Jock Soto

Jock Soto - World famous ballet dancer and soon-to-be restaurateur is seen here reprimanding a hamburger during our last day of class at the
Institute of Culinary Education. We had a cheeseburger-making party.

If you are interested in financing Jock's Sports Bar (you read that right), let me know and I'll get you in touch with him. Just save some of that money for my concept a few years down the road.

In the meantime, visit his partner's restaurant Maremma for great "western" Italian cuisine.


Blue Hill at Stone Barns, March 18, 2006

Blue Hill at Stone Barns - Walking Tour and Lunch
Pocantico Hills, New York

Through the recreation program at the Institute of Culinary Education, I was able to sign up for a walking tour and lunch at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Ever since I had the opportunity to have dinner there in February 2005, I've wanted to get back there, but with limited access (and more importantly time) to get out there and the challenge in getting reservations has prevented this from happening until now.

My first visit opened my eyes to what dining should be all about. This visit reinforced those first impressions and have made me a true fan of the concept as a whole.

I've described Blue Hill at Stone Barns in a previous review so I'll just stick to describing the day: the walking tour, the staff and of course, the food.

The first to greet me on this clear, blue-skied morning were several hundred chickens, that stayed relatively close to their mobile chicken coops that provided shelter, a place to lay their eggs and a source of water and feed. Here is a pic of the welcoming committee.

The facilities include the
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a combination gift shop and educational center that used to house the property's horses; a two-story, glass-walled meeting center which once acted as a hay loft; the two silos which are still intact but have been converted into the world's tallest coat closet and a reading room dedicated to David Rockefeller; the kitchen and main dining room that used to house the cows; the private dining room that once acted as the manure shed; and the cafe and administration offices that were once the farm manager's onsite quarters. I arrived a good half hour before the tour was to begin, which happened to be the exact time the cafe opened. I took advantage of my good luck and ordered a cup of coffee and pain au chocolat. What stood out about the pain au chocolat was the denseness of the pastry and the occasional crunchy piece of chocolate, which to me suggests that they used nibs instead of a paste of some kind...this yielded excellent results. The coffee was good as well, but the milk was too cold and brought the hot coffee down to cooler temps a bit too quickly. Pictured below are some other offerings. They also had eggs layed that morning, some juices, sandwiches, salads and other lunch items.

Our first stop on the tour was the greenhouse. This structure, of an average size for most raised bed nurseries or hydroponic gardens, is unique in that it serves as a shelter for real-soiled gardens. The twenty or so different types of salad greens, carrots, fennel and other such produce looked remarkably healthy, tasty and bountiful. An impressive setup and one that I was thrilled to see...especially since the salad I would eat later was picked from this room earlier that morning. You can't get any fresher than that.

You can't really tell from this photo, but the dark shadows on the horizon or top of the rock wall are actually berkshire hogs, one of them is Boris, the resident stud, and a bevy of beauties digging up the underbrush looking for acorns or sunbathing. The pigs on this farm get to thrive in what is their most ideal habitat...the woods. The room behind that wood door was once a dairy storage. Today it houses most of the restaurant's extensive, varied and reasonably priced collection of wine.

Some of Boris' harem are seen here hanging out. Actually, these are probably his kids. Berkshire pigs, apparently, are well known for their temperate behavior to humans. These were as friendly as I guess they could be but one thing is for sure, these "babies" at about a few hundred pounds and only 10 months old or so, were huge. The shed that they are under is a winter shelter for them. Those little aluminum domes are sleeping quarters that these guys use at their own discretion in the cold winter evenings.

The kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is nothing short of extraordinary. Natural light in a restaurant kitchen is nearly impossible to find in NYC with the exception of Cafe Gray in the Time Warner Center and perhaps a few others. The remakably clean space is massive and consists of multiple rooms. The first picture is of the garde manger area. The gentleman on the far right is the resident pastry chef. What you see the chef (closest facing me) doing is putting soft boiled eggs in an ice bath which he will later peel, encrust with panko and deep fry for our salads. They are amazing.

Between the garde manger station and the following picture is the fish station, where we were told that it takes the hands of two men to make one fish dish. One for the fish, one for the garnish. The same goes for the other protein dishes. The stations you see in this pic are from left to right, the meat/protein area, the vegetable area in the middle and what I think was the post-prep/plating area.

This is another pic of the vegetable prep area. The meat station is to the left.

There are quite a few chefs in this kitchen and as mentioned before, more than one often work on the same dish. Sous chef Adam Kaye tried to quote Julia Child in regard to this. The actual quote is: "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it." What he was getting at is that the most ornate dishes tend to have a lot of people involved with it...which he was using as a way to say that its best that most of the ingredients used at Blue Hill come from the property itself. He went on to explain that all of the cooks/chefs have at least one day a week where they themselves work on the farm whether it be to get the eggs from the mobile chicken coops or pick lettuce and herbs from the gardens. They are also responsible for clean-up. No night porters at Blue Hill, which makes for a remarkably clean kitchen.

The kitchen, it needs to be reinforced, is huge. This picture is a spice wall which leads to the receiving room that doubles as a fresh pasta making room. Beyond that room is an office and three walk-ins. The walk-ins were amazing. There was a fish walk-in, a mis-en-place walk-in and a protein walk-in, which today had half of a Berkshire pig hanging in it among other impressive meats. Next week they'll be getting an entire steer. Whoa.

Here is the private dining room. This looks out to the courtyard and some of the pastures as well. A lovely room that would be perfect for a party of 20. Jim Halligan (see below), a man of details, noticed the metal railing running dead-center below the wood beams and surmised that this was used as a manure cart transporter. Which makes perfect sense since this used to be the manure shed.

We were served an amuse bouche of fennel soup that all of us agreed was tasty but had more of a mushroom essence to it than a fennel one. The anise quality was lacking but still made for a tasty dish. It should be noted that the temperature, which really needs to be carefully determined for a soup served in a shot glass, was spot on.

The Greenhouse Winter Salad is much more than meets the eye. The menu says that it includes fennel, pistachios, apricots and this morning's crispy farm egg that I described above. But that was just the start of it. Mint, dill, bibb lettuce, frissee, deer's tongue, red deer's tongue (the vegetables) and probably a dozen other types of greens. No joke. The dressing was light and allowed the freshness of the greens to pop out at you. One of my favorite things about this salad is that when you put a fork into the salad, it grabbed a chunk of greens. There was no need for fussing around a piece of lettuce. These greens were so healthy and vibrant and firm that it would cling to the fork unlike what happens with lettuce is picked a week earlier and shipped to the restaurant. The wilting, however used to it we are at even top-notch restaurants, doesn't exist at Blue Hill.

Our entree was a trio of Stone Barns Berkshire Pork served with braised red cabbage and beets. Clockwise: two pieces of pork sausage, 2 slices of pork loin and braised pork belly with crispy skin and fatty fat still intact. This meal truly defines the Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience. Everything was from the farm (fish is brought in daily, for example) and made on the premises. And the freshness couldn't be mistaken. I'm not a huge fan of pork loin, but this was fantastic. We got to see the pork loins before they were cut, and I must tell you that they were simply incredible looking. And they tasted great too...coming from someone that doesn't often care for it. The sausage was delicious and the pork belly was remarkably tender. The fat (I did eat some of it) was like eating a pillow and the rind was crispy, crunchy and frighteningly tasty. It goes without saying that the cabbage/beet "salad" underneath was the perfect accompaniment. My mother had something similar to this on our previous visit...but the pork belly was replaced with crispy bacon slabs. Delicious.

Dessert took a departure from the farm, which I suppose is acceptable...although a celery sorbet (see Wallse) or other vegetable-based dessert (see the Kabocha squash dessert at Annisa or the many desserts of WD~50). We were served an orange and blood orange "Citrus Tart" with ginger ice cream. The ice cream, served on top of candied ginger cubes had perfect texture and just enough ginger flavor. The candied ginger, though a bit of a cheating method, did bring an added texture to the dish. The tart was an appropriate use of seasonal ingrediants but the pastry shell was a bit difficult to cut through. It didn't break away easily...the only complaint I can find. The yellow, diagonal line on the dish was a citrusy, lemony sauce with vanilla bean that went quite well with the ginger ice cream but was lost when eating with the tart.

And last but by no means least, my new friends, from left to right: Fred and Pam Mittleman and Jim and Pat Halligan. It was a pleasure to sit with these fine folks and share in conversation about food, travel and the different experiences living in the metropolitan area.

I was able to make a reservation for some time in April and I cannot tell you how excited I am. Hopefully the ramps will make their debut by that time. If you haven't been to Blue Hill at Stone Barns...make sure that you do. It's truly an experience worth making the time for. Bon Appetit!

Craftbar, March 17, 2006


Went to Craftbar on Friday night for a quick bite before checking out the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theater(disappointing concert by the way...possibly one of the worst of more than 20 Allman Brothers shows I've been to).

I sat at the bar and immediately noticed the difference since my last visit.

Craftbar 3.0 as I like to call it, has reverted back to something more like its original incarnation. High quality ingrediants made into very professional dishes at a reasonable price point. Version 2.0 went for somethink more akin to Craft and suffered for it. But 3.0 seems slightly sloppier than either version 1.0 or 2.0.

The Craftbar t-shirts of the staff all seemed to be wrinkled and untucked and it took close to twenty minutes for me to get a panini sandwich which is a bit absurd.

Fortunately the bartender, Michael (formerly of Morrel's Wine Bar), was nice enough and a friend of his on my side of the bar provided some entertainment. The sparkling wine that I had was pretty good (the first bottle was flat, so we had to open a new one) but the list of sparkling wines has shrunk considerably from version 2.0.

I ordered the duck prosciutto, taleggio and hen of the woods panini. The combination seemed so powerful that I just had to see if it actually worked. This was more of a desire to try something to see if it would fail than because I had the appetite for it. The dish, when it finally arrived, was indeed a strong and powerful dish. The ingredients are not for the timid but the results were pretty good. The second piece of sandwich, oddly, was more even. The first piece was overwhelmed with hen of the woods. But the second one allowed me to savor each of the ingredients on their own.

So in a way, it did work. However...this dish is past its prime. I am so over hen of the woods mushrooms. I know Craft put the damn fungus on the map, but its time is past due. At least for this half of 2006. A dish like this should only be served from October-January. Bring on RAMPS!

Otherwise, the restaurant is much more approachable than it was in version 2.0. But I think they need to tidy up a bit


A Voce, March 14, 2006

A Voce
41 Madison Ave. (at 26th St.)

I went to A Voce last night for a quick and easy dinner to test the place out.

First impression: Incredibly welcoming staff and beautiful room with obvious influences. The room looks to me like a Babbo (flower/dogwood arrangements), Nobu (birch tree props), Butter (use of wood arrangements) cornucopia. There were plenty of other influences as well that I know I saw but just can't recall.

The table tops are a greenish leather that unfortunately are already showing signs of wear via scuffs from utensils. I suppose this will age to a nice look but you have to assume its still a gamble.

I sat along the twig columns in the back looking out at the rest of the restaurant including a view of the back of the bar. The bench seats were comfortable but getting in and out of them was difficult. The use of mirrors is effective in creating the feel of a larger space and the interior as a whole is very welcoming, open (fair amount of space between tables) and world's apart from when it once was Rue 26...which I think had more seating space than this one.

Service was perfect. I can't believe how well this place is running after just a week or so of being open. The host/maitre d was a polished, well dressed man who couldn't be happier to have me, yes me, a solo diner, joining them for dinner. The waitstaff and bussers were equally pleasant and helpful, and the female bartender/hostess wasn't hard on the eyes either.

All of this and I am happy to report that the food was delicious as well. The warm bread (3 pieces for a solo diner) was served with a bowl of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary sprig and red chili pepper flake). Very good and reminded me a little bit of Il Buco.

I started with the winter salad that included fennel, green apple, watercress, pecorino, just a bit of breadcrumbs that weren't too dry and crumbled up to be something Wylie Dufresne might call "soil", and nicely spiced with fresh pepper and salt. The dressing was subtle, allowing for the ingrediants to shine. A simple dish but well executed. ($8 - the least expensive app.)

The specials of the day, listed as Del Mercato on the menu, offered a sicilian salad (w/blood oranges, radicchio, olives, etc. for $11), a shrimp stuffed cuttlefish ($24) a quail saltimbucca with an app or entree sized portion ($14/$28) and Lamb Olivetto ($35).

I opted for a pasta dish -- the Lamb Shank Tortellini ($21) that had escarole, lemon, piave cheese and yellow/orangish cherry tomatoes. This was very good. The warm tomatoes were incredible as they popped and melted in your mouth. The lamb was clearly evident and the escarole/piave combo brought it all together. A really great dish and probably the best of the pastas which range from $17-$21.

I did not have a secondi or main entree but they range from $19 for a country style Tuscan tripe to $30 for Roasted Sea Scallops in an almond sauce to La Bistecca ($55 per person), supposedly a real treat. This is a 40oz dry-aged beef rib chop for two (though my waiter mentioned that a gentleman had already ordered one for himself earlier in the week).

I asked my waiter when he was finished what the best 3 dishes were, after I had eaten mine. He suggested to go with Seafood Salad (cranberry beans, chili, $16), the Lamb Shank Tortellini and either the La Bistecca or the Grilled Tonno Bianco (rapini, parsnip, citrus).

The prices are pretty reasonable I think. For $51 I had a nice salad, pasta dish, a tall glass of Cava and perfect service in a beautiful room - tax, tip included. I'll certainly be back, and I think its safe to say that reservations will start to become a real challenge to get in the near future. This place will do great.

One more important note: I had the wonderful opportunity to meet fellow Chowhound RGR for the first time last night who was dining at A Voce with her husband and daughter. Not only is she as great a person in-person as her online identity would presume, her family is simply terrific. Her husband even offered me a duck meatball (four came to an order and there were three of them + me) which he said was incredible. I can't wait to go back to try it for myself.


Waterfront Ale House, March 11, 2006

Waterfront Ale House
2nd Ave. at 30th Street

I've been here three times now and just about each time I go its because a frenzy over the discussion of which hamburger reigns supreme has me checking out all of the city's favorites.

The first time I ate at Waterfront, I found their American Kobe burger to be subpar in flavor and a notch and a half overcooked. The second time I went, I had their traditional burger, and it was pretty good but nothing earth shattering.

This time, I am happy to report, I found out why people rave about this burger. But mind you, it took me three times for nirvana to be revealed. The dense burger was ordered medium rare but it was served closer to medium. Still passable but very close. The meat, bacon and cheddar on the burger was just right. Nothing crazy, but good. The bun, a sesame seeded one I should note for those with diverticulitis, was pretty good if not a bit hard and, surprisingly, weak under the powers of blood and grease...it started to fall apart half way through despite its tough exterior.

My favorite thing about the Waterfront Ale House (no, not the beers, but they have some great ones for sure. My beer today was a Blue Point Lager. Delicious) is its condiments.

Bottles of their own hot sauce, a variety of HP sauces (that I fell in love with in the UK), Sarsons Malt Vinegar and others is what keeps me back. I LOVE having options and so today I went to the back room where these sauces are lined up behind the tables along the wall and grabbed the original HP sauce, the malt vinegar and their hot sauce (very good, very different and certainly hot). None of this, mind you, is for the burger. These are the for their crinkle cut aka Cottage fries which are really terrific.

Silly Indian Restaurants

"Curry Hill" is becoming a joke...a caricature of itself. Take for example these two shining examples.

Trying to follow in the successful footsteps of Roomali, a place opened up on Lexington called Rolls "n" Curry with an outlandishly bright pink and blue awning. I've been there twice, figuring I'd give it a shot, especially as seeing that they had chicken 65 on their menu. Alas, both times I've gone they either didn't have chicken 65 that day or were so confused that I told them to forget about it and left. But now things have gotten even stranger. There is a new sign underneath the main awning that says "Kennedy Fried Chicken". It's hard to read in this photo, sorry. The first person who can explain what this means...I will buy you an order of chicken 65.

Another one is Cardamom, a business that must be burning a very large hole in the owner's pocket. As mentioned before, the word on the street is that the restaurant is still open because the wealthy owner gave it to his wife to keep her busy. Busy at what exactly? The place is closed by 7pm nearly every night and I have yet to see more than 6 people dining in the restaurant at any given time. And I promise you the new sign that was jerry rigged in front that reads "Indian Chinese & Indian" will not create lines of people waiting to try this very confused cuisine.

The rest of the neighborhood, with the exception of Copper Chimney which is quite nice, Pongal which is as well, and a few others, is looking like utter crap. And I mean worse than just a year ago. Let's just say I could have posted several pictures of restaurants with fish tanks in their front windows with water but no fish in them.

I have a feeling that things are going to change soon in Curry Hill. With rents increasing, a more young and sophisticated group of people living in the area, this type of stuff will and already is, starting to fail. I won't be surprised (and actually happy) if only Pongal, Copper Chimney, Curry Leaf, Kalustyan's and Sarivanaas are still around in two years time.

That being said...there will probably be some great restaurants taking their place...hopefully.

UPDATE (3/21/06): Apparently Kennedy Fried Chicken is a loosely-based chain that can be found throughout Manhattan. But that still has nothing really to do with Rolls n Curry. In any event, this link will keep you entertained and well-informed of the history of Kennedy Fried Chicken and others of its ilk. Also happens to be a cool website in general.



Babbo, Feb. 27, 2006


Sat at the bar (though there were a few tables available) last night for a late dinner (10pm).

Finally tried the Mint Love Letters...which were delicious. Really minty but somehow not overbearingly so. The chili flake in it gave it a nice kick (they did not offer any additional chili flake, which I've heard is customary - but it didn't need extra anyway). Truly a great dish and worth the praise its given on the Chowhound message board...and better than the beef cheek ravioli.

I also tried the orecchiette with sweet sausage and rapini (pic courtesy of www.laritz.info). Wow. This was incredible. And the serving size seemed larger than the mint love letters. I would consider ordering this for myself next time I go. Everything really worked. The rapini, which I suppose is a relative of broccoli rabe, was less bitter than I expected, thankfully, and added a great texture to the dish as well.

The olives, breadsticks and balsamic chickpea salad crostini (see pic, courtesy of panduh on flickr) were as good as ever and the prosecco to wash it down was solid and reasonable ($10 glass). The forsythia in the restaurant beat out the return of the Shake Shack for the first sign that Spring isn't too far off (if you look past the dusting of snow we got last night).

$28 (before tax and tip) will get you a nice bowl of pasta, a nice glass of prosecco, all the olives and breadsticks you could want in a charming, sophisticated room with great service and a warm buzz throughout created by content patrons. What more could you ask for?