Since the economic tumble in 2008, it’s been a tough ten years for many restaurants, especially those in the “FINE and FANCY” segment, but also for many of the celebrity and highly talented restaurateurs out there.

As you already know, Joanne and I tend not to frequent fine dining joints, yet it’s hard to see so many of them disappear. I’m sure to the folks who were regulars, it’s a little like losing an old friend. The longer a favorite restaurant sticks around, the more beloved it becomes, and we want to believe it’ll live forever.

SIRIO MACCIONI, after 43 years, folded his tent at Le CIRQUE in New York, “where art, food and fashion converge.” It was also the place that required men to wear jackets (I don’t even own a suit). And in Chicago, RICHARD MELMAN, one of the restaurateurs I admire most, shuttered his star-studded L-20 in Lincoln Park as well as TRU downtown. I have extremely fond memories of dining at TRU and being stunned at the STAIRCASE OF CAVIAR. “Say it isn’t TRU!”

In New York, KEITH MCNALLY has been the leading groundbreaker, especially in challenged neighborhoods. About forty years ago he opened the ODEON in dreary TriBeCa. It became known for all that was cool in New York City. And that French-inspired place remains hot even to this day.

But his hottest of all is BALTHAZAR, a French brasserie on Spring Street in SOHO (with another branch in Covent Garden in London). BALTHAZAR, along with GRAMERCY TAVERN, shares the “most visited” title in Manhattan. Following BALTHZAR, MCNALLY founded PASTIS in the meat packing district….a wildly popular echo of a Parisian bistro and one of our favorites. SCHILLER’S LIQUOR BAR gave new meaning to the word “quirky” and during its fifteen-year run became a dining and drinking institution on the Lower East Side.
I say dining because of its MIND BLOWING GARLIC SHRIMP, bubbling in blistering hot butter in a cast iron skillet…well, I just don’t have words.

So here’s the puzzlement: MCNALLY is known as “The man who invented downtown Manhattan.” In my book, he’s a genius. And yet in the past few years, he has closed up shop on these favorites of mine.

PASTIS is no longer alive. SCHILLER’S is gone. In the Bowery he opened a pizza place called PULINO’S. But it was replaced with CHERCHE MIDI (a restaurant the Parasole group visited and loved; see my posting of November 2nd, 2016). But then CHERCHE MIDI closed. Don’t know why. But the answer might be found in the fact that…….ah well…..more about that later.

The good news is that MCNALLY, not discouraged, recently opened AUGUSTINE, a great French Bistro near City Hall in New York. It’s a hit!

One of the most popular restaurants in Miami Beach is YARDBIRD, near Lincoln Road. It’s “DOUBLE BARRELED SOUTHERN” with all of the usual suspects: fried green tomatoes, Mama’s biscuits, butter beans, shrimp n’ grits and, of course, pimento cheese. But the thing that got me was THE DEEP FRIED CHICKEN, a rendition that rivals STROUD’S in Kansas City – and that’s saying something!!!

So when I recently saw that they were opening a fast casual version of YARDBIRD on Alton Road in Miami Beach, called SPRING CHICKEN, I thought to myself…”WOW. That’s really smart. They can’t miss.”

But miss they did. I read that their two SPRING CHICKEN joints have just closed. Smart people make mistakes. Entrepreneurs take chances.

Longevity doesn’t ensure everlasting life. The iconic TRADER VIC’S in the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills gave up the ghost after 62 years. Some blame it on an ill-conceived remodeling that tamed down the kitsch décor. After all, isn’t it only appropriate that the place that gave us the MAI TAI would be grotesquely overblown and over-decorated? The answer is YES.

And being spot-on in trend is no insurance policy either. POK POK ……the “culty…lines-out-the-door” Thai chicken wing joint in Portland, Oregon and New York failed in Chinatown in Los Angeles. No night traffic, I read.

I recently posted about LE COUCOU in New York (March 1st, 2018). The brainchild of STEPHEN STARR (who also sits at the “GENIUS TABLE”), it’s been awarded a fist full of stars and may well be the best restaurant that Joanne and I have had the privilege to dine at in recent years. But this isn’t STARR’S first rodeo. His BUDDAKAN in New York caught the city by storm.

And now in Bal Harbour in Miami, the ultra-chic and clever French bistro, LE ZOO is packing ‘em in (get the STEAK au POIVRE).

But sadly, our favorite seafood restaurant of his in Philly, STRIPED BASS, has gone dark. His “urban oasis,” THE CONTINENTAL & MARTINI BAR has been a monstrous success story in downtown for as long as I have been traveling to Philadelphia. So when Starr recently opened THE CONTINENTAL on Collins Avenue in the heart of Miami Beach near the Delano Hotel, I knew Joanne and I had a new go-to favorite…especially with the tropical outdoor dining.

But we never got the chance. It seemed like they opened and closed within a year. I wanted to try the Bao Buns that I fondly remembered from his Philadelphia location…as well as the Tang Martini.

The list goes on. To our delight, superstar chef DANIEL BOULUD, proud proprietor of the three-star DANIEL and DB BISTRO MODERNE in New York (and mentor to our own GAVIN KAYSEN of SPOON AND STABLE) opened BAR BOULUD in The Mandarin Oriental in London. And then, to our disappointment, closed DBGB in New York, where we would eat platters of delicious homemade sausages with our son, who lives a few short blocks away. DRATS !!!!

MICHELLE BERNSTEIN, the opening chef of the multi-starred AZUL in Miami, opened up in the edgy, yet emerging gentrifying neighborhood in the 60’s on Biscayne Blvd. We dined there once. She’s talented and we enjoyed the experience. But the décor was a little “off-putting.” Check out the image below. They are closed now.

In Miami, the rising star in the restaurant community is THE PUBBELLY GROUP. There’s PUBBELLY SUSHI….PUBBELLY STEAK….BARCELONETA, a tapas joint in Sunset Harbor where I (not Joanne for God’s sake), had snails with rabbit sausage! But like all of the extremely talented and successful restaurateurs around the country, they too are not ‘BULLETPROOF.” PB STATION in downtown Miami opened and swiftly closed. Too bad; I liked the place. But downtown Miami? YIKES!

TOM COLICCHIO is brilliant. A judge on Top Chef and creator of the national chain of ‘WICHCRAFT sandwich shops, he created the CRAFTSTEAK brand that lives at the MGM GRAND in Vegas. We have eaten at his first CRAFTSTEAK in New York and also in Vegas with the Parasole culinary team. Loved ‘em both. The one in Vegas survives; New York does not. In part, due to the 2008 recession, COLICCHIO said (and I paraphrase) “People just aren’t willing to spend a hundred bucks for a steak often enough.” So it morphed into COLICCHIO & SONS, a more casual iteration of the steakhouse.

That failed, too.

Even more distressing to us was the closing of COLICCHIO’S CRAFTBAR in New York. It featured one of my all-time favorite dishes: a Deep Fried Oyster Sandwich. Joanne and I will miss that place. It was our secret lunch spot.

Back to Miami, and to the sleek and tasty NUMBER #1 EDITION HOTEL, right on Collins Avenue, across from the now closed CONTINENTAL. COLICCHIO opened BEACHCRAFT there a couple of years ago. It featured one of the best cheese boards I’ve ever had. See the image below. But it’s gone – replaced by HABITAT from the PUBBELLY boys. BTW….Corner table #72 is still #72.

It’s weird because COLICCHIO is arguably one of the brightest and most talented restaurateurs in the country. After all, he was a partner with DANNY MEYER in the creation of GRAMERCY TAVERN, which runs neck and neck with BALTHAZAR as the most visited restaurant in New York City.

But then again, among our successes, we all have some “CLINKERS.” (Remember IL GATTO?)

These folks that I’ve mentioned are all pioneers and risk takers. Sometimes it works out…. and sometimes it doesn’t.

Which brings me to DANNY MEYER…..

When Danny decided to open UNION SQUARE CAFÉ 29 years ago, the Union Square neighborhood was dark, dingy and dangerous at night. But he opened up anyway….and UNION SQUARE CAFE quickly became wildly successful. As I think about it now, it’s in the same league as BALTHAZAR and GRAMERCY as far as frequent visits go. But UNION SQUARE CAFE, after 29 years, was recently forced to move. The trade rags cited a tripling of his rent.

See, here’s what happens – and this will provide a clue to many (but not all) of the restaurant closings that I’ve described. An entrepreneur takes a chance; maybe seizes on cheap rent in a risky neighborhood. The place is a hit. Other restaurants move in. People start to notice. Ad agencies rent office space, soon followed by other kinds of office tenants. Next comes housing…lots of lofts. Grocery stores see the opportunity.

You get the idea….and you all know what follows: Rents double. Then triple. Taxes skyrocket. And the poor restaurateur who was the original “stalking horse” gets priced right out of the market – the market that he or she created.

BTW, the newly located UNION SQUARE CAFÉ is a HOME RUN! And ironically, what I think they did was revolutionary! They invented the notion that really good food…priced right, offering a tony yet relaxed ambiance, usually in emerging edgy neighborhoods, would be just the ticket. Did this phenomenon contribute to the demise of the pretentious, stiff “fine and fancy” joints? I think so – and with no help from the 2008 economic downturn. Today, there just aren’t enough folks who want to sit at dinner for four hours and end up with a three hundred dollar tab.

Now, to be sure, restaurants close for other reasons. Your building gets sold or slated for re-development…the neighborhood changes (and maybe not for the better)…government rules and regulations choke you financially…the city embarks on a year-long road construction project in front of your restaurant…tastes change…your original customer base grows old and dies…you lose your parking…a recession hits…renovations or repairs are needed and they prove to be more expensive than you can afford….the list goes on and on.

The folks I have mentioned are in the GENIUS category, and are among the best restaurateurs the nation has to offer. But sometimes geniuses just plain miss. AND, SADLY, THAT’S THE WAY IT WORKS.

I know that when I miss the mark (and I frequently have), I find comfort in dragging out Teddy Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena, which reads in part:

“It’s not the critic that counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”




NUSR-ET. That’s what this is blog is about: An experience I found to be fascinating, fun, a little weird – and loaded with “high camp” – at a restaurant called… Nusr-Et.

Some back story: Nusret Gokce is a Turkish chef who opened an eponymous steakhouse in Istanbul in 2010. He has since grown his empire to eleven restaurants in locations ranging from Ankara and Istanbul…to Dubai and Abu Dhabi…then Miami (on Brickell Avenue), and now New York, on the ground floor of “Blackrock,” former home of China Grill, at 60 W. 53rd Street.

When Joanne and I were in Miami in January, we noticed that a placed called Nusr-Et was getting a lot of buzz. So of course we had to go.

We were welcomed at the front door by a bevy – yes, a bevy – of beautiful hostesses who, while pleasant, cheerful and earnest, seemed to be hopelessly disorganized.

We were shown to an immense dining room, but because it was such a beautiful evening, we chose to eat outside on the palm tree-loaded, sultry, tropically-flavored “front porch.” This proved to be a brilliant choice for a couple of geezers like ourselves because, as the night wore on, the noise in the dining room became deafening….BOOMPA, BOOMPA, BOOMPA!

No problem, though, because the volume level outside presented no problems. By the way, if you choose to eat on patio, request table 305, 306 or 307 – all four-tops, and all-set a respectable distance apart. You’ll be pleased.

This place is ALL ABOUT STEAK. And lest you forget, the see-in meat locker and fully loaded meat case in front of the kitchen are there to remind you. If you’re ordering fish or chicken, clearly you don’t understand why you are here.

The first clue that something was amiss came when our server approached the table and asked if we’d like water. I ordered, “Miami’s finest tap water, please.” I was then informed that Nusr-Et does not serve tap water – only VOSS at a whopping $9 a bottle.

Joanne said, “Hmmmmmm.”

(And I almost said, “F*** You!” for forcing me to pay for water)

I was told that we MUST try the Meat Sushi for an appetizer. My curiosity trumping my better judgment, we took our waiter’s advice. It wasn’t very good. BUT WHAT A PRODUCTION.

A cart was ceremoniously wheeled tableside and out came the blowtorch to put a sear on Paper-thin slices of beef wrapped around sushi rice, plated with avocado cream and shoestring potatoes for $20. There’s a reason why sushi is seafood-centric.

Salad was next, and we shared the Nusret Special Salad – which was good. It featured greens, walnuts, goat cheese, black raisins and pomegranate molasses. Good thing we shared, though, because all salads are $25 each!!

And then…..HE APPEARED!!!

NUSRET HIMSELF….in his snug white t-shirt, gold chain, round mirrored sunglasses and a jet-black pony tail. But…he is no longer Nusret Gokce. He has become….


Maybe you’re familiar with the Youtube clips of him. If not, I’ll explain in a second.

I learned that initially he was a butcher in Istanbul. But now his sole purpose seems to be to travel from table to table, carving and slapping the house signature Mustard Marinated Grilled Rib Eye (called “THE OTTOMAN”) which, as part of his final tableside act, he very SLOWLY and SENSUALLY SALTS by letting the flakes trickle down his forearm and finally flicking a blizzard of white crystals at (but not always hitting) the Rib Eye on the table.

Then, without uttering a word, SALT BAE LEAVES.

SALT BAE. I got the “salt” part, but I wasn’t sure about “bae.” Well, apparently the “bae” is a slang expression for “sweetheart” or “babe.” So I guess he’s “SALT BABE.”

What can I say? This guy is absolutely “chock full” of himself. He’s a put-on. He’s an actor (and it is ALL an act). He’s a consummate showman. And he’s AMUSING AS HELL. This guy knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.

As The Eater said, “He’s like watching a “cheezy movie.” Yes, he’s THAT GOOD. And he has gone viral, racking up millions upon millions of views on various platforms, becoming a full-fledged MEME that people just feel COMPELLED to share with one another.

And all the guy’s doing is flicking salt.

Check him out. He loves to pose for photos with the guests – frequently with macho steak-eating men, but more often with pretty girls. And he never, ever smiles.

Now, Nusr-Et reportedly has a great hamburger. It better be. It’s $30.

The $15 mashed potatoes, however, were not so hot. But then again, as Pete Wells wrote in the New York Times, “He’s not SPUD BAE.” The Pistachio Baklava served tableside is really good (considering his Turkish pedigree and the $15/slice price, it should be). Joanne and I finished up with a deep, thick Turkish coffee…also good.

A couple of things to stress. Nusr-Et is really expensive. The New York Post critic, Steve Cuozzo, recently called Nusr-Et’s NYC outpost “public rip-off #1.” And yet…and yet…”People still flock to see SALT BAE in action.”

Expect to pay at least $125 per person, without wine.

So here’s my take on Nusr-Et. As Robert Sietsema of The Eater wrote, “If you are viewing Nusr-Et as a steakhouse, you’ll probably be disappointed.” The steaks are not the quality of Peter Luger’s…or Manny’s…or St. Elmo’s. Maybe that’s why “The Ottoman” rib eye is marinated in mustard. “If, on the other hand, you appraise the place as ‘dinner theater,’ you’ll probably find it quite satisfying…BUT ONLY IF SALT BAE IS IN THE HOUSE.”

At our dinner in Miami, SALT BAE was in the house, just not at our table. Our tableside carver was pleasant enough and competent enough, but I guess I wasn’t pretty or macho enough to merit a visit. I wish we’d gotten one, though!

Not even Donald or Bernie can fill his shoes.




REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Season 1…Episode 3

FLASH !!! I just learned that THE GALLERY in Reykjavik’s Hotel Holt has closed (see my March 22 post). It sounds like the shuttering is part of a major renovation at the hotel. That doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. As I wrote, the restaurant – as wonderful and inventive as it was – felt a little dated to me. So this remodel will be welcome. What’s also welcome is that they hired a Reykjavik culinary rock star, purloined from the world-famous DILL RESTAURANT, to helm the Gallery’s successor. Joanne and I tried to get into Dill, but they were fully booked every night we were in town.

Stay tuned. When I learn more, you’ll learn more.

A reminder: As with all food and drink in Iceland, what you have heard is true: It’s EXPENSIVE. If you dine at places similar to those I’m describing, plan on spending at least $100 per person at dinner with a modest amount of wine. But here’s the thing: You’ll probably only be there for three or four nights, and you don’t have to splurge every night. So if your budget can stand it, go for it: You’ll remember these dinners all your life.

This is my final Iceland post for 2018 (well, maybe I’ll do one more; I’ve got a positively great lunch spot to tell you about). If this final installment doesn’t persuade you foodies to plan a long weekend in Reykjavik, all I can say is that it’s your loss. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Now, let me tell you about GRILLMARKET, where Joanne and I ate on our final night in Reykjavik.

By this time I had begun to understand and digest some of the attributes that are at the core of Iceland’s quiet culinary revolution.

I thought about the cold and largely unpolluted climate…the livestock raised without hormones or antibiotics, grazing freely on craggy basaltic slopes untouched by pesticides ….the local modest farms that that provide the milk, cheese and animals in a healthy, virtually disease-free environment….the safeguarding of clean, natural flavors….the rules concerning the strict limits on meat imports (hell, you can’t even bring cured ham or salami into the country)…and finally, the icy-cold, clear waters that surround the island country and yield a seemingly endless variety of fresh seafood.

Combine all that with the culinary revolution of Nordic Cuisine and, well, Grillmarket simply made sense to me. They seemed to embrace all of the discoveries that I had only begun to understand.

And, on top of that, they absolutely nailed the paradox of being exotic, yet comforting and familiar.

Let me describe. Dinner began with warm slices of Beetroot Bread with a dollop of soft Icelandic butter topped with black lava salt. Since here at Parasole, we serve beef carpaccio at several of our restaurants, I thought I’d give theirs a try as my appetizer. As expected, the paper-thin slices of tenderloin were perfect, but the dish was enlivened with chili jam, Parmigiano Reggiano and sweet almonds.

For her starter, Joanne chose the Char-Grilled King Crab Legs cut into 4-inch “soldiers” and basted with citrus butter.

A group of three young women seated next to us seemed to be absolutely delighted with themselves as they had the courage to order up a Trio of Sliders – but these were not your father’s sliders. One was made with Langoustine, another from Puffin, and a third made from Minke Whale.

Next we shared a warm Slow Roasted Icelandic Duck Salad with spinach and tangerines.

Now, Grillmarket, as its name suggests, specializes in food prepared on a custom-made grill that they claim can reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. And the restaurant’s deep, dusky atmosphere reinforces the whole grilled meats message.

Steaks abound – each around 250 grams (a bit more than half a pound), all grilled and served on wooden boards that complement the casual, rustic interior.

We didn’t order steak, but check out the images I’ve included. There’s a Beef Tenderloin as well as a traditional Steak Frites.

But the steak that caught my attention was the HORSE TENDERLOIN! It occupied, in big letters, the upper left “pole position” of the menu. I probably wouldn’t eat it, but then again…it WAS the headliner.

(By the way, horse is offered on a lot of menus in Iceland).

I really need to go back to Grillmarket…soooo many things I want to try, like the Grilled Lamb Short Ribs with Lime Wedges…the Double Rack of Lamb with garlic potatoes, crispy kale and chopped almonds…and a feature called “The Meat Gourmet,” which included a generous sampling of Char-Grilled Duck, Lamb and Beef.

The OCEAN CONTINGENT……not to be outdone by the livestock wing……they trumpeted THE FISH GOURMET……once again a generous trio of offerings….this time GRILLED SALMON…..COD….and REDFISH.

Fish and Chips are on the menu and very affordable. The twist is that they’re made from dried fish and dried squid (not sure why). I’ll probably try ‘em when I return.

Grilled Redfish, paired up with Smoked Pork Cheeks and a “Slap” of Carrot Puree, caught my attention. And the Grilled Arctic Char and Salmon would no doubt be very good, if perhaps a bit pedestrian

Two dishes that didn’t sound good to me at all: The Lamb Carpaccio, sliced too thick, looking a bit too primal (i.e. bloody); and the Grilled Minke Whale Steak, eagerly wolfed down at another table by a guy whose flannelled attire suggested he was either a local or a wayward Oregonian. The dish appeared to be accompanied by some sort of Asian dipping sauce.

Why do I have an aversion to horse and feel bad about eating whale when I eagerly gobble up little lambs? Maybe it’s my southern Illinois roots, but when I was a kid, horses were for riding and whales were for reading about in literature class.

So what did we order instead? Two dishes right out of Iceland central casting.

Joanne got the Char-Grilled Langoustine Tails served atop Fresh Shrimp and Scallops with Crispy Brioche Croutons and Champagne Sauce. And I zeroed in on Grillmarket’s showstopper: Grilled Reindeer served under a big glass dome. With Icelandic fanfare it was ceremoniously lifted at the table amid clouds of rosemary-scented smoke billowing up to the ceiling. When it cleared, I beheld a captivating combination of Reindeer, Smoked Pork Belly, Red Cabbage and Red Currant Chocolate Sauce!!!

Dessert was a Chef’s Potluck – a large black tray filled with a dozen or so samples of pastries and ice creams (probably leftovers, but no matter; they were delicious).

Wretched excess in Reykjavik? DAMN RIGHT!!




Last week I posted about Reykjavik.

To you folks who’ve never given Iceland a shot: This week I’ll take a second shot at getting you to add it to your culinary bucket list.

Also, just yesterday I received a pop-up ad promoting Icelandair roundtrips from Minneapolis for three hundred-something bucks!!

Get ready…..I’m preparing to wear you down.

Today we’re going to talk about sheep. Ever since the Vikings brought them to Iceland in the 9th Century, the animals have roamed free in the pesticide-free hills and mountains for nine months of the year. Not only that, all the sheep from all of the farms co-mingle and roam freely with one another without fences. In the early fall, the ranchers mount their smallish Icelandic horses and ride up into the hills to collect their spring lambs.

This annual event is called RETTIR….. and it’s a festive time.

Because each animal wears an individual identification tag, they are easily separated and herded into large divided corrals. And because this is Iceland, strict – very strict – laws ensure that they are as pure as the icy, wind-driven snow. No antibiotics…ever. No added hormones…ever. No electric shock…ever.

The result is that these all-natural direct descendants and genetically identical animals are wonderfully flavorful and exceptionally lean. The meat is also expensive. But due to Iceland’s increased prosperity, the people seem to have a willingness to spend money on high-quality, all-natural products.

So onward to one of Joanne’s and my favorite restaurants: KOL. Situated right downtown on SKOLAVORDUSTIGOR STREET (go ahead, pronounce that) near the base of the big church called HALLGRIMSKIRJA (while you’re at it, say that out loud), KOL is definitely meat-centric. But its seafood is not to be missed either. Just be prepared. While not weird or off-putting, it may challenge picky eaters.

If there are two of you, have your concierge book table # 91 by the window.

Artful cocktails are “master-crafted,” many with theatrical flaming garnishes.

The dense, dark, moist, chewy bread was cleverly paired with whipped Nutmeg Butter.

Check out the colorful and beautifully composed beet salad that Joanne loved. I opted for a starter of Langoustines, prepared with dill-marinated apples, fennel, bacon-date puree and citrus velouté.

The table next to ours shared an appetizer served in a jaw-dropping, family-style vessel laden with what must have been the best and freshest offerings from Iceland’s surrounding waters.

But now…. back to the sheep…..

Lamb comes half a dozen ways. I really loved the deeply flavored Char-Grilled Lamb Sirloin. And get this – it was paired with an unexpected counterpoint of Blueberry Polenta, 20-month aged Tindur cheese, celeriac, shallot esabeche and a nutty praline.

KOL touts that their custom charcoal grill/oven rises to 350 degrees centigrade. I’m not certain a charcoal oven can reach that temperature. By my calculation, that would be over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, but maybe I’m wrong.

I was absolutely RIGHT, however, to order the lamb that comes off that grill. It’s fired over a ton of herbs – mostly rosemary, I think – and the process unlocks an earthiness that reflects that lambs’ free-range diet. Next time, I must get what Joanne ordered: the Smoked Haddock (Finnin Haddie) with braised leeks and a poached duck egg. Soooo rich, and soooo good!

So many dishes, so little time.

The Braised Ox Brisket with Couscous and Buttery Mashed Potatoes & Gravy was tempting on the chilly autumn evening we were there. The local Icelandic Duck Confit with glazed red cabbage, red pearl couscous, roasted carrots and cashews also beckoned.

A block of soft, ivory-white cod, pan-seared and poached in what must have been a pound of butter – and the duck fat fries that accompanied it – would certainly be a sure-fire express ticket to heaven.

Joanne and I shared what was billed as the Chef’s Choice dessert plate. I’m not at all sure what was on the platter, but the Cassis Ice Cream, made from locally grown black currant berries, was narcotic.

So what’s to say?

Well, if you’re a food nut like me, you’re going to marvel at the VIVID and UNEXPECTED flavors and combinations of Reykjavik’s restaurants. For the adventurous culinarian, this is virgin territory, unlike any other part of the world. And it’s especially interesting to me that Iceland was, not long ago, a culinarily challenged country. Thank God for the New Nordic Cuisine revolution, which has transformed the country into a multi-starred dining destination, always punching above its weight.

Folks, I’m not messing around here. I know what I’m talking about. And if your “dining curiosity IQ” is anywhere above room temperature, you NEED TO GO TO ICELAND!

The only downside to Icelandic eating: It’s hard to chew when you’re smiling all the time.




OK….this is going to sound stupid……but only at first.

We’re gonna talk about ICELAND.

Yes, it’s winter there. And visiting Iceland is probably the furthest thing on your mind. But remember, the climate in ICELAND will soon become tolerable. April and October are chilly, but not necessarily cold. And May through September can be downright pleasant, with highs in the 50s. Joanne and I visited ICELAND last October, when the temperature was about ten degrees cooler than that.

Here’s why we need to deal with ICELAND now…while it’s still winter here in Minnesota:

Tourism in Iceland has exploded in the last few years, reaching an expected 2,400,000 visitors this year. Just think of it. For six months, a city of 300,000 people swells to eight times its normal size. It’s also become a hot spot for celebrities. Some come to make movies, others to charter boats for fly sea fishing. Some just crave the isolation, which Iceland offers in abundance. Reyjkavik is overwhelmed. The city is building hotels as fast as it can and restaurants are heavily booked during the summer season. Reserving early is a MUST. And have your hotel concierge book your restaurant reservations right away. That’s why I’m telling you this now.

So here’s a heads-up on some restaurants that Joanne and I like.

But first, your hotel. Besides an array of boutique properties, the major chains have set up shop in Reykjavik, although not in the heart of town. There are two Radisson Blu hotels, a Hilton, and a soon-to-be-opened five-star Edition brand by Marriott.

Joanne and I stayed a couple of blocks from the city center in an older, but very nice property called THE HOTEL HOLT.

Now, before we dive into the cuisine and restaurants, I strongly suggest that you read my posting on Iceland from November 9, 2017. It provides a backdrop for the restaurants I’ll be describing.

Something important to understand from the outset is that the NEW NORDIC CUISINE revolution you’ve read about in Copenhagen and Sweden is also relevant to all of the restaurants I’ll be talking about.

What is the “new Nordic cuisine?” It’s natural. It’s local. It’s sustainable. It’s about preserving, smoking, salting, fermenting. It’s seasonal and it prides itself on serving “foraged” ingredients. It’s about sheep and cattle freely grazing on the slopes completely free of drugs and hormones. And finally it’s about being surrounded by an ocean and the bounty of fresh seafood from Iceland’s ice cold clear coastal waters.

For imported items, Icelandic chefs tend not to rely on heavy emission-inducing transport. Their trading partners tend to be their other nearby Scandinavian neighbors. And for tomatoes and vegetables, they have an abundance of hot-houses, no doubt thermally heated (check out the winter low temperatures; surprisingly ICELAND is a hell of a lot warmer than Minnesota).

The pioneer of this movement was, of course, NOMA in Copenhagen, named best restaurant in the world for three years in a row.

So let’s get started. We had heard of Reykjavik’s top-rated eatery, THE GALLERY RESTAURANT, which was housed in our hotel, and its chef, an alumnus of NOMA. Being slightly jet-lagged upon arrival, we decided to make it the first stop in our culinary tour of Iceland’s capital.

The dining room was well appointed and pleasantly lit, with spaciously placed tables and an overall classy and comfortable – if a bit dated – feeling. That was okay because the food trumped everything else.

Yes, it expressed the core of the NEW NORDIC CUISINE but with clever, slight French overtones.

We began with two AMUSE BOUCHES: a tasting spoon of marinated local veggies and secondly a sensational Lobster Bisque garnished with WHITE CHOCOLOATE CREAM! Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas anymore!

Next we shared three starters: a Zucchini-wrapped Langoustine, a Golden-Crusted Sea Scallop on a bed of tapenade with a sauce of golden bell pepper coulis, and finally Salt Cured Salmon with a side of dark, chewy toast and honey mustard. As you might expect, for mains I took the “snout-to-tail” route and got the Icelandic Cod with Crispy Pigs Ears. Joanne surprised me and chose the Baby Lamb with Plumbs and Red Beets.

I snooped at nearby tables and concluded that they were dining equally well and as adventurously as we were. I spotted the Icelandic Duck, the just-caught Flounder, the Salmon Tartare with Scallop Ceviche. All looked really, really good.

If that wasn’t enough, we just couldn’t pass up dessert. A Dark Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Tuile and Raspberries was a hit. So was the Olive Oil Cake.

We trundled up to bed and immediately collapsed.

It was a GOOD NIGHT.



P.S. Stay tuned for upcoming postings on Reykjavik restaurants. And by the way, Minnesota: Icelandair out of Minneapolis is AFFORDABLE. Dare I say, even cheap?

The Abruzzi in America

I’d heard great things about the original IL MULINO restaurant in downtown New York – its 4.6 Zagat rating, its reputation for great service and ambiance, and its slavish devotion to using only the best quality ingredients.

Learning it was also a celebrity hangout sealed the deal. So I booked a table for Joanne, myself and some friends. Alas, Martin Scorsese and Tony Bennett were nowhere to be found, but I brushed shoulders with enough CEO types and elderly gentlemen with bejeweled ladies to get that “only in New York” feeling.

The meal began with a parade of complimentary antipasti – first, a quarter wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, gouged into generous chunks by our tuxedoed waiter. It was accompanied by slices of a spirited dry salami, and followed by a tableside presentation of tomato bruschetta with a steamed mussel as a counterpoint. And finally, a plate of crispy zucchini slices “bucked up” with garlic and chili flakes.

The hits just kept on comin.’

We started with an order of Clams Casino – perfectly toasty, and beautifully bacon-y.

A well sauced, “frisky” and unforgettable Penne Arrabiata, laced with hot chili flakes, abruptly awakened my palate. Joanne had a knockout half-portion of Linguini Al Vongole – the noodles perfectly al dente and loaded – really LOADED – with fresh clams. That ran about $30. We also shared a Rack of Lamb ($80). And one of our guests had the Double Veal Chop, topped with fried sage ($65 as I recall).

This is NOT Canyon Ranch Food!

Your overstuffed critic ended the meal with a Ricotta Cheesecake and a glass or two or three of Limoncello.

Now, Il Mulino has its roots in Abruzzo, Italy, the region to the east of Lazio (where Rome is). That’s important because the area borders the Adriatic Sea to the east and the mountains to the west. So Abruzzi cuisine has the best of both worlds – abundant seafood as well as lamb and beef from nearby grazing lands.

The location also sits right on the line that divides the vastly different North and South of Italy.

As you may know, there are French culinary influences in the North (during the French Revolution, quite a few of the aristocracy’s chefs fled there). Plus, the upper portion of Italy is blessed with a climate and soil that easily support the raising of cattle (think Bistecca Fiorentina), as well as the production of cream and butter, along with glorious cheeses of all varieties (Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano being among the best known). Then there’s the prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

The South, on the other hand, has it a lot tougher. Most of the soil is not nearly as rich as in the North. The climate is too hot to raise cattle – and few can afford that luxury anyway.

Southern Italians did, however, import water buffalo, who love the heat, from India, and BINGO: we got Buffalo Mozzarella, one of the world’s greatest culinary pleasures. And the hot climate and rich, volcanic soil around Mt. Vesuvius give us the incomparable San Marzano tomatoes that show up in so many southern specialties. But those are hardly the only assets of the South. Just like the North, seafood abounds here – tuna, swordfish, calamari, branzino, etc. Barnacle all that with the Arabian and North African culinary influences, and….WOW!!

Now, let’s switch gears – from remote Abruzzo to Las Vegas. Yep, Vegas.

Having had such a great experience in New York, Joanne and I feverishly anticipated dining at Il Mulino in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Place a few years back.

And while it was good, something seemed “off” to me. Despite the glitz of its surroundings, Il Mulino’s dining room was distinctly vanilla and almost utterly lacking in character. I think Il Mulino was in an expansion mode at the time, because they’ve since opened in the Hamptons, Atlantic City, Chicago, Aspen, Puerto Rico and Miami Beach (more about Miami later).

As the disappointments added up, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way rapid growth can beat up on quality. For example: The tableside antipasti service that we loved so much in New York was non-existent here. The salami, zucchini and bruschetta were all pre-set on the table – saving labor at the expense of theater. Instead of presenting our bread choices tableside, an unenthused wait assistant discarded a basket. The Bison Steak seemed out of place in an Italian restaurant. Moreover, both the Gnocchi with Basil Pesto and the Lobster Ravioli were way, way over-sauced.

As J.K. Simmons says in the Farmers Insurance ads: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Well, one thing I know from my numerous trips to Italy over the years and in cooking classes with Marcella Hazan in Bologna and Anna Tosca Lanza in Sicily is: DON’T OVERSAUCE THE F***ING PASTA!

Fast forward to Miami Beach a few weeks ago.

I was a little reluctant to go to Il Mulino on South Beach after our Vegas experience, but I gave it a shot and called to reserve a table by the window. No answer. I tried again that afternoon. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. But I was in a forgiving state of mind and decided to call back near opening time, when staff would be there to answer the phone. So at 5 PM, I dialed them up and…no answer.

Now, I’m “red-assed.”

“They just don’t give a shit”….”They’re not trained”….”It’s Thursday night, so I know they’re not closed. WTF is going on?” Don’t they know: hospitality starts BEFORE you enter a restaurant!

Well, being a glutton for punishment (and perhaps eager to dole out some of my own to a hapless waiter), Joanne and I walked over. I was really pissed – all set to enter the joint and “carve them a new one.”

So we walk in, loaded for bear…

…and are greeted with a broad smile by the manager. And before I can spit out my first invective, he leads us to a gorgeous table by the window, the best in the house (#50, I believe). Our waiter shows up immediately and gives us a genuinely welcoming smile and takes our drink order. He’s followed by another server bearing a quarter wheel of Parm. And THAT was quickly followed by me feeling like a first-class JERK.

Privately embarrassed, Joanne and I settled into our chairs in the white on white on white dining room that could have just stepped out of Italian Vogue Magazine.

The fresh-baked bread and focaccia, as well as the antipasti were graciously and politely served tableside – all with style and flair. That was just the start of a parade of some of the freshest, best-crafted Italian food I’ve ever had stateside.

Highlights included Joanne’s Langoustines – so fresh that they may have been swimming yesterday. We shared a loaded-up, pristine Seafood Salad. Joanne savored every bite of featherweight Gnocchi in a lite marinara sauce ($17 for a half portion), and I splurged on the Ravioli Stuffed with Lobster and Porcini Mushroom in a Champagne Cream Sauce with Shaved Black Truffles. Wretched excess? ABSOLUTELY. $25 for a half portion. But that’s about a once-a-year indulgence.

For our mains, Joanne (as predictably as she’d order a salad over a pâté) zeroed in on the fish – a Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) expertly de-boned at the table and simply dressed with just a light drizzle of olive oil, lemon and a little salt and pepper. I, being the carnivore, ordered the Costoletta – a crisply breaded pan-fried veal chop with the bone attached and, in a contrasting note, topped with chilled arugula and chopped tomatoes (A “cotoletta,” incidentally, is essentially the same thing, but without the bone).

Espresso and a shared Limoncello Cake with Zabaglione made tableside rounded out a wonderful night.

Vegas: You are forgiven.



Not Your Pillsbury Baeckeoffe

As I sit here writing this post, the radio is warning of a giant snowstorm bearing down on the Twin Cities. Schools have been closed, and all anyone can talk about is how miserable their evening commute will be.

So today I’ll write about a dish I’d LOVE to come home to – especially on a night like this.


The origin? ALSACE, on the French-German border.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it. I hadn’t until a few years ago. Baeckeoffe is an ALSATIAN MEAT STEW from the BAKER’S OVEN. (Really, how much more do you need to know before saying, “Yes, please!”)

Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it…without question.” In 2016, New York magazine cited this seminal reference source in a piece about Baeckeoffe, describing it as a popular Monday night special among the town folk of Alsace. Why Monday? Because that was laundry day, when housewives often found themselves too busy to cook. Their solution was to prepare an earthenware casserole of mutton, pork and beef stew marinated in wine, and then drop it off at the village baker, who – like a human crockpot – was responsible for slow-cooking everyone’s Baeckeoffes in his oven after he finished his bread. Then the kids would pick up the finished dish on their way home from school.

In Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants that specialize in this dish. Some have even named themselves after it. And what better place to sample the various iterations of this quintessentially regional specialty than in its largest city?

Some versions are made entirely with lamb, others with pork and sometimes duck. But most common is the combo style of mutton, pork and beef, with sliced potatoes, garlic, carrots, German Riesling wine, preserved lemon, artichokes and herbs – all layered like lasagna in a Dutch oven and sealed with a simple elastic dough of flour, egg and warm water. (I recommend Le Creuset or Staub for your Dutch oven).

If you happen to find yourself in New York City on a bitter cold winter night – and if you can summon several dining companions – be certain to go to GABRIEL KREUTHER restaurant in Midtown (I posted on this place on October 17, 2017) and treat yourself to a truly authentic dinner of classic Alsatian comfort food – including baeckeoffe.

About a year ago (April 20, 2017 to be precise), I wrote about LE COQ RICO bistro in Paris – “The Bistro of Beautiful Birds” and home, in my opinion, to the best chicken in all the world.

What does that have to do with baeckeoffe? Well, Parisian chef Antoine Westermann has since opened a New York branch of Le Coq Rico (near Gramercy Tavern, on East 20th Street) and guess what? His menu features baeckeoffe. Westermann’s take is a lighter, springtime version and features roast chicken instead of the meaty combo. I haven’t tried it, but I sure as hell will, because, based on my dining experience at Le Coq Rico in Paris, it will be delicious.

Here’s where things get a little tricky if you make this at home (and you CAN make it at home; recipes are on the internet). First, the chicken: In his Paris restaurant, Westernmann primarily uses Bresse chickens – the only chickens in the world protected with France’s official A.O.C. designation (the same as with French Champagne and Roquefort cheese) guaranteeing its authenticity.

You can’t get a Bresse chicken in the United States. You can’t even get a Bresse chicken egg (see my post from July 28th, 2016: “I’m a Bresse Man”). So what to do? What to do?

Well, one of the things that makes a Bresse Chicken so special is its size. Our supermarket chickens are around 40 days old. The Bresse chicken is much older – 90 to 130 days old – and weighs in at around 7 pounds or more; double what we’re used to. This allows the older and bigger bird to develop a much deeper, richer flavor.

So you need to source a BIG FAT CHICKEN. You won’t find it at the grocery store, but a good butcher or even a chicken farmer at your local farmer’s market might have one – if only available as a preorder (in which case you’ll have to wait a month or two while the bird fattens up).

And while there are no Bresse chickens in America, we do have several breeds (depending on where you live) that will work quite well: Plymouth Rock, Amish, Blue Foot, Bell and Evans, to name a few. They’re all-natural, all free range. All are American facsimiles of the Bresse chicken.

The other thing they have in common: Price. When you look at the cost of a chicken, 90% of what you’re paying for is the feed. The older the chicken, the higher the price.

Chef Westermann seems to have locked into a breed called “Brune Landaise” at Le Coq Rico. The New York Times describes it as a chicken with “a pedigree.” From what I understand, it’s a bit milder than, say, a Plymouth Rock.

The decision you have to make: Should you seek out or prepare a traditional, three-meat Baeckeoffe, perfect for winter? Or should you look to spring and make yours with a chicken? (A warning: While Westermann’s chicken version eats lighter than others, the price is on the hefty side. It costs $140. But hey, you can get it any night of the week, AND it will feed at least two people. You may even have leftovers for laundry day.



Cuckoo for COUCOU

Chef Daniel Rose has taken a peculiar route to stardom. Born and raised in Chicago…moved to Paris…and in 2016 he astonished Parisians with his creation of the “ingredient obsessed” SPRING restaurant located on the Rive Droit near Les Halles. Gregory Marchand, the chef of the wildly popular FRENCHIE restaurant, said of Daniel, “His love for French cuisine and French culture made him accepted by the Parisians and by the French as well.”

But it wasn’t simply his love of French cuisine that dazzled Paris. Rose’s nerve and playful re-interpretation of classic French dishes thrilled their jaded palates. The restaurant also had none of the heaviness of the traditional fine dining spaces in Paris. It was a perfect counterpoint to restaurants hidebound by tradition.

And then suddenly – SPRING CLOSED. It wasn’t immediately clear why.

But then I learned that Daniel had partnered with acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr and opened LE COUCOU on Lafayette Street in New York in June, 2016. A coucou, of course, is a bird, but it also describes someone who is, in Daniel’s words, “sweetly crazy.” Visit the restaurant and you’ll find that there’s nothing crazy about it – it’s a well-oiled machine – but the ambiance and crisply edited menu also evoke a relaxed “happy to be alive” attitude that never takes itself too seriously. Recognizing the refreshing attitude (and delicious food) of LE COUCOU, the New York Times awarded it three stars in a review that applauded Rose’s “modern take on French cuisine.”

Three stars it is…I would even suggest 4 stars. After all, the James Beard folks named it “The Best New Restaurant in the Country.”

Now, forewarned is forearmed: LE COUCOU is a tough reservation. You’ll need to book weeks in advance. However, you can finesse the situation by wedging yourself in at the “shoulder times” – 5:00-5:30, or 10:00-10:30. Not a problem for Joanne and me. We’re confirmed early birders. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve been up later than 9:00 PM in the last five years.

Something else to note: LE COUCOU ain’t cheap. But at the same time, it’s definitely not an exorbitant indulgence. Think of it as a “splurge night.” Lunch, by the way, would be an excellent way to save a few bucks while enjoying a wonderful dining experience – especially because this is a rare restaurant that’s just as attractive during the daytime as it is at night.

Where to begin, where to begin? So many excellent dishes.

Let’s start with the Lobster Tail with tomato and basil and a great salad ($34. Yeah, I know).

Joanne had my favorite: Pike Quenelles – feathery eliptoids of pikey mousse served in a decadent lobster broth of whipped cream and egg called Sauce Americain (and here I thought that was ketchup). She loved it. My wife was less enthusiastic, however, about the Buckwheat Breaded, Fried Eel, even though it was sauced with a delightfully aromatic curry vinaigrette.

Our friend, Michael, had the “show stopper.” Called “All of the Rabbit,” it was a three-course sequence beginning with a crusty panko-coated foie gras ravioli in rabbit leg bouillon, followed by the leg and thigh stewed with summer vegetables…and then two fork-tender medallions cut from the saddle. It was worth every penny at $43.

The Halibut Buerre Blanc was surpassingly creamy and buttery, and served over a bed of braised pickled daikon radish choucroute. $44 for a five-ounce portion, but the taste justified the price. Sure, some critics have argued that the butter sauce overwhelms the halibut. Not me: The more butter, the better.

And the list goes on….

Tripe with olives and green tomatoes (“Oh God, not that again!”) sounds awful; tastes delicious. If your dining companion won’t give you a taste of his Glazed Lamb Neck with Eggplant, Olives and Almonds, strangle him for it. Pan-Fried Sweetbread Lobes in a union of heavy cream, white wine, tomatoes, maitake mushrooms and tarragon are fantastic. Ditto the Duck with Cherries, Foie Gras and Black Olives. In the mood for Poussin? Order the whole roasted young chicken (28 days old).

My God, this stuff was good!

The Medallions of Beef were, as expected, spectacular. But what stole the show were the accompanying Oxtail Potatoes – thin, crunchy slices of potato glazed with juices of braised oxtail. (Let me tell you, there is NOTHING that won’t be improved by braising it with oxtail).

But…. it doesn’t stop.

We returned for BRUNCH.

Here’s what you need to do: Get the Buckwheat Crepe stuffed with Lobster and Poached Egg ($24). The Egg “Norwegian” – smoked salmon wrapped around a layer of cream cheese and a poached egg – all atop a bed of Arugula. Avocado Toast seems to be on every menu nowadays, but the LE COUCOU iteration sits on a grainy slice of buttered sunflower spelt toast with two poached eggs – a bargain at $18.

After a recent trip to Paris, I tried to introduce Eggs Murette at SALUT – a classic French country recipe of poached eggs in red wine with veal stock, smoked bacon and mushrooms. Edina would have none of it.

Ah, but LE COUCOU? In New York? From what I could observe, that may have been the most popular brunch item on the menu. (I may have to try again at SALUT).

Desserts? OMG. If you save room, get the Rice Pudding. DO! It’s in the same league as the world-renowned version served at L’AMI JEAN in Paris. Other choices include an impossibly rich Chocolate Mousse with 80% Cocoa Chocolate Shards shaved on top tableside and the surprising nod to Italy with the Baba Rhum with apricots and crème fraiche. But if you can only get one dessert (after the rice pudding), choose the house signature, CHILBOUST: a super-rich combo of vanilla, meringue, pastry cream and marinated cherries. YUM.

Our table also shared the Large Cheese Platter, featuring five generous wedges (that change daily). These selections are not supermarket-variety cheeses. They’re rich and pungent – some buttery beyond words. They’re SOOOO good. They don’t taste pasteurized (by American law) like most all American cheese. Do you suppose?

We left plump and happy.

I need a nap!




Running kids from soccer to basketball to dance class to piano lessons to hockey to play dates to birthday parties to check-ups…OMG!

How do they ever work in mealtime for the LITTLE DARLINGS, especially when they can be so fussy and finicky about what’s on their plate – screaming, “Don’t let that green stuff touch my chicken!”… “I hate this!”… “You never make anything I like”… “You’re a bad mom!”

Is it any wonder that moms frequently take the default route and open a jar of SPAGHETTI SAUCE, universally loved (or at least not despised) by busy, highly strung, highly programmed, type A kidlets?

And honestly, some of the jarred sauces are pretty good. So that’s okay.

But Mom, when it’s a frigid Sunday afternoon in Minnesota and the temp hovers around zero, I have an “oasis” for you – better than “Mommy’s Little Helper” (if not quite a spa treatment). It involves losing yourself in a fulfilling, rewarding and serene six-hour hover over a steaming pot of comfort food – the Holy Grail for Italian food lovers: MARCELLA HAZAN’S BOLOGNESE SAUCE!!! It’s the best you’ll ever eat. BY FAR.

In preparation for opening PRONTO RISTORANTE years ago in the Hyatt Minneapolis, my partner Pete and I attended Marcella Hazan’s cooking school in Bologna, Italy (check us out. We were “puppies”). And while I am certain that every region in Italy considers itself the country’s food capital, I’ve traveled enough in Italy – north to south, and even Sicily – to come to the informed conclusion that EMILIA ROMAGNA takes the prize. That’s why its capital, Bologna, is called “FAT CITY.”

By the way, David Leite of Culinaria once described Marcella perfectly, calling her “a woman who spoke her mind, knew right from wrong, and who, if you disagreed with what she had to say, well, that was your problem.”

Marcella has published a number of cookbooks over the years, the two most popular being The Classic Italian Cookbook, published I think in 1982, and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in 2000.

My understanding of Bolognese sauce is that a version of the earliest documented recipe first appeared in Italy in the late 18th century. Since then, innumerable versions have seen print. Many claim to be “definitive.” All the ones I’ve tasted are definitely delicious.

The Italian have RULES UPON RULES – or at least very passionately held opinions – about exactly which pasta should be paired with which sauce. Italian cooks may frequently be wrong, but they are NEVER IN DOUBT, and the prevailing opinion is that Bolognese Sauce should be paired with TAGLIATELLE. Perhaps. I like tagliatelle. But I also like my Bolognese paired with tortellini…and fettucine…penne…farfalle…and my favorite, pappardelle, with its broad surfaces for the sauce to cling to. That’s the way we served it at MOZZA MIA…and in a skillet (DAMN, I miss that place!).

Now, I would expect that the “Birkenstock crowd” (of which my daughter is a proud member) would tout that the sauce is equally delicious paired with tofu or zucchini ribbons. Go ahead if you like (but that sounds awful to me).

Some stuff that does NOT sound awful to me: SAN MARZANO TOMATOES, for one thing. Whatever you have to pay for them, it’s worth it. They come from the rich lava soil on the slopes of MT. VESUVIAS near Naples. Buy them canned (yes, canned). They’re picked at the peak of flavor and are much better than the rock-hard ones you may find at the grocery store. Squash them with your hands or cut ‘em up with kitchen shears.

Use a LE CREUSET DUTCH OVEN or something equivalent – NEVER CAST IRON (the acid from the tomatoes will have a bad reaction and turn the sauce into a disgusting color).

Now, I mentioned two cookbooks that Marcella wrote. Both have a recipe for her Bolognese sauce. Her secret – the thing that makes Marcella’s Bolognese deeply flavorful and smooth as silk, is the addition of WHOLE MILK or CREAM. Marcella taught Pete and me to use HEAVY CREAM.

Yet her two published recipes are not identical. In the earlier book, when the sauce is composed and simmering, Marcella adds the wine and, after cooking it down, adds the milk. The later book instructs you to add the milk first, then the wine. See the printed recipe. Pete and I were taught to add the wine first.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s a distinction without a difference. But here’s one bit of advice that Marcella provided consistently: After you toss the Bolognese with the pasta of your choice, at the table, grate PARMIGIANO REGGIANO CHEESE on top. Do not skimp here. Get the real thing – aged three to four years, priced around $22-25 a pound, AND WORTH EVERY PENNY.

So Mom…on a cold, cold winter Sunday afternoon, don’t waste the day or do something stupid outside. Follow Marcella and sweat and sauté those veggies…braise those meats (beef, pork and veal if you like)…crack a bottle of BASKET CHIANTI, and hover over that steaming, simmering pot.

Six hours later, celebrate your therapeutic afternoon with a sauce that just might be Italy’s single greatest contribution to cooking.

Buon Appetito!!!! (and yes, crack another bottle of Chianti!).



I like seafood a lot (it drove me to create the OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM), and I’ve had the luck and the pleasure of dining at some of the best seafood places anywhere…and that includes little seaside un-named spots in Greece, Turkey, France and Asia…just can’t remember their names.

As far as fine dining goes…. you can’t beat LE BERNARDIN in New York. It’s perfectly run, with artful plating, intense flavor profiles and a beautiful dining room. Only been there twice. It’s pricey…not a rip-off…but REALLY EXPENSIVE.

Another place that I like is ESTIATARIO MILOS in New York, Vegas, Miami and elsewhere. It’s also REALLY EXPENSIVE (but Joanne and I have “cracked the code” and order off the $39 “SUNSET MENU”…which may refer to the time of day, or to our age….)

Although we haven’t been back to Rome for a while, our favorite seafood place there is LA ROSETTA, located just a short walk from the Pantheon. On our last trip there, a still-attractive Kathleen Turner was at the next table. (We’re going back to Italy this spring, so stay tuned. I’ll post about LA ROSETTA in June.)

Leaving the “fine and fancy” world, it’s important to mention some of the important “old school” seafood houses. One is JOE’S STONE CRAB in Miami Beach. I’ve posted plenty about that restaurant. Another is TADICH GRILL, a San Francisco icon that’s over 100 years old….. Zagat rated 4.5.

I’m writing about Tadich Grill partly because, as I sit here, it’s 7 degrees below zero outside my window, and I recalled that Tadich refers to itself as “THE ORIGINAL COLD DAY RESTAURANT.” It says so on their window.

And TADICH gives new meaning to the term CLASSIC. I would guess that the interior has changed hardly at all since they opened a century ago. It’s incredibly cozy, safe and comfortable – and the last time I was there the prices seemed at least a decade behind the times. The food is consistently good – very good indeed – and is served up by veteran waiters in starched white “cut and sewn” jackets. They’re a little like the crew at MANNY’S: most are lifers, each has an attitude, and they know how to take care of you.

Lots and lots of folks dine at the bar. That’s not all that unusual today, but Tadich has been doing it long before it became a trend.

There’s nothing terribly exotic on the menu (well, maybe abalone), but most everything else is a classic offering (They do a great Crab Louis) and is done up today just as it was in decades past.

I’m hard pressed to identify Tadich’s “SIGNATURE DISH” because so many seem like signature dishes, but if I were forced to name one, it would be the CIOPPINO (a dish I wrote about a few weeks back). It’s redolent with the freshest stuff off the boat…. and lots of it. Besides, CIOPPINO was created by San Francisco fishermen. It’ll run you about $36 (It would probably be $136 on the Estiatorio Milos menu).

But what about Tadich Grill’s Sand Dabs? And what about its Petrale Sole? Or the Lobster Thermidor?

Aren’t those classics, too?

But the menu isn’t boring. Try the Grilled Calamari Steak, the Lobster Pot Pie, or – if you over-indulged the night before – the Hangtown Fry (eggs and fried oysters, especially restorative with a Bloody Mary or two). And by all means, indulge in Tadich’s non-seafood offerings, like the Lamb Shank or the New York Strip. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way, we know about the Hangtown Fry because FIGLIO introduced so many Twin Citians to this dish back in the ‘80s.

This place works for kids as well. They’ll like the bibs and love the desserts. I steer youngsters to the Bread Pudding. My grandkids like the gooey-ness and I find that the bourbon it’s doused with really calms them down.