Thursday, November 30, 2006

Huge in Japan

Pioneering New York restauranteur and author Danny Meyer--the man who brought us the groundbreaking Union Square Cafe as well as upscale ribs with Blue Smoke, Americanized Indian at Tabla, high-end continental with Gramercy Tavern and killer dogs at Shake Shack, announced he will open a Union Square Cafe in Tokyo this March. He told the NY Post it would be reminiscent of the USC in Manhattan, with signature dishes like filet mignon of tuna, but that it would "cater to the Tokyo market." I'm not exactly sure what that means, though perhaps it means they'll serve their pan-seared sea scallops encrusted with some ginger wasabi ridiculousness. Like Hansel, that is so hot right now.

As a Meyer follower, I think Tokyo is a pretty cool step for him. The Japanese, with their fine culinary traditions, should enjoy having Meyer spread his restaurant gospel in Tokyo, especially through an offshoot of the Union Square Cafe, still one of New York's best, most comfortable high-end restaurants. Once Danny gets his crop of regular customers in Tokyo, he'll no doubt make them feel like they own shares in the joint. "When guests talk about a restaurant as if it's theirs," Meyer told me. "they can't wait to share it with friends."

I'm curious to see how he'll adapt the Meyer model to pull in a crop of regulars at USC Tokyo. No doubt he'll lay on the charm, uh, the hospitality, he's famous for. "Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction," Meyer told me over coffee this summer, explaining how valuable it was for him to develop habitues at USC, something he's executed brilliantly. The place, for example, is filled every lunch hour with publishing regulars.

I wish Danny all the best and hope to visit USC East someday to see first hand what the Tokyo regulars think of our latest culinary export.--S

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Old Man Liver

New York legislators have shelved for now a law that seeks to ban production of foie gras in the Empire State. Thank god for small mercies.

I'll acknowledge that force-feeding ducks or geese to fatten their tasty little livers seems cruel. And make no mistake, this perception of cruelty is the basis for the current war on foie gras, a war that has already led to bans in Chicago and California. In a twist, however, opponents in New York chose to argue that this delicacy, about 80 percent of which is produced in France, was potentially dangerous to citizens because the overfeeding process diseases the bird's liver. Of course, there have been no reported illnesses or deaths from foie gras made in the U.S., and further, there are only a handful of foie gras producers in the U.S., and the two that reside in New York State are artisinal farms.

Now, I'm not totally unsympathetic to some of the claims made by groups like PETA. For example, I agree that fur serves no real role in modern society. I can also respect anyone who makes the personal decision not to eat meat, and can even appreciate the morality of such a decision. Hell, when PETA gets animals to stop eating other animals then maybe I'll even pay attention. For now, however, if eating foie gras is wrong, I don't wanna be right!

Two million years ago, our forbears got tired and of eating grass and became carnivores. Scientists tell us that it was this delicious advance in our diets that enlarged human brains and lofted us to the top of the food chain. About 5000 years ago, some of those juicy brains finally figured out how to fatten a fowl liver. Toast points came much, much later. But on this day, let us stand in praise of famouse gourmands, however slow we may develop. --F

Thursday, November 09, 2006

East Meets East

Chinese Mirch
120 Lexington Ave (Cross Street: 28th Street)
New York, NY 10016
(212) 532-3663
Directions: 6 train to 28th Street

Just days after Spoon finished running her second New York Marathon, Carlos and his girlfriend Lisa kindly invited us to dinner at Chinese Mirch, an Indian-Chinese fusion joint located in the heart of Curry Hill. Katy, Alex and Robin joined us, comprising a most excellent crowd of fearless spice-loving New Yorkers. When we arrived, the spice had already begun to flow. Carlos and Lisa had arrived first and gotten the meal off to a delectable start with an order of smoked, chili-dusted fried Okra. The pods were served in a paper funnel, like belgian frites, upright in a silver stand. We ordered beers, chomped away on the Okra, and re-ran the highlights of Spoon's Marathon and marveled at her remarkably quick and efficient recovery.

A few months earlier Carlos had invited us and a few friends to his place on the West side and cooked for us a delectable Mexican feast, favorites from his childhood. It was a spicy, delicious meal with Patron tequila flowing throughout and finished with some fresh ice creams from the Chelsea Market and Spoon's own homemade pistachio. We'll try to get Carlos to post the menu and recipes at some point. It was at this dinner that I first heard about Lisa--actually it was my first time meeting Carlos! Like Carlos, Lisa, who resides in cold and rainy (ahem) San Diego is also a scientist. I have few friends who are scientists, and I find I really dig saying "my friend...the scientist." Not to mention that Carlos' work is fascinating. He works with lab rats. Drills their brains, too. Cool.

Dinner at Chinese Mirch was the first chance we had to get to know Lisa, and we liked her immediately. It's a lovely thing when two scientists get together and successfully form this volatile compound called love, truly a bond no supercollider could ever hope to top.

So, away we feasted. Amazingly, no one at the table ordered the same thing, so between appetizers and platters we got to try at least a dozen dishes from Chinese Mirch's extensive, inventive menu. The appetizers were mostly little fried bits of food. Cauliflower, Okra. Corn fritters. Very tasty, although we each got nailed at some point by the miniature, bright-green peppers hidden in the dishes--yow they were hot. It was a quick-hit hot, though, nice and clean; once you downed a little water (and it helped that the waitstaff was very on top of the refill situation), you were back in the game. Standouts among the appetizers included fore-mentioned Okra and the lollipop chicken--wings trimmed like little drumsticks lightly fried and coated in a spicy sauce.

When dining out at spicy restaurants, its always nice to have a doctor along. Good thing for us, Alex is a physician, and was even donned in his emergency room garb as he was scheduled to begin a ten hour shift at Montefiore hospital at 10 pm. Having a doctor at the table made Fork even braver as we feasted. Luckily Alex's skills were not required, but he regaled us with fascinating stories of life NYC's emergency rooms. Mostly, as you might guess, they're full of sick people with no clue how as to get treated. We were astonished to learn however that gunshots were so routine, nearly a nightly occurrence, if not surprised that drug-related incidents were all-too-common.

Dinner came with a flurry of plates, and we passed them round, family style, dining on chili garlic noodles, spicy sauteed garlic prawns, chicken coriander, fluke fillets in hot curry, and thin crispy strips of szechuan lamb. And, of course, many cold beers. Here the choice was clear: go for the Tsing-Tao over the Kingfisher.

The verdict? For us, the spice was perfectly meted out. The fusion of East and, uh, East were nicely blended but also distinguished. The service was good. And the room, while crowded and as generic as any chinese or Indian kitchen (minus the penchant for christmas lights so popular on sixth street) was nevertheless festive. On a scale of 5, Spoon and Fork give Chinese Mirch three Sporks. We definitely recommend Chinese Mirch for fans of the eastern spices.

Do yourself a favor: come early or late. During the peak dinner hours (7-10)the restaurant can get awfully crowded and waits for a table can get up to 45 minutes. And spice lovers are notoriously bad with waiting. Fork throroughly enjoyed watching an altercation between a hefty, bearded older man and a tartily made-up young lady over who was the annointed heir to the next table for two. "No, I didn't give you my name," the gentleman insisted, "but I was here before them."

Nice try, dude. While Fork waited for a young lady to finish with the men's room (she left the seat down, typical) He was amused to watch the rejected table-seeker stand just inside the doorway of the restaurant glaring as the hostess seated the winning young lady and her friend just a few feet from the dispossessed. Enjoy the view!

The next morning, Carlos and Lisa were off to Mexico City to visit Carlos' family. Word later arrived over the transom that they were engaged! Spicy, indeed! Congratulations, Carlos and Lisa.