Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Four Star Heatwave

Where do you want to be on a sweltering hot Manhattan afternoon? A dark movie theater? The frozen food aisle of Whole Foods? Today I found myself in the climate-controlled, candlelit, private dining room at Per Se one of the city's best restaurants, indulging in a decadent lunch.

I wound up at Per Se thanks to my friend Kate, who invited me to a luncheon celebrating the forthcoming publication of The Elements of Cooking by food writer and blogger Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman is apparently pretty good friends with Per Se chef Thomas Keller and helped Keller write The French Laundry Cookbook. So, what better place to commemorate a book that teaches you the most fundamental aspects of good cooking than Keller's magnificent New York dining room?

Ah, yes, lunch. The cocktail hour and hors d'oeuvres were great, but the real fireworks started once we were seated in the dining room. The first course was Cranberry Bean Agnolotti, little ravioli made with a small, round piece of flattened pasta dough. The sauce was a "cassoulet" of summer pole beans, tomatoes and parsley. Then came the main course: Snake River Farm's "Calotte de Boeuf Grilee," which was unbelievably tender and juicy, served with a black winter truffle "pain perdu," a savory twist on French toast that pretty much knocked the dish out of the park.

For dessert, "Tentation au Chocolat, Noisette et Lait," a sort of chocolate/hazelnut streusel with condensed milk sorbet. Finally, the most adorable tiered trays of "mignardises" arrived at the table, brimming with tiny pastries and cookies. Everything I tasted was magnificent.

As delicious as the meal was, Fork was more interested in hearing about Anthony Bourdain, who was seated at my table. Fork is a pretty big fan of Bourdain's. They share a life philosophy of good food, booze, music, writing and a hefty dose of smart-ass. Bourdain was pretty subdued compared to the stories I've heard, but he managed to crack everyone up with his observations about food and culture and his plan to discourage his now four-month-old daughter to stay away from McDonald's: "Ronald McDonald is an evil man who smells funny and eats children."

Oh, yeah, the guest of honor, Michael Ruhlman. He was charming. And, he has written a book that deserves a spot on top of refrigerators across America. His advice on everything from making stock to his explanation of what makes a cookie a cookie are fascinating, entertaining and useful to any home cook. Also check out his 2006 book, The Reach of a Chef, which Fork loved.--S

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