic stills. After distillation, it ages for one year in oak barrels before being bottled--with no added water. In other words, this stuff is pure. (In other words, no hangovers.)

For Catania (who is currently in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail . . . sigh), it all started with a Brazilian girlfriend. That relationship led to trips all over Minas Gerais, THE cachaça-producing state in southeast Brazil, which in turn led to Catania becoming the U.S. brand manager for Mãe De Ouro. I guess you could call his work a true labor of love. (He and said bonita are no longer together, but they remain good Caipirinha-drinking buddies.)

Continue reading "Cachaça Love, Part One" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Friend of a Farmer

Heirloom

by Mollie Chen

Ever since he selflessly traveled to California, Tennessee, and Maine to partake in sumptuous farm feasts for a feature on farm dinners, Tim Stark has been Traveler's favorite farmer. Now the man behind those famous Eckerton Hill tomatoes is about to become a star outside of the greenmarket: His first book, Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, is out now. The memoir is both funny and engrossing, the winding tale of how a bookish consultant stumbled into the illicit world of rooftop agriculture and, years later, became Manhattan's most celebrated tomato farmer.

Rabid foodies will love the voyeuristic peeks into some of the city's best kitchens--Dave Pasternack and Daniel Boulud love Tim almost as much as we do--but I love the quirky accounts of everyday farm life. Even with his book hitting stores, Tim is still consumed by his crops; he is arranging a schedule of tomato dinner/readings that coincide with the Greenmarket schedule so he can sprint over to the restaurant as soon as his last pallets are empty. Tomorrow night, Jarnac kicks things off with a special dinner highlighting the first of the Eckerton Hill tomato crop; look for events at Telepan and Craft later this summer. Or you can do what I do and visit Tim at his Union Square stand, where it's always fun to watch him field questions with picky produce lovers and talk shop with local chefs. Either way, make sure to pick up a copy of Heirloom--it's the perfect thing to tuck into your eco-friendly tote on the way to the beach.

CATCH OF THE DAY

Munching Along Pennsylvania's Main Line

Eclat
Some of the many ingredients
Christopher Curtin uses at Eclat.

by Julia Bainbridge

This past weekend I found myself along Pennsylvania's Main Line for some relaxation and, of course, dégustation.

First on my list: Éclat for some post-dinner (and lunch, and perhaps breakfast) chocolates. In the midst of his first year of college, Éclat owner Christopher Curtin decided to take off for Europe, where he says he "got stuck for thirteen years." (Mind you, getting stuck for Curtin means working in some of the finest chocolate houses in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, and even Japan.) Now a master chocolatier, Curtin churns out some of the most beautifully sleek confections I've ever seen. (And he does it in the back of the store; the proof is in the brown-smattered chef coat.) He still keeps an apartment in Cologne, Germany, but (thankfully) business is in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I took away some delicate mendiants made with beans from a small estate in the Peruvian Amazon (also try the Aleppo Pink Peppercorn Mendiants; they have an exquisite heat that latches onto your tongue at the finish) and a mix of other chocolates: some with star anise, some with lavender, truffles, salted caramels . . . Cataloguing the treats, my mind wanders off to a much chicer kind of Willy Wonka Factory where customers trail their minks across a gold-leaf-flecked chocolate floor and Wonka himself is a looking glass-wearing, mustached master chef. This is fine stuff. 

Continue reading "Munching Along Pennsylvania's Main Line" »

CATCH OF THE DAY

Anthony Bourdain Digs Laos, Too

by Julia Bainbridge

On a trip to Laos last winter, I was struck by how consistently pleasing the country's food was. People told me Laotian cuisine was the younger, bucolic brother to that of Thailand and Vietnam. While I found this somewhat true in terms of variety, I loved knowing that somewhere down whatever road I slept on, I could find a noodle shop with hot soup--and countless condiments--for breakfast.

And now I feel justified. Celebrity chef (there's just no other way to say it) Anthony Bourdain's first episode of his Travel Channel show No Reservations featured none other than my dear, treasured Laos. Sure, he took five seasons to get there, but it was a transcendent episode worth watching.

"Laos, for most outsiders looking in, is an empty page," Bourdain says. He then acknowledges that Laos is slowly becoming a sought-after travel destination. But most important for travelers and foodies seeking as authentic an experience as possible, the country is still "uniquely untouched by Western chains" like McDonald's and Burger King. We'll see how long that lasts. For now, watch Bourdain's beautiful introduction:

P.S. Beerlao, the country's award-winning beer, is quite tasty. And lao-lao, or whiskey ("Mekong River Moonshine," as Bourdain fondly calls it), isn't particularly refined, but it's ample. So drink in.

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