Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Danny Meyer Marathon

In 2006, Spoon interviewed pioneering restaurateur Danny Meyer for a story about his book, Setting the Table. At the time, Meyer's empire included seven New York City restaurants, including his flagship Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, and Gramercy Tavern. Today, his menu includes 12 establishments, from the gleaming bar room at the Museum of Modern Art, to hamburger heaven Shake Shack, and the impressive new Italian trattoria Maialino. So when Spoon & Fork guest bloggers Laura and Patrick, better known as Fillet Knife and Butcher Twine, decided they wanted to do a Danny Meyer Marathon, hitting all Meyer's restaurants in one day, we were intrigued.

For any other restaurateur, the feat wouldn't be either as impressive, or as fun. Just the the thought of a Jeffrey Chodorow marathon, for example, makes one's head spin. Chodorow's restaurants are too theme-park, too inconsistent, and too, well, corporate. But Meyer, even while rolling out a host of new restaurants in a very short time, has never forgotten the key ingredient in any restaurant's recipe for success: hospitality. From Fork's first meal at Union Square Cafe some 20 years ago, to a recent lunch at Tabla (try the skate), Meyer's restaurants never disappoint.

That's because Danny Meyer restaurants make sense. The menus, ingredients, and preparation are first-rate, whether at the top-rated French wonder Eleven Madison Park, or at a picnic joint like Shake Shack, where it is not uncommon for people to wait on line for an hour just to get a hot dog. The rooms are elegant, yet comfortable. And the staff are the best in the city: gracious, efficient, and warm.

So a Danny Meyer marathon also made sense, and, like the restaurants themselves, it did not disappoint. On February 27, over the course of 12 hours, from the Upper West Side all the way down to Madison Square Park, our intrepid bloggers tasted burgers and fries, shrimp corndogs, tandoori octopus, sea bass with spaghetti squash... and wait until you hear about dessert.

It was a day to remember: great food, great fun, a test of gastro-endurance, and a few twists and suprises. The full report will be up soon, don't miss it!--S&F

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mmmm... Beer....

There are certainly worse predicaments than having your cousin, who works for a beer and wine distributor, drop almost three cases of craft beer off at your apartment in the middle of February. The shipment conveniently arrived just as I was re-introducing booze to my diet after nine months of limiting myself to half-glasses of wine, and for the first week or so, I happily dipped into our stash a few evenings a week.

Then I came across a recipe for Beer-Braised Beef with Onion, Carrot and Turnips, calling for 12 ounces of dark beer. It sounded cozy and warm and hearty--and a nice way to make the most of our recent windfall. And so I set about browning cubes of boneless chuck roast, which had been dredged in flour, salted, and peppered, in a splash of oil in my Dutch oven. The next 10 minutes were pretty much the most active part of this dish's cooking process--and that's not saying much, since the activity entailed stirring the beef around every few minutes to let each side get a little crispy. After such heavy work, I poured in a bottle of River Horse Special Ale, a cup of beef stock, some crushed garlic cloves, and a bay leaf. Then I lugged the heavy pot, tightly lidded, into a 300-degree oven for an hour and a half.

When I opened the pot 90 minutes later to slip in the carrots, I was greeted with the steamy and savory beginnings of a stew; 25 minutes later, when it was time to add the onions and parsnips, the meat was even further broken down. And after another hour had passed, the beef was completely fork-tender.

Now, this recipe comes from Cooking Light, so I shouldn't be surprised that it tells you to strain off the fat from the stew's liquid before serving. I skipped this step. I was feeling kind of lazy, and honestly, there didn't seem to be that much fat to skim, anyway. So perhaps this dish wasn't as light as it could have been. But it was awfully tasty. Over three hours, the beer and beef stock mellowed the meat into submission, and the veggies were sweet and perfectly tender, too. A perfect winter meal that I neglected to photograph (hence the pic, courtesy of, but that we happily scarfed down with a salad and crusty bread. Thanks for the beer, Dan! --S