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FORKPLAY July 9, 2013
Southern Accent. Uncle Boon's Family Ways. Broadway Baby. Distilled. Stella.

Dear Friends and Family

       Say "Southern Cook," and I remember Edna Lewis. She was a favorite of James Beard and was already known for her cheese soufflé
and chocolate mousse at Café Nicholson before I became a restaurant critic. I remember the big Southern style ham she cooked for our first Citymeals-on-Wheels gathering of great chefs honoring Jim in the garden at Rockefeller Center, just months after he died.
       Another year she dished up peach ice cream. I imagine I can still taste it. I remember her sitting on a tall stool, with a paisley shawl on her shoulders, smiling, so gentle, soft-spoken, serene.  
       Are you so young that your image of the classic Southern Cook is Paula Deen?  How the world turns. Perhaps you are a passionate fan of the Georgia peach pie, or possibly you were simply oblivious to Deen. Maybe, like Anthony Bourdain, you considered her "the worst
, most dangerous person to America," for her disregard of healthful eating. Or did you happily fetishize her recipe for butterballs and her mischievous y'all pants-dropping style? 
       I thought she revealed her twisted character -- evil rather than simply vulgar or pitiful -- by concealing her diabetes for three years, only to announce it when she became a spokesperson for a diabetes drug. But it took racist remarks, the N word, a foul mouth, language not unlike Bourdain's come to think of it, and her pathetic response to the spotlight to bring her down. I was stunned as one by one, her partners abandoned her: The Food Network, Smithfield, Walmart, Caesar's Entertainment. Bad karma, I thought. Some pleasure here for those who were jealous or never quite understood her appeal.
       But then, enough. Random House did not really need to cancel her five-book contract with Ballantine or the imminent publication of "Paula Deen's New Testament" -- already the number one best seller on Amazon in pre-publication orders. What is this sudden embrace of political correctness? Now we'll have no more bios for bad guys, no junkies' laments, no jailhouse memoirs.

       I think she's been punished enough. So she used the N-word, maybe 15 years ago, maybe last week. Have you never used the redneck word? Did you ever say the shvarts word? If Random House is too elegant to get rich on "Paula Deen's Testament," let them donate the profits to Citymeals - the modest lunch we help deliver to 17,500 frail, elderly neighbors in all five boroughs is the nourishment that lets them live out their final years at home. A fitting swap for butterballs.


       Our colors today are cantaloupe and watermelon.


Uncle Boon's Family Ways

       There's always the gamble of the unknown as I tirelessly seek to report on the shifting trails of dining. The obsessed foodies I count among my more constant pals tend to pick up vibes of dining triumphs
when they're just small peeps. They are like weather-casters trailing a tornado, sniffing out the heat of what could be the next un-gettable table.  "Uncle Boons," they started chorusing some weeks ago. People were talking it up.
       Our eyes widen at the brilliant concerto of flavors: toasted coconut, salty dried shrimp, peanuts and the chile heat dancing against the intense, peppery essence of green betel leaf. Our gang of five take turns dipping the folded leaves into a rust-hued sauce. Pretty indeed, but perhaps a little skimpy for $12, I think. But with the first drippy bite, the turnaround is quick. We're excited. We want to taste more. We promise to come back soon.
       Last week t
he Times' Pete Wells chimed in with two stars, ignited by the excitement here in Nolita. I was pleased to see that his enthusiasm extended after four visits since my own flamed with just one. 7 Spring Street between Elizabeth Street and The Bowery. 646 370 6650 Click here to find out what you won't want to miss.

Broadway Baby

       I've had a whirl on Broadway this spring. Invited by set designer David Rockwell to see "K
inky Boots." Close up at "Matilda" too. Laughing with Bette Midler in "I'll Eat You Later."  And "Pippin'" coming up Friday as the guests of Fran and Barry Weissler.  Pretty much a Tony trifecta.
       Where do I eat? I usually meet my friends for a light dinner at Blue Fin when we're headed toward a theater mid-way in Times Square. The staff is fast and professional. Occasionally I will order the salmon. It's always cooked rare but not raw, the way I ask for it. I took a bite of my friend's lobster ravioli with English peas, spring onion, pea shoots, bacon and parmesan. It was very impressive, tasting springy ahead of spring.
       Most recently we fueled for Bette with half a dozen cherrystones each,
just $8. And then followed with Thai sesame, spicy tuna and Times Square rolls to share. Let me confess I use my name to get a quiet table. And BRGuest is an advertiser as you see here. Usually the house sends out warm chocolate chip cookies in a bag to go. They can be yours too, $5 on the dessert menu. 1567 Broadway at 47th Street. 212 918 1400.



       Molecular cooking is rarely for me, but I'm as big a neophiliac as any other spoiled New Yorker. When I learned Momofuko adept Chef Shane Lyon
s was planning to do "fun food familiars with a twist" at Distilled, I was curious.
       Similarly obsessed foodie friends walked up from Wall Street to Tribeca, meeting me there with their brand new heir Ted in a stroller. Mom gives Ted
his 7 p.m. bottle. When Ted gets weepy -- you can barely hear him given the crowd and the music -- Dad walks him around and offers him a lick of chicken liver paté on one finger.  "We want Ted to experience different flavors," my friend explains when I gasp at the adventure.

       I like the delicate mousse myself.  I spoon off the melted fat on top, and spread the lush cream on chicken skin "crackers," then top that with h
oney foam. A second dabble offered is red wine pickled shallots, mignonette by any other name. I try that also, with and without the foam. Fun and original. Good too. The truth is some of these twists turn me off, but I'm coming back anyway for just one brilliant dish. Click here to read more and decide if you'll take the risk. 211 West Broadway. On the corner of Franklin, 212 601 9514 

Kenneth Jay Lane for Dessert

       It started with our mutual determination to see the latest costume jewelry show at the Museum of Arts and Design. "Let me take you to lunch upstairs at Robert first," my friend said.

       "No, take me to Bouchon Bakery," I beg. Obviously the view can't rival Robert's 6th floor perch above Columbus Circle. But visions of Bouchon's marvelous desserts filled my brain. I'll confess I called to ask if someone would hold a table for us. But no one got the message. We waited. Not that long, actually, and we sat at a tiny table in the middle of the room like any other civilian. Excellent service, fast. Of course, they don't make money on bakery snacks, if you don't eat, exalt and get out.
       I started with a Cobb salad -- full of all sorts of caloric extras I don't include in my own daily salad at the office.
But then I had to ask and I had to discover that the pie of the day was sour cherry.

        It was a spectacular little pie - with a delicate crust. Confident. Grownup. (They sent me this photo, reminding me of the too-sweet pistachio ice cream alongside. Third floor Time Warner Building. No need to call. They don't take reservations.

       Afterward, we crossed the street to exercise our envy at the show of Barbara Berger's costume jewelry collection. She's married to a diamond dealer but that doesn't really have anything to do with her dazzling jewels. Well, maybe it helps that she can afford whatever calls out to her and dozens of vitrines to store them at home. I saw one of my own favorite Joseff of Hollywood pins. And my friend and I moaned and groaned over Miriam Haskell necklaces and enamel frogs and brilliant treasures from Chanel and Dior and Screiner. I saw pieces I'd craved and debated buyng at Pier shows but left behind. When I look back on my life, I hope my only regret will be what I didn't buy.


Stella Knows Who You Are

       A bunch of us wanted a perfect spot to celebrate our ageless friend, just released from rehab for her broken hip and, with her doting mate, marking a fifteenth wedding anniversary. What we needed was a civilized, grownup restaurant, bright enough to read the menu, quiet enough to speak without straining vocal cords. Snappy service and better than merely good food went without saying.

       "How about Stella at Macy's," I said.   

       "Perfect," my friend Marcia agreed. Bob and Ellen had never been, but he knew the manager so he made the rez and asked for a cake.  "They're sending sparkling wine too, so don't be annoyed," he warned me, knowing I object to freebies (even here in the case of an advertiser).

       I've written about Stella before. Click here to read my original BITE. I've singled out my favorites: the multicolored cauliflower and broccoli with pine nuts and raisins of the Verdure, the meal-all-by-itself Napoli salad (enough for the table to share), rich-as Croesus tortiglioni pasta (ridged tubes with ham and peas in fontina cream) and from the oven, black kale-potato-and sausage lasagna lat
hered with fontina enriched-béchamel.

       Stella is really busy during the day but it was almost empty that Tuesday evening. I was sad to see that my Twitter fans ignore m
y advice.

       To sum it up, at the end of the evening, after the fabulous chocolate cake and bubbly, all of us agreed we would be back. You have to know wh
o you are to bring snobby friends to Stella, I suppose. It is Macy's after all, even though the creaking old store has embarked on a glamorous multi million dollar rehab. Granted, it is tawdry 34th Street east and west  

       But there are two private elevators directly to Stella just inside the entrance on Broadway at 35th Street. There is that view. The Empire tower lights up as night dims. At some point, the doors to the linen department close and there may even be music. Billie Holiday maybe. What more could you ask? Dedicated elevators from Macy's Broadway and 35th Street entrance. 212 967 9251 



Photographs of Uncle Boon's chicken curry, Blue Fin, the candied chicken wings at Distilled, and the Napoli salad and pasta at Stella may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.  




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