With the arrival of over 100,000 migrants – adults and children – in New York City during the past few months, Mayor Eric Adams has been desperate to find housing for the influx and has resorted to partnering with several Manhattan hotels to provide temporary accommodations.

One of those hotels is a 260-room boutique property called THE REDBURY. It abruptly closed to guests on August 4th and became a shelter for asylum seekers. The rooms filled immediately and cots were set up in the public spaces.

One of the casualties of this sudden change was the closing of two of New York City’s most cherished neighborhood restaurants, MARTA and MAIALINO, both housed in the hotel. They were owned by celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer, creator of UNION SQUARE CAFÉ and GRAMERCY PARK TAVERN. Meyer is well known and admired for his dedication to his employees. He states in his book, Setting the Table, “I can’t expect my employees to care about anyone unless they feel cared for.” Regrettably, 120 of them are now on the street.

But Meyer is not bitter. He respects the REDBURY’S decision to house migrants and is looking to relocate employees to his other restaurants. 

In the meantime, HUDSON YARDS, the huge 28-acre mixed-use project in Chelsea on the west side, has also struggled. The largest private real estate development in U.S. history, it debuted in 2019 – just before COVID hit. It had a rocky start and many of its businesses did not survive the pandemic. Multiple marquee restaurants closed. Even world-famous chef Thomas Keller had to fold his tent at TAK, the premier fine-dining restaurant that anchored the entire Hudson Yards enterprise. He was forced to close his very good and very Frenchie BOUCHON BAKERY as well.

But a door always opens. Enter Danny Meyer last year to Hudson Yards with CI SIAMO, Italian for “Here we are.”

You enter on the ground floor into a modest but tasteful vestibule with a daunting 24-step staircase up to the second-floor restaurant. NO WAY. I’M TAKING THE ELEVATOR.

The doors opened, much to my surprise, to a small table with 2 bottles of complimentary Chianti and a half-dozen little wine glasses alongside. Nice touch for the ride up to the second floor.

The next thing you see is a handsome, well-appointed, and crowded bar & lounge. The greeting by the hostess could not have been more welcoming. And as she walked us to our table, the narrow bar space opened to an effortlessly likeable dining room that was at once cutting-edge, yet warmly familiar.

Now, we were a table of five, seated at TABLE #23 in the corner. Make a note of it, because it offers a picture-postcard view of Manhattan and the Empire State Building. If you go, and if you are a group of 5 or 6……try to snag #23. Do it.

And that was just the beginning of a succession of “wow” moments that evening.

Chef Hillary Sterling helms the kitchen, the centerpiece of which is a state-of-the-art wood-burning, open-fire oven and grill.

So please, begin your meal with Ci Siamo’s wood-oven baked Caramelized Cipollini Onion Torta – rich with melty, creamy onions and gooey cheese packed inside a delicate crumbly pie crust laced with a balsamic vinegar reduction and two kinds of Pecorino cheese, Romana and Toscana. If there are more than two of you, order two of ‘em.

In addition, start with a loaf of Cast-Iron Focaccia, also baked in the wood-fired oven. Accompany the olive oil-brushed, dimpled bread with a plate of Mortadella con Pistacchio, a classic Italian combination.

We sampled a lot of antipasti, including…

Gnocco Fritto. Looking like oversized ravioli that have been deep-fried, each is stuffed with a tangy, melted goat gouda cheese. And just like the focaccia, they pair nicely with the pistachio mortadella….$14.

Most of the starters are meant for sharing, and that’s exactly what we did with the Pizza Bianca that Chef Sterling picked up in Piemonte, Italy. The crust is par-baked in the wood oven and then slathered with garlic aioli and salsa verde before being topped with big and salty Spanish anchovies. Don’t wince at the anchovies, Minnesota. Their saltiness is a perfect foil to the aioli.

Next came Fritto Misto, a crispy mix of deep-fried squid, morsels of cod, scallops, pepperoncini and assorted summer vegetables. This was followed by a platter of crunchy fried oysters.

Extra virgin olive oil-basted roasted red and yellow peppers, blistered from the blazing wood grill, made a perfect little “sandwich” filler with the mortadella (if there was any left) masquerading as bread.

Little-Neck Clams in briny, buttery, garlic-laden wine broth, served with toasty garlic bread, rounded out our heinous gluttony on appetizers.

We tramped on to the assault. Salad was next.

Castelfranco, a bold, crisp Italian pink lettuce salad with toasted walnuts and goat cheese was smothered with delicious micro-planed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We ordered two for the table at $17 each.

Chef Sterling exalts “the power of simplicity” and nowhere is her beautiful, seasonal, Italian-inspired cooking more evident than in Ci Siamo’s array of skillfully homemade bountiful bowls of pastas, each absolutely PACKED with flavor.

First…Tagliatelle in tomato sauce with HEAPS of intensely flavored buffalo butter (a cousin to buffalo mozzarella and burrata). This ran $24. Marcella Hazan wouldn’t hesitate to tell you, “It’s worth it.”

Next: Stracci, a Sicilian classic involving rabbit, Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheeses, Arneis white wine, and pliant folds of pappardelle pasta. This is what I had, and I loved it! The slight gaminess of the rabbit was nicely tempered by the cheese and white wine ($29). It’s one of Ci Siamo’s signature dishes. The only thing that puzzled me is that it’s a Sicilian dish with Northern Italian ingredients….Gorgonzola from north of Milan, Parmesan from Parma, and wine from Piemonte. Go figure.

Joanne had the orate (another name for Sea Bream) from the Mediterranean ($33). Another member of our group really enjoyed the Salmoriglio — smoked Sicilian swordfish served with a sauce of lemon, olive oil, oregano, garlic and chopped parsley.

A grass-fed grilled ribeye, hot off the open-wood fire, was good (as good as grass-fed beef can be). It ran $43. A roasted half chicken with spring onions and schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat) looked good ($36), as did the Pork Milanese, tricked up a bit with caraway seeds and bagna cauda aioli (bagna cauda is a classic northern Italian dipping sauce made with anchovies, garlic olive oil, butter and cream).

But here’s what stole the show: the 48-ounce BISTECCA FIORENTINA for two (or three). Chef Sterling covers the 3 lb. behemoth in sea salt and lets it rest for an hour or two to deplete some of the moisture. After brushing off the salt (now here’s the trick), she sets the steak in a pan 3 inches deep in melted clarified butter on the range at a very low temperature for about an hour before slapping it on the white-hot fire and grilling it to medium-rare with a nicely charred crust.

I know a thing or two about Bistecca Fiorentina. But I’ve never heard of lightly poaching it in butter. 

Pair that up with a generous side dish of wild mushrooms sauteed in butter and rosemary, and well…that’s all I can say.

And what about dessert for the now-satisfied pigs at the table? OF COURSE.

Bombolini (Italian sugar coated “donuts” with chocolate dipping sauce)? Absolutely. $15.

Lemon Tart – light and softly lemony ($15).

Hazelnut Gelato, seething with toasted-hazelnut gusto, was a hit as well – and it sported a gentle price ($10).

Not so gently priced – at three times the cost of the gelato – was the Chocolate Budino, a concoction that resides somewhere between a cake and a mousse. Deep chocolate, espresso zabaglione, toasted chocolate almonds and shards of wafer-thin dark chocolate rendered it velvety and moist.

At $30 bucks, was it worth it?





A couple of weeks ago we took a dining trip to New York. As part of my preparation, I came across a wildly enthusiastic review of KOLOMAN in the New Yorker. Opened in 2022, this French-Viennese restaurant adjoining the Ace Hotel in NoMad seems to be on every New Yorker’s hot list.

Knowing that the New Yorker can be rather spare in giving out rave reviews of restaurants, I took notice in the writeup. Couple that with Viennese food not being particularly high on most people’s gastronomy chart (with the possible exception of wienerschitzle and apple strudel), and my interest was definitely piqued.

Now, I have always thought of Viennese food category as slightly heavy, fully flavored….sort of Teutonic comfort food. But the New Yorker critic raved about chef Markus Glocker’s ability to transform duck egg custard into a “cloudlike ideal.”  Then I discovered that the London Guardian food critic, Jay Rayner, whom I respect immensely, had reviewed Koloman as well, gushing that “the food is so damned good.”

That clinched it. We had to hit Koloman…and hit it hard.

Further research revealed that the restaurant gets its name from the late 19th century Austrian artist Koloman Mosel.  He was a significant participant, along with the better known painter, Gustav Klimt, in an art movement that rebelled against traditional Viennese styles. The Vienna Succession cult was their response to the old traditional art forms, by expressing an Avant-Garde body of work closely aligned with the modern Art Nouveau style. 

And that was one of the many inspirations seized upon by Austrian-born-and-bred chef and owner Markus Glocker as he fashioned Koloman….architectural, decorative attitude and cuisine.

One can readily see the decorative influence and impact of Koloman Mosel in the design of the space – from the monumental, transparent, back-lit clock behind the bar, to the patterned patchwork wall coverings and the exquisite ornamental beveled glass above the banquettes.

The semi-open kitchen was about the only element that Glocker retained from the previous occupant, The Breslin. And our group of five managed to snag the best table in the house – #54 – right in front of the kitchen at “the pass,” offering an advanced class in dinner theater.

So before we get to the food…what to say?

Koloman has the ambience of a Viennese Café with three-star food. It’s surprisingly casual – no velvet rope here, no dress code. The appeal is timeless. It’s ideal for Date Night, special occasions…or just Tuesday.

Now, about the food.

For openers, they have a Michelin star. An Austrian restaurant with a Michelin star???

Well, YES. You see, Markus Glocker spent and survived his earlier years training in the kitchens of Gordon Ramsay and Claridge’s in London, Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, as well as Steirereck, master chef Heinz Reitbauer’s famed Michelin two-star restaurant in Vienna.

At Koloman, Glocker had the wisdom to combine traditional Austrian comfort food with French technique. Viennese classics, rendered with modern sophistication, are allowed to shine. No surprise that the New York Times awarded Koloman three stars.


First…freshly baked bread – warm poppy seed rolls, sourdough batard, and salted and slightly tangy cultured butter. Gougères followed. Smallish, eggy bread muffins encapsulating Alpine cheese and sauteed red wine shallots, they were $4 each, and well worth it.

We all shared a couple of bites of the delectable and rich – yet ethereally light – aged Cheddar Cheese soufflé, served with mushroom jam…$26.

Next came a half dozen Fine de la Baie Oysters on ice, harvested from the ice-cold waters of New Brunswick, Canada. They were velvety smooth with a crisp bite. Rounding out the appetizers was something I’d never seen in a fine-dining restaurant: little pumpernickel bread sandwiches filled with pimento cheese. Sounds weird but they were a brilliant counterpoint to the briny oysters…$24.

TAFELSPITZ is said to be one of the national dishes of Austria (sorry, wienerschnitzel). Essentially, it’s boiled beef mixed with apples and horseradish. At Koloman, tafelspitz is reimagined as a terrine and served at room temperature, layered with thin-sliced short-ribs and encased in jellied beef stock. As a summer appetizer, it was perfect……but I prefer the warm original, specially in winter.

A stunning “High-Tea Appetizer Tower” came with three treats: Octopus Pastrami, Brandade Croquettes, and a Tuna Tartare that my darling little granddaughter refused to share. Even a tiny attempt at a bite resulted in a SLAP.

Good thing we also ordered Red Snapper crudo with horseradish, spicy citrus and smoked olive oil…$16.

What I had, all to myself – and am determined to bring in some iteration to the SALUT menus – was the Foie Gras Mousse Parfait. Smooth as silk while gently flavored with Pomme de Vie (apple brandy), it was crowned with a gelée of Austrian and French dessert wines. Brioche Toasts rode shotgun.

After appetizers, a flurry of main courses followed…

Fennel Tagliatelle with Smoked Brook Trout and Caviar ($31). Beef Tenderloin crusted in Bone Marrow and Baumkuchen (Austrian layer cake crumbles) with shallots and red wine sauce ($58). Fluke, a species of flounder, arrived with a nutty crust of slivered almonds and a sauce of Mandelbrot Brown Butter (sweetened with sugar and vanilla)…$42.

Joanne had one of the most artful dishes that I have ever seen…Salmon en Croute. Normally, this involves a brick of salmon sheathed in an egg-washed puff pastry crust. NOT THIS ONE. Just look at the image. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. I can’t imagine how Chef Glocker pulls it off, but in between a perfect piece of salmon and the crisp savory white bread casing is a layer of delicious Scallop and Parsley Mousse. Add pickled cucumber, sunchokes and beetroot butter and you’ve got a spectacular dish – one that you’ll never make at home…$49.

Spätzle, a dish not seen much outside of Austria and Germany, reared its buttery head as a side dish to the classic Viennese schnitzel, made with veal loin, a premium cut that is more tender and flavorful than the commonly used veal top-round. It was crumb-crusted and fried in clarified butter. Other than the appreciated Lingonberries that accompanied it, this classic dish is not to be messed with. IT’S PURE VIENNA.

Lastly: The Brune Landaise chicken for two.  First of all, what the heck is “Landaise” chicken? Originally from the Gascony region of southwest France, this bird roams free in the barnyard and is raised (without hormones) for 120 days as opposed to 85 days for normal chickens. It’s finished with grain and thus its large body is more juicy, rich and well-marbled than grocery store chickens. This is the breed that Austrian famed chef Antoine Westerman of Paris features at LE COQ RICO, his chicken-only restaurant near Montmartre. 

Because they taste so great on their own, there’s not much reason to load ‘em up with foie gras, truffles and the like. At Koloman the whole chicken is split, simply roasted and offered with Champagne cabbage, spätzle and Meyer lemon jus.….$84 for two.

We soldiered on to dessert:

Palatswchinken…Austrian crepes rolled and cut crosswise into one-inch pieces, then filled with sweet cottage cheese and tightly arranged side-by-side to resemble a garlic bulb sliced in half. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and comes with citrus salad and grapefruit & bay-leaf sherbet….$16.

Sacher Torte…made famous by the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. This is a dense, deep, dark chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and whacked with schlag (look it up). Chef Glocker throws a good-natured curveball in his interpretation of the iconic chocolate dessert by eliminating the apricot layers and instead dropping a dollop of apricot jam in the middle of the schlag so it masquerades as an egg. Both versions are wonderful.

Soufflé again…this time as a dessert for two. As expected, it was simple, light, airy and fluffy with lingonberry jam and vanilla ice cream. Oh, and a shot of rum…$30 for two.

Viennese Apple Strudel. Considered the national dessert of Austria (its country of origin), apple strudel gained popularity during the 18th century under the Hapsburg Empire. Despite the proliferation of many versions in Germany and neighboring countries, the strudel served at Koloman strikes me as a pure play…not tricked-up with cherries or peaches or blue cheese. It’s wonderfully simple, with tart Granny Smith Apples, rum-soaked raisins, tasted hazelnuts and frozen buttermilk. 

Ve suspect dat der SS Colonel, HANS LANDA might even approve….YA?




About a month ago, as we were planning a dining trip to New York, I wanted to revisit a favorite of mine: MINETTA TAVERN in the West Village, near Washington Square Park.

Despite our calling almost two months in advance, they were fully booked on the Friday and Saturday nights that we had available.  DRAT! (We are on the waiting list).

The challenge of booking a table got me thinking about how an 80-yaer-old restaurant not only survives, but thrives in 2023 to the extent that it’s nearly impossible to obtain a reservation?

What’s the deal?

I did a little research. Minetta Tavern opened shortly after the end of prohibition in 1937 and became a Beat Generation celebrity hangout and watering hole in the early 1950’s for writers and poets including Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill, Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound and E.E. Cummings.

I’m told that booze always fuels creativity.

It operated as a red-sauce Italian restaurant up until 2008 when the aging owner sold the place to British-born restaurateur KEITH McNALLY, creator of BALTHAZAR, CAFÉ LUXEMBOURG, PASTIS, PRAVDA, AND SCHILLER’S LIQUOR BAR, among other places.

Now, Keith McNally is a New York restaurateur of unequaled talent and stature (in my informed opinion). Some years back, I wrote about some of his restaurants in a blog post entitled “Paris via the Lexington Avenue Line.” I couldn’t agree more with Sam Stone of Bon Appetit who said that McNally’s restaurants evoke “casual glamour, effortless cool and unpretentious luxury…McNally knows how to create a vibe.”

But McNally’s talents go beyond that. They’re more nuanced. After purchasing the Minetta Tavern, he closed the restaurant for six months to refurbish it. He had the WISDOM to understand the inner qualities and the brand equity that Minetta Tavern had built up over the decades. And when he bought the classic 1930’s property, he left its essential elements largely alone, except for the Italian fare, which he replaced with a carefully curated menu of lusty French bistro/brasserie dishes, headed by a “GRILLADE” section featuring dry aged beef. Frank Bruni, then food critic for the New York Times, called Minetta Tavern “the best steakhouse in New York City.” And that’s saying something.

McNally’s crackerjack genius for theater led him to respect original details like the black and white floor tile, the scuffed red leather booths, and priceless art and photos adorning the walls. He also augmented the ambiance with touches like French-inspired waitress uniforms (Did the inspiration for the little black dresses and starched white aprons come from Parisian bistro servers…or saucy house maids?).

The result was more than restaurant with the trappings of a relevant, classic Old World saloon. It radiated a feeling of reassurance of times past and delivered spiritual pleasures that go far beyond food. Everything old became new. Praise god, this relic was born again.

Today the bar buzzes with aspiring models and ingénues, up-and-comers and establishment types…men with (carefully knotted) sweaters over their shoulders…women draped in the latest fashions. You’ll also see a few tourists craning their necks in the faint expectation of spotting a celebrity – if not Al Pacino, maybe a Kim Cattrall.

As TimeOut New York wrote, “McNally is the city’s tastemaker.”

But Minetta Tavern’s appeal goes beyond its clientele and the chic speakeasy vibe of the boozy bar. The chitchat and laughter in the packed, 75-seat, time-capsule dining room are fueled by more than alcohol. The kitchen is the real engine here.

So let’s go. Here’s what to expect:

Even though Minetta Tavern sports a coveted MICHELIN STAR, there is no fuss or pretension here. The menu is concise and it’s in English. The food is decisive, distinctive and loaded with big flavors. And servers don’t talk down to you.

We always share dozen of the pristine, glistening local oysters. The French Onion Soup is a pure French rendition uncompromised by cheap cheese or commercially supplied broth. It’s the real thing, crowned with genuine melty gruyere…$22.

One evening as an appetizer, we ordered a foie Gras Terrine with Black Cherry Chutney.  WOW.

Steak Tartare, Grilled Octopus, and awesome stuffed Berkshire Pigs Trotters are things you probably don’t prepare at home. So be brave. TAKE A CHANCE.

If Roasted Beef Bones oozing with salt-socked marrow are on the menu, be sure to order this sleeves-up starter, which is served with baguette toast soldiers and shallot confit…$33

Salads are limited, but you can always count on the Butter Lettuce, Radish, Gala Apple Slices, and Marcona Almonds with Cider Vinaigrette Dressing…$22.

Perhaps as a nod to its Italian predecessor, Minetta Tavern serves a Florentine Pasta Za Za – linguine, pancetta, sage and parmesan topped off with a fried Egg. During the winter months, keep an eye out for the Pappardelle with Braised Oxtail, Rosemary and Pecorino Romano cheese.

Vol au Vent, another French brasserie icon, is a puff pastry basket filled with Escargot and Sweetbreads in a Parsley and Garlic Butter. (Oh come on, don’t say, “Icky!”).

Lobster most always makes an appearance in the form of a buttery Lobster Roll – all claws and knuckles (no stringy stuff, just lumps), as well as the exquisite Lobster Thermidor. Can’t remember the cost, but Yelp gave it 4 stars. So do I.

Side dishes, including green beans and sautéed spinach, are predictable – perfectly prepared, all out of central casting.

What isn’t predictable is the menu’s POMMES (potatoes) section.

First, there are the Crispy Fries – so crispy that I have to believe they’re done the French way: double fried.

Then there are the Potatoes Anna, thinly sliced russet potatoes arranged in a circular pattern amid layers and layers and layers of butter. They’re browned until a crispy crust forms on the stove top, then oven-baked so that the butter-laced interior becomes meltingly tender and tasty.

Slightly less familiar, at least two Americans, are the Pommes Aligot, In this preparation, potatoes are vigorously whipped into obedience ‘til silky smooth and elastic. Guess what? The dish also features loads of butter, as well as heavy cream and garlic. From what I could detect, a mix of Alpine cheeses – perhaps gruyere, Comte and Swiss (or maybe Wisconsin cheese curds) – enters the mix as well.  Whatever, they were DELICIOUS.

I recall three excellent dessert options: a Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé, Baba Au Rhum, and – best of all – Minetta Tavern’s fantastic Coconut Cake.

Now, while all the dishes I’ve mentioned boast French Brasserie DNA, perhaps the thing that Minetta Tavern is most noted for is the primal, carnivore hunks of cow.

Let’s start with the Filet Mignon with Sauce au Poivre (peppercorns), butter, heavy cream and Cognac…$58. What’s not to like?

Or the Sliced New York Strip – dry-aged and on the bone. It’s crunchy, charred, crusty and irresistible…$75.

Dinner for two or three? Or will you be eating on your own? Either way, consider the monstrous, thick-cut juicy Ribeye – dubbed “Dry-Aged Cote de Boeuf.” It’s served with roasted marrow bones and gem lettuce salad. This baby will cost you $189.

I would, guess, however, that on any weeknight Minetta Tavern’s biggest draw might be its burgers. Yes, BURGERS. There are two of ‘em.

The Minetta Burger, priced at $31, is a 9 oz. patty topped with cheddar cheese, and caramelized onions, accompanied by fries. It’s outstanding, of course, but is overshadowed by…

The Black Label Burger. Probably the buzziest burger in all of New York City, it bursts with the flavor of legendary butcher Pat La Frieda’s selection of dry-aged prime beef cuts, including NY Strip, Skirt Steak, Brisket and Ribeye. Its notes of fat and funk blend with silky caramelized onions on a buttered sesame-seed, toasted brioche bun. It was $38 at price time. INSANELY GOOD!

Shared Appetite blogger Chris Cockren said it best: “The Black Label Burger is meat…caramelized onions…bun.”  That’s it!

McNally’s frequent postings on Instagram are unfiltered, witty, highly entertaining and occasionally raw (you may remember his spat with James Corden several months ago). But as he recently posted in response to a reporter’s question about dishing on celebrities…

“I have an unwavering policy of never mentioning them by name. Especially when it’s Woody Allen, Ben Affleck or Madonna being here a couple weeks ago. Or Jude Law and a waitress from PASTIS on Thursday.”




London is a wonderful walking city, maybe the best I’ve ever experienced.

Joanne and I would walk for hours, taking the time to stop and stare and pause for a while whenever we felt like it.

The architecture is spirited and diverse, and everywhere on display…from old and very old to new and very new. There’s always something to capture your interest, whether churches, monuments and public art or royal dwellings, sites of scandal, shops and charming cafes and restaurants.

Stepping out of our hotel in Mayfair, we’d frequently flip a coin (a satisfyingly hefty 1 pounder) to determine if we’d turn left or right to begin our morning stroll.

Frequently we started at the southeast end of Hyde Park and walked through the exquisitely manicured flower garden, then along the north shore of the Serpentine (a 40-acre lake) before doubling back to a point just outside of Kensington Gardens.

Now, here, you have a choice:

You can bear to the right and aim for Kensington Palace (about 15 minutes). Of course, it’s beautiful but you won’t see William, Kate, George, Charlotte or darling little Louis on your stroll, as the family have recently moved out of the palace and now reside in Adelaide Cottage in Windsor.

More often than not, Joanne and I would bear to the left, continuing our walk on the south side of the Serpentine until we reached the Princess Diana Memorial Foundation, where we’d stop for a well-deserved pause in one of London’s most serene settings.

Okay, up and at ‘em: From the Diana Foundation, it’s off to the Gothic-on-steroids Albert Memorial and out of the park via the ornate Coal Brookdale Gates and then across the street to the Royal Albert Hall. Now you’re on Kensington High Street and into a different area of London: the W8 district.

You’re also in for a treat if you head west ‘til you come to Abington Road – about a 25 to 30-miinute walk..

Turn left and there it is…KITCHEN W8.

We dine here each and every time we’re in London, in part because the restaurant so masterfully balances contrary forces:

  1. Food meticulously prepared…but easy to eat.
  2. High end…but no dress code.
  3. Michelin-starred…but without the challenge.
  4. Modern British…but with a French soul.
  5. White tablecloth…but with a crumb sweeper.

If there are two of you, request table #26. It’s a corner table with a view of all the action.

Since Joanne and I have dined at W8 so often over the years, the following is but a general sampling of what whiz-brained chef MARK KEMPSON creates. He changes the menu frequently.

Don’t be surprised if, immediately after you’re seated, Chef Kempson himself appears at your table bearing an unsolicited treat. The last time we were there, it was Black Rice Crisps with Spring Pea Hummus. The complementary bread was a Rye Sourdough with Dried Apricots and Toasted Black Walnuts.

Now, THAT’S what I call a good start.

Appetizers may include St. Austell Bay Mussels nesting in Yellow Chanterelle Chowder, Crispy Croquettes of Mangalitsa Pork (an Austrian heritage breed) with Smoked Egg Yolk, White Asparagus and Black Pudding.

Loved by me, and hated by Joanne, were two appetizers: Glazed Lamb Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms and Black Garlic, and Torchon of Foie Gras.

Don’t pity my wife, however. She devoured a Warm Vegetable Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts, White and Green Asparagus, Carrots and Broad Beans dressed in Périgord Truffle Cream.

I cannot remember a beef main course that did not feature a cut from one of Scotland’s premium beef breeds, whether it be Ayrshire, Belted Galloway or Aberdeen Angus…sometimes served with Potato Puree (different than mashed) involving butter, butter, butter. The Christmas holiday version included a softball-sized Hot Popover.

I’m the only one in our family that will gladly eat veal, and I’m glad to report it’s often on the menu at Kitchen W8.

Once I dined on Roast Rump of Veal with Spring Peas, White Asparagus and a surprising counterpoint of a Chinese Egg Roll alongside. On another occasion, Chef Kempson prepared a slow-roasted Rump of Rose Veal, again with White Asparagus, but this time smothered with Morel Mushrooms and White Truffles.

With the Atlantic Ocean on England’s doorstep, Kitchen W8 sources the preponderance of its sustainable seafood species from the Cornwall coast in the southwest. I’m normally not a big fan of mackerel – too oily – but this one I liked a lot: Grilled Cornish Mackerel with Yellow Beets, Smoked Ell, Sweet Mustard and Little Gem Lettuce. Joanne especially likes any of W8’s fresh seafood offerings, whether it’s Steamed Brill, Pollock, Slow-Poached Sea Bream, Hake, Cod, Mussels or Oysters. All good.

Most of our trips to London have been in October or November – the height of the hunting season. That’s one reason we always include the old school RULES restaurant in Covent Garden, with its unbeatable seasonal game.

W8, however, is no slouch in this department. But their game dishes are less old school than Rules’ and more English Modern interpretations. For example, Aynhoe Park Venison is served beautifully soft and rare with Celeriac and Grilled Pear. Roast Wild Yorkshire Grouse with Liver, Bacon and Damson Plum is not for those with Lutheran taste buds, but mine revel in the earthy rankness of dishes like this, as well as Kempson’s quail ravioli and his rabbit and bacon pie.

Heritage pigs also appear on the menu in the form of Prosciutto di Parma (the gold standard of porkers) and Jambon Iberico, Spain’s black-hoofed rival to Italy’s best. The difference between them? Italy’s are fed corn and Spain’s pigs grow up on acorns. Both taste great.

But after the esteemed hams, what to do with the rest of these prized pigs?

How about 55-day Aged Iberico Pork roast with Smoked Celeriac, Charred Pear and Iberico Bacon?  Or bacon’s big brother, Iberico Pork Belly, slow-cooked and pressed with Potato Puree riding shotgun, Spring Peas and Preserved Lemon?

You must do side dishes.

If available, do not miss the Mac ‘n Cheese, throttled with Black Truffles. Nor will you want to pass up the Duck Fat-Fried “Crisps” (fries) scattered with Périgord Truffles and Parmigiano Reggiano.

If you can manage dessert (selections vary daily at W8), there are no bad actors – only best players.

Warm Vanilla Donuts with Elderflower Ice Cream and Baked Strawberries might be on the menu. Or perhaps a Vanilla Croustade of intense Gariguette Strawberries (What he the hell does “Gariguette” mean? I looked it up. It means “early spring.” Couldn’t they just say that? Oh well.)

Then there are the two showstoppers – both wretched excess!

First: Poached Yorkshire Rhubarb, Vanilla, Crème Fraiche, Blood Orange, White Chocolate and Toasted Marcona Almonds.

The other: Bitter Chocolate Opera Cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Dried Fruits and Salted Nuts.

And finally…the cheese board, laden with Comte, Winchester and Derbyshire Blue Stilton with sourdough toast.

If you didn’t drink too much wine, now it’s time to RESUME YOUR STROLL, this time just through the Kensington neighborhoods, followed by a black London Taxi back to your hotel for a snooze before dinner.

What a day. And you can do it again tomorrow. And the day after, interspersing your eating with museums, West End theater, shopping, Buckingham Palace, the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, and hours of urban wandering, forming a tapestry that knits your whole trip together.

And if you’re feeling guilty about indulging yourself so decadently, pull out your phone and check your steps. You’ll have earned the day’s pleasures.




Let’s hope that COVID is finally in the rear-view mirror….and that after being cooped up for a few years, we can travel again – travel with a VENGEANCE!

As is often the case, my mind wanders toward Europe and the many pleasures of Tuscany.

After numerous euphoric dining trips up and down the Boot, one dish in particular stands out: BISTECCA FIORENTINA, the uniquely gargantuan slap of porterhouse steak for which Tuscany is famous.

Honestly, if Italy’s on your mind, you NEED to get some Bistecca Fiorentina in your mouth.

Here’s why…starting with THE MEAT.

In northern Italy’s Val di Chiana, an area that touches Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, they raise the tallest, heaviest and largest breed of cow in the world. It’s called the CHIANINA.  

These ancient white giants were bred to pull carts and plow fields for centuries, and they tip the scales anywhere between 1800 lbs. for cows and 3000 lbs. for bulls. That compares with American beef cattle that go to market weighing about 800 pounds less. With the advent of modern farm machinery, the Chianina are now raised exclusively for their beef,

The Italians have long been suspected of fraudulently trading on their reputation for producing the world’s best olive oil. Many producers actually import olives from Spain, Morocco and Greece. At facilities in Italy they process those olives into oil, then ship the premium-priced product around the world in fancy bottles bearing a “Made in Italy” label.

I can’t help but be reminded of Claude Rains as the French police prefect in the classic film, CASABLANCA, who declares to Humphrey Bogart, “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling going on here!”

As opposed to “Italian olive oil” the Chianina porterhouse steaks are practically impossible to counterfeit, imitate or substitute. Beyond the fact that production is tightly regulated to ensure PURE BREEDING, no other animal can produce a steak on that scale.

A bit about the Chianina.

The cattle are grass-fed and extremely lean…about 2% fat…the leanest type of beef.  Because they are so huge, they take longer to mature before they go to market. Thus, they are very expensive to raise.

The BISTECCA is a porterhouse and that means that there are two types of steak on either side of the center bone.   On one side is a FILET that melts like butter in your mouth. On the other side is a STRIP SIRLOIN, boasting a richer flavor and a chewy pleasure.

For a classic Bistecca Fiorentina, the steaks must be thick – 3-4 fingers, or about 3-inches, thick.  Thirty days of dry aging is also mandatory. They’re cooked VERY RARE over white-hot oak or olive wood coals for about 4 minutes per side. Next, the steak is cooked upright standing on the back of the bone for maybe another four minutes, then drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and finally socked with Maldon Salt. Rosemary is often used to season Bistecca Fiorentina, but isn’t essential to the preparation.

If you don’t like a RARE STEAK, Bistecca Fiorentina might not be the dish for you, but it’s certainly been embraced by steak connoisseurs. Lots and lots of ristorantes, trattorias and osterias in this part of Italy offer Bistecca Fiorentina, and from what I have experienced, most of them do a pretty good rendition of the dish. (I’ve never found Bistecca Fiorentina in southern Italy. The climate is too hot to raise cattle. Thus, water buffalo were imported years ago from India…and voila: BUFFALO MOZZARELLA.)

Here are a few of my favorites……I’ve been to all of them. None will disappoint.

Let’s start in ROME……decades ago.

On our first trip to Italy, Joanne and I stayed at a hotel on the Via Veneto. The concierge recommended a restaurant just around the corner on the Via Campagnia called GIRARROSTO TOSCANO. I dropped a jaw when the Bistecca Fiorentina arrived. I had, never in my life, seen a steak of that scale. And during the past 30 years, I can truthfully say that each and every time we have visited the Eternal City, we have dined at Girarrosto and ordered its Bistecca Fiorentina. Perhaps with a bottle (or two) of Chianti Classico Riserva.

Bonus: Giararrosto Toscano’s PARADE of ANTIPASTI. Waiters swarm your table, one after the other…each bearing a different treat, including bocconcini, platters of prosciutto, melon from Emiglia-Romagna, salamis of all stripes, cippolini onions, baby meat balls, and on and on ‘til you tell ‘em to stop.

Not far away, near the base of the Spanish Steps, you’ll find NINO, a fixture on Via Borgognona since 1934. It’s easy to spot the place, as their large, imposing neon sign reads backwards, depending on which way you approach.  Your bistecca is sliced tableside. These waiters are veteran servers and know their stuff.


…and BUCA LAPI, a charming and cozy downstairs oasis on the Palazzo Antinori in the vibrant heart of the city.  On a recent tour of their kitchen, we saw the grilling of our 3-inch-thick specimen resting upright on the bone just before it was served to our table….along with a bottle of Brunello.

Next is COCO LEZZONE, on Via del Parioncini in the middle of Florence. The crowd includes lots of locals as well as a few tourists.  Some complain about the price of the Bistecca, but it’s worth remembering that GOOD STEAK ISN’T CHEAP.  AND CHEAP STEAK ISN’T GOOD.

BONUS:  If you visit during the winter months, the restaurant also offers a bonus of two Tuscan bread soups…no kidding.  The first is RIBOLITA, which is leftover Minnestrone thickened with day-old bread. Sounds bad, tastes good. The other offering is PAPPA DI POMODORO – rustic San Marzano tomato soup, loaded up with garlic and basil, and topped with a healthy slug of extra virgin olive oil.

And then there’s SOSTANZA, hidden on a lonely Florentine backstreet on the city’s east side, near the Santa Maria Novella Railway Station. You’ll know you’ve found the restaurant when you see the crowd gathered in front of a grungy eatery displaying faded health certificates and restaurant reviews in the window.  It’s tiny and at one time must have been a working man’s bar. Today it is one of the toughest reservations in Florence.

Sostanza is decidedly old-school, with family-style seating and crowded, narrowly spaced tables. Dominating the phone-booth size kitchen is a scorching, blazing, fiery wood kindled grill for – guess what? – Bistecca Fiorentina. At Sostanza, it’s pure porterhouse joy.

But, that’s not all folks……there’s a bonus here, too:  BUTTER CHICKEN, featuring skin-on chicken breasts which the chef continuously douses with boiling butter to caramelize and crisp up the skin. The dish is brought to the table by the chef who will ask you if you want a plate. You will say “No.” He will then set the banged-up, sizzling cooking pan, brimming in molten butter, right down in front of you and proceed to squeeze a couple lemons over the chicken. The butter will belch, boil, foam and spit. You know it’s WAY TOO HOT TO EAT.  But – like the honey badger – you just don’t give a shit and you dig right in.

Do not wear a tie to Sostanza.

Now we’re off to MILAN

It’s a little too far north to find many places that serve Bistecca Fiorentina. But one night, while not particularly searching for the iconic porterhouse, we discovered it on the menu of one of our favorite restaurants:  SOLFERINO.

Opened in 1909, Solferino is a charming place – unpretentious and utterly delicious. It was truffle season and I guess they just couldn’t help themselves. Our bistecca was SMOTHERED with black truffles. How did I feel about that? Well, the truffles certainly are good, but I’m not certain that they added much to the classic dish, except maybe dollars.

Okay, so now you are asking, “Which is best?  A Bistecca Fiorentina in Italy or a 3 lb. dry-aged double porterhouse at MANNY’S (or, for that matter, at PETER LUGER, in NYC.)?

Well, both are PRIMITIVE PLEASURES, but the steaks themselves are very different. Unlike the grass-fed Chianinas, both Manny’s and Peter Luger feature grain-fed beef (mostly corn), which results in a highly marbled (FAT) and deeply flavored steak. And as we all know…FAT IS FLAVOR.

Corn is not native to Italy. They only produce 6.4 million tons per year, compared to 354 million tons in the United States. The corn that is produced in Italy is mainly for polenta and the rest fattens the pigs that produce Parma’s glorious prosciutto.

Being grass-fed, the Chianina have very little fat. But nevertheless, they’re good as well…just different.

So I got to thinking about the entirety of a meal – the whole dining experience.

At Manny’s the blinds are closed.  You are in Manny’s world. You’re an observer of the buzzy dining room with celebrities popping in from time to time. The 3 lb. double porterhouse that you are sharing at your table is heaven. Your second bottle of Cabernet is smooth as silk and goes down easy – sometimes too easily. You’re cozied up in a booth and it’s cold outside. YOU FEEL LIKE NOTHING BAD COULD EVER HAPPEN HERE.

Now, the Bistecca. You’re in Italy, maybe Florence, the land of La Dolce Vita. Italian culture revolves around love, passion, beauty, food and sensual pleasures. Dining is long and leisurely, drawn out with family, friends and romantic partners. Italians equate food with love, specifically designed with seduction in mind.

So I ask you, “Would sharing a meal on a balmy summer evening at sunset in a restaurant along the banks of the Arno River in Florence have something to do with loving Bistecca Fiorentina?

I was just wondering….




Situated in the western part of Central London, Clerkenwell is an urban sanctuary populated mainly by young professionals.

In the heart of the village lies the OLD SESSIONS HOUSE, built in the style in 1782. With its columned edifice and imposing presence, it bears some resemblance to the Pantheon in Rome. The building once served as a courthouse known as the “Old Judges Building.” Beneath its chambers were cells that housed the accused and convicted…who I’m sure were honored to be judged in such splendor.

After sunsetting as a courthouse years ago, it has gone through several iterations and today, amongst other venues, the complex houses a gallery and a small, 60-seat restaurant called THE SESSIONS ARTS CLUB.

It has become a toughest dining reservation in London.

Last year, just before it exploded in popularity, Joanne and I managed to book a table. The hard part was figuring out how to physically enter the restaurant. There is no sign. The entrance, while in plain sight, is virtually unfindable – hidden behind a red door with an unmarked doorbell.

Once we finally figured that out, we pressed the bell and the door opened into a very dark, claustrophobic little room. The initial welcome was a little weird. As our eyes adjusted, we discerned a man seated at a table lit by a single candle. (Was he a concierge? A greeter? IGOR the crypt keeper?). He asked our name, then invited us to take the stone staircase to the 5th floor. Sensing our dread of the climb, he then called our attention to a small lift off to the side. It creaked and groaned as it took us to the top.

Upon reaching our destination, we pushed through a set of really heavy red-velvet drapes only to encounter a jaw-dropping, sexy, decadent, soaring, 40-foot-high central atrium that is the SESSIONS dining room.

How to describe it…?

A once-elegant Italian villa?…tattered grandeur?…precisely distressed walls?…stunning textures?…prudently peeling paint and plaster?…a smart solution to the oft-abused term “shabby chic?”…delightfully unkempt?

I turned to Joanne and whispered, “Someone spent some serious money to make this place look so old.”

The restaurant critic, Fay Mascher, of the British fashion and lifestyle-focused publication, Tatler, recently proclaimed Sessions “the culinary hotspot on everyone’s lips.” I could understand why – and I hadn’t yet had a single bite.

The host greeted us with a warm smile, then led us to a catbird-seat table from which we could view the gorgeous expanse a dining room that seemed to be lit solely by flattering, flickering candlelight.

SESSIONS ARTS CLUB was founded by Chef Florence Knight and rock ‘n roll bad boy artist Jonny Gent (who has the dubious distinction of being best known for a painting called, Dog Licking Himself).

Fortunately, Chef Knight paints on a different canvas, and her artistry is unique in today’s fine dining world.

Trained in classic French cuisine and influenced by frequent travels to Italy, she has a culinary aesthetic that centers on fresh, seasonal, simple, but very cerebral and occasionally playful, whimsical creations – very different from the overworked, overhandled, tweezered food with saucy smears and swooshes on hand-made plates with dots of sauce that represents most chefs’ idea of fine dining.


The menu is not classified into appetizers, salads and main courses. It’s simply a listing of all offerings, whose size can be inferred by the prices. BTW, the price of our dinner, including wine for two, was a little over $200.

In 1948, Harry Cipriani created the ionic Bellini (made from white peach nectar and Prosecco) at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Florence Knight does a refreshing riff on the famous cocktail – her Rhubarb Bellini. Joanne and I each indulged in one as an aperitif.

We began dinner with two starters: Panisse, or four long sticks of chickpea-flour bread from the south of France, sprinkled with lemon-thyme and Maldon sea salt; and a single Brown Shrimp Croquette (at $6 for a single croquette, we thought WTF?) It turned out to be less a croquette than a shrimp, encased in a crispy-crusty potato ball laced with chili flakes, garlic and rosemary. When cut open, melty herb butter oozes out like a Chicken Kiev (sorry, Kyiv). We sopped up the herb butter with what was left of our Panisse.

Joanne, not being a fan of smoked eel, enthusiastically ceded the dish to me. Not only was it delicious, it was drop-dead gorgeous. I had to ask our server, “What the hell is in there and how in the hell did you make it?”

Asked and answered: It consisted of King Edward potatoes and smoked eel, thinly sliced on a mandolin, marinated in rapeseed oil, then stacked in alternating layers and pressed with a weight overnight. The rectangular little bricks that emerge are deep-fried, then married up with crème fraiche, arugula, salmon roe, and edible nasturtiums to brighten the plate. BTW the salinity of the roe countered by the tart sourness of the crème fraiche was really quite a nice experience.

I said, “This reeks of YES!”  Joanne said it reeked of NO!

She ordered a lightly dressed Belgian Endive Salad, which is precisely what she wanted…NO EEL!

The next offering was Sicilian, which we also shared. Although we’ve been to Sicily several times, we have never, ever tasted or seen “Squid Rings, Datterini Soft Tomato Sauce, and Calamarata Pasta.”

First of all, what are Datterini tomatoes? And what is Calamarata Pasta?

Well, Datterini tomatoes are tiny red Sicilian tomatoes that explode with flavor. Calamarata are pasta rings shaped to be indistinguishable from squid rings. Paired up in the same dish, you can’t tell them apart until they’re in your mouth. 

I told you that some of Florence Knight’s dishes are playful and witty.

On to the main courses.

To my surprise, Joanne opted for the Smoked Icelandic Haddock topped with a Buford Brown Softly Poached Egg…one of cuisine’s adorable couples. I, of course, am a snout-to-tail man (which makes me wonder: Is SNT2TL available for a vanity plate?). After all, FAT IS FLAVOR, so I ordered the Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly with Braised Fennel and Orange. One dish that Sessions is famous for, which Joanne and I only observed, was Rabbit with Minced Pork Sausage wrapped in a Hispi Cabbage Leaf resting in a pool of English Mustard Dressing. Oh well…next time. AND THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME.

Astute food critics often say something like, “Who in the hell ever remembered dessert?”  (Are they too buzzed by then to remember?)

Well, I remember dessert – all three of them.

Panna Cotta…it either jiggles or it doesn’t. SESSIONS’ version jiggled properly and was served with fresh figs and a crispy Parmigiano Reggiano cheese crisp.

Nut Brown Chocolate Tart…deeply flavored, full-bodied, and served with a handsome dollop of Devonshire clotted cream.

And finally, finally…a hefty cleave of Pecorino Romano cheese with zucchini flowers, honey, and sourdough potato chips.

So there you have it.

Florence Knight is in a culinary world of her own…unique among other Michelin-starred chefs. She has flawless taste buds and proudly states, “My food is like a play…a single lead with two or three supporting roles. It is quite pure. It’s simple. Any more ingredients, and the plot becomes confusing.”

If Oscar Wilde were alive, I think he would say of Florence, “She’s just herself. Everyone else is already taken.”




A while back, I visited Toronto.

My flight arrived late at night, about 11:30 PM, but no worries. I had a guaranteed room booked at the huge ROYAL YORK HOTEL, Toronto’s Grande Dame.  

As I wearily approached the front desk clerk, an onslaught of disheveled people rushed in front of me and proceeded en masse to check in. Turns out that it was the traveling road cast of the musical Hair…..probably 30 cast members.

Finally, it was my turn. But after presenting my credit card, I detected some confusion amongst the staff. The were talking with each other and not to me. Finally a manager sheepishly informed me that the hotel was sold out and did not have a room for me…even though my reservation had been guaranteed and confirmed.

Welcome to Canada.

After a very unpleasant, loud and expletive-laced conversation (or confrontation), he relented and offered to put me up for the night in the Grande Ballroom. “Just give me a few minutes,” he said.

I thought, Poor guy is tired. He meant to say ‘Grand Suite.’

By now it was approaching 1:00 AM. He escorted me down a hall to a large set of double doors, opened them, and there it was…a single cot and tiny night-stand, dead center in the middle of a gigantic room about the size of a Target store.

Too tired to bitch anymore, I fell asleep only to need to pee a few hours later. So about 4:00 AM, in my underwear, I traipsed across the vast expanse of the floral-carpeted ballroom floor, excited another set of doors and found my way to the men’s room.

If I had it to do over, I would have relieved myself in a corner of the ballroom.  I figured with the loud floral patterned carpeting, no one would notice a little blemish.

Was it wrong of me to harbor such thoughts?

At any rate, last summer, with the announcement that AIR CANADA was introducing non-stop flights from Minneapolis to Montreal, Joanne and I decided to take our daughter, son-in-law, and the darling little grandkids on a weekend trip to Montreal. After all, they had been enrolled in a French immersion school and this would be a chance to test out their burgeoning skills in an actual French-speaking environment.

We had 7:00 PM dinner reservations in Montreal at LA CHRONIQUE, an essential dining experience in Montreal.

Despite our AIR CANADA flight being two hours late, we managed to arrive for dinner just in time.

Now would be a good time to pause and introduce La Chronique to those of you who might be planning a trip to Montreal this summer.

Located a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown on W. Laurier Ave, La Chronique is a small place – maybe 50 seats – that serves a sensibly priced set menu in a smart white dining room, decked out with white tablecloths. It’s wonderful.

A prominent clock on the wall is permanently set for ten minutes to five, which in French-chef lingo is that magical moment before dinner service begins.

Warning: This place is not for you if you are looking for a vegetarian, low-fat, low-calorie, gluten-sensitive, diet-friendly and sugar-free menu. You need to be a fan of “FAT IS FLAVOR” to experience the complete culinary euphoria of La Chronique.

Consequently, upon being seated, the first words out of my mouth were, ”I’d like some FOIE GRAS.”

Spring Pea Soup loaded up with lump crab meat and garnished with deep-fried chicken skin crumbles came next, and was followed by Ricotta Gnocchi with nuggets of, mmm, foie gras.

I warned you…..this place is NOT FOR SISSIES.

Main dishes around our tabled included Shrimp and Iles de la Madeline Scallops in a shellfish emulsion, sauteed milk-fed Veal Sweetbreads, a surf ‘n turf with a big fat Newfoundland lobster claw, Sauteed Sea Bass, the restaurant’s creative take on Seafood Paella, and Wagyu Beef Tenderloin dopped with a sturdy lobe of…oh, more foie gras!

Asparagus was in season, so we all shared a couple side orders of white and green asparagus with shrimp and Parmigiano Reggiano crumbles.

Dessert was all about chocolate…Black Forest Cake with Amareno cherries, profiteroles, and one called “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate.”

La Chronique was a DELIGHT.  I highly recommend it if you are ever in Montreal.

What was NOT a DELIGHT was the rest of our trip.

After checking in two hours before our scheduled 6:00 PM departure, we headed for the AIR CANADA Maple Leaf Lounge to relax, only to discover that it was closed due to a toilet that had overflowed and flooded the club.

We headed for our gate and were prepared to sit there for an hour-and-a-half. We were hungry, but decided to wait till we were in the air for a promised snack on board.

But…we were on the slippery slope of AIR CANADA. Our flight was delayed. 6:00 PM became 6:45. 6:45 became 8:30. 8:30 became 10:30, and 10:30 became midnight – at which time AIR CANADA CANCELED OUR FLIGHT and bluntly informed us that all hotels near the airport were full.

So it was back to downtown for a hotel (which Air Canada was to pay for. More about that later). However, ours was not the only Air Canada flight cancelled around that time. As a result, the airport was packed as we had to reverse our way through customs and immigration, which were clogged with other stranded passengers and woefully understaffed with very unpleasant people. Moreover, we couldn’t retrieve our luggage in the middle of the night because most of the baggage handlers had gone home.

Pick a word or phrase to describe our experience with Air Canada:  CONFUSED…CHAOTIC…BEDLAM…UNHINGED…BAFFLING…SNAKE PIT. You choose: There are no wrong answers.

But I managed to put on my BIG BOY BRITCHES and convince myself that I could deal with this. We’d simply have another day in Montreal and catch the (only) flight to Minneapolis the next evening at 6:00 PM. However, an embarrassed but kind Air Canada gate agent informed us confidentially, and likely at her peril, “that flight to Minneapolis gets canceled almost every day.”

I awoke the next morning, feeling pretty good, only to have a message on my phone from Air Canada:  “YOUR FLIGHT TO MINNEAPOLIS TODAY HAS BEEN CANCELLED!”.


So here’s the end: We rented a van and drove to Boston, where we caught a Delta non-stop to Minneapolis.

But, even though they had promised, Air Canada STONEWALLED us and PAID FOR NOTHING – not our hotel, nor our transportation to downtown. No reimbursement for meals. No refund for the unused tickets for the return leg of our flight back to Minneapolis. No reimbursement for our transportation to Boston.

Even after hours on the phone, Air Canada refused to make any reimbursement whatsoever…NONE.

I can only imagine a future Air Canada captain making the following cockpit announcement to the cabin:

“Thank you for flying Air Canada. We know that you have a choice of airlines. And today you chose the wrong one. Have a nice day in Montreal – BECAUSE YOU AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE.




A few months ago, on a snowy and bitterly cold evening, the thought came to me: ”Let’s go to JAX this Saturday night.”

Because it’s located on the other side of town from where we live, we hadn’t been there in years. But Jax has…90 years to be precise. Yep, it opened in 1933 which makes it perhaps the longest-standing restaurant in the Twin Cities. For nearly a century, Jax has proudly served refined supper-club fare, including prime rib, steaks, chops, chicken and fish…with a slight Polish footnote. 

So, off we went.

Parking was convenient – Jax has a lot just across the street – and the restaurant’s main entrance leads you directly into a serious bar. I say “serious” not only because it extends the length of at least 12-15 stools, but because the bartenders clearly know what they are doing. They know how to concoct no-nonsense drinks both for today’s trendiest hipsters and stodgiest oldsters (Both will be happy with Jax’s perfect Negroni). Anyone in the mood for a crème de menthe-laced Grasshopper? Or perhaps a Brandy Alexander? (Joanne is!).

The restaurant flirts with refinement, comfort and familiarity…crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins, patterned carpet, a main dining room with a grand piano, professional wait staff and the requisite old standby: sanitary bathrooms. 

NO site is quite as satisfying as walking into Jax’s dining room on a cold winter’s night.

The restaurant has been in the same family since the beginning. And it shows. On a crowded Saturday evening, the place positively hums. The food is high quality and generously portioned. Service is solicitous and ticket times are prompt. Jax is a well-run restaurant with a continuity perfected over the generations. IT’S GENUINE.

Expect to travel back in time…perhaps the ‘40s or the ‘60s…to a restaurant where the menu is driven by classic American cravings.

To open-up the dinner we shared appetizers including a Jumbo Shrimp cocktail (a classic presentation), deep-fried tempura shrimp (distinctly contemporary), five fat, spinachy, cheesy, blistered Oysters Rockefeller (back to the classics), and in a nod to its Eastern European roots, an order of Pierogies, rich with buttery sauteed onions.

Salads were crisp and cold (no brown lettuce edges to be seen).  In addition to the expected Caesar and wedge and green salads, I was surprised and pleased to see a WALDORF SALAD. Hadn’t had one of those since I was a kid in Kewanee, Illinois, treated to a “Preacher’s Comin’ Sunday Night” dinner at the Roberts’ house.

Jax has always been known for their steaks – and deservedly so. Lobsters are fresh and briny and buttery. And why wouldn’t they be? The restaurant has its own live lobster tank.

By the way, Jax also has its own trout pond out back, by the lovely, expansive patio (to which we’ll surely return when the weather warms up). You can net your own trout and have it prepared on the spot for your dinner. And you don’t even need a fishing license!

Jax sits on the corner of University & 20th street as an oasis in what once was a blue-collar neighborhood in the heart of “Nordeast” Minneapolis, the traditional home to Polish immigrants as well as Germans, Russians and Slovaks. And to some degree that heritage still makes up a preponderance of the population of the area.

Parts of northeast Minneapolis have become dicey over the years. Other portions have been claimed by hipsters and gentrifiers. But Jax carries on as a neighborhood institution – the go-to destination not just for a pleasurable night out, but for wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners, sweet sixteen parties, prom night dinners, breakfast with Santa, hunter’s game dinners in the fall, and mother-and-daughter brunch, as well graduation, retirement and anniversary events. People meet for lunch before Gophers games and pile into buses for the stadium. They pack the place on St. Patrick’s Day. Jax may even does Lutefisk Dinners.

So I ask myself, “Is Jax a supper club?  Is it a steakhouse? Is it a restaurant that functions as a social club?”  I think the answer is YES…YES…and YES.

BUT IT SEEMS TO BE EVEN MORE THAN THAT – because Jax isn’t just about getting fed. It’s a true social event. The ambiance is nicer than a normal place, with walnut-paneled walls and sorta-swanky napkin folds on the table. People were kinda dressed up in slightly nicer-than-normal outfits. They knew one another. They laughed out loud.  The crowd comprised SEVERAL GENERATIONS united by the fact that what they wanted most was to HAVE A GOOD TIME.  Jax is just well connected to the rhythms of the neighborhood.


Jax is a treasure – not just for the neighborhood. Not just for the Twin Cities either (although it is surely that). Jax is an institution. It’s living history. It’s a time capsule in which the history of American dining comes to glorious life.

FOLLOW MY ADVICE: If you have kids or grandkids, bring ‘em to Jax on a Friday or Saturday night for an experience that surely won’t be around forever. They just don’t make restaurants like this anymore. Even some of our other dining institutions no longer deliver this kind of experience. Murray’s, for example, carries on serving fantastic food, but long ago it shed its swanky pink décor, trading it for a more generic wood-paneled dining room. Live music echoes only in memory, and its dance floor has been claimed for additional seating. Elsewhere in the city, the classics of the past, like Charlie’s and The Blue Horse are long gone.

But Jax still has live piano music on the weekends. It retains that magnificent bar and graciously appointed, widely spaced tables in the main dining room. Baked potatoes still come wrapped in foil. There’s a proper bread service. A maître ‘d still greets you at the host stand. You don’t feel pressure to give up your table after an hour-and-a-half.

Older folks will be thrilled to reexperience the past at Jax, and your kids and grandkids need to be introduced to it.  

It’ll be the most delicious history lesson they’ve ever had.




Joanne and I have been blessed for the past several years to take our daughter and grandkids to Florida for spring break.

And being the grandchildren of restaurateurs, their expectations for dining out are rather high, especially as they grow older. To prevent disappointment ­– and, let’s be honest, enjoy the vicarious pleasures of introducing them to the new and delicious – I strive to treat the kids to the hottest, most memorable, relevant and challenging restaurants Miami has to offer.

With the prospect of reckless abandonment on my brain, I dismiss all my present protocols for sensible and restrained eating. It’s “balls-out” dining for Phil.

On our most recent visit, we started at JUVIA, the renowned rooftop restaurant on Lincoln Road that features French, Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. Wading knee-deep into the fattiest and most indulgent offerings on the menu, I began with deep-fried calamari, followed by a 6 oz. hunk of fatty braised crispy pork belly on a bed of tamale cream and mustard-agave syrup. That was followed by chocolate profiteroles with high-fat-content vanilla ice cream.

Off to bed…..

The next morning I was awakened by the grandkids screaming that they wanted to go to BIG PINK (home to BIG FOOD) for breakfast. What could be more satisfying than a platter of deep-fried chicken & waffles – unless that might be the cheesiest of breakfast nachos, or eggs & bacon…lots and lots of bacon.

NOTE: For the rest of our trip we ate breakfast at home. But due to the declaration of my granddaughter, we went through 5 lbs. of Nueske’s bacon in the remaining six days.

I didn’t mind.


And the best by far pizza in Miami Beach is from FRATELLI LA BUFULA, the Naples, Italy-based pizzeria. Its cheesy, crusty, garlicky, oily and gooey…all at once.

A three-scoop chocolate banana split for dessert topped off the evening.

That night I had heartburn. It hurt SO GOOD.

Well, one can’t go to Miami Beach without dining at PRIME 112 STEAKHOUSE (see my WTF PHIL ROBERTS blog posting of September 15, 2021.

Off we went, grandkids in tow. Steaks, of course, were involved. But I was on a roll by then and thought I needed something beyond an acceptable amount of wretched excess. So, naturally, I chose the appetizer of sauteed whole foie gras, which in French translates to “fatty liver.”  It was rich, buttery, and sublimely velvety.

It only made sense to a slab of red velvet cake for dessert.

Your Minneapolis restaurateur, blogger – and now SATISIFED PIG – was out of control!

The following morning after a breakfast of bacon (lots of bacon), fried eggs and buttery toast, I felt a slight discomfort in my ankle. The morning after that, the pain was sharper, and I thought that perhaps I had broken a small bone in my foot.  By Friday morning, the pain was excruciating.

I could no longer put weight on my foot. I could no longer walk. I could no longer wait to see a doctor.

The diagnosis…..


According to some in the medical community, the cause of gout has to do with one’s genetic makeup. Others, as well as the general public, attribute it to overindulgence in rich foods – conjuring up an image of dissolute slobs slouched in wing-back chairs downing tankards of ale. No wonder they call gout “the disease of kings.”

Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a condition that gets such little respect as it’s usually depicted as a disease caused by SELF INDULGENCE and consequently garners NO SYMPATHY WHAT-SO-EVER.

And what did the kings of yore like to eat? The very culprits that apparently cause gout: red meat…bacon…deep-fried food…organ meats (like that foie gras)…and high-fat dairy foods.


So there you have it. Was my four-day romp indulging in the richest, fattiest foods that Miami Beach has to offer worth it?

The initial SENSUAL PLEASURES of eating certainly were. But….catching the GOUT…..and experiencing pain whose severity one can liken only to male childbirth?





“Nobody just happens to eat at NOMA,” said the late Jonathan Gold, food critic for the Los Angeles Times. “The seat lottery for a reservation makes the Powerball seem like a sure thing.”

He goes on to say, “Noma, as you have probably heard, is the Copenhagen restaurant considered by many people, including me, to be the most influential in the world, the place where dominant strains in world cooking, localism, seasonality, sustainability, and science – come together in a whole.”

He is not alone. In fact, five times Nova was named “Best Restaurant in the World!”

The Danish dining mecca is the brainchild of the now famous chef, Rene Redzepi, who in his younger years learned and honed his skills as an intern under such culinary giants as Ferran Adria at EL BULLI in Roses, Spain as well as Thomas Keller at THE FRENCH LAUNDRY in Napa.

His culinary mission is to redefine classic Nordic cuisine itself with a focus on foraging and reinterpretation. His creations are wildly innovative and labor intensive. They’re vastly expensive, too.

Redzepi has his own farm complete with a greenhouse to buttress his focus on local vegetables. Run by a squad of local farmers, it has an organic bee farm on the grounds. There are acres of prolific meadows where interns forage for berries, herbs and the day’s edible flowers. The farm also boasts a fermentation suite where grains, fruits and yeasts are brewed for later use in sauces, bitters and who knows what.

Now, even though you’ll probably never go to Nova (I’ll tell you why later), it’s worth noting that if you do snag a coveted reservation this year, you should prepare yourself to spend an eye-popping $800-900 per person (not a misprint). But if you’re very, very, very lucky, you’ll be sumptuously rewarded. Again, Jonathan Gold: “You will taste foods you never thought about tasting before.”

And Pete Wells of New York Times rhapsodizes, “A scallop is likely to be the sweetest you’ve ever tasted.”

Chef Redzepi, a slave to following the seasons, offers three menu frameworks a year.  Seafood Season runs late winter through spring. Vegetable Season spans summer, and Game & Forest Season fills out the fall and winter.

Joanne and I have never been to NOMA, but we can’t help marveling at Redzepi’s creations. Among them…

YOUNG ARTICHOKE on a bed of lemon-thyme flowers


COD ROE WAFFLE with roasted grains and hazelnut oil

DUCK FEET glazed with chocolate and caramel


PICKLED VEGETABLES with Arctic herbs


CRISPY MARIGOLD TEMPURA with whiskey-egg sauce





WHITE CHOCOLATE with flowers


SAFFRON ICE CREAM with chocolate

I could go on, but you get the gist of Noma’s imagination and ambitions.


I guess one could blame the French because it all began in the late 19th Century in France with Chef Auguste Escoffier (the king of chefs, the chef of kings). He created the brigade de cuisine, a military-like hierarchy system for precision in kitchens, detailing who does what in every instance. Decades later, the legendary chef, Paul Bocuse, of Lyon, France, introduced the brigade system to kitchens around the world. The strict method of kitchen organization he resurrected was incorporated into a host of ultra-fine dining restaurants everywhere.

As you can easily guess from the attached kitchen brigade organizational chart, there is a category of worker at the very bottom of the hierarchy called “STAGIAIRE.” Stages, (pronounced “stahjes”) are rarely paid and subjected to grueling conditions in exchange for the precious experience of working in a top kitchen under a celebrated chef. Rene Redzepi was no exception. One stagiaire reported that she was required to make dozens of intricate FRUIT-LEATHER BEETLES every day…and that was all she did during her tour of duty. So much for her unpaid culinary education at Noma. According to news outlets during the last year, a few unpaid disgruntled workers, fed up with working 16-hour days in Redzepi’s kitchen, began to grumble about working conditions. At about the same time, the New York Times published a damning report on sexual harassment and a toxic work environment at Noma. Some cite verbal abuse by Redzepi. Oh, and no one was ever permitted to laugh in the kitchen.

So, here’s the math:

Noma seats approximately 40 people and has one lunch seating and one dinner seating. Recent accounts put the number of workers at the restaurant at around 65…of which 34 are stages (paid or unpaid? I don’t know).

FULL DISCLOSURE: Lift the curtain behind Noma, as well as other ultra-fine dining, labor-intensive, restaurants, and you’ll find that they cannot exist without a certain amount of skilled culinary workers. Thus, as the French culinary brigade dictates, they rely on a steady supply of unpaid stages (maybe we should call them stooges). Feeling the pressure, Redzepi agreed last October to start paying his tweezer-wielding minions. That added an additional $50,000 to his payroll each month. Even charging $500 a person, without wine, he discovered that he couldn’t keep the doors open. 

He found himself cracking under the financial and emotional strain and taking it out on his staff. Among the things he said, “I was a bully for a large part of my career”…”I was the person I said I would never become and I hated myself for it.”…“And then one day, the lid came off and the smallest of transgressions sent me into an absolute rage.”

To his credit, Redzepi did something about it. He went into therapy to deal with his anger management and bullying behavior. Afterward, he concluded, “Ultra-fine dining…It’s unsustainable. As an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work.” So Noma will be shutting its doors for good in 2024.

However, Redzepi has plans in the works for Noma to transition into a FOOD LABORATORY…Noma 3.0…a test kitchen for food innovation and development of flavors. HMMMM ?

I wondered, Is the closing of Noma, the best restaurant in the world, the “canary in the coal mine” for fine dining?

Probably not.

It seems to me that well-heeled foodies with bulging bank accounts are still going to be hard-driving and assertive for reservations at the-impossible-to-get-into, ultra-high-end restaurants around the globe. But at what price? If the work-life balance in restaurants continues to gain traction and the interns start getting paid and the $300 dinner becomes a $500 dinner and the $500-per-person becomes $700, what will happen???? Will the dining audience start accepting the true cost of dining at that level? Will folks that can well afford expensive fine dining feel guilty? (I doubt it.) Or could it be after three years of a Spartan existence cocooning at home due to COVID that “revenge spending” sets in and folks make up for lost pleasures with first class leisure travel and lots of expensive nights on the town?

Or will the kitchen brigade and the exploitation of stages contine?

Chefs and owners know it still exists…but will they continue the practice?

Food critics know what’s going on…but will they continue to celebrate it?

Diners may know it…but will they continue to book tables at these fine dining restaurants?

Don’t blame Redzepi…..he himself STAGED at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. And Thomas Keller was an unpaid apprentice at GUY SAVOY, TAILLEVENT and LE PRÉ CATELAN in Paris.   

How about Alain Soliveres at TAILLEVENT? I imagine he runs a brigade kichen, complete with stages. Are they paid? Dunno.

HELENE DARROZ at the Connaught in London? 

Michel Roux and, before him, his father Albert Roux, at London’s LE GAVROCHE since 1957? Stages or no stages? Bet they have ‘em.

And in New York, at LE BERNARDIN with Eric Ripert at the helm?

GUY SAVOY in Paris, the quintessential French restaurant. I can’t imagine him abandoning Escoffier’s and Bocuse’s brigade kitchen with stagiaires.

So what do you think that the folks who run these ultra-fine dining iconic restaurants will do? Stay as they are and preserve the “dirty little secret” that their restaurants run on free labor? Or raise prices to reflect their true costs and cross their fingers that customer counts don’t tank? Cut portions? NAW!

Will anyone mourn Noma, a restaurant that most all of us will never visit?  

And of those of you who have had the pleasure of dining at Noma: Will you miss the sly smirk of the waiter as he sets the plate of REINDEER PENIS RAGOUT down in front of you?