Sunday, March 20, 2016

the comfort zone


every restaurant in copenhagen that a noma alumnus starts has to make a point of not being another noma. sometimes, the tactics for doing this are broad stroke elements of presentation that are obvious and easily communicated in a photograph. at studio, the difference is subtle. torsten vildgaard's food does not push the eater beyond his comfort zone; there are no obviously exotically wild foods, no foods you obviously haven't eaten before. these days, restaurants showing such restraint are increasingly rare.

even during a short lunch, the kitchen brought me to areas of my comfort zone i'd not visited before. a slice of half-frozen pineapple, a snack casually sent out before the mains, mildly aromatic with some bright but unidentifiable flavour; this flavour (yuzu) made a simple piece of pineapple arresting, outstanding. and the kitchen showed me areas of my comfort zone that were, unknown to me, adjacent to each other. poached salt cod in a briny butter emulsion was concealed by cloud of raw shaved broccoli; its delicate crunch and subtle sulphur note filled this usually staidly rich dish with the feeling of spring. even the bread service was remarkable for its unassuming attention to detail and thorough perfection, the quickly fermented, gently lactic bread made from wheat milled on site (and a trace of barley from a 50kg bag gifted to the restaurant) and accompanied by a dish of freshly made, properly salted whey butter. it was a pyrotechnic-free lunch, and one of the best meals i've had in a long time.

for me, apart from the food, there was the added pleasure of seeing an old friend happy in his own kitchen. a chef with a clear point of view is rare, and one such who has created a kitchen, a restaurant, and a team which feels right is an even rarer satisfaction. for reasons unknown, the international press continues to fail to review studio—don't let this deter you from visiting.
havnegade 44
1058 københavn K, denmark
part of my incomplete list of nearly perfect meals.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

liquid link

How you are able to taste a glass of wine and travel in your mind to the place where it began, recall the way the place looked in the Fall, the way the air smelled, the palpable energy of a vineyard bursting with fruit. Beer cannot do that, nor anything distilled. Walk a great wine estate and the wines produced there never taste the same again. Wine connects us to our senses, and to the places we’ve been, and the trajectory of our life. I know of nothing else that can make that connection. Wine grounds us on this beautiful planet. Maybe if the world had more wine drinkers, we wouldn’t have ruined it so carelessly.
ron washam, HMW

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

learning how to eat

Eating is highly subjective, and the man who accepts say-so in youth will wind up in bad and overtouted restaurants in middle age, ordering what the maître d'hôtel suggests. He will have been guided to them by food-snob publications, and he will fall into the habit of drinking too much before dinner to kill the taste of what he has been told he should like but doesn't.
a.j. liebling,"just enough money."

Saturday, February 13, 2016


cocina vianey

take advantage of the free taster taco they hand you over the splashguard surrounding the butcher block. grab a table—remembering that passing cars can transfer the contents of puddles in the street to those sitting streetside—then start with mutton broth with a (self-administered) squeeze of lime, chopped onion and cilantro, and a spoon of rice. after the soup, call for tender-crisp bits of mostly (but not totally) rendered meat hacked from a sheep oven-roasted in a maguey leaf, and a lidded box of fresh corn tortillas. salsa borracha (toasted pasilla, onions, pulque) and more cilantro/onion/lime are necessary additions to the tacos you make; adding crumbled chicharrón gilds the lily, but that's OK. the sheep roasted here are raised on the family farm west of mexico city. another reason to get up early on a weekend morning.

cocina vianey
ernesto pugibet, 34
colonia centro
mexico df

Saturday, January 23, 2016

fruit of the new world

mercado jamaica, mexico city. in warm climates, as one discovers in oranges, citrus may ripen fully even when the skin remains green.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

taco sprezzatura

the best taco al pastor i've had in the last 18 months featured the correct cut of pork (the shoulder) spit-roasted to render much of the fat and bring the surface to a balance between crispness and char, then thinly shaved, precisely sauced, and topped with a baton of cold fresh pineapple, on a cal-scented and slightly scorched fresh corn tortilla. i did not find this taco on a street corner in mexico city, nor was it at the off-strip location of tacos el gordo in las vegas, nor was it at the tacos el gordo mothership in chula vista (which claimed but did not deliver housemade corn tortillas).

no, this best taco al pastor—which wore its fastidious attention to detail lightly—was from empellon al pastor in new york, the third mexican restaurant from alex stupak (once pastry chef at alinea and wd-50) and lauren resler (once pastry chef at babbo).

Monday, October 5, 2015

the search for soup

in mexico city, i hunted caldo de camarón. six bowls in five days. the oddest and least delicious was made from dried bay shrimp in a seedy cantina in colonia san rafael. as a heartlander, it disappoints me a bit that contramar's was the best by a wide margin—murky with prawn brains and garlic, red with achiote, refreshed by cubes of avocado and a liberal showering of white onion, cilantro, and lime.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

a good year for plums

the old english gage

by september, the cherries are over but other fruit have ripened to take their place. at the perry court farm stand, the fruit section is now a sea of plums. plums, plums, plums. martin fermor, perry court farm owner, orchardist, and apple enthusiast, said to me: "you won't regret trying one of these little ugly green ones that are a bit banged up." right on. "widely considered the best-flavoured of all plums," these old english gages are "a sublime taste experience when you get a good one."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

behind the scenes

behind the scenes

distinctive products often require distinctive equipment.

7 sanborn court, somerville ma 02143.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


on the morning of our departure, the kitchen counter held a bowl of eggs and a box of sappy roma tomatoes from the grounds, the remains of a jamon iberico de bellota, and a bag of molletes de antequera. the best time to make yourself a breakfast sandwich is before everyone else is awake and clamouring for one too.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

cambodia in oslo in paris

oslo num kiem pav

at the end of our journey deep into the 13th arrondissement, we met bitter disappointment in the guise of a half-shuttered storefront from which emanated the sounds of post-lunch cleanup. after a disconsolate walk with an increasingly restless infant (not mine) around the oslo commercial centre—a laotian/thai shopping mall in a paris suburb—we succumbed to the easy option and went next door to chheng sim. this cambodian/lao/vietnamese lunch counter is run by cambodians of chinese origin and decorated with a large painting of angkor wat and many gleaming christmas ornaments.

with no cambodian food prior, i can't say if we ate ideal types or an idiosyncratic riff on traditional forms. the num krouk were small bites, in the manner of aebleskiver or takoyaki, made with a batter of rice flour and coconut milk and filled with a more liquid batter of rice flour, coconut milk, and fish sauce, then topped with fried ground pork. the six that came out each had a lacy, crisp frill around a custard-textured interior and were a nearly perfect snack: light but rich and intensely savoury. the banana flower salad was a paragon of balance and reminded me of the virtues of judiciously applied rau ram. the num kiem pav kampot (shown above; these are the words printed on the receipt—i can't find this anywhere on the internet) were loosely filled with precisely julienned bamboo shoots and pork, showered with dark and crisply fried shallots, and had a remarkable skin which was clearly not all rice flour: glossy, flexible, and both yielding and snappy.

a generous and unexpectedly beautiful lunch.

chheng sim (清心)
olympiades no. 33
44 avenue d'ivry, 75013 paris

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

the lowly legume


the interior of las cuatro milpas in san diego's barrio logan appears mostly unscathed by the passage of eight decades and is bigger than it appears from the outside, the better to accommodate a fully functioning tortilleria. did you know that a milpa is a field most often used for a class of traditional mesoamerican multicrop agriculture that only infrequently includes wheat as a crop? nonetheless, the handmade wheat tortillas, correctly scorched, are superb—as good as, or even better than, the lightly fried corn tortillas used for tacos. but the real winner is achiote rice with thin-skinned, delicate-textured beans. you will not regret asking for an adult-sized bowl, especially if you cover it with a drift of chopped cilantro while the cash register operator is distracted.

las cuatro milpas
1857 logan avenue, san diego, CA.