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FORK PLAY February 24, 2009

A Bite of LA. Love and Knishes. Burgundy and Blues. Pinching Pennies. Hungry for Pretzels. Cheesecake.

Dear Friends and Family,

        You haven't heard from me for a while. I'd like to write that I've been in a coma since I ate a big slice of that outrageous Sausage Explosion from the Times' Dining a few Cha Chaweeks ago, followed by an enormous chunk of donut bread pudding, Alex Wichel's recipe that same day. But actually, I've been in Los Angeles. Some would say, a coma by any other name. But not me. I enjoy taking the temperature of sleepy little towns from time to time. And of course, checking out what's new and hot in restaurants is obligatory exercise for a professional mouth. Local folk food is fun too. Click here to read about Cha Cha Chicken.

        We usually eat out eight nights a week but we stayed home to pack before an early flight. "What would you like to eat?" the Road Food Warrior asks as he sets out to brave the crowds at Citarella.

        My mouth hungers for mayonnaise. "Chicken salad," I say.

        "They didn't have chicken salad," he reports on returning.  "So I bought you hummus."  

        I stifled my instant carp. Hummus? How did we go from chicken salad to hummus? I guess you've got to love a Cut Meat Showman who buys you hummus. Anyway, it was exceptional, lush and garlicky.  


Love and Knishes

        On Valentine's Day, Steven and I spent the evening with film producer Jay Weston being over-indulged at Cut, everything you've always wanted in a steak house by Wolfgang Puck. From knishes to goug�res. I am sure I would have loved it anyway - even if the kitchen didn't keep sending edible love letters to Weston. His 26-year-old insider's restaurant newsletter is an institution and everyone wants to stuff him.

Cut Barbara        Barbara Lazeroff, Wolf's longtime muse, motivational therapist, ex-wife but still partner, all in red, stopped by with her beau and her younger son, as she made the rounds of Puck posts, chatting up the bourgeoisie. More about that and dinner with the comeback kid, John Sedlar, at his new Rivera in downtown LA's revival zone, next week In BITE.


Black Truffles, Burgundy and Blues

        I'd love to see you March 8 at Daniel Boulud's informal Sunday evening benefit for Citymeals-on-Wheels. Blue Jeans and Black Truffles, Burgundy and Blues anyone? 

        Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm will join Michelin three-star chef Michel Troisgros from Roanne's legendary Maison Troisgros in the Daniel kitchen and Sirio Maccione will be guest of honor.

        No joke, blue jeans. Of course, it doesn't hurt if it's a designer sweater. Call 212 687 1290 for information. And read a vintage piece on the Troisgros m�nage in a Gourmaniacal Detour by clicking here.


Newly Impoverished or Merely Hungry?

Inoteca Pasta
        Still in jetlag from LaLaland. I didn't give 'Inoteca much chance to settle into the space that was Bar Milano. I love the Denton brothers' paninis and salads with a big glass of red way downtown on Ludlow, but it's a long expensive cab ride for us to risk an endless wait for a table among its loyal fans. Uptown on Third Avenue, Jason and Joe have dumbed down the sleek of their Milanese dream Flex Mussels Bellsthat didn't work and filled it with positive vibes, affordable food and a party air. For more on what I ate, go to BITE.

        Are things so bad in California that Arnold Schwarzenegger had to open a restaurant? That was my first thought when I heard about Flex Mussels. Next thought: mussels are cheap. Get a guide to 23 variations on mussels by clicking here.


Is There Life After Pretzels?

        As soon as the city's health commissioner announced his war on salt, I got hungry for a pretzel. I am sure we all consume more than enough salt. But I like to think that what you eat on a plane doesn't really count, those fabulous warm mixed nuts, for one. I had seconds. You metabolize it with all that free-floating flying anxiety. I flew sitting on my coat in case we had to ditch in water and stand awhile on the wing. Heading west, I actually liked American Airlines' roast pork sandwich lunch - mine was juicy with mustard and cole slaw on bread so remarkably dense I was afraid I might break a tooth. (I mean that as a rave. Imagine, real bread, not that soft soggy stuff emerging from the microwave.) And the blackberry sundae was a joy compared to the sickly sweet granola atop hideous cookie dough ice cream with frozen peach puree at the bottom that followed an ooze of pulled pork in sweet barbeque sauce homeward bound. The flight attendent was rightly concerned that both lunch offerings that day in business class featured pork.

        "Oh yes," I said. "Muslims, Hindus and Jews. What could catering have been thinking?" I do appreciate the balsamic vinaigrette in a bottle. But I wish someone would require everyone in the world to pronounce it vin-A-gret.  Not vinegarette.


Is This the Ultimate Cheesecake

        I asked readers to send me outrageously voluptuous recipes to post on so that thousands of blogs would link to me - as they did to the Sausage Explosion perpetrators. My good friends Karen and Andrew Dornenburg took time out from promoting their top-selling new Flavor Bible and a new, revised What to Drink with What You Eat to send a cheesecake recipe they treasure from the late Patrick Clark. "Rich, creamy and dense - it's the most decadent dessert we've ever eaten," Page emailed me. "Try it paired with an Inniskillin or Jackson-Triggs ice wine from Canada!"  The two passionate winos suggest freezing chunks of any cake that's left to dip into a chocolate fondue. "Definitely an aphrodisiac."


by Patrick Clark, reprinted from Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

3 pounds cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 c. sugar

pinch of salt

the seeds of 1 fresh vanilla bean

3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

Graham Cracker crumbs and softened butter for crust

In the bowl of a mixer, place the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Cream the mixture at medium speed until light, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 2 minutes after each addition. Stir in sour cream until well combined.

Butter a springform pan (10" diameter with 2 1/2-inch sides) and sprinkle with Graham Cracker crumbs. Pour batter into the pan and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about an hour and 10 minutes, or until the cake tests done in the center. Remove to cake rack and cool completely. Then remove cake from pan and refrigerate. Serve chilled plain or with your favorite fruit or fruit compote.


Photographs of Cha Cha chicken feast, the waiter showing off Cut's meat, Barbara Lazeroff in red, 'Inoteca's tagliatelle ragu and dinner is served at Flex Mussels may not be used without permission of Steven Richter.

Fork Play by Gael Greene copyright 2009