TO MARKET, TO MARKET

One of the many pleasures that Joanne and I share when visiting major capitals is to seek out the local marketplaces. Some are refined, some are gritty. And a few are really gritty.

Among the refined – no surprise here – are the food markets in Stockholm and Munich.

In the heart of downtown Stockholm stands the SALUHALL OLSTERMALM FOOD HALL. Built in 1888, it’s an institution: a place for the enjoyment of local and international foods in an historic setting. It closed in 2016 for an extensive makeover and has since reopened with a much larger space and improved connectivity to the surrounding streets.


On a recent visit to Munich, we visited the VIKTUALIENMARKT, a series of structures purveying fresh food, sausages, flowers…all that you’d expect. What might surprise you are its vast outdoor beer gardens, which become the epicenter of Oktoberfest, or the big, sleek and shiny new Italian food hall, EATALY, that has taken root dead center in the Munich market.

Eataly is extremely well-designed and merchandised for a population that – like everyone else – loves Italian food. But a German resident told us that Munich citizens have not totally embraced Eataly, and I sense that his observation may be correct. To me, Eataly seems to clash with the realness of the surrounding German food stalls and beer gardens. Maybe that explains the thinness of the crowds on the day we visited.

Further south is Florence’s MERCATO CENTRALE, a big and buzzy place set in a two-story building that we have visited probably a dozen times or more during my days at BUCA, when I lead our chefs and managers on culinary tours of Italy.

One of the frustrating things that I experience in these food halls and markets where everything is stunningly merchandised and presented is that it makes no sense to buy any of the mouthwatering offerings. After all, you’re staying in a hotel. But one year I wised up. We rented an apartment in town, and finally I had the pleasure of morning shopping trips to the market and lazy afternoons preparing dinner.

But this last visit to the Florence market was jarring. Although the first-floor food stalls remain vital, crowded and alive, all the second-floor food stalls have been replaced by – you guessed it – Eataly.

However, this iteration felt entirely different than its Munich counterpart. Though all hew to the same formula, Eataly in Florence feels authentic rather than forced, and it attracts locals and tourists like a magnet. Our grandkids were stunned by the variety and novelty of the offerings, many of which they’d never seen before. It all boiled down to a whopping fun place to browse, buy and eat. BTW, private tours of Eataly and the market are available for about $75, and the facility boasts a very modern cooking school offering day classes that’ll run you a hundred bucks or so.


Further south and a little further down the gritty scale, we come to Barcelona, home of Antoni Gaudi, the eccentric architect who designed the CHURCH OF SAGRADA FAMILIA. So unsettling was his work that his professor at the Barcelona School of Architecture said upon Gaudi’s graduation, “I do not know if we have awarded this degree to a mad man or a genius.” Check out the images. You decide.

But what I’ve decided is that Barcelona’s BOQUERIA MARKET, two-thirds up the Rambla on your left, is one of the most sensual and dramatic markets in all of Europe. It was started around 1840 and arrived at its present form in 1914. Today throngs of tourists and locals stroll the market on slippery floors of melting ice and discarded fruit skins. Stall keepers are loud and shout out their goods, lending charm and authenticity to the frenzy.

The Boqueria Tourist Guide says, “High dining stools in open air restaurants abound and can be absurd, as a man walking by as you eat carrying a pig right under your nose….but that also serves to remind you of the spontaneity and freshness they offer.”

Next on my list is Palermo, Sicily and the VUCCIRIA (pronounced Voo-chir-RIA), an early-morning market located both above and below street level in the city’s historic downtown. Owing to Palermo’s proximity to the sea, fishmongers dominate and have the most interesting stalls, laden with swordfish and tuna, fresh from the Straits of Messina, weighing in at several hundred pounds. Bright, brilliant and vivid colors of just-picked produce punctuate the grayness of the sometimes-grimy streets.


The Vucciria market strikes me as completely natural – no showbiz, no staging, just REAL.
The market opens at 4:00 AM when fishermen arrive with their catch and are greeted by buyers who have been waiting since 3:00 AM. So try to get there no later than 6:00 AM to see the Vucciria in action.

Half way around the globe and a world away from the refined markets of Sweden and Munich sits Bangkok’s sprawling CHATUCHAK MARKET. Here you can find almost anything from food to housewares to fine art and auto parts. In addition to selling an array of meats and produce (some of it quite exotic and not to my nose…like durian), you’ll find a vast array of land and see creatures – some sold as pets, others as ingredients. So what’ll it be for your evening meal? Rats…reptiles…worms? Take a look.

I ain’t lying.

WTF

PHIL

GOOD MORNING, LONDON

About a year ago I posted a blog titled “Start Your Day Right”, about some of Joanne’s and my favorite breakfast spots.

But on a recent trip to London, it occurred to me that nobody – and I mean NOBODY – does breakfast better than the English.


The tradition of hearty morning meals dates back a couple hundred years to the country houses of the English gentry and their notion of what constituted a proper Anglo-Saxon breakfast. It’s said that they liked to display their wealth to their peers by outdoing one another with robust pre-noon repasts. Another notion is that during World War II, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, even on campaigns, began his day with a huge breakfast platter that came to be known as “THE FULL MONTY.” Other terms for it include The Fry-Up, The Whole 9 Yards, The Whole Hog, and simply The English Breakfast.

Check out the image. Digging in to a piping Fry-Up is an experience that “can get you right…no matter what you did the night before.”

But there are rules……

Always SAUSAGE (bangers) and bacon – either “streaky” like you typically find in America, or “back bacon,” a favorite of the Canadians. Lower-calorie back bacon comes from the cured loin of the pig and is served to counter the fatty sausage. Sliced black pudding (oatmeal, pork fat and pig blood…YUM!), along with sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, is a must – as is Heinz Baked Beans (yes, right out of the can). Two eggs, fried or poached, will anchor the plate, and a grilled lamb chop or pork chop might also be included.

Now on to my London favorites, and some British adventure beyond bacon and eggs.

We love THE WOLSELEY on Piccadilly. The place is grand – black, gold and cream colored. It’s ALWAYS jam-packed, always surprising, and always good. Yes, they have the Full Monty, but also a perfect Eggs Benedict as well various other iterations of the dish. The fluffy Ricotta Hot Cakes, crowned with sweet cherries and crème fraiche? Well, you know. And for the adventurous, how about Spicy Indian Curried Kedgeree (Madras curry, basmati rice, onions, lentils and a poached egg)?


Or if you have a hankering for Haggis (and who can resist Scotland’s signature dish of heart, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and sheep’s lungs, all steamed in an animal’s stomach?), then this is for you – complete with two poached eggs (BTW, the USDA has banned haggis in the United States. It has something to do with sheep’s lungs. No kidding).

Next on our stop is the CONNAUGHT HOTEL in Mayfair, where celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees the main dining room. I strongly suggest that you try the Connaught’s more precise version of the Full Monty. They don’t call it that. They simply call it the English Breakfast. Note how refined this version is (yet still, the beans come from a can).

Remember that you are in London…and that it’s time to step out of your “safe zone” from time to time. SMOKED HADDOCK and POACHED EGG for breakfast? Sure, why not? How about Kippers? Ever had ‘em? Oatmeal, yogurt, fresh figs and fresh fruit, with a shot of bee pollen? Trust me, it’s delicious. And beautiful.

The Connaught certainly inspired me to add TARTINES to SALUT’s lunch menu. Mushy peas and burrata on whole grain toast are a good start. Even better was the Avocado Toast Tartine with smoked salmon and poached eggs.

Although the Connaught serves it at breakfast, I think the Smoked Salmon with Blini (baby pancakes) and crème fraiche would also be a nice dinner appetizer.

The tiny jars of jam and jelly are cute – exactly the thing that my mother liked to slip into her purse. And will someone please tell me: Why is toast served cold in England?

For lighter fare, stop by PRUFROCK COFFEE in Clerkenwell for exotic and out-of-this world brewed beverages. While there, do NOT miss their House Porridge with nutmeg and fresh figs.

A little more exotic and unusual breakfast spot is the Asian-Indian restaurant DISHOOM (not to be confused with “dish room”) on St. Martin’s Lane in Shoreditch. I’d never had an Indian breakfast before then, and I’m not certain that one would find this nominally Indian offering anywhere on the sub-continent ….. but their Bacon-Naan house breakfast sandwich was a delight.

The best bacon in London? Head to the GINGER PIG in Marylebone and try their dry-cured version.

Housed 40 stories up in the Heron Tower is THE DUCK AND WAFFLE, a riff on the America southern classic Chicken & Waffles. It’s probably not for everybody, but several members of our Parasole culinary team gave it a shot when we were in London a couple of years ago. And of course their “go-to” breakfast dish is…Duck & Waffles, consisting of duck leg confit, a crispy waffle, and a big fat duck egg, smothered with mustard/maple syrup. And it all comes with a postcard-perfect panorama of London.


Clerkenwell makes another appearance here. This time it’s THE GRANGER & COMPANY. (I think they may have another location in King’s Cross.). I love their Pan-Fried Back Bacon and Fried Egg Sandwich on a toasted sesame bun. I know it’s not gourmet dining, but DAMN, IT’S GOOD! If you want something less heavy, this restaurant is also known for its light and fluffy Ricotta Pancakes with bananas, all covered with honey butter.

Also in the neighborhood: THE MODERN PANTRY, which has a charming patio in front, along with enticing breakfast offerings. I know, I know…but I love bacon, and was immediately drawn to their Bacon & Waffles. And don’t be bashful – give the poached eggs and fried haloumi cheese a go. If you’ve never been to Greece or Cyprus, fried haloumi might be unknown to you, so here’s your chance to try it.

Modern Pantry also serves an American-inspired dish that combines cornbread, fried egg, chorizo and green chili salsa to delicious effect. And don’t miss the croissants, which are baked on the premises. Two standouts are the melt-in-your-mouth Toasted Almond Croissant and the Pumpkin Croissants with Salty Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, a fall feature.

Finally, the snout-to-tail, “mother of ‘em all” breakfast served at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, where every part of the pig is served, even the squeal. Start with the best and biggest, homemade, thick-sliced sourdough bread stuffed with what must be a full pound of pan-fried back bacon. BTW, the toast is slathered with butter. Do not share. Keep it all for yourself.

Further up the piggy ladder you’ll find a plump fried duck egg sitting upon a thick slice of pig’s blood pudding. Getting excited now?

But hold on, folks. The hits just keep ‘a comin’.

DEVILED LAMB KIDNEYS ON SOURDOUGH TOAST, combined with English mustard dipping sauce. My adventurous 12-year-old grandson actually ate a full order of it, But you know what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”


And you thought Sheep’s lungs were a challenge.

And finally, I am so blessed: My whole family surprised me by showing up in London to celebrate my birthday.


WTF,

Phil

FEEDING TIME AT LE ZOO

The famous French Impressionist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, must of had a “thing” for the star can-can dancer of the MOULIN ROUGE, Louise Weber, as she was by far the most prolific subject of his works. Her stage name was Goulue, which roughly translates to “glutton,” apparently because she was known for snatching and guzzling patrons’ drinks as she danced.


One of Joanne’s and my favorite brasseries in Miami was named LA GOLUE. Housed for years in the toniest of Bal Harbor’s shopping centers, it seemed to have everything going for it – the right look, an uncluttered Parisian style, a charming outdoor café. La Goulue checked all the boxes for authentic bistro/brasserie offerings, from Steak Frites to Croque Madame, and the public seemed to love it.

So it came as a complete surprise to us last year when we discovered that they had vacated the space and had been replaced by another French brasserie…. called LE ZOO.

My disappointment over losing a restaurant “friend” didn’t last long, however – because the new owner/operator turned out to be none other than Stephen Starr, a master at creating sensory dining pleasures and spaces. (Check out my March 1, 2018 post about Starr’s Le Cou Cou restaurant, my new favorite dining spot in New York City.)

I just knew Le Zoo would be good….and indeed it was when Joanne and I dined there last month.


First of all, the space is smart and stylish, like your favorite Parisian restaurant, filled with good-looking people having a great-looking time. The interior atmospherics and trappings are a little fancier and more serious than SALUT’S, but the two restaurants share a devotion to the French classics, with very similar quality and prices. Yes, they have Foie Gras at $24 and Stone Crabs at market price (both are money well spent), but that’s about the only signal I got that perhaps Le Zoo is more of a special occasion place. There’s certainly no snootiness to it.

To the contrary, I actually felt that Le Zoo is striving to be rather broad-based in its appeal, with both pizza and pasta sections on the menu. (Coincidently, both SALUT restaurants are debuting pizzas and pastas this February. More on that later.)

The Steak Frites, Bouillabaisse, Black Truffle Tagliolini and Profiteroles were straight from the French canon. What’s not so “textbook,” but nevertheless delicious and witty, was their Kosher Hot Dog Frites – old-fashioned fatso goodness. And YES, the hot dog snapped out loud when I bit into it – just as a good hot dog should.

WTF

PHIL

STUBBORN SEED TAKES ROOT IN MIAMI

With the wonderful Minnesota winter settling in and all the joy that it brings, it’s time to focus on warmer destinations….namely Miami.


Joanne and I spend a fair amount of time there during the winter as it offers a target-rich restaurant scene – ideal for gaining ideas that can be put to use across the PARASOLE family of restaurants.

Miami is a magnet for rock star chefs – though seasonality makes it a tough market to crack. Some of the best have flamed out. That includes Tom Colicchio at HABITAT, Rick Tramonto of TRU in Chicago, and even Steven Starr with THE CONTINENTAL on Collins Ave.

But for every closed door, another seems to open.

Let me introduce you to the STUBBORN SEED.


If Miami had to lose Tom Colicchio to make room for this cozy, 72-seat urban bistro, I’d say that’s a fair tradeoff, because this newcomer is a gem. Sandwiched between JOE’S STONE CRAB and RED STEAKHOUSE south of 5th on Washington Avenue, Stubborn Seed serves up one of the city’s best dining experiences.

Be warned, this place is pricey. And its small size can make for a tough-to-nab reservation. But Stubborn Seed is worth it.

Here’s what the Miami Herald’s restaurant critic, Victoria Pesce-Elliott, had to say about it: “Telegenic and
tattooed talent Jeremy Ford is turning out some of the most exciting, balanced and delicious flavors that South Beach has ever seen.”


I could not agree more.

Ford trained for three years under super chef Jean Georges Vongerichten at MATADOR in the chic EDITION HOTEL in Miami Beach. It’s one of our favorite Miami Beach restaurants, but with Stubborn Seed Ford may have actually eclipsed his mentor.

Let’s start with a cocktail, shall we? Stubborn Seed’s are DIY. Order a Negroni, for example, and it will come with all the fixins’ elegantly arrayed on a silver tray, complete with eye-droppers of houses-made bitters. It’s the kind of production you’d get at the Connaught Hotel’s legendary bar.


I’m not CERTAIN about the name, Stubborn Seed, but I AM certain about the food, which absolutely nails the yin and yang that define culinary artistry: warm & cool…dark & light…sweet & savory…high & low…cream & crunch…spice & mild.

Setting the tone for what was to come, our evening began with complimentary snacks (if that term even applies to what was laid before us): two delicious potato-encased lobster fritters accompanied by a duo of crispy hollow potato puffs, each crowned with a dollop of caviar. “OMG…not THAT again.”

Next came two Parker House-like rolls – except these were made from soft potato with bee pollen, and were served with an assertive, bright green garbanzo/chili spread.

A signature appetizer is a lavash cracker topped with a creamy chicken liver spread and dots of smoked hot chili jam. They’ll run you $8 each, and are worth every penny.

Another standout appetizer is Warm Celery Root with Crackling Mitake mushrooms, creamy mustard and “herbs and blooms.” And whoever thought that one could get hooked on celery broth? But that was the case with the Jojo Tea-Cured Cobia with Honeycrisp apple, compressed radish and fennel fronds.

In the “not-so-healthy (but-who-cares?)” department were the deep-fried Truffled Gooey Cheese Balls and the Smoked Foie Gras, featuring a fat lobe of pastrami-spiced duck liver with pickled cabbage, grainy mustard and crunchy rye bread crumbs. It cost a whopping $28. After eating it, however, you could easily skip your main course.

It would be the height of foolishness, though, to take a pass on Stubborn Seed’s simply prepared, but decadently delicious Butter Poached Lobster – or its Thai-flavored counterpart, prepared with lemongrass and crispy bitter garlic, and topped with green curry foam.

Another dish not to be missed is Joanne’s favorite: Sourdough Bread-Crusted Halibut with habanero carrot stew and Kombu broth.

(You may ask, “WTF is kombu?” It’s an edible kelp widely eaten in East Asia.)

Among the side dishes we enjoyed: Roasted Heirloom Carrots with fresh herbs, unknown types of seeds, yogurt and carrot puree; and the Charred Red and Yellow Beet “Napoleon,” accented with blackberries and micro flowers.


Desserts are a big deal as well. Joanne and I have two favorites. Hers is the Corn Pavlova, made from roasted sweet corn custard, bay leaf meringue, pickled blackberries and popcorn gelato ($11…not bad).

I don’t think I’ve had Snickerdoodle Cookies since Eisenhower was President, but I had four of them here (at $4 each) – and they were everything you’d expect in a soft, gooey, buttery, cinnamon-spiked dessert oozing with molten French premium Valrhona Chocolate.

A preponderance of my Minnesota readers winter in Naples and not Miami. My advice to you: Take an overnight to Miami Beach to dine at Stubborn Seed. You’ll be richly rewarded.

As I noted before, reservations are difficult (786-322-5211), so plan well in advance. Note that the restaurant is closed Mondays and serves dinner only.


Be prepared, too, to spend some money here. Appetizers hover around either side of $20 and main courses are in the $35 to $55 dollar range, so consider it a splurge night – but one that’ll be well worth it.

W.T.F.

PHIL

A STEAKHOUSE STALWART IN NEW YORK

So many are gone now……


I can remember a few…LUCHOW’S on 14th street….the WEINERSCHNITZEL EMPORIUM…..MAMA LEONE’S, a temple of Italian wretched excess, with 1250 seats and gigantic platters to match. Mama shuttered the place in 1994, but I’ll never forget the fun and generous spirit of this Theater District landmark. They even gave you food – sometimes bread, sometimes cheese – to take home.

And how about DELMONICO’S – New York’s first steakhouse – in lower Manhattan? It’s long, long gone, and to this day I regret not eating there.

SPARKS STEAKHOUSE survives – and indeed thrives. Which is more than you can say about its most notable patron: mobster Paul (Big Paulie) Castellano, who in 1985 was gunned down by the Gambino family outside Sparks’ front door after downing a 24-ounce Porterhouse (medium rare) dinner.

Still going strong as well: KEEN’S CHOPHOUSE, open since 1885 on 36th Street (see my October 19, 2017 post about this restaurant). Even today, it boasts a stratospheric ZAGAT rating of 4.5. Don’t miss the MUTTON CHOP.

And, of course, there’s still the grandaddy of ‘em all – THE OLD HOMESTEAD STEAKHOUSE, founded in 1868 down in the Meatpacking District. Still robust! Still packed!

But there is one other that I have admired for years, and that’s GALLAGHER’S STEAK HOUSE. In the late 1970s, when I was in New York almost every other week for business, I would find myself wandering over to West 52nd street simply to marvel at the camera-ready meat locker (visible from the street through the front picture window). Staring at haunches of Prime beef on their 30-day dry-aging journey to the table, I can remember thinking, “That’s my kinda place”.

Maybe Gallagher’s is where the seeds for MANNY’S were planted in my mind.

Created in the late 1800s, it was called Club Evelyn until 1927, when Helen Gallagher (a Ziegfeld Girl) took over and rechristened it GALLAGHER’S STEAK HOUSE.


Decades passed, and the restaurant’s look hardly changed at all. But then, in 2015, a fellow by the name of Dean Poll took over and reportedly sunk a badly needed $5,000,000 into the place to bring it into the 21st century. In my view, he was really smart about it, because the menu doesn’t appear to have strayed from the steakhouse classics that proved so durable over the last hundred years or so. It still checks all the boxes of a big and brawny New York-style Power Steakhouse.

Poll did make some updates to the interior – the kitchen, for example, now opens to the dining room – but the beautiful u-shaped bar remains. And most important, the restaurant retains the slightly saloon-y vibe that is so reassuring, non-threatening and comfortable. BRAVO!

Check out the images below….

A stiff drink…Flintstone-sized Porterhouses grilled over hickory charcoal…


swordfish and lobsters…

salads and hash browns…

desserts right out of Steakhouse Central Casting…

and a 10-ounce burger to boot.

No wonder Gallagher’s remains a favorite of movers and shakers, bankers and brokers, mobsters and movie stars – and, of course, athletes.

Now, I did not go to the men’s room when I was there. But I can imagine the walls are emblazoned with pictures of jocks – generation after generation of them. In fact, I think it’s that it’s possible – maybe even probable – that Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter not only share wall space, they might have even shared the same original porcelain fixtures. I don’t know. I was just wondering.

W.T.F.

PHIL

A STARLESS MICHELIN

In the late 1800’s, Edouard and André Michelin ran a rubber factory in the small town of Clermont-Ferrand, France. Among their first products were bicycle tires, later supplanted by automobile tires. At a certain point they adopted the American system of assembly line production – with one new characteristic: they felt that American tire manufacturers used inferior rubber and other lesser materials. They embarked on a journey to become the premium tire producer in the world. (Based on their later dominance of the tire industry, it seems they succeeded.)


The brothers, in 1894, while attending a trade fair in Lyon are said to have spotted a stack of tires that resembled the form of a man.

Thus their humanoid official mascot was created. And they named him BIBENDUM (Latin for “Now is the time to drink”). How he got that name, I’m not entirely sure. At any rate, the world came to know their masic simply as “The Michelin Man.”

The Bibendum character was refined over the years from a cigar-smoking bicycle rider to a jovial paunchy Michelin cheerleader. In the meantime, around 1911 in London, the Michelin Building was built, with offices upstairs and a one-stop Michelin shop for all your automotive needs on the ground floor.


The iconic building remains intact, sporting a unique blended aesthetic style of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, redolent with stained glass and decorative tile work. It’s located in the heart of Kensington about a dozen walking blocks west of Harrod’s, where Fulham Road and Pelham meet.

However, in late 1980, as the tire and automotive business evolved, the building became obsolete for the retail tire business.

So it was that in 1987, designer and restaurateur Terrance Conran stepped up and converted the building, part of which included his new BIBENDUM RESTAURANT. This smart, two-level restaurant featured British-influenced French cuisine on the upper level and an oyster bar on the ground floor. While receiving lots of press from the London newspapers, the restaurant was viciously expensive, and by 2015 it had faded and was no longer relevant.


Enter Claude Bosi, the cheerful French bruiser of a chef fresh from the world-acclaimed, two Michelin-starred HIBISCUS restaurant in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.

Although Bosi was never one to hew to tradition, he chose to retain some Bibendum classics, including garlicky, butter loaded escargot, langoustines with mayo, gnocchi with wild mushrooms, and smoked salmon roll-ups, alongside palate-stretching dishes such as rabbit with langoustines.

Bosi has also brought the prices back to the real world. Joanne and I noted recently that a Prix Fixe lunch was featured at about $46.

Joanne and I have dined at Bibendum on several occasions, although never in the expensive upstairs dining room. Our preference was – and still is – the more affordable ground floor OYSTER BAR. Maybe it’s because we are continually searching for ideas on behalf of the oyster bars at both SALUT restaurants.

On our visit last June, we noticed that the Oyster Bar had been refitted with a sleek and modern flavor, all in a “very Chelsea way – i.e. laid-back luxury, with Michelin tire-like chairs designed by Eileen Gray and upholstered in supple saddle tan leather.


Maybe it’s age, but I preferred the previous look. It felt more workman-like…less decorated. But no matter. The food is still superb.

On our dining occasions (always for lunch), Joanne typically opts for the spinach salad with fresh figs, goat cheese and toasted slivered almonds, or she’ll choose the Tuna Nicoise salad with the canned Italian tuna (yes, that’s the right way: using high-quality tuna canned in olive oil. We could never get away with that in Minnesota, where the expectation is seared fresh Ahi tuna). We shared Oysters Rockefeller, too, and some just-shucked, pristine and briny oysters.

On both lunches we finished with a wonderful cheese plate of British Cheeses including a pungent and spreadable slab of Stilton – a worthy rival to French Roquefort.

So here’s the irony.

The most prestigious, well-respected, famous restaurant guide book on the face of the Earth is THE MICHELIN GUIDE.

And yet….and yet…..

Despite being named for the brand’s mascot, Bibendum has NEVER, EVER been awarded a Michelin Star.


The best they have done is three knives and forks (in red), which means a delightful and comfortable restaurant. Perhaps Claude Bosi will fix that.

After all, in a recent review in the London Guardian, Jay Rayner said, “The sunlight [in the upper level dining room] feels like a room where only good things happen.” And he ended his commentary with, “Welcome back, BIBENDUM. I’ve missed you.”

W.T.F.

PHIL

NAMASTEY, LONDON!

Although Indian and Pakastani immigration to England had flourished under British Colonial Rule, it was after World War II and the breakup of the British Empire that the numbers dramatically increased…mainly from the Punjab region.

Today, some 300,000 Indians reside in London alone.

Lucky us. Joanne and I love the variety of cuisines that India has to offer. And while no major markets in the United States – except perhaps New York – have embraced any form of Indian polished dining, London is thriving.

Due to our ongoing research, particularly for CHINO LATINO, Joanne and I have been fortunate over the years to sample and screen the best of the best for you. So if anyone out there is contemplating a trip to London, stay tuned.

These are all good. They’re all different, yet all about the same price. Some have Michelin stars.

Our first experience in London was THE BOMBAY BRASSERIE in Kensington – still going strong since 1982. TAMARIND, near Green Park is as noisy as it is buzzy, so try to get a table on the perimeter. CHUTNEY MARY, also near Green Park, remains excellent – although in this newer space the restaurant seems to have lost some of the ambience from its previous spot in Chelsea. A sensational newcomer is JAMAVAR, on Mount Street, right in the heart of Mayfair. Get table #16….a corner table for two.


ZAIKA on Kensington High Street focuses on the cuisine of Northern India, so you can expect rich and fragrantly spiced fare. THE CINNAMON CLUB offers a vast selection of sharing plates, so dining is a little different here.

But now I’m going to compare two different experiences – not better or worse, simply different. Both are Michelin starred. You decide what’s best for you…… GYMKHANA or AMAYA.

The first stop is GYMKHANA on Albemarle Street, near the Ritz. It’s a tough, tough reservation to snag, so be sure to enlist the help of your hotel concierge well in advance of your trip. Request one of the downstairs leather-upholstered booths with the hammered brass table tops (pictured). Expect powerful, punchy flavors served up in a space that evokes the Old Colonial glamour of India’s Gymkhana, or sports, clubs. Dishes not to be missed include Methi Keema, or kid goat, served in the form of spicy Sloppy Joe-style DIY sliders, meant for sharing (about $16.50 in U.S. currency). We also loved the Tandoori Wild Tiger Prawns with red pepper chutney and the Guinea Fowl Tikka with fig and onion chutney (about $28).

It was October and game played a role in many of the dishes offered at Gymkhana. A favorite, presented table side, was the Wild Muntjac (venison) Biryani baked in a pastry-sealed pot with a cooling counterpoint of pomegranate raita ($36). For a show-stopping fall vegetarian offering, get the Wild Morel Mushroom and Truffle Pilau (rice pilaf) at $28.

I ordered and did not share the Sofiyani Murgh Tikka and Sweet Tomato Chutney…oh hell, why don’t they just say “Tandoori Chicken with Black Cumin and Tomato Chutney”???

And that’s one of the things that troubled me about Gymkhana: their slavery to authenticity in ways that frustrate rather than intrigue or delight. I’m all for un-dumbed-down flavors that remain true to their origins – and as far as I know, each dish fit that bill. Everything we tried was very, very good.

But in a restaurant that caters to a primarily non-Hindi-speaking clientele (based on the mix of our fellow diners), the lengthy menu written almost entirely in Hindi, without translation, has to be as irritating for the servers as it is for the diner. It required several trips on our waiter’s part to come to our table and translate. Why couldn’t we simply choose and order without subjecting him to a never-ending series of questions and translations? The frenzied nature of the dining room didn’t help either.

Don’t’ get me wrong: The food at Gymkhana is really, really good. It deserves a Michelin star. And if you don’t mind noise and frenzy (in the business, we call that “energy”), then book a table at Gymkhana. You’ll love it – especially if you speak Hindi.

Now, on to another Michelin-starred Indian restaurant: AMAYA.


My first experience with Amaya, in the pre-iPhone era, did not end well. While using a regular camera to photograph my food, I was approached by a manager who rather rudely and forcefully told me to stop, and to stop NOW. I questioned him as to who this food actually belonged to now that I was eating it. “Does it belong to you? Or does it now belong to me?”

I answered for him: “I think this plate of food now belongs to me. So as far as I’m concerned, you can go to hell!”

So we left.

Did that make me an ugly American? (Joanne would answer in the affirmative.)

But not being ones to hold a grudge (and being culinary whores for whom food trumps any sense of embarrassment), we’ve returned several times over the past few years. Plus, they appear to have thrown in the towel on food photography.

And the food here is superb – perhaps more refined than Gymkhana, possibly not as purely authentic, maybe with a flavor profile geared more to a western plate. The space, with its sultry lighting, sophistication and open kitchen theater (with plenty of shooting flames) is sleek, chic and current. Request table numbers 17 or 19. They are both “anchored” and are just far enough away from the radiant heat of the grill and the ovens.


The restaurant describes itself as “An Indian Bar & Grill” – and that it is. Yes, they have curries and biryanis, but the grill and tandoor ovens occupy center stage. Grilled Punjab Chicken Lollipops ($18) and the Tandoori Chicken Chops in a Green Curry Marinade proved to be worthy of their cooking methods. You must also try the obligatory Naan Bread from the tandoori ovens. It’s served with a four-compartment spice tray housing Rose Petal Coriander, Peanut Dust, Tomato Chutney and Plum Chutney. The Minced Tandoori Chicken Lettuce Wraps were constructed two ways – one open-faced, the other rolled up. Coconut and Lime Sauce brought them vividly to life ($11.50).

I couldn’t finish without mentioning the Tandoor Lobster. I forget the price. I’m sure it’s expensive as hell. But on what other occasion will you have lobster prepared this way? Share it as an appetizer. DO!!!

Don’t pass up dessert, either. Get the Green Tea Kulfi (ice cream) or the Liquid Chocolate (in a previous post, I quoted Calvin Trillin stating that “all Indian desserts have the texture of face cream.” Has anything changed? HMMMM??)

So there you have it: GYMKHANA and AMAYA. Remember…they both sport a MICHELIN STAR.

You cannot go wrong with either. Maybe even try ‘em both.

W.T.F.

THE CATHOLIC CLERGY’S TASTE FOR FASHION

Prior to becoming Pope Francis, Jorge Bergoglio was Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, where he spent almost his entire career overseeing churches and “shoe leather priests” … those who hear in their heart and do what they hear.


Having been to Argentina, beef is usually the first thing I think about…..either smoky and slow-cooked over an open fire (Asado) or at a Parilla, flash grilled over a white-hot wood fire (I can attest, either way is wonderful).

So it was no surprise when I began to wonder just what the dining preferences of a new Pope from Argentina might be in Rome. Wonderful, thick, fire-grilled Porterhouse steaks (Bistecca Fiorentina) can be found throughout his new home. Would he indulge?

Well, apparently the answer is no. I’ve been unable to find any kind of restaurant trail established by him in Rome. It seems likely that he has maintained his habits from Argentina, where he’s reported to have eaten very simply, usually at home. The Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, wrote that Jorge Bergoglio’s lifestyle was “distinctly austere and frugal…frequently dining on just fruit, salad and skinless chicken breasts.”


When in Rome, however, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has had no trouble whatsoever navigating the indulgent culinary minefield that the Eternal City has to offer – especially at one of his favorite hangouts, Cecilia Metella.

Dolan has noted that cardinals and bishops have the dining run of the town and can still remain somewhat anonymous, while when someone becomes Pope, that all ceases and the Pope takes his meals at the Vatican or at public and charitable events.

This is about the extent of my knowledge of the church hierarchy’s eating habits, but one thing I know is that they have a pronounced taste for fashion. And Ground Zero for clergy-flavored sartorial splendor is GAMMARELLI – THE OFFICIAL TAILOR TO THE POPE. It’s been around since 1798, and appears as influential as it’s ever been. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI was voted by Esquire magazine as “The accessorizer of the year.” Guess who outfitted him?

I don’t think any important vestments at Gammarelli are off the rack. All are custom made and meticulously fitted by a seasoned group of highly skilled cutters, tailors and seamstresses. The only exception is when the College of Cardinals has gathered together in the Sistine Chapel after the death of a Pope to elect a successor. At that time Gammarelli swings into full action mode. They need to be instantly ready to dress the new Pontiff and since they have no idea what size he’ll be, they fabricate three separate sets of Grand Papal Vestments – small, medium and large – to have at the ready once the white smoke appears from the Sistine Chapel chimney.

I was in their shop recently and I asked how it all worked. They told me that whenever new vestments are needed, “The priests, bishops and cardinals come to Gammarelli to be fitted. When the Pope needs new garments, Gammarelli goes to the Holy Father.”

They also told me that most cardinals have two complete sets of their iconic bright, fully saturated red garments. When I inquired how much money might be involved, they said, “Five to six thousand euros for the pair” – or $6,000 to $7,000.

I have no idea what the Pope’s garments must cost, but I don’t think $50,000 to $60,000 would be far off – maybe more…maybe much, much more. Just check out the bejeweled Pope Benedict parading down the main aisle of St. Peter’s. Or for that matter, check out the “decked-out” Lenny, the chain-smoking American Pontiff from the HBO series, The Young Pope, announcing himself to the cardinals. It looks as if his inspiration was Pope Pius….

Did Gammarelli craft Lenny’s garments? I didn’t ask. It was probably Wardrobe Central in Hollywood.

So now comes the fun part.

Gammarelli is a great place for gifts. The shop is located right behind the Pantheon and right next door to the HOTEL SANTA CHIARA.


You can pick up a Zuchetto – the little skull cap – available in red for a cardinal and purple for a bishop.

The wide-brimmed hat is called a Galero and was worn by cardinals. Now it’s used when a cardinal dies. One month to the day after the death, the Galero is raised to the roof of the cardinal’s home cathedral and stays there till it falls or deteriorates. You probably don’t want to buy one of those…..too creepy.

They sell chalices…but who needs a chalice. Cuff links? Maybe.

Cologne? Sure. (What do they call it? ”Salvation, by Gammarelli”?)

But the best go-to, take-home gift has to be SOCKS. I know, because I’ve been buying them for years. In fact, when I walked into the store this last June – on my first visit in several years – the proprietor pointed at me and said…”Socks!”….YUP!…. Red for the cardinals and purple for the bishops. They run about $20 per pair.

So…when in Rome? Pay them a visit. They are helpful and friendly.

Finally, as I looked at the bright red shiny shoes in the window, I could not help but think, “The Devil may wear Prada, but the Pope wears Gammarelli.”


W.T.F.

PHIL