Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

R.I.P. to The Hippest Diner on Earth

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I have been having so much fun compiling my new “Favorites” page, it’s all I seem to be doing in my spare time. When pondering what I might want to add next, I thought of that thick and creamy black & white milkshake at Empire Diner. It was unfailingly the perfect combination of rich vanilla ice cream and just the right amount of classic chocolate syrup to satisfy my chocoholic husband without turning me off (and I am no fan of chocolate). I adored this milkshake. It was worth the drive all the way from the farthest corner of the Upper East Side down to the edge of Chelsea just to savor it. It must go on my list.

But it cannot go on my list. The Empire Diner served its last meal on May 15, 2010. The 24-hour establishment – whose Art Deco edifice is famously topped with an Empire State Building replica – lost its lease after 34 years. Oh, how I wish I had known of the closing! I would have gone there to indulge one last time. No more swanky diner decor. No more midnight jazz piano. No more homemade chocolate pudding…sweet potato fries topped with brown sugar…hot open-faced turkey sandwiches…burgers the exact size of the buns…..you will be sorely missed, Empire Diner.

Inside the Mind of a Chef

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Getting inside the mind if a chef isn’t as elusive as it might appear. Thanks to master chef Daniel Boulud, now you can walk right in seven days a week at his new restaurant, DBGB Kitchen & Bar, on the Bowery. Just steps away from what once was CBGB’s, this new venture was designed to be a place that a cook would want to frequent with a menu to match. The menu is eclectic and substantial, ranging from the scrumptious and very modernly presented escargots to matzo ball soup. There is a beer sommelier, a house-made sausage menu, and a hamburger whose garnishes include Daisy May’s pulled pork. Need I say more? Well, maybe I should just mention that they have ice cream sundaes with homemade marshmallows, cookie bites, and mini meringues so fantastical in appearance they put Willy Wonka to shame.

I have had the pleasure of eating there twice so far, most recently Saturday night with my good friend, Tim. Chef Daniel was there, and he came by to say hello (he so generously endorsed Notes on Cooking). We were praising the food and service, of course, but I was most excited to share my husband’s observations with him about the space (Sean and I had eaten there together the week before). As good as the food is at DBGB, the design and decor are even more clever.

Interior of DBGB Kitchen & Bar

Interior of DBGB Kitchen & Bar

When you approach the restaurant, you are confronted with a wall of glass windows, covered in quotes from culinary gods like Brillat-Savarin and Julia Child. As you enter the restaurant, the surrounding walls of mirrored glass in the bar area display more quotes and the extensive menu. Once you enter the main dining room, you are in a giant and handsome charcoal grey dining room that is remarkably light and open. The bright white and stainless steel kitchen is visible through glass and forms an “L” along two walls. Wherever else there is wall space in the room pantry items like kosher salt, matzo meal, and wine are displayed on wooden shelves. The finishing touch that makes the whole concept come together is a full border of copper pots and pans from all the great American and French chefs, a veritable culinary heritage museum. Everyone of Chef Daniel’s friends from Alain Ducasse to Tyler Florence has donated a favorite copper piece to be displayed. It is both thrilling and humbling to walk around the the perimeter of the dining room to admire this cookware and ultimately their owners.

There are other amusing details like bathroom wallpaper – pages of a French cookware catalogue from another century that feature such frivolous items as a jambonniere (a ham-shaped pot to cook…what else?…ham). This type of detail might be lost on those who are ignorant of or uninterested in food history; to them it’s likely just an attractive aesthetic choice. But to those in the know, to a cook like me who lives and breathes this stuff, it was so stimulating. My husband and I absorbed all these details when we first waked into DBGB. As is typical, Sean put it best: “This restaurant is like the inside of a chef’s mind.”

So, I quoted this to Chef Daniel, telling him all the reasons that led us to feel that way. No one had put it that way to him before, he noted, and he loved that way of seeing the space. “I’m going to use that!” he said. Well, just when I thought it was not possible for him to flatter me more…then again, all the credit for articulating that observation goes to Sean!

I can’t wait to get back to DBGB Kitchen & Bar. It is a delectable and authentic journey into the mind of a GREAT chef.