“Strip Mall” Korean in Miami

Last week I posted about Iceland……and we WILL get back to that, but probably not until the late spring. I just can’t imagine anybody going to Iceland in the winter.

So for the next few postings we’ll turn our attention to warm places where Minnesotans go to escape the cold winter.

No, not Naples, Florida. You should know by now: The action’s all in MIAMI BEACH.

Let’s head first to a little Korean spot called THE DRUNKEN DRAGON.

Victoria Pesce Elliott of Miami.com writes, “I’ve long wondered when the Korean Barbecue trend would make its way from Los Angeles and New York to Miami.”

Well, it’s arrived. And this place is packed.

The Drunken Dragon opens at 6:00 PM, and it fills up quickly. Even if you have a reservation, expect a wait stretching 30 minutes. The arrogant hostess will see to that.

Joanne and I have been there on several occasions, most recently with our three grandkids (who love this place; they get to play with fire. More on that later).

Korean fare boasts an array of flavors – sweet, spicy, acidic, salty and bitter. But Drunken Dragon is not a “by the book” Korean joint. It’s more pan-Asian, with culinary influences from Japan, Thailand and China. Cuba works its way in there, too. But that’s okay. I like ‘em all.

You can make a meal out of just the starters….and we have done that. Our favorites include Fresh Oysters with Mango Salsa, Hamachi with Filipino Lime Sauce and Crunchy Cashews, Grilled Octopus, Puffy Peking Bao Buns with Duck Confit, and Crispy Chicken Skin with sticky-smoky hoisin barbeque sauce. I love the Miniature Lobster rolls on Brioche Buns (but they’re expensive — $21 for four).

Large-format appetizers are great for sharing. Recently our table ordered a Drunken Dragon Meat Board: a hunk of falling-off-the-bone braised pork shoulder accompanied by lettuce leaves and bao buns to make wraps. Another good choice is a meat board presentation of Duck Confit, with juicy ribbons of duck, ready to be stuffed into warm, spongy steamed buns.

Sambal is a sexy hot sauce, evoking the promise of faraway sultry places. It’s a magical combination of chili pepper, rice wine vinegar and citrus. Drunken Dragon offers several iterations of deeply flavored Sambal, some with a “touch of funk,” including Shrimp Paste, Fish Sauce and Umami. I recommend the Smoky Cracked Spare Ribs to share at the table. They’re finished with “bright hot” Sambal sauce, scallions and cilantro. Yeah, they’re messy.

I’ve never come here for Happy Hour, but I’ve certainly sampled my share of Happy Hour offerings. Check out the images of Drunken Dragon’s Banh Mi Cuban Pressed Sandwiches with chicken liver paté, roasted pork, pickles, jalapenos and cilantro. The tiny Japanese Korobuta Hot Dog is served up on a deep fried bao bun (clever) and dressed with pickles, spicy ketchup and herbed aioli. Get two – one isn’t enough. Tiki drink glasses are loads of fun. And the non-alcoholic Coconut Popsicle in mint lemonade delights kids.

But now comes the part of Drunken Dragon that I really love: The Korean Barbeque, with DIY grilling at the table. Here’s the drill:

1. There are only seven barbeque tables in the restaurant.
2. They’re allocated on a first come/first served basis. (Want one? Get there 30 minutes before they open.)
3. Good news: If you can’t snag a barbeque table, any of the “at the table” grilled items can be ordered at the regular tables. They’ll just be prepared in the kitchen.
4. Do some of them yourself. Let the kitchen handle the rest.

5. If you come with kids, DEFINITELY snag a barbeque table. They may not eat what they cook, but they’ll love being junior arsonists.

The problem with some Korean Barbecue joints, particularly in New York, is that the exhaust systems can be woefully inadequate…..leaving you with the clothes on your back reeking of smoke….even after a aggressive dry cleanings.


Their Korean barbecue tables are said to be modeled after a centuries old Korean house heating system called ONDAL……which loosely means heating from underneath the floor. I sorta get it and sorta don’t. The barbecue tables at DRUNKEN DRAGON certainly radiate from down under …..and the smoke from the grilling is exhausted through vents surrounding the grill and cleverly pulled downward in vents through the floor and on to being exhausted outside the premises.

Portions of the raw meats for grilling (thinnish cuts of steak, shrimp, etc.) are modest in scale, but more than enough when accompanied by an array of side dishes. Prior to the grilling your server appears to prime the grill in order to prevent sticking. Once she did it with oil and a brush. Another time it was primed with a hunk of beef fat clamped in a pair of tongs. I like the beef fat best.

Among the side dishes, get the Kimchi Fried Rice, which is mixed tableside with a poached egg. It’s delicious and enough for four people. Then have the Crispy Bok Choy and Kale. By the way, as a side dish, you can grill your own fresh vegetables at the table as well.

Desserts are tropical, attractive, unusual – and uniformly good. Matcha Tres Leches and the Mango & Strawberry Korean Ice Creams were right out of Central Casting (although why the ice cream came in a steamer basket was a little puzzling).

A note about the location: You are going to need to calibrate your GPS to find this place, which masquerades as a convenience store in a class C strip mall. The restaurant’s blacked-out windows make it even harder to find. The good news is that Drunken Dragon has a huge red neon sign. The bad news is that the sign simply says “MARKET.”

One giveaway: Unlike most strip malls, this one offers $15 valet parking for your Bentley. Look for it on the west side of Alton Road between 14th & 15th Streets, right between a Subway sandwich shop and a Domino’s Pizza.



Nothing Wrong With Reykjavik

Joanne and I have just returned from three days in ICELAND. I’ll write about the food and restaurants in the upcoming weeks and months. But before that, I thought it might be wise to give a general overview of the place to provide context to my upcoming posts.

First of all, I discovered ICELANDAIR when we went to London. We were checking prices with Delta and found that if we flew on Iceland’s national carrier via Reykjavik, the fare would drop by about two-thirds.

Now, Icelandair is somewhat of a budget carrier ¬– but just somewhat. For example, whereas on international flights the big carriers give business class travelers warm toasted mixed nuts (no peanuts) before the dinner service, Icelandair offers its fanciest passengers a choice of cabin-temperature caramel corn or pretzels.

And the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS? Well, check ‘em out.

The dinners were evocative of what we were expecting in REYKJAVIK – Salmon 3 ways…herring…blini…and trout roe – served all at once on a tray (not in courses), but nonetheless very good indeed. The intro didn’t end there, as we were greeted with a miniature of Icelandic Vodka.

Landing in Reykjavik the next morning, Joanne and I had time to walk the town before our hotel room was ready. We loved the scale of the city, which was quaint, historic, a cross between a city and a village. It’s a great place to meander, with no high-rises to block the sun, and a harmony of buildings in a bright palette, with many primary colors balancing softer and more restrained – but still quite varied – paint schemes.

Also interesting: the vast preponderance of structures are clad in vertical corrugated metal siding – and, aesthetically speaking, none the worse for it. I later found out that the reason metal was used was because the Vikings wiped out all of the trees a thousand years ago, and it turns out to be exceptionally difficult to grow new trees in this climate. Today Reykjavik has some, but the rest of the country is virtually barren.

The city is not without a sense of humor. The Walk signals sport smiley faces; the Don’t Walk signals keep you stationary with red frowney faces.

The language is famously impossible – not merely incomprehensible but essentially unpronounceable. Thank God the people have the sense to speak perfect English!

The church that dominates the skyline is called Hallgrimsirkja (go ahead, give that a shot). Vast in scale – construction began in 1945 and didn’t end until 1986 – it stands proudly over the city.

The National Museum, called Tjhodminjasafnid (what the hell, you might as well try to pronounce that, too) occupied us for half a day. It’s a fascinating place – very informative and well-curated. I learned a lot.

Most folks go to this island nation not for its restaurants, but for its spectacular scenery – Europe’s wildest and most rugged. As the publication, Eyewitness Travel, puts it, “Outside Reykjavik is a mix of lunar deserts, thundering waterfalls, whale watching, northern lights and majestic fjords.”

Reykjavik is a small city with a population of only a little over 300,000 people. So you can only imagine the crunch in summer months when almost 2 million tourists invade (from where, I don’t know. But the bathroom signage in the National Parks gave me a clue that they are probably not all Americans and Northern Europeans.)

Here’s another observation: COLD PLACE, WARM HEART. The people are all really nice.

Would it be politically incorrect to note, however, that the people aren’t uniformly attractive? Because Icelandic men – many, many of them – are just a mess: overweight and almost slovenly, poorly groomed, not well-dressed. (there’s probably no shortage of “plumber’s butts” here.) That struck me as so strange in that the vast majority of women were drop-dead gorgeous (go back and check out the flight attendants).

I’ve read on the Internet that due to an alleged shortage of Icelandic men, the government is offering up to $5,000 per month to men from outside the country to come and marry Icelandic women. Obviously, that’s nonsense…

…though a gender imbalance COULD partially explain why Icelandic men feel so comfortable “letting themselves go” while the women stay glamorous, trim and beautiful. I don’t know…I was just wondering.

The other thing that I was wondering about is the ICELANDIC HOT DOG. No kidding: It’s a WEENIE made of organic, grass-fed, hormone-free lamb, pork and beef, and served up on a warm steamed bun, topped with raw and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, remoulade and mayo. You get them at a tiny stand near the waterfront called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.

So is it accidental? Serendipitous? Or on purpose that the last few slides of this posting go from beautiful women….to weenies…..to Bill Clinton at the hot dog stand…..and finally on to the famous ICELANDIC PHALLOLOGICAL MUSEUM?

I report. You decide.




Jokes about GERMAN FOOD are the WURST.

Indeed, as Karen Krizanovich writes in The Civilian publication, “What do you think of when you think of German/Austrian food? Terrific strudels…heaps of whipped cream (schlag)…heart attacks…and a FAT ASS.”

It also doesn’t help the region’s image that, as Amol Rajan of The Independent put it, “Austria produced Hitler, a son that no civilized people would ever want to claim.”

So, starting out in the hole with two strikes against this part of the world, you can imagine what a delight it was for me and Joanne to discover great German/Austrian food at FISCHER’S, a wonderful little neighborhood restaurant and cafe tucked away at the top of Marylebone High Street in the heart of London.

The folks behind this place are not amateurs. Owners Jeremy King and Chris Corbin also created the wildly successful London restaurant, The Wolseley.

Fischer’s represents the recreation of a chic yet casual pre-war grand Viennese café with marble tile flooring…shiny dark wood-paneled walls…antique light fixtures…brass fittings…and large oil paintings of burghers (some in silly hats). I found it very convincing and unashamedly untrendy. The staff is alert and charming. Do not expect waiters in lederhosen slap dancing.

I had read about Fischer’s somewhere, and Joanne and I decided to check it out during the day. I was impressed with the understated class and coherence of the place and we selected our table for the evening (#36, a leather banquette corner table; tables 11 and 17 also have nice vistas of the action in the dining room).

The offerings are extensive: cured fish…fat smoky sausages….schnitzels….herring and strudels. The affordable wine list is “Mittel European” – Austrian, German, Hungarian and Alsatian.

The evening crowd from the Marylebone neighborhood appeared to be mainly professionals. A fair number of them were smartly dressed family folks, but kids were few in number (maybe because buggies and strollers are banned). It also appears to be a safe haven for celebs, as they’re routinely spotted here (see below). Nigella Lawson, the famed London food writer (who got choked by her husband at SCOTTS, as I wrote about in a previous WTF blog post) is well known at Fischer’s. Salman Rushdie dines here, too. So does supermodel Kate Moss.

As Grace Dent of The Evening Standard says, “Fischer’s evokes less of a planned destination….and more of an impromptu amble.” That probably fits well with the $50 average price per person…unless, of course, one gets deeply into the wine.

I love the bread service here. The offerings are chewy, heavy, and molasses-y beyond expectations, and come with a ramekin of incredibly rich paprika butter.

For starters, I opted for Chopped Chicken Liver with pickled cucumbers. Joanne said “Yuck” and ordered the Trio of Smoked Salmon – maple-cured, oak-smoked and beetroot-cured ($15).

Now we were on a roll and decided to order a third starter (Was that the wine talking?). It was terrific: three little open-face sandwiches on rye bread called “brotchen”…one with smoked salmon and goat curd, another topped with beetroot and pickled herring, and lastly an artichoke and caper rendition.

After a tiny (but crispy, spicy and tasty) Arugula Salad, Joanne selected Butter Poached Haddock with Asian-Indian spices ($26) for her main, and was very pleased with her choice.

I was on the horns of a dilemma. What really gets Germans going is their Teutonic dedication to cabbage, potatoes, pork, beer and schnapps. And in this regard, Fischer’s does not disappoint. And boy, was I up for it! They feature “Trenchermen’s Sausage Platters” where one can pick any two varieties – including knockwurst, frankfurters, veal bratwurst, wild boar and Kasekrainer (pork and garlic sausage stuffed with Emmenthal cheese) – along with German Potato Salad and “melted onions” (i.e. caramelized), plus sauerkraut and grainy mustard. All for about $20.

At the same time, the Schnitzel section was calling my name with Brunhildan passion. There was Chicken Schnitzel with “jus Parisienne.” There was the classic veal Weiner Schnitzel with lemon…and finally their house specialty: Schnitzel ala Holstein – veal pounded thin, breaded and fried, and crowned with anchovies, capers and a fried egg (with a half-lemon “bra” for squeezing).

I’m a sucker for wretched excess, so of course I caved and ordered the specialty – defying Mies van der Rohe, who famously stated that “less is more” – except when it comes to food, where “less is just less.”

I’m here to tell you: Fischer’s does PROPER SCHNITZELS.

Somehow I had room for dessert. All along, I had assumed that Fischer’s would offer a Sacher Torte (made famous by the Sacher Hotel in Vienna) – a dense, deeply rich chocolate cake laced with apricot jam and served with a massive dollop of schlag on the side. But it wasn’t to be.

Any disappointment we felt quickly vanished, however, when the server brought our strudels – Joanne’s with sour cherry, mine with apple, and both MIT SCHLAG.

They were the BEST we’ve ever had. As Andy Warhol once said, “A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better coke.” I cannot imagine a better strudel at any price.

And so, the Fat Assed Lady joyfully sings!


Rules Still Rules

RULES claims to be London’s oldest surviving restaurant – open for business near Covent Garden since 1798.

As Marina O’Laughlin states in the Guardian, “We all know Rules, don’t we?”

Yes, we do. They have fed Charles Dickens…”Bertie”, King Edward VII of England…two James Bonds, Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore…as well as Paul Newman and Harrison Ford. They’ve soldiered through two world wars and countless domestic conflicts, all the while serving up classic English fare with a huge emphasis on wild-caught game.

On a previous visit, I asked how old the restaurant was. Our server instantly said, “About 20 years younger than your country.”

Rules actually has a kind of fixation on America, as they routinely claim that the reason they’re routinely dismissed by London’s “elite foodie intelligentsia” owes to the fact that they’re always jam-packed with American tourists.

So it’s with this understanding that Joanne and I periodically return to Rules – most recently just a few weeks ago.

Here’s my dilemma: I really love the food, but they piss me off!

Upon arrival, we were greeted at the podium by a pompous, condescending manager who treated us like we were trying to sneak past his velvet rope – even though we had a reservation.

First, he told us that they had no booth for us, as we had requested, and wouldn’t have one for an hour-and-a-half. He said this as I looked over his shoulder at a half-empty dining room.

Ultimately they did find us a corner table (#15) that was just fine, and as we were led there, the host told us that we had to be out in two hours as our table was booked again at 8:00 o’clock.

Our server was pleasant enough as she explained that they were out of prawns….out of hare….and out of pheasant. Again, this was at 6:00 PM. Somebody screwed up on the daily ordering.

I wasn’t particularly annoyed, as we had our eye on other offerings. (By the way: Parasole restaurants occasionally run out of evening specials. We’ll prep 15 of something, and typically they’re gone by 8:30, not 6 PM! Rarely, however, do we run out of a menu item). Clearly, Rules was not at the top of its game.

Having been warned that we’d better vacate by 8 PM, and denied the option of ordering a good chunk of the menu, I began to think that they weren’t going to be happy until we weren’t happy.

My suspicions proved correct. When our server took our appetizer order, she reminded us – for the third time – that we had to be out of the restaurant by 8 o’clock!

Now I was “RED-ASSED.” And I said to Joanne, “They don’t give a shit about us and our evening. They just want to churn tables.”

I summoned the manager and said, “You know, I could have chosen from any number of good London restaurants tonight – The Guinea Grill, the Ivy, St. John, Hawksmoor…but you know what? I CHOSE YOU! And here’s what your attitude is communicating to us: Get ‘em in, seat ‘em anyplace, and get ‘em out. We need this table, NOW!” And yet I CHOSE YOU? … WHY?”

Sometimes it’s hard to be a foodie: I wanted to protect my dignity. I wanted to give them the finger and storm off, but…


So what was I to do? Was the eating experience worth putting up with the abuse? Well, I keep going back, so I guess I have my answer. Apparently I’m not just a slave to food, but a glutton for punishment (“It tastes so good AND hurts so good!”).

Okay, let’s go ……

Jay Rayner of The Guardian writes, “Rules is a theme park iteration of old London.” Here you sink into a “plushy” crimson velvet booth amid swirly red-patterned carpets. The tablecloths are starched white linen. You marvel at the wood-paneled walls, cluttered with hundreds of oil paintings, old portraits, humorous prints and antlers, antlers, antlers everywhere, reinforcing their game story. The interior is utterly overwrought, but I have to say it….”Rules is COZY.”

Joanne and I always go in the fall – me for the WILD GAME; for Joanne, anything but.

Rabbit and hare are served up in different ways – the rabbit is braised and accompanied by butter-loaded gratin dauphinois. The hare is a little more adventuresome – accompanied by earthy pheasant sausage stuffed with the innards of the bird (watch out Fergus Henderson; they’re meddling on your turf).

Rules is well known for their Pot Pies, particularly Steak & Kidney Pie, which I’ve tried and loved, with its thick, rich gravy and suet crust. I’ve yet to try the Wild Boar Pot Pie, but how could it not be excellent?

Shepherd’s Pie is a signature dish, and in a nice twist it comes with lamb, not beef, and a topping of butter-loaded mashed potatoes toasted under the broiler.

Seared Scallops and Pork Cheeks are an unusual pairing, but good (I always say, the best way to prepare seafood is by adding meat to it).

In addition to Guinness Beef Stew, which sounds great, they feature a Rib of Beef for Two, again with dauphinois potatoes, savoy cabbage, winter vegetables, greens and Yorkshire pudding. It’s a big, impressive statement and will run you about $42 per person. Check out the photo.

On our recent visit, we had appetizers of Rabbit Rilettes with pickled onions (I loved it; Joanne hated it). Since it was hunting season, I tried the Venison Carpaccio with pickled red cabbage, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and watercress. The red cabbage was a perfect counterpoint to the gaminess of the venison. Although I was tempted (Joanne, less so), the Beef, Kidney and Oyster Pudding sounded like an adventure. Next time.

For mains, Joanne had the Seared Scottish Salmon with Mussels (but, alas, no prawns).

During our previous visits, I’ve had several versions of partridge. This time I had Red Leg Partridge with creamed savoy cabbage and bacon. The meat was flavorful and tender – and tiny flecks of buckshot provided additional texture.

Amongst the other feathered and furred offerings was Young Grouse with red currant jelly, crispy bacon, gaufrette potatoes and bread sauce. I didn’t go for it. Grouse can be very strong, and the last time I had it in London was at St. John (where our waiter described it as having a “rather metallic taste”). Nicely plated and presented, but too gamey even for me.

We ended our meal with an order of syrupy Sticky Toffee Pudding with walnuts and crème fraiche, as well as a Flintstonian wedge of English Stilton Cheese from the trolley, cut and served with ceremony. Neither offering is to be missed.

So here’s my bottom line: If it’s fall and you’re up for a generous taste of game or comfort food, Rules occupies a rare position among restaurants: It doubles as a tourist magnet as well as a superb restaurant. But DO NOT GO in a bad or combative mood, because if you’re on the cusp of getting pissed, I guarantee they will MAKE you pissed.

Even KATE MIDDLETON, who has a “pinky vodka” drink named after her, goes to RULES. I’m certain that she is awarded one of the coveted velvet booths.

And she owns a gun!




I never knew there was such a thing as a “New York Steakhouse” until the late seventies, when one of my New York clients took me to THE PALM. Subsequent visits to Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky and Spark’s (notwithstanding the shooting of mobster Paul Castellano at their front door) and KEEN’S CHOPHOUSE caused me to realize that Minneapolis NEEDED a New York-style steakhouse…..thus MANNY’S.

All were good. All had similar menus, with great dry-aged steaks. All had a decidedly masculine vibe.

But one had an edge that was unique. That was KEEN’S CHOP HOUSE on 36th Street near 6th Avenue.

Founded by Albert Keen in 1885, Keen’s features all of the steakhouse clichés, starting with the nude painting over the bar…continuing with the clubby, masculine atmosphere of the dining rooms…reinforced by their PIPE CLUB…and – adorning the ceilings throughout the restaurant – a collection of 50,000 clay pipes belonging to celebrities like Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur and Buffalo Bill. The menu also touches the necessary bases of a New York steakhouse. To top it off, Keen’s has a ZAGAT rating of 4.5.

As New York magazine put it, “Keen’s is a bastion of urban carnivores fueled by single malts and expense account blowouts.” Expect steakhouse prices.

Meals begin with a retro touch: a supper club relish tray. We’ve followed with steakhouse favorites, including crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, clams & oysters, as well as a really good twice-baked Vermont blue cheese pastry puff ($15).

Salads are out of central casting with all of the usual suspects…all good.

Mains include a porterhouse steak for two, t-bones and filets, all with a puzzling red pepper garnish (why?). Keen’s also offers a great prime-rib hash crowned with a fried egg, a delicious buttermilk-brined chicken, lobster, and Dover sole.

Hot fudge sundaes, Bananas Foster and Key Lime pie form the core of the dessert menu.

But now things get interesting.

Keen’s is known worldwide for its MUTTON CHOPS………NOT lamb chops.

But first a little primer on mutton.

Definitions vary – even among experts – but it’s generally defined as the meat of a full-grown sheep that’s over one-year old. In this country, we prefer lamb. Mutton fell completely out of favor after World War II when our troops were fed canned mutton – and nowadays most people don’t even know what it is. Among those who do have an opinion, they think of mutton as tough old meat from old fat sheep: horrible smell, strong gamy flavor, and that lingering, wretched tallow-y aftertaste in your mouth. And they’re not entirely wrong about the gaminess. In fact, as early as 1918, Fanny Farmer wrote in her iconic cookbook, “Many object to the strong flavor of mutton.”

In other countries, mutton is used in spicy stews and curries or anything else that serves to mask the flavor. As the French say, “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”

Yet against such a negative backdrop, Keen’s not only offers mutton, it sells the hell out of it. In fact, Keen’s Mutton Chops – tender, delicious, utterly unlike the mutton of yore – are its signature dish.

WTF? Well, first of all, modern lamb, like chicken and beef, grows much faster and larger today than at any time in history. In the United States, sheep between 12 and 16 months are known as “yearling mutton.” I understand that Keen’s buys right on the cusp, sourcing 1-year-old sheep whose chops retain the wonderful flavor of lamb but are about two inches thick and weigh in at about 2 pounds. I’m also told that the meat is dry-aged to improve the flavor and enhance tenderness. Apparently, it’s also seared in a 1000-degree broiler before it is finished in a 500-degree oven. This is a perfect cooking technique.

Next time you’re in New York, you need to go to Keen’s and order the mutton. You might just fall in love with it. You certainly WON’T BE THE FIRST to do so.

WTF, Phil

A Visit to Gabriel Kreuther

Years ago Joanne and I took our kids to France and Germany. We flew Icelandic Air out of New York and landed in Luxembourg, which I believe at that time was the only place that the airline had the rights to land.

After two days, we left Luxembourg by car heading south for the ROUTE DU VIN (the wine road in ALSACE-LORRAINE), ending up in Strasbourg for a couple of nights before setting out on our wine tour. This, we learned, is where France and Germany collide. Situated not far from the Black Forest, Strasbourg is currently in France but sits right on the border of France and Germany. I say “currently” because for hundreds of years the city of Strasbourg has ping-ponged back and forth between the two countries. Since the end of World War II, it’s been part of France.

Road signs are in both German and French. Beer and wine are equally popular.

But the architecture in Strasbourg definitely leans German – almost Hansel & Gretel-like.

In the heart of the city lies the premier landmark of Strasbourg: The Notre Dame Cathedral, built with pink sandstone from nearby mountain quarries. A beautiful example of Gothic architecture visible for miles around, it was completed in 1439. Actually, “completed” may not be quite accurate because the south steeple was never built. Consequently, the asymmetrical form makes it unique among European Gothic churches. There are various theories as to why the south tower was never finished, but from what I can smoke out, the prevailing opinion was that the earth under the south tower couldn’t support the additional weight.

The culinary side of Alsace is just as fascinating, and a little weird…and a real treat.

The Alsatian dishes had a boldness and earthiness that was no doubt influenced by their German roots, while the French-influenced offerings demonstrated attention to detail, beauty, quality, and nuance. And then there were the “tweeners” – part French and part German…..WOW !!!!

Flash forward to this summer. Joanne and I had just landed in New York. It was around noon, and since we had no breakfast on our morning flight, we were thinking about where we might have a late lunch. I wanted to select a spot near our hotel at 41st and 5th Avenue.

Consulting my trusty Zagat Guide, I came upon a highly rated restaurant on 42nd street called GABRIEL KREUTHER. I had never heard of the place but it was rated 4.8 by ZAGAT. That’s really high.

Arriving about 1:30 PM, we were seated in the corner table (table #73), which was just fine and not busy. Not quite knowing the restaurant’s DNA, we began by puzzling over the bar menu. It was at once refreshing in its “Frenchie” offerings, while at the same time I felt it was looking for its voice – that is, until I saw the Alsatian section on the menu. Then it all made sense. Of course you could have two vastly different cultures and cuisines living together side by side as they have for centuries in ALSACE-LORRAINE. Frogs legs on the menu right next to liverwurst? “Mais oui!” and “yah, yah, der liverwurst, too.”

We started with the “Frenchie” stuff, including Lobster Croquettes ($15), Langoustine Tart, and of course a Foie Gras Terrine with duck prosciutto and porcini mushrooms (any one of those ingredients would get my vote, but all in one dish? Yes, please – and I’m not sharing).

Next, the German counterpoint: Sturgeon Tart over Sauerkraut, Liverwurst with pickled Kirbie cucumbers and grainy mustard ($19), and Kougelhoph (scallion bread) with creamy chive cheese ($7).

What fun!!!

Mains? The delightful counterpoints continued. Joanne opted for something French: Roasted Halibut with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Celery Root and Cockles. I took the Teutonic trail and ordered a large, turgid Country Sausage with Homemade Sauerkraut and Spicy Violet Mustard ($26).

We’re not done yet, folks. We needed to try the “tweeners” – half-German, half-French – and what better expression of the love-hate relationship between the two countries than a special featuring LOADS of white truffles atop cheesy German spaetzel. I don’t remember what it cost – I blocked out the memory – but I couldn’t resist.

Finally, a sampling of Artisanal French and German cheeses ($8 per piece; we had two), shared along with a Bleu Cheese Tarte with Fresh Figs and Balsamic Vinegar.

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Gabriel Kreuther until then, but I’ve since found out that he was born and raised in a little town just to the north of Strasbourg. After graduating from cooking school– the Ecole Hoteriere in Strasbourg, he worked at Le Caprice in D.C. for a year-and-a-half before returning to Europe. There he trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Switzerland before returning to the States to work for Jean George Vongerichten and at the helm at The Modern at MOMA in New York, before opening his own place.

What a pedigree, what an apprenticeship – and what a restaurant! No wonder we loved our meal there.



Voulez Vous Coucher à Paris?

Paris is expensive….hellishly expensive!

Particularly its hotels. And especially the five-star properties. Sure, if you stay at the Hotel de Crillon or the Ritz, you’ll enjoy a superior location, super-attentive staff (including, on certain floors, a private butler), as well as a well-appointed (though not necessarily large) room – but you’ll pay upwards of a thousand bucks a night!

We dabbled in this arena several years ago when our Parasole Culinary Team spent a couple of weeks in Paris and SPLURGED by staying at the HOTEL PLAZA ATHENEE (the rooms were much less at the time, and we got a group discount). It was a lovely property, with all the aforementioned attributes (but, still, a standard room for two was tiny by American standards – barely big enough for a bed, sitting chair and armoire). Of course, there was the bonus of having the world-acclaimed RESTAURANT ALAIN DUCASSE just off the lobby. Not only did we have the privilege of dining there, we also were treated to a personal and private tour of the kitchen, including lengthy conversations with the cooks and chefs.

(Alain Ducasse, of course, wasn’t there – he has an empire to run. But for those occasions when he is in residence, the hotel had constructed a glass-walled office/dining room for him adjacent to the kitchen, where he could watch his team work by looking up at a bank of wall-mounted CCTV’s.)

But here’s the deal: Joanne and I have been able to smoke out hotels in major European markets that share many of the attributes of the 5-star joints at a fraction of the price, while offering a more personal and engaging experience. Probably our favorite find is the HOTEL SAINT GREGOIRE in the heart of the 6th Arrondisement on Paris’ Left Bank.

More about the hotel in a moment…

First, the location: You’re just a few minutes’ walk from some of the most interesting and fun venues Paris has to offer.

On nice days, we love to while away a few hours strolling, sitting, reading and eating in the LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, the peaceful and spacious (61 acres of spacious) park famous for its manicured combination of French gardens and English gardens (which is sort of odd in that both were designed by Marie di Medici and supposedly inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence).

Kids can be engaged for hours here – riding ponies, sailing miniature sailboats on the pond, riding the carousel. And, at the end of the day, they can indulge in sweet treats by sitting outside at ANGELINA, one of the city’s premier chocolatiers. You’ll want to get the “little darlings” wired up on sugar, so in addition to a pastry treat, be SURE to order a cup of Angelina’s signature HOT CHOCOLATE. The best I’ve ever had in my life!!!

Another bonus of the location: You’re just two blocks from THE BON MARCHÉ department store – the best in the city (you heard me, Galeries Lafayette!). On every visit, I spend hours wandering its ground-floor FOOD HALLS.

Also, if you’re a fan of the writer, Dan Brown – author of The Da Vinci Code – then you’ll be compelled to visit the CHURCH OF SAINT-SULPICE, just a ten-minute walk from the St. Gregoire. There you’ll find “The Rose Line” that Silas the monk used as a reference point in his quest to find the Holy Grail. A small opening in the south transept allows the bright sunlight to illuminate the brass rose line embedded in the floor of the cathedral. Not familiar with the significance of “The Rose Line?” Well, read the book.

The Saint Gregoire is an 18th century mansion that has been re-purposed as a guest house-style boutique property by the designer David Hicks. The hotel resides on a quiet street a few blocks from the metro station, SAINT-PLACIDE. Not only are the rooms sound-proof, English is fluently spoken by the lovely and professional receptionist, Alice.

The best part of staying at the Saint Gregoire: Descending into the basement and entering the medieval “stone-arched cave” breakfast room every morning for freshly squeezed juice, buttery warm croissants, orange marmalade, yogurt, and more. Along with pots of hot coffee for you, there’s hot chocolate for the kiddies. A continental breakfast is always included in the room rate.

And now for the pièce de résistance – Get ready! – the room rates on our recent stay hovered around $250 a night, which is REMARKABLE for the hotel’s quality, style, and location. In a city of $500-$1,000/night hotel rooms. This is a “FIND”!!!!

Je vous en prie!



Oh My Bacash

I’m keenly aware that most of this blog’s readers aren’t contemplating a trip this fall or winter to Australia. It’s not just a long flight – and an expensive one – but after investing your time in that journey, you’re kind of committing yourself to a stay longer than most people can easily manage.

But if Australia’s on your radar screen, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t share some finds with you. And besides, it’s worth remembering that summer in Australia is just around the corner.

Joanne and I visited both Sydney and Melbourne a few years back (see my postings from 4/29/16 and 7/21/16). My takeaway is this: Both Sydney and Melbourne are wonderful dining cities – inventive, vibrant, and very local. The trends and influences feel homegrown, far removed from American clichés and formulaic chain offerings.

Let’s set Sydney aside for now, and focus on Melbourne, where we discovered several worthy spots.

Right downtown on Flinders Lane (Melbourne’s restaurant row for budding independent eateries) we loved a smart, casual place called FATHER GOOSE. On our final night, Joanne and I splurged at a downstairs spot called EZARD…really good. And across from the train station in Federation Square is a cool joint called TAXI, an “industrial chic” venue with what I would characterize as modern French/Australian fare with more than a little nod to Japanese offerings. I’m normally not a fan of the hard and cold edges of “industrial chic” environments, but the colors and brightness of Melbourne warm environments in a way we can’t count on for most the year. More important, the attractive, clever and witty plating of the food won me over. We’d go back……for sure.

A two-hour walk from downtown will take you to Saint Kilda beach, where a great lunch spot called STOKEHOUSE awaits. You won’t regret hoofing it there (but after a big lunch you’ll want to take a taxi back to your hotel).

All of which brings me back to the walk away from downtown. Joanne and I left our hotel in the morning and set out for a stroll through the ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS, culminating at BACASH RESTAURANT, located in the fashionable South Yarro district on the edge of the park. While the views of the gardens are wonderful here, they’re trumped by the seafood-centric cuisine of owner and chef Michael Bacash and his wife, Fiona. Everyone says this is THE BEST SEAFOOD IN MELBOURNE. All I can tell you is that Bacash certainly offers the best seafood WE enjoyed there. Michael clearly knows where the best fish swim.

The aesthetic of BACASH is clean, spare and modern. Same with the food, which is precisely plated without being fussy.

We started with the Garfish, an ugly head-on little monster-bastard that looked up at us with resentment (maybe because we were about to eat him). The fish was flanked with prawn and ginger-stuffed nori rolls and cost $23. (For a starter. Ouch.) We also enjoyed oysters in several iterations – all fresh, all briny, all a step up from your standard Blue Points. Joanne and I chose a combo plate of oysters called Raw Wapengo Rocks, along with a version of the same dish given the “gratin treatment” – stuffed with shrimp and Parmesan cheese and browned in the oven. (Full disclosure: We’ve recently added those baked shrimp and Parm oysters to SALUT’S appetizer menu.)

Char-Grilled Calamari with pickled fennel, paprika and saffron aioli was a refreshing departure from the ubiquitous deep-fried offerings. You do pay for the novelty (and the saffron), though – it ran about $20 U.S.

Another hit was the housemade Gravlax atop blini with horseradish crème fraiche.

Among the mains, Bacash offers a worthy Scotch Filet Mignon with wild mushrooms and roasted shallots, as well as a few versions of duck, including a sliced breast accompanied by a confit duck pie with brandied cherries (YUM).

But the main event here is SEAFOOD, and Michael’s “go-to” dish is the Grilled Whole Flounder – simple and buttery-rich with just a squeeze of lemon. Warning: The flounder is not always available. After all, fish is a “hunted species,” so it all depends on how good the fishing was that day.

But, fear not: Great choices abound at Bacash. The Seared Sea Scallops and Chorizo on a bed of sweetcorn puree, for example ($22). Another is a surprise rendition of Grilled Red snapper, cooked Lebanese style with sumac-braised silverbeet (Swiss chard) and finished with caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, tahini and currants (“Jeez, not that again.”)

We didn’t have it, but the Slow Roasted Tasmanian Salmon on Cauliflower Cream bound for the table next to ours looked special, and our neighbors loved it, especially with the accompanying fresh scallops, shrimp, calamari and mussels – around $40.

Two pastas round out the lunch menu: a summery offering of Shrimp-Stuffed Tortellini with Baby Heirloom Tomatoes and a Spaghetti Marinara loaded – and I mean, LOADED – with whatever the day’s catch might have been.

Desserts were not typical at all. I’d never had Sweet Pumpkin for dessert. Nor had I experienced Black Sesame Ice Cream. Both were delicious, clever and definitely memorable.

So, if you are in Melbourne, make a day of it: Take a leisurely stroll through the Botanical Gardens, work up an appetite and have a three-hour lunch at BACASH. Watch your wine intake, though – or you’ll end up Down Under the table.



Seduced by the Mandolin

Recently Joanne and I discovered a wonderful Greek-Turkish restaurant in the Design District neighborhood of Miami.

Called MANDOLIN, it’s owned and run by a husband-wife team: Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsiokis – he’s from Turkey, she’s Greek…which is a little odd since their home countries have been at odds for the past several hundred years. Well, I guess love – and a shared passion for Mediterranean cuisine – conquers all.

Joanne and I love the food in this part of the world, and one of our sweet spots in the states has been ESTIATORIO MILOS. A high-end seafood restaurant (that I wrote about early in 2017), Milos began in Montreal, then added locations in New York, Miami Beach, London, Las Vegas, and Athens (becoming – like Nobu – a very fancy chain).

Mandolin has just the one location and is very much a casual dining destination – far more typical of what you’ll actually find in Greece and Turkey, where Joanne and I have enjoyed traveling. Istanbul, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and a month-long stay in Molyvos, on the island of Lesvos, rank among our favorite trips.

Though the Greeks and Turks are quick to point out all the ways their cuisines differ, the fact is, they’re pretty similar in many ways, including their emphasis on simplicity and freshness. No surprise, considering the culinary comingling that occurred during the 400 years of Ottoman rule over Greece.

You might imagine how pleased we were to come across a locally owned independent restaurant that celebrated the simple, rustic “village cooking” of both Turkey and Greece. Nothing here is contrived. There’s no pretense, no fancy compositions – just straightforward, honest expressions of one of the world’s richest culinary heritages.

Food isn’t the only draw at Mandolin. The restaurant offers comfortable outdoor seating in a big, beautiful, lush garden. In fact, Joanne and I have never eaten inside. And speaking of gardens, the owners grow their own herbs and vegetables just behind the restaurant.

You need to start by ordering either the Turkish Sampler or the Greek Sampler – or both, depending on the size of your party. The Turkish spreads and dips include hummus, an onion-studded tomato-walnut dip, and a beet puree. The Greek version features tzatziki (garlic, cucumber, olive oil and yogurt, spiced with dill) along with melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant puree) and taramasalata, a puree of fish roe, olive oil, lemon juice and grated onions.
Both Samplers are accompanied by a little paper bag of warm, sesame-flecked, just-baked bread.

In addition to a crispy, bitey Arugula Salad, you must try the summery Arugula and Peach Salad with mint, almonds and Manouri goat cheese. It’s rivaled by the Arugula and Date salad, with pistachios and feta cheese dressed in a pomegranate vinaigrette. Someone at your table should also order the traditional horiatiki Greek village salad, made with vine-ripened tomato wedges, cucumber, red onion, green peppers, and Kalamata olives crowned with a plank of feta. Okay, enough about salads.

On to the appetizers. Where to start? Try the Spanakopita – spinach, feta, pine nuts, herbs and spices baked in phyllo ($12). For a little theater, get the Greektown classic, Saganaki, the flaming fried cheese dish usually accompanied by an annoying “OPAH!” The Greeks (and I suppose the Turks) really know octopus, so don’t miss Mandolin’s simply grilled version. Even though it’s usually a main course, we’ve shared Moussaka as an appetizer. A staple of Greek restaurants everywhere, it’s a baked dish of ground lamb, eggplant, thin sliced potatoes, onions, cheese, cinnamon and nutmeg – all topped with a layer of béchamel sauce and browned in the oven.

Among the mains, the Branzino (or European Sea Bass) is a standout. It’s so simple, so beautifully grilled – barely teased with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper – that you’d think it was out of a Martha Stewart cookbook. Actually, a wide variety of Mandolin’s entrees boast the same attributes of simplicity and freshness. Obviously, you MUST order lamb – either the Lamb Chops over orzo pilaf ($46) or the thick chunks of rosemary-laced Saddle of Lamb. Even the Chicken Kebabs, the default dish of timid eaters, are delicious (all the more so when dipped in tzatziki). If you’re a dumpling fan (and who isn’t?), get the Manti, an iconic Turkish dish of homemade egg pasta dumplings filled with minced lamb, garlic and Aleppo peppers, topped with brown butter and garlicky yogurt.

Our grandkids dined on pulled lamb gyros and Mandolin’s signature lamb burger. Both come with fries and will run you $16. The kids devoured them both.

Yes, we had dessert as well.

Isn’t gluttony one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Maybe, but if you were to pass up the desserts here, you’d be guilty of stupidity, so go ahead and get the homemade Baklava. It’s loaded with honey and pistachios…OMG! On the lighter side, Fresh Figs topped with toasted walnuts, thick yogurt and honey are a seasonal must-have. I’d have them in a heartbeat for breakfast as well.

We all ended with super-strong Turkish coffee – even the kids. After they came down off the walls, I think they fell asleep around 4 AM.

So back to Anastasia and Ahmet. I wish them a long life together and hope they run the restaurant well into their golden years. Perhaps the example set by these lovers will prompt their fellow countrymen to cast aside their arms and gather at a table laden with fragrant meats, cheese and vegetables; a powerful reminder of all their respective cultures share (yeah, fat chance).




Bavaria, in the mountains of southern Germany, isn’t just beautiful, it scales the heights of German cuisine.

When Joanne and I used to fly Northwest Airlines to visit our daughter in Switzerland, the best option was to fly Minneapolis to Frankfurt and take a rental car south to Switzerland. Driving through the uninspiring central part of Germany, we would invariably stop at the same roadside restaurant and inn – can’t remember the name – but after an overnight flight, it was always a welcome stop at day’s end. The sausages were many and enormous; the mound of mashed potatoes, buttery and plentiful. And the beer came in giant frosty mugs. Comforting, yes. Filling, OMG yes. But that was about it.

In his piece, “Belly Bombs Away,” Calvin Trillin writes, “German food has determined the outcome of more wars than all other cuisines combined.” As he tells it, “For centuries, those nasty Prussians have vanquished foe after foe, battle after battle…UNTIL LUNCH…after which they were too stuffed to remount.”

Indeed. German food is BIG FOOD. The Germans favor hearty meals that include PORK, BEEF and POULTRY – in that order.

Many people find it too rich and too heavy. Some complain that’s not refined, even a little crude, and certainly not artful.

I happen to love it.

Lucky for me that we live in Minnesota, where we’re blessed with good choices.

One is GASTHOF BAVARIAN HUNTER, up near Stillwater, where we introduced our young grandkids to German food. Sausage, sauerkraut and Shirley Temples reigned at our table, while a giant sampling platter of pork, and more pork, chicken, dumplings and spaetzle delighted a family of four a couple of tables away.

Our daughter loves THE BLACK FOREST INN, especially during summer in the beer garden. The veal shank with spaetzle and the Jaeger schnitzel both delight on a cold February night. Do not miss the APPLE STRUDEL here.

And by the way, I loved their ad campaign poking good-natured fun at the stoic, humorless reputation of Germans.

So not only is German food big, it can be weird…and it can be delightful.

Witness the “gut-busting” sausage platter below – but also the hedgehog-like creature called a HACKEPETER: raw minced pork and raw onion meant to be spread on toast. No thank you.

German LIMBURGER CHEESE has the dubious distinction of smelling like dirty, sweaty feet…with a fungal infection. Next to the hedgehog, check out the small wheels of HARZER KASE, a cheese well-suited for olfactory warfare. It’s great for dieters, I’m told; bad for your social life. This cheese will stink-up your refrigerator even if it’s wrapped. Eat it in a public place and people will move away from you.

However, the crispy pork schnitzels are divine. As is the seasonal white asparagus with Hollandaise and sliced steamed potatoes. That and a bottle of Riesling? YUM.

There is no rival in the world to the iconic APPLE STRUDEL (Remember how it was featured in Inglorious Bastards? If you don’t, the movie’s worth renting just for that scene.)

And what about GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE with its coconut-pecan frosting? I’m told that the recipe begins with “First, invade the kitchen.”

My first exposure to authentic German food was when I was in college and went to Chicago for a weekend. My uncle Ben took me to THE BERGHOFF in the heart of the Loop on West Adams Street. I was instantly transported to Germany via the kitschy décor (which I did not know was kitschy) and foods that I had never, ever seen or tasted before, with the possible exception of my Aunt Rose’s WARM GERMAN POTATO SALAD.

Dinner began with a sort of relish tray, except this one had liverwurst, pickled herring and stinky cheese. Next I ordered something called Sauerbraten (pot roast) with that ginger-snappy gravy…first time ever…and I got a minor tutorial on SCHNITZELS, including a simple breaded pork cutlet with a squeeze of lemon and its fancy brother, SCHNITZEL ala HOLSTEIN, topped with two fried eggs. (No beer for me at that age, because my uncle might tell my dad.) As I wolfed down my STRUDEL, the OOM-PAH BAND took the stage…

My memory of the world famous (and long ago closed) LUCHOW’S, the Grande Dame of German restaurants in New York, was being there with one of my New York clients. It was big – two or three floors – and heavily decorated with all of the Bavarian clichés. I was told that Paul Newman was a regular and that Lauren Bacall celebrated her 60th birthday there. But most of all I remember the big industrial scale in the entry, where the custom was for patrons to weigh-in before dinner and then weigh-in again afterward. My weight gain flirted with 2 pounds.

A closing that saddened me most was the shuttering of KARL RATZCH’S, a Milwaukee institution since 1904. KARL RATZCH’S was a Hollywood set – perfectly put together in every over-the-top design detail. It served two-fisted German cuisine accompanied by a danceable “whumppa” from the oom-pah band on stage. During our BUCA Milwaukee opening, Joanne and I went there probably a dozen times, the most memorable of which were during the festive holiday season when the place sparkled and glittered like a Christmas tree. So warm…so cozy…so safe.

The menu had the kind of stuff that most all German restaurants serve – schnitzels, sauerbraten, duck, goose, etc. – and an offering that was fantastic and absolutely new to me: a CRACKLING PORK SHANK (more about that later).

These emblematic German-American restaurants set the stage for me and my first encounter with Munich.

Like every American and Japanese tourist, we started with THE HOFBRAUHAUS, a few blocks from City Hall. It dubs itself the world’s most famous tavern, and who am I to disagree. It’s certainly the most distinctive, and probably the oldest – founded in 1589, with a capacity of probably 600 seats. The place has an energy that’s on steroids. It’s open 365 days a year and – a surprise to me – it’s owned by the Bavarian State Government. It’s a well-run, well-oiled machine.

You do not go to the HOFBRAUHAUS to dine, you go there to DRINK – and to eat giant pretzels with mustard. Most of all, you go there for a good time. The Hofbrauhaus is a beer hall that happens to serve food.

It’s probably best to go on the early side as things tend to get out of hand as the night progresses. Joanne and I were there with my 82-year-old mother and her 81-year-old sister, and by the time we left a 100-person CONGA line was singing and snaking through the crowded dining room, doing something that resembled the BUNNY HOP – only to the beat of the German oom-pah band. About the same time, a group of drunk Japanese businessmen were standing atop a table singing Lord knows what, loudly. Top that all off with more than a few guys passed out or sound asleep in their chairs.

With all that drinking, my guess is that the HOFBRAUHAUS must employ more than a couple of “VOMITEERS.”

Okay, okay, if you are tightly wound, DON’T GO. But if you can roll with it and not fight it,” I guarantee you a GOOD TIME.

Our Munich experience ended on a high culinary note. We came across the restaurant HOXNBAUER, a place that specializes in PORK SHANKS and VEAL SHANKS with crackling skin from the rotisserie. Steamed potatoes, potato dumplings and red cabbage round out the menu, and that’s about all they serve – whole shanks, half shanks, sliced shanks. But let me tell you: HOXNBAUER DOES SHANKS WELL! They sell ‘em by 100 gram units….or 4.50 euros per unit…..about thirty to forty bucks for a shank. We went twice.

Now here’s and interesting tidbit: The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed a book by Laura Shapiro, What She Ate, about Hitler’s mistress (and, in the final days, his wife), Eva Braun. “While prisoners starved in concentration camps, Braun joined the diners at Hitler’s well ladened table.” And she went on….”At the end, the inhabitants of Hitler’s bunker began blocking out reality with magnum after magnum.”

But here’s the thing: On their final day in the bunker – the day Hitler shot himself – he and Eva did not indulge in the fatherland’s cuisine. Shapiro writes, “Hitler is said to have eaten his final lunch of spaghetti and tomato sauce.”

Apparently more of a purist than the Fuhrer, Eva eschewed the Italian fare and went straight for the cyanide.