FORK PLAY: August 23, 2012
Le Bernardin. Raymi. Atlantic Grill. Flushing Eats. Steven: Letting Go
Dear Friends and Family,
There is a new menu design at Le Bernardin, everything simply arranged, with ingredients listed. I study it with extra care. On a visit last year, I had a dish I didn't like. It was a shock. It made me consider how challenging it must be to revise the menu every season as Eric Ripert does, with so many repeat sea creatures, always honoring his mantra as handed down to him by the late Gilbert LeCoze: The fish is the star of the plate.
I don't get here as often as I'd like. I wait to be invited. Tonight my Daddy Warbucks is a grandly extravagant foodie - he himself would choose that designation. He trusts sommelier Aldo Sohm to know his taste. Together they select a smooth and mellow 2004 Meursault, Meix Chavaux from Domaine Roulot. I love that he does not even blink at the $360 price or at spending $285 for a particularly graceful '88 Gevry-Chambertin from Denis Bachelet. (In case you have an indulgent grapenut in your life, you'll know exactly what to choose.)
The white is perfect with the little shaved geoduck clam and smoked edamame mousseline in a wasabi citrus emulsion buried under Osetra caviar from China. And even better with my flash marinated sea scallop starter with sweet and sour grapes and a thrilling jalapeno-yuzu vinaigrette. The plate looks like a prom dress with ribbons of watermelon pink radish and shaved celery green. I'm obliged to share it, as if I actually wanted to.
All three of my choices turn out to be swoon worthy. It's like winning the lottery. I forget I'm not alone as I surrender to more caviar salting a medley of exquisite sea creatures swimming with a yuzu-sea-urchin creamy custard in a double smoked bonito broth. It comes in a perfect bowl, a sea urchin shell...I see my host staring at it. Oops. Too late. I've only a few bits of custard in a puddle of broth to offer him.
I didn't even want the Arctic char. It was a last minute whim. I had wild salmon my past three times here and I need to get out of that rut. Powerful perfume of Australian truffle - it seems not always easy to get - hits my nose, setting me up for a dizzying sensory immersion. The char cooked on one side has the texture of custard too, with truffled peas and favas and a nuttiness of mushroom duxelles. I tilt the plate to get a spoonful of the buttery lettuce sauce, remembering just in time that good guests who share get asked again.
And if you think Eric Ripert must be in the kitchen for you to eat this well, think again. It's August. He's in Sag Harbor with his cell phone turned off. His trusted chef de cuisine Chris Muller, a presence in the kitchen for 19 years, is calling the orders tonight. 155 West 51st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
Fork Play colors this week are for Steven: evergreen for his favorite hiking trails and deep blue like the waters of Lake Powell in October (we went in the off season when the crowds disappeared).
High on Pisco
It's a pisco world at Richard Sandoval's new Raymi where Nuela used to be in Flatiron. There's a wall of piscos at the bar and on the menu: classics like the Pisco Sour, more than a dozen house-made pisco infusions, and riffs on cocktail familiars starring that Peruvian white brandy made from Muscat grapes instead of the usual gin or vodka.
I'll have the classic pisco sour, frozen. "I'll have it dry," I say, meaning easy on the sugar syrup. Just say "dry," Guillermo Ferreyros, master distiller and the maker of Pisco 100, had coached me one night at dinner in Lima. I remember the thrilling foam-softened alcohol chill. I see his label is here too. Tonight's frozen classico is marvelous, and pleasantly intoxicating.
I'm not sure why none of us is expecting much tonight. Yet from the first wild bass tiradito and the corvina classico ceviche, the puddles of mango and passion fruit, the glorious corn pudding, we're sitting up taller. Yes, you'll want to go yourself. So click here to find out what to order. 43 West 24th Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
When my guy was alive and well, we stayed home Sunday nights after a week of eating out. I would become a total sloth in our bed, usually content to eat tuna or egg salad on a toasted bagel with ridiculously mayo'd coleslaw from Fairway while reading the Sunday Times, looking up only when a favorite show came on HBO. And he would eat olive bread with clam chowder from Citarella watching old movies on the big screen in the living room.
But this was last Sunday and Steven was gone. The house was quiet. I felt ghosts. I was still very fragile. I needed to be with friends and talk about anything else. We met at Atlantic Grill across from Lincoln Center where nobody recognized me. That's always amusing and useful in my work as a critic, but on this evening it meant I had to be obnoxious and demand a booth.
Three of us shared the evening's special spicy crab roll with plum. I had a brief illusion of virtue eating the first-rate chopped salad. And then I spied corn pudding among the sides. I'd been seized with a craving for corn pudding all weekend. At Hill Country BBQ on Saturday, the pudding was barely comforting. But tonight in its ample black wrought iron baking pan, Atlantic Grill's corn-porridge, laced with amazingly tender lobster and tendrils of bacon, is definitely comforting. Wildly rich. A swamp of buttery creamed corn in molten polenta. I took a bite and shivered with pleasure. Two thousand calories but worth every one. Of course I shared, but still. Guess who scraped up the last luscious forkful.
Yes (confession) Atlantic Grill is an advertiser and Steve Hanson is a longtime friend but I cannot punish my sponsors by ignoring their triumphs. 49 West 64th Street between Broadway and Central Park West.
Our off little taggle of adventurous food-stalkers met at the Municipal Parking lot off Main Street at 39th Avenue in Flushing. Rich Sander, http//ethnojunkie.com/, was our guide, although Zarela Martinez, a flushing habitué, had ideas of her own. As Rish led us toward the Golden Mall, she spied a window stand on Main Street near 41st Avenue with a woman selling Peking Duck buns for $1 and bought four of them, moist flesh and a crackle of skin. The perfect amuse.
Rich insisted we taste a pillowy, sticky fritter shaped like a shmoo, called hom suey gok. It was curiously edible.
Our coven settled at a table next to the original Golden Mall site of Xi'An Famous Foods where Sander hoped we wouldn't get tossed out picnicking on some treats he'd collected earlier in his zippered tote and a shopping bag. Apparently, ordering a $6 portion of the mythic Xi'An spicy cumin lamb with hand-ripped noodles and a $3 spicy cumin lamb burger encouraged some permissiveness.
We sipped bubble tea from Ten Ren. Dumplings and noodle soup from Chinese-Korean Noodles & Dumpling in the Flushing Mall, lamb noodle soup from M.S. Hon Song Ting at the New World Mall, and a banh mi and roast duck over rice from Pho Hoang Vietnamese Cuisine. No, I'm not kidding. A sip, a bite, a forkful, more than my share of ripped noodles. I'm afraid I ate like no tomorrow, though I passed on the pastries from Iris Tea & Bakery.
And a few minutes later we were still game for the beef roll from a stall called Diverse Dim Sum at the Flushing Mall 133-31 39th Avenue. It's #Ai on their menu "Minced Beef Sandwich Cake." I can't wait to go back and try Xi'An's new, more ambitious spinoff, Biang!, with more varied dishes and waiter service. 41-10 Main Street near 41st Avenue.
Farewell Steven: Letting Go
Most of you know that Steven, my brave adventurous Road Food Warrior, found a way to end his increasingly empty existence last week by refusing to eat and drink. It was not so much about pain, but rather about the world inside his head closing off pleasures. In his last weeks his devoted aides, Yvonne and Beulah, his son Nico and I did everything we could think of to get him to eat - tiny portions, neither too hot nor too cold, his favorite pasta, soft scrambled eggs with melted cheddar, a giant bowl of the most beautiful summer fruit every morning.
The complications of his illness made swallowing difficult. Suddenly nothing tasted good to him anymore. Soon he would not drink more than an ounce of his precious Kaliber non-alcoholic beer. Water was a tiny sip, maybe two. He would choke on an ounce of orange juice. He would accept a frozen juice pop, letting a bite melt in one cheek, finally tossing it into the wastebasket.
When he could no longer walk into the living room, he and I would sit side by side on the edge of our bed and I would try to persuade him to eat very tiny cuts of watermelon from a toothpick. "No more," he would say.
"Just two more really tiny pieces," I would say. "You know you will die if you don't drink something," I said. He looked at me. Of course he knew.
Click here to read about the Steven I fell for in Aspen twenty-five years ago and the wonderful life we shared. Citymeals on Wheels plans to deliver a lunch this fall from Steven Richter to all the frail shut-ins we feed in the Bronx using the wonderful gifts that our friends have been sending to Citymeals.org.
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Fork Play copyright Gael Greene 2012.