The Great Clam Belly Hunt. Almoncello. Bloomingdale Road. Bouley Farewell. Daniel Gets a Lift. Rao's Famiglia.

Dear Friends and Family,

      There's nothing like a perfect late summer tomato to remind me how wonderful it is to be alive. My assistant brought me three from her mother's garden in Virginia. I ate one on the jitney to Easthampton. Check out the colors today: pumpkin and concord grape.


When Too Much is Too Much

      Hurricane Hannah might have meant drenching rains, so we had to leave Easthampton that Friday afternoon if we Mass Statuehoped for gentle ferry crossings from Sag Harbor to Shelter Island to the North Fork and across Orient Bay to Connecticut. If we were lucky, we would make it to Gloucester before the squalls hit.

      The Road Food Warrior had insisted we postpone our late August vacation till the Wednesday after Labor Day to avoid August frenzy. The little blue bedroom in our friends' Easthampton home was empty at last and we hoped to persuade them to join us on a lobster roll and fried clam-tasting trek to Massachusetts.

      "Tell me why we're going to Massachusetts for lobster rolls? We have great lobster rolls right here in the Hamptons," Fran protests as the Sag ferry pulls into Shelter Island. "And the North Fork Inn in Southold does the best clam roll I ever tasted at lunch."

      She's right. I was happy as a clam with my lobster roll on the deck in Montauk at Duryea's a few weeks earlier. For goodness sake, we have great lobster rolls in Manhattan too.  It doesn't take three ferries and $200 worth of gas to get to Pearl's Oyster Bar.

      But all four of us needed to get away from our computers and I'd never been to Gloucester.  If the hurricane went the other way we might even have time to get to Maine and to shop. I have that terrible gene that makes you need to buy something you don't need whenever you have an afternoon free.  And Steven's cousin Mitch had done all the research. I was carrying a printout with photos of the bulging deep-fried clam bellies and overflowing mountains of lobster in his report from Queen Ann Bay on egullet.  I thought we'd just follow the trail of Mitch and his wife Ali. 

      We got to Newburyport just in time to eat outdoors at Lobster Pool, overlooking the rocks and the ocean we couldn't see in that velvety black night. I'm told it rained fiercely later but I slept right through it. The next morning we had fried clams and oysters, fried onions and French fries, many variations on New England chowder, clam rolls and lobster rolls, with cole slaw for vitamins, in three recommended clam shacks.  All before one o'clock. I squeezed my arm to see if lard would ooze out.

      For the record and your next Cape Ann jaunt, our favorite lobster roll was the pristine beauty at the Clam BoxClam box lobster in Ipswich (246 High Street 978 356 9707) where a notice warns that the daily afternoon oil cleaning might delay your lunch. The menu over the ordering window offers fried clam strips or native clams, and when I said, "I want big bellies," the barely post pubescent young beauty looked up from her order pad clearly disturbed. "Most people order the local clams," she said.

      "We're not most people," I said.  "We're food people."

      All my life I'd assumed Ipswich clams had the ultimate Hundred Acres ClamsFalstaffian bellies.  But wherever these clams came from - were they flown in frozen from the Philippines? I forgot to ask - they were sensational.  Steven and I ate them as if we hadn't already vacuumed up two lobster shack feasts that morning. For comic relief that evening we ate at a local Sicilian trattoria.

      So I didn't expect much next day when our friends agreed to one last research stop at Lobsta Land, recommended by a woman tending the desk at our motel. We found it on the highway as we headed out of town toward the ferry - dolled up with seafaring art and cutouts of cute fish from some supplier of roadhouse decor.

      The hostess gave us the booth I requested - looking out at a serene green meadow and a small pond in the distance. (In New York they would've been holding that booth for Ronald Perelman or Graydon Carter.  Another reason it's good to get away.) And though the "lightly dressed" lobster roll lacked the exquisite just-out-of-the-sea taste of the Clam Box's, the fried clams were the best we've tasted. Yes, plump bellies, dipped in evaporated milk, lightly dusted ("just fluffed," says Chef William Ross) with a mix of corn and wheat flours and fried in vegetable oil to perfection. The faint sweetness is so subtle it feels as if the clams grew up smiling and good natured from carefree home schooling.


Almoncello Surprise

      Back in Easthampton on Monday we move into a familiar groove at Almoncello in Wainscott, taking comfort in favorites like escarole salad with mint and pecorino and spaghettini with meat balls, but not the disappointingly dry roast chicken.  There's no sign of either owner, Eric Lemonides or Chef Jason Weiner, but we are regulars here so it's no surprise when a gift of pan seared scallops with Sagaponack corn purée and house-cured pancetta comes out of the kitchen - a portion for each of us. The surprise is how thrilling that dish is with exquisite corn alongside perfectly cooked scallops.  So much more than one might expect on Montauk Highway. And a good omen for the partners'Hundred Acres Clams Manhattan Almond opening next month at 12 East 22nd Street, where Rocco and Jeffrey Chodorow fell out of love.

Chowder Shooters to Share

      I was frantic to catch up with the tidal wave of our town's restaurant ambition and managed to go to Bloomingdale Road on its first night - by mistake. (I thought it had opened a week earlier.) That seems so unfair, but it wasn't just me looking for a new Upper West Side hangout, it was the neighbors pouring in as if they were starving while waiting for the doors to open. The menu is playful if not puerile in what feels like a desperate attempt to be different. But even that first night - with service still addled -- we loved the whole wheat fettuccine pasta, the chowder shots and fabulous fries. Judge for yourself if you want to give it a try by clicking here.


Au Revoir to Bouley

      A friend from Paris was eager to meet David Bouley.  I wanted a farewell meal at Bouley in the old Bouley Bakery space at 120 West Broadway before it moves across Duane Hundred Acres Clamsto a fussy new space that David has obsessed over forever. I hadn't eaten his food for a while and everything about the boldly rouge-blush arched room - the stylized welcome, the Bouley signature perfume of apples in the vestibule, the exquisite roses - seemed poised for the Michelin Man's return. It definitely had that three star feel. At one time, all the grand French survivors of the Pavillon school in midtown had shaded electric lamps on the table plugged into a socket on the floor that you might accidentally disconnect with your foot in a swoon over the quenelles de brochet. Bouley has plug-ins too now (though no quenelles) so you can actually see your food and still hide in the romantic shadows of the room. In the dim I can watch the couple in the corner wrapped up in fork play.

      Our lamp goes on and off all by itself.

      A parade of "amuses" arrives, delivered one at a time,raos merlot Per Se style, as if the staff has nothing else to do tonight but indulge our table. Corn tuille with corn and truffles. A mini taco with avocado and tomato. A perfect scallop with yuzu on rosemary-apple puree served in a china spoon. More. Faster than I can scribble in my notebook under the table.  Complex food but blissfully free of molecular flaunt. I am not surprised by a trio of couturier breads.  After all, the bakery still functions somewhere in this compound. But the arrival with entrées of a two-story bread trolley is impressive, a three-star moment.

      There is no sign of Bouley - he's actually cooking across the street in the open kitchen at Bouley Upstairs, the maître d' informs us (We will make the pilgrimage after dinner).  But the chef has his mark on everything we're eating tonight. Erratic, elusive and often just plain rude, the man does like to cook. In an era of jet-streaming executive chefs who buy recipes from free lancers, that's a blessing.  At this very moment he is putting together the menu for Secession replacing the former Danube and in every other waking moment, he is feeling out new menu ideas for the about-to-be transported Bouley in his "gut" as he puts it. (I suppose he means in his mind.)

      I say come now to West Broadway for the summer menu before the move. Be sure to have the familiar "Return from Chiang Mai" with lobster, mango and Serrano ham. It could get lost in the move and it's even better than the 24 hour cooked Greenmarket tomato terrine. Try fabulous lamb rack with housemade goat cheese-parsley gnocchi, pickled ramps, wild arugula and zucchini-mint and Landres cheese purée, or the luscious Connecticut farm-raised baby pig (fed only organic apples and clean grass, it says on the menu).


Daniel Gets a Lift

      Never underestimate a man who thrives on three hours sleep a night. That's how Daniel Boulud juggles his global game, according to wife Mickey.  She sat at our table Friday raos merlotat the media lunch the chef threw to show us the new look at Daniel by Adam Tihany and to announce a two-pronged forchette of a deal in Vancouver. It seems he has become a partner at the city's top-rated Lumière and will open a DB Bistro next door. Boulud lured his new chef friends from Vancouver to cook for a roundup of designers, contractors, partners and their kin, plus the eclectic media rabble. In Monday's BITE I observed that five years ago the lunch could have been done with ten fewer tables. Click here and scroll down the page to read more.

      Yesterday morning Daniel's right hand woman, Georgette Farkas responded: "Vive les blogs and les bloggers."

      I never imagined I'd be so stodgy that I would miss the good old days.


Rao's Famiglia

      Still longing in vain for that table atraos merlot impossible-to-invade Rao's, where family comes first?  Think you could charm or bluff or intimidate Frankie Pellegrino, Rao's stern gatekeeper, into a reservation if only you could corner him? Here's your chance.  Frankie "No" will be at Sherry Lehmann Wine & Spirits (505 Park Avenue at 59th Street) introducing Rao's new private label wines Saturday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m.  Sip, taste and plead your case as he signs a copy of his Rao's cookbook for you.  He won't be able to hang up or put you on hold.


Photos of Gloucester Memorial, Clam Box lobster roll, Lobsta Land clam bellies, Almoncello scallops and Bouley's Return from Chiang Mai and the lamb dish may not be used without permission from Steven Richter.

FORKPLAY Copyright Gael Greene 2008