D'Artagnan 20th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt

Both Time Out New York and Daily Candy featured a blurb about D'Artagnan, specifically the Duckathlon, a combination scavenger hunt/food and wine tasting benefitting the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation hosted by D'Artagnan's proprieter Ariane Daugin and her friends and business partners (makers of foie gras, truffle butter, duck prosciutto, and other hard-to-resist high-end foods).

My interest in all things food related got the best of me, and so I called the woman in charge of organizing this event to see if I could join in on the fun. The trouble was...I didn't have a team. I just had me. So I called and left a message saying that I was a party of one and if you had a party of three that was looking for a call me.

Surprisingly, I got a call back within the hour, and thus I was now a member of a half French, half American team. Problem was, the French half barely spoke English, and my French is remarkably rusty. But I'm always up for a challenge so I told Danna I'd be MIA for a few hours on Saturday. She, though no change from the norm, told me I was nuts.

Here is a terrific blog about the event from one of the Gothamist. Here are some great photos that really illustrate the event from the same Gothamist who participated. All credit goes to Laren. Our experiences were relatively the same, but I'll add some highlights of ours...Our team name was dubbed TEAM USA. Which was the last thing I would have guessed these French folks would have named the team. Mais oui, it was an acronym for Tu Es Avec Modestie Une Star Ariane. We even got t-shirts with the name of the team on it. Very well done (especially on such short notice).

Also participating in the event was Hélène Darroze. M. Darroze (see below) is the youngest female French chef to be awarded 2 stars from the Michelin guide. I think her (and her husband's) team placed in the top 3 by day's end.

One of my favorite stops during the hunt was at Paradou. We were treated remarkably well by the proprieters - including plenty of wine, cheese, sausage and warm, "crustic" bread. I look forward to revisiting it with extra time. The task for this was to determine the vintage of a particular wine. We just happened to have a really difficult time deciding, thus needed several tastes of the wine...heh heh...we ended up guessing correctly. All that hard work payed off...At some point our team of four ended up being a team of seven. A truffle importer/exporter and a foie gras importer and his wife just happened to join our team. This was fine, but now we had seven talking heads and all of those heads except for mine and my Puerto Rican/New Yorker teammate Antinea (dressed to the nines mind you, for a scavenger hunt) were speaking French.

At one point, I almost lost my cool. We were at a grocery store and had to purchase the most amount of items for $5. Cans of beans were $.59 - that wouldn't do. Cracker packages were 4 for $1.00 - getting close. And then we found a special on juicing oranges - 8 for $1.00. That's 40 items. And nothing else close to that price per.

Then the French "extras" decided that a bag of rice for $3.49 had "hundreds if not thousands" of items in it, each grain being counted as an "item". You have got to be kidding me! They whined incessantly about it until I gave in and said fine. Whatever you want. Let them fall flat on their derrieres. Needless to say - the oranges were the winning item, and we didn't stand a chance. There is good to this story however.

Later on, because of my diplomacy (I think), I was given a knife (at Portico) from the foie gras importer's wife - even after personally flunking the test of cutting a very thin, perfect slice of sausage with it. Apparently these importer/exporters were using their clout to get things along the way, i.e., more wine at Paradou, more knife giveaways at Portico, etc. So I am now the new proud owner of a Laguiole folding knife - which is sweet.

My in-laws have a set of their dinner knives and I've loved them for a long time now.Also, at the end of the day we were treated to countless bottles of wine and shoebox sized buckets of foie gras pate and logs of garlicky truffle butter. All of which was as good as it gets. Truly a magnificent and obscene way to end a day. I had to have eaten at least two inches (width) of the pate and plenty of the truffle butter on bread with D'Artagnan sausage. So good. But boy did I smell like crap when I got home. The wife sent me immediately to the showers. Good thing too.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience and one I will certainly participate in next year - but this time with a team of people I can communicate with better. I actually really enjoyed the challenge and the one girl from Toulouse (that's a song, I just know it!) was awesome. She was a Physics teacher at a high school in Toulouse. Very nice person. Our other original teammates were her father and a real estate broker (the Puerto Rican/Irish woman) who was very good at many of the contests. She really pulled us through a lot of the time. I have a feeling I'll bump into her again.

A great day!


Lupa, Feb. 24, 2005

170 Thompson St.

We went to Lupa Thursday night, just as a mini snow storm started in. I arrived at 6:40 and the place was pretty empty. A few tables in the back were taken, maybe 2 up front and 2 other people at the bar. By 6:59, the place was nearly packed. Wife arrived shortly thereafter and so we grabbed one of the two remaining tables and not a moment too soon, as several more parties were just walking in.

The bar at Lupa, with its knowledgable staff and assortment of terrific Italian wines is hard to beat on a snowy night. Looking out at Thompson Street, snow covering the parked cars and passersby and the smells of fresh pastas, sauces and spicy entrees like Pollo alla Diavola lingering...was very pleasant.

So on to the food...

What we shared:

Smoked Eggplant "Sformato"
Beets & Pistachio
Proscuitto Di Parma Gran Riserva (24 months)
Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage & Fennel
Pollo alla Diavola
Pork chop Special ??

I had my heart set on the "Giovedi" dish which on the website listed as being "Gnocchi Alla Romana". Alas, the bartender told me that they just changed the menu today. Ugh. But that was okay...there were other things to try...

Having tried the Sformato di Parmigiano at
Otto and absolutely loving it, I assumed this would be as good if not better. It wasn't. In fact, it was so bland, I asked them to take it away. The eggplant puree was bland, but the custard-like "sformato" was inedible. Remarkably tasteless. Big disappointment. So instead, we tried the Beets & Pistachio. Now this was much better. The pistachio puree that accompanied it was a bit chalky, but overall the dish worked quite nicely.

The Proscuitto was good but not excellent. It seemed that the proscuitto was better at Otto, but could that be? I am fairly certain it is the same imported variety. In any event it was very good...but still not exceptional. A deli called
Italian Riviera in Waldwick, NJ still has, in my opinion, not only the greatest prosciutto I've ever had, but the best cold cuts in general.

Next up was the Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage & Fennel. This was wonderful. Nice and fluffy but still not the best I've had. (See chef Matt Pivnick's at Rocca in Glen Rock, NJ for the best ricotta gnocchi). It came with a conservative helping of sausage. Still, this was good, slightly filling and really made us hungry for our entrees.

The Pork Chop was pretty big, cooked well and very nicely seasoned. I am not the biggest fan of pork (excluding bacon) and I found it to be pretty good. The texture of pork just doesn't work for me. This was no different but the wife enjoyed it. She was, however, hoping there would be some accompanying sauce or something. It was quite dry. The pollo alla diavola was wondeful to look at, to smell and fortunately to eat. This was the best dish of the night and really turned the dining experience around. The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy, colorful skin, a very peppery bite to it and it smelled wonderful. A great dish, and one that I will think of tonight as it snows again. I would go back just for this dish.


Service was okay at best. The hostess, maitre d' and the (possibly too) casually dressed sommelier were all pleasant and helpful enough - however the sommelier at Otto was far more professional. Our waitress was very friendly but really just average. Didn't go into detail about any dishes, didn't really give any extra. The bus staff were pretty clumsy.

But high praise needs to go to the bar staff. The one remarkably-familiar-looking girl (with a raspier voice in a nice way) really knew how to choose a wine for me. Two in fact. I think the first was Garganega “Camporengo” Le Fraghe 2002 and I can't recall the second (I have the names at home). The second being excellent. And to the gentleman of the bar who, with a remarkably straight face, responded to the Mid-westerner (assumption) visiting New York on business who asked for a Merlot with a simple "we don't have any at the moment".

Overall, you can't beat the price. The food mentioned above plus four glasses of wine came to $127 before tip. Not bad at all. The value plus the chicken dish will bring me back.


Michelin Guide Comes to New York City

February 23, 2005
The Tire Man Eats New York

NEW YORK restaurants, already on constant lookout for the critics, both professional and amateur, now have to contend with another group of reviewers: Michelin inspectors.
For the last five months these gastronomic undercover agents have been working on the Michelin Guide to New York City, the company's first hotel and restaurant ratings outside Europe. Michelin's green sightseeing guides have covered the United States since 1968.
This evening at Gotham Hall in Midtown, Édouard Michelin, the chairman of the French tire company that bears his name, is expected to announce plans for the 2006 New York guide. The book, to go on sale Nov. 15, will rate 500 restaurants in the five boroughs and 50 Manhattan hotels.

"A New York guide is part of an old dream of mine," Mr. Michelin said in a telephone interview from his company's headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, in central France. "It goes back 20 years. At first there was France, then Europe, but now there's the world, and New York is the gateway. New York makes you discover other cuisines."

The new guide, a softcover book selling for $15.95 and larger than pocketsize, will be aimed not just at the international travelers for whom the red guides have become gastronomic bibles but also at Americans, especially New Yorkers. To make this guide more user friendly, in addition to the symbols the company uses to erase language barriers, there will be more text, with photographs of each hotel and of the "restaurants of distinction," with the coveted stars.
The star system retains Michelin's link to car travel: restaurants that are "a good place to stop" receive one star. Those worth "a detour" are given two, and those worthy of a "special journey" are awarded three. There are five levels to show luxury in restaurants, represented by crossed spoons and forks. A symbol, "Bib Gourmand," is for good value.

The 2004 guide to Paris listed 399 restaurants, with only 77 receiving stars, including 10 that were given the top rating of three. In all of France 27 restaurants received three stars in 2004. (The 2005 French guide goes on sale next week.) Even though European chefs and restaurateurs are not permitted to publicize their ranking, they strive for the stars as an affirmation of talent and a ticket to success. Demotions can be devastating.

"An American Michelin guide is incredibly exciting and a testimony to the evolution of our dining culture," said Clark Wolf, the restaurant consultant. "It will be very powerful if it measures restaurants according to dining standards here, and doesn't just judge the wall sconces."
With that in mind Jean-Luc Naret, the director of the Michelin guides, said that in France three stars have come to mean a certain level of luxury, but he is hoping to change that perception. "The stars refer only to what is on the plate," he said. "There is no French barometer when it comes to evaluating restaurants."

But what exactly does it take to reach for the stars?
"Chefs often ask what they need to do to get three stars," said Mr. Michelin, 41, a great-grandson of a company founder. "But we have no published criteria."
No matter the standards, the Americans are trained to think of four stars, not three, as restaurant nirvana.

"Michelin will have to do a bit of explaining with only three stars at the top," said Eric Ripert, the chef and a partner of Le Bernardin, a restaurant that had two Michelin stars in Paris when it moved to New York. "Most of the newspaper reviewers here go up to four stars." The highest ranking in The New York Times is four stars, given to restaurants its critics consider "extraordinary."

Michelin said it has stationed five full-time experienced inspectors in New York, not all French, but all well traveled, including one who had lived in Japan. (Because of the travel involved, most inspectors are men who often dine alone.) In addition the company is hiring at least two Americans full time. Mr. Naret said the American prospects are familiar with New York restaurants but are not well known by restaurateurs and chefs. The company will send them to Europe for training.

In New York, Mr. Naret said, the inspectors are visiting each restaurant on a preliminary list of 1,200 (with 60 percent having been covered so far). The places that make the cut for the final 500 will be revisited at least once more. After an inspector has completed his dining visits, another inspector follows up, presents his calling card, asks to see the kitchen and obtains more details. Hotel inspectors request a backstairs tour after having paid their bills.
Mr. Michelin said the company's guide division makes money, even though the red guides do not pay their way.

Michelin began publishing guidebooks in France 105 years ago, first giving travelers practical information like gas stations, emergency services, hotels and maps. Restaurants were added in 1923. Though stars had been used to designate price categories, they finally became symbols of quality in restaurants in 1933. There are now red guides to 20 countries.
Ariane Daguin, an owner of D'Artagnan, the foie gras company, whose family's restaurant in Auch, France, once had two stars, said she hoped Michelin would be accepted in New York. "I'm not being chauvinistic," she said. "But it will be the most objective, more objective than Zagat, or than the newspaper and magazine reviews, which are personal opinions."
Michelin may send several inspectors for a consensus on star ratings. Editors write the text from inspectors' notes.

But Daniel Boulud, the chef and an owner of several New York restaurants, including Daniel, said he thought that Michelin would have "a long road to travel" to be accepted by New Yorkers. "It will have no impact on Zagat," he said, of the popular survey guides owned by Tim and Nina Zagat.

Michelin does seek readers' opinions, however. The company receives about 45,000 letters and e-mail messages a year, vets them to avoid publicity campaigns and vendettas, and communicates the comments to its inspectors and editors.

The identities of the inspectors who evaluate the restaurants and hotels are jealously protected, which is why there was such a dust-up last year when one of them, Pascal Remy, wrote a tell-all book in France about the often dreary life of a Michelin inspector. Mr. Remy's book did make clear that the inspectors judge everything, from the welcome at the door to the presentation of the check. Mr. Wolf said that the big hurdle for New York restaurants would be service.
Mr. Naret said the first New York guide was a pilot project. If it is successful, the company hopes to add other American cities, perhaps starting with San Francisco, and have teams of American inspectors.

Mr. Michelin said he had misgivings about going ahead with the New York project, especially because of the recent anti-French sentiment in the United States.
"I've had some anxiety about how the guide will be perceived here," he said. "But I do not believe that there will be a negative attitude toward the guide, first of all because Michelin, as a company, has a reputation for being reliable. And today our guides no longer see all food through French eyes, the way they might have 20 years ago when the Michelin guide was an ambassador of French cuisine."

Expect the guidebook to play down its French heritage."Our marketing department suggested that we call this guide the second-best gift from France to New York," Mr. Naret said. "I told them, 'Don't you dare.' "


Cafeteria, Feb. 20, 2005

119 Seventh Ave.

Went to Cafeteria on Sunday and had a better than expected experience. The place isn't loved by many on the board, but we ended up having an enjoyable meal.


Mother-in-law = mac and cheese
Father-in-law = mussels
Brother-in-law = salad with portabello and warm goat cheese
Wife = mac and cheese
me = tomato and basil soup

The Mac and cheese was excellent. Remarkably better than the slop they are serving at
Blue Smoke these days (their's used to be really good) and you actual taste the fontina not just "generic cheese". Nice and crispy on top. Definitely worth getting. The mussels were very good as well. The broth was better than passable, but certainly not the best I've had. It was a wine, lemon and garlic broth. No tomato. The salad looked good..but in the end, was really just a salad. I did not have any of the salad so can't account for the taste. The tomato and basil soup was very good. It had a nice roasted tomato taste and included a swirl of both creme fraiche and basil oil. Delicious soup. Perfect for warming up after a walk in Central Park (to see the Gates). I'd trust their soups again.


Mother-in-law = Meatloaf
Father-in-law = Burger with Blue Cheese
Brother-in-law = Green Eggs and Ham
Wife = Fried Chicken and waffles
me = grilled chicken sandwich

Apparently both the meatloaf and burger (huge portions) were very good. The green eggs (pesto flavored) were, as reported, very good, but the ham left much to be desired. The ham just didn't look good. I feel somewhat bad for my brother-in-law, as his picks weren't the best that Cafeteria had to offer. Danna's fried chicken and waffles were good. Standard. Nothing spectacular. My sandwich came on some delicious bread, fresh avocados and crispy bacon. A success. I am, however, not a fan of thick cut steak fries. They never have appealed to me and again, didn't like these that much.


Danna ordered a white chocolate raspberry bread pudding to take home. This was very good.

Ice Tea - Their iced tea is excellent. I knew it would be great just by the color. If you like unsweetened tea, there's is worth a try. One of the best I've had in NYC.
Bloody Mary - Apparently they use jalepeno infused vodka. I was underwhelmed by it. Too tomatoey, too liquidy and just not all that great. Skip their bloody mary.


Service was pretty good for us. We got really lucky - given the big table right behind the wall of the reception area as soon as we arrived. So that definitely helped.The waiter was good. Only showed up when needed. Food came out a little spotty but overall decent for a busy brunch (and we got their late - 2:45pm).


The place is definitely "lived in". You can tell its been around awhile (the vinyl booth was starting to show its age - but hardly to the level of the same table at Blue Ribbon). But its still a cheery place. A modern-ish diner that seems to have its gears still greased. Overall, it was fine. I'd go back...especially to try their waffles or other breakfast items. They looked very, very good. The 24 hour schedule is also helpful, so a nice drunken night out on the town might see me back there again as well.

CuisineArt Resort & Spa, Anguilla, BWI

I recently got back from a trip to Anguilla, specifically the CuisinArt Resort & Spa. It was a surprise 30th birthday gift from my wife...who combined my love of the cooking/eating, the Caribbean and organic produce.

Former chef at La Grenouille and Gustavinos, Daniel Orr and sous chef Christopher Heath, now run CuisinArt's organic gardens and restaurants as well as the cooking classes they offer daily. They use the produce from, but do not manage, the humongous hydroponic garden (the only one of its kind in the Caribbean).

Here's a brief rundown of the trip, focusing mostly on the food, of course.


Arrive at around 4:45pm. Check in to the CuisinArt H&S, grab complimentary cocktail, go directly to beach to catch a few last rays of sun. Eat dinner at Tapas bar: Pescatore pizza (seafood), calamari (wow - best I've ever had), hydroponic crudite, organic hummus, and some other things. All very good. Hang out a bit...go to bed early.


Wake up early. Breakfast. Go to beach for a few hours. 11:00am - 3:00pm = hands on cooking class. Anguill-Asian cusine. We learned to cook the following (and subsequently ate it with several bottles of wine. Only 3 people in the class).
* Tom Yom Goong with local seafood and organic herbs
* Lemongrass-Caramel flank steak
* Old Ta Papaya Salad
* Jasmine Pilaf, Garlic chives and marigold petals
* Tropical fruit skewers, vanilla bean ice cream

3:00pm-5:30 - hang out at beach.
At 3:20 on the dot, they bring you sorbets as you sit on the beach.
6:00-7:00 - Managers reception. Terrific food and cooking display: how to make Pineapple Rum. Lots of wine, rum and delicious "local" finger foods.
8:00 Dinner = a whole bunch of great stuff including grilled spiny lobster with sea urchin and lime butter, lime lemon bisque with champagne sorbet, brochettes of Jerk Quail and Christophene salad, ginger creme brulee...etc...

Saturday - my birthday
Wake up early. Breakfast. Couples massage on spa rooftop for 50 minutes. Nice breeze. Very good massage. Go to beach for a few hours. Then to the Master Cooking class with Executive Chef Daniel Orr and Chef de Cuisine Christopher Heath.

First this included a tour of the organic gardens (not the hydroponic ones). We picked some vegetables to use for the food. We learned how to make the following:
* Banana and Vanilla Rum
* Yellow Lentil Bisque with Labne Yogurt and Pita Crisps
* Local line caught Wahoo, Grilled lemon vinaigrette and Dr. Brooks garden greens
* Coconut Lime Tart

Again, lots more wine and lots of great food.

Only 5 of us in this class. Finished at 4:00pm. Met up with wife on the beach. Chilled.

8:00pm - Kitchen Stadium Dinner and Demonstration
Only my wife and I signed up for this which was AWESOME. They have a mini-kitchen looks more like the set of a Food Network show. Chef Gary, the chef who taught the first class cooked us a chef's tasting menu and basically had a dialogue with us the entire time. Here's what we had:
* Crab and avocado salad (Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label - celebratory/birthday, on the house)
* Cucumber gazpacho with yogurt and herbs (Quincy Sauvignon Blanc, Henri Bourgeois 2003)
* Anguillian Jerk Quail(Clos de los, sietie Malbec, 2002)
* Island Pot Fish(Francis Diamond Coppola Chardonnay 2003)
* Melon and Lime Soup(Veuve Cliquot Champagne Demi Sec)
* Petit Fours

After dinner, we walked the beach a few hundred yards to Bankie Banx's (reggae legend) house/bar and had some ginger aperitif and a rum punch. Only 4 of us there including Bankie's son...the bartender. Apparently 11:00pm was early.


We tried to leave today, but a cancellation of a WinAir flight (the puddle jumper to St. Martin) made us stay another night. The story gets VERY long from here...but let's just say that St. Martin is not the most hospitable place in the Caribbean. Needless to say, we ended up having to take a ferry back to Anguilla and checked back into CuisinArt again - we even got the same room (and found my wife's cell phone charger still plugged into the wall!). It was the best trip. So much fun and I highly recommend it. We are definitely going to return.