Few hotels in the world possess the prestige of CLARIDGE’S in Mayfair, a London institution since the 1800s.

This Grande Dame has an historical aura built on the patronage of royalty, politicians, sheiks, and movie stars. Crowned heads of Europe came to Claridge’s to wait out World War II. It has glamour by the boatload. More than an Art Deco icon, Claridge’s is a Super Brand.

Up until about 20 years ago, the hotel’s main dining room was simply called CLARIDGE’S RESTAURANT. It was immensely popular, with a kitchen that turned out the finest renditions of French/British haute cuisine.

In 2000, Claridge’s closed the restaurant and cut a deal with rock-star chef Gordon Ramsay, whose self-named established lasted for 12 years. GORDON RAMSAY AT CLARIDGE’S was a big deal in its early days, but near the end of its life critics ranked it second on their “most disappointing cooking” list and named it the fourth “Most Overpriced” restaurant in London.

They fell out of bed.

Ramsay was followed by Irish born chef Simon Rogan, “the King of British Kitchens,” who opened Fera at Claridge’s in 2014, and won a Michelin star in 2015, but quickly ran out of fuel in 2018. Joanne and I dined at both restaurants, and while each was reasonably good, both were outrageously expensive…not worthy of the price.  

The hotel then reached out to New York chef Daniel Humm, whose restaurant 11 Madison Park had recently been ranked first among The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Humm opened Davies and Brook at Claridge’s in 2019 (the restaurant’s name came from the two streets that intersect at the hotel). The problem was that he opened in December of 2019, only to have COVID shut him down three months later. He managed, as most all of us did, to limp along during the difficult period that followed. But then he had a personal awakening and announced to the hotel that he was converting the entire restaurant to a STRICTLY PLANT-BASED KITCHEN, just as he had done with 11 Madison Park.

The hotel promptly posted a statement on Twitter stating, in very British fashion, “This is not the path we wish to follow.”

Suddenly Claridge’s was facing its fourth iteration of restaurants since the millennium. Some said that its turnover rate – and particularly its flirtation with celebrity chefs during the last few years – was evidence that the storied institution had lost its way.

But now, a new chapter in the hotel’s long history begins.

The restaurant that has emerged is a return to the classics – with a modern twist… and gently ramped-up flavors….the relaunch of an iconic brand, bearing the name…CLARIDGE’S RESTAURANT. Gone is the precious décor, fussy service, tweezered plating and heinous prices. Once again, the restaurant pays homage to the dazzling Art Deco of decades past, embracing its heritage rather than trying to hide it. Note the fabulous starburst skylights, the British racing green leather booths, the heroic columns and the elegant wood parquet flooring.

The new restaurant opened in September of this year. And since Joanne and I were in London in October, we just had to give it a try…a second chance, so to speak.

Entering the new space, the first thing that we noticed was the stunning dining room. It was “MAMA BEAR” – not too pompous, not too pedestrian, but just right. It felt like the restaurant that the space was crying out for. Also notable: The prices were about half those charged by the previous occupants.

On with our dinner…

2 glasses of Prosecco as the “starting gun.”

Then, Parker House rolls – pillowy soft and warm with Claridge’s lightly salted butter formed into the restaurant’s crest.

We shared a snack of skewered BBQ radishes with horseradish and teriyaki sauce. Never had that before…10 pounds.

For her first course, Joanne had a trio of plump and paunchy Fine de Claire oysters with carrot mignonette…15 pounds

I wisely chose the restaurant’s fall feature of pitch-perfect pumpkin agnolotti with crispy deep-fried sage leaves and smoked delicata squash…21 pounds

Perhaps by now the wine was talking and told me that we must have the Black Truffle Buckwheat Crumpets laced with soubise cream (a sort of onion bechamel sauce). At 14 pounds, this was an indulgent bargain.

For the main event, Joanne chose the “Freshly Caught Cornish Turbot Filet” swathed in sauce Grenobloise – ever-so-slightly tart with capers, white vinegar, lemon, garlic and butter, butter, butter.

I chose the grilled bone-in sirloin with shallot rings on top. That was a little weird. While moderately tasty, it was NOT a MANNY’S steak. Perhaps it was grass-fed or what’s becoming popular in England now: steaks from retired dairy cows. It ran 48 pounds.

We had a chance to chat with the folks at the table next to us. They seemed to be enjoying the roasted Norfolk chicken with brioche & lemon stuffing and “sauce Diable,” a rich sort of gravy made up of brown sauce, tarragon, shallots and dry mustard. They also enjoyed the Marquee dish of Softly-Grilled Native Lobster, which was completely shelled and re-assembled resting in a pool of rich, buttery sauce Americaine. Rounding out their selections was Dorset Lamb Loin with a sauce of olive oil, garlic, vinegar and anchovies.  HUMM….

Anyway, back to Joanne, me and DESSERT.

Two drop-dead showstoppers: For Joanne, honey-roasted figs served with fig-leaf ice cream and fresh mint; and for dim-witted me, the calorie-laden Baked Alaska. Both were beauties!

And the staff and the service…

The team here was a far cry from the indifferent boys and girls who populate the hipper hotels. Every person we encountered was immaculately groomed, ever so discreet, and unfailingly polite.

The Evening Standard newspaper states that “Claridge’s Restaurant is rapidly becoming the most loved hospitality place in the city of London.”

And Esquire magazine says it “feels exactly like where you should be, doing exactly what you ought to be doing and eating exactly what you want.”

Joanne and I feel EXACTLY THE SAME.





I’ve never really thought much about truffles.

They just didn’t seem to be a good fit for any of our restaurants…a little too expensive for our polished-casual formats…to fussy, too dainty and picky-picky for a brawny steakhouse like MANNY’S.

Not that I wasn’t keenly aware of fancy fungi. But truffles are typically associated with precious,, meticulous, Michelin-category restaurants – and I’m just not that into food prepared with tweezers.

Yet there’s no denying truffles’ allure. The taste can be magical, and they certainly elevate the occasion.

Now, truffles can grow in only a few places on the planet – forested environments with the right kinds of trees…places with a distinct climate and the perfect composition of soil…and just the right amount of rainfall.

The two preponderant places for harvesting truffles are both in Europe – one in northern Italy, around the community of Alba, the other in Perigord, in southwest France. WHITE TRUFFLES come from the Alba region. They’re extremely elusive. They cannot be cultivated or farmed. And the prices can be astronomical (I’m reminded of a now-defunct NYC restaurant, I believe it was the Quilted Giraffe, that offered a single white-truffle ravioli for $38 – back in the ‘80s!!!). The (relatively) humbler BLACK TRUFFLES of Perigord – home to two-thirds of the world’s known supply – have recently been farmed with some success.

Black or white – which is better? There is no best truffle. They’re just different.  Black and white truffles are both nutty and earthy. The black ones are a little more aggressive and pair well with robust cuts of roasted red meats. Their albino brethren are softer, fragile, and more subtle, and pair well with risotto and delicate pastas. They also evoke a heightened sense of elegance and luxury (maybe because of the price difference). They should never be cooked, only slightly warmed.

BTW, how expensive are truffles? Black truffles can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 per pound (according to my 2021 statistics). White truffles can cost $4,000 per pound.

The cost, as you’d imagine, reflects truffles’ rarity and the difficulty of finding them. Unlike more common mushrooms, they grow only in certain spots, unseen, beneath the surface. For hundreds of years, the solution for hunters has been to use truffle hounds, which are specially trained to locate the elusive underground tuber (yes, tuber, a category of fungi that includes several species of truffles. Potatoes, of course, are also called tubers because they grow underground, though they’re not even in the same kingdom as truffles. But I digress.)

The other principal truffle foragers are female pigs, which have an exceptional sense of smell. They’re often family pets and can command a price of up to $10,000. The problem with pigs is that the only thing keener than their sense of smell is their appetite. They’re known to root up the soil and gobble up their quarry right on the spot.

Perigord and Alba have thriving truffle markets on Saturdays in the fall and early winter. They attract professional buyers, enthusiasts, amateur cooks, the gourmet and the curious.

Speaking of demand for truffles, Joanne and I just returned from a two-week dining binge in London. Some of the restaurants were sorta fancy, most were casual but smart. One thing we noticed that was different from our other visits: the explosion of truffle offerings on the menus.

I’m not certain why. We’ve traveled to London in the fall for the past several years, and in our experience truffles were found regularly only at high-end restaurants, not the more casual ones we visited this time around. And while somewhat expensive, the truffle-bearing dishes we had were not breathtakingly expensive.

What had changed from years past? I asked some chefs and restaurant managers. For one thing, they reminded me that everyone wants truffles early in the season – and we were early.  But then again, we’re always early. I wondered, was there a “bumper crop” this year? Was the quality of this year’s hunt lower than usual, depressing prices to a point where less-fancy restaurants could feature them?

It was also suggested to me that right now Londoners have a “passion for the past” – the same passion that has restored farmstead cheeses, heirloom tomatoes and backyard chickens to Europe’s tables and sparked a renewed interest in foraged foods like truffles.

I didn’t overthink it.   I just enjoyed (well, reveled in) it. For breakfast we devoured dishes like soft-scrambled Buford brown eggs with black truffles. One dinner featured Pappardelle with a grating of black truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Another night we savored risotto redolent with white truffles. Top-shelf tubers also found their way onto two burger offerings, one with paper-thin sliced black truffles, another slathered with truffle mayonnaise. Oh yes, we also had a truffle pizza.

OK…so what is the bottom line for those of us stateside? Given that fresh truffles are hard to source, expensive and have a very short shelf-life (about 4 days ‘til they start to lose their flavor), what are we do to?

Well, in lieu of fresh, you can buy black truffles in olive oil. They are slightly rubbery, but boast good truffle flavor. Also, truffle oil is readily available. (Some chefs despise it, but I find that it gives a burst of pleasure to pasta dishes). And then there is truffle mayo, truffle aioli, truffle butter, truffle honey and even truffle mustard.  You’ll get along just fine.

Now, some of you may be wondering about the truffle-hunting pigs. Why are they all female?

You see, underground truffles emit a musk-like scent reminiscent of boar genitalia. They’re aphrodisiacs that trigger a…social response in the fairer sex.

And that’s perhaps why female pigs are good truffle hunters. THEY’RE HORNY.




Years ago, in my previous professional life as a commercial interior designer, I traveled to New York every couple weeks to meet with clients. It was a double-edged sword (for Joanne) in that I had three kids at home and was gone a lot, but it’s also what led me into the career that I love.

How did that all happen?

Well, my clients and I, at the end of the workday, would often have dinner. They knew that I wanted to experience what New York restaurants had to offer, and they took pity on me for coming from fly-over country. I told them, “You think our lives revolved around meat, potatoes and church supper hotdishes, don’t you?” – but the fact was their knowledge of the Midwest was so scant they didn’t even have culinary stereotypes for us. They probably thought my family foraged for nuts and berries.

Consequently, much to my delight, my clients made certain that I dined at the hottest, newest, most iconic and SNAZZIEST restaurants that Manhattan had to offer.

Their mission was to BLOW MY MIND.  Little did they know that in so doing, they radically reoriented the course of my life.

One outing I’ll always remember (and it planted the seed for MANNY’S) was dining one evening at the legendary New York style steakhouse, THE PALM, that opened on 2nd Avenue in 1926.  Up ‘til then, I thought that several Minnesota restaurants served great steaks. But I had never heard the term “dry-aged” before. And I had never thought much about “scale.” So you can imagine how this hick from Hooterville dropped a jaw at the sight of porterhouses the size of man-hole covers and leviathan 5 lb. lobsters being whisked by waiters to tables occupied by diners straight out of Mad Men. They all wore suits, had a highball in one hand, and held their cigarette in the other.

“Gimme what he’s having,” I told the waiter as I pointed to 30 DAY DRY-AGED STEAK at a neighboring table. Then I took my first bite. Never had beef tasted so rich and nutty. Never had I sliced into a steak so tender. Up until that point, I had only eaten steaks from cows that were mooing yesterday.

The Palm experience piqued my curiosity. Now I was on a quest to discover exactly what a New York Steakhouse was because Its offerings were clearly a breed apart from the supper-club steaks I thought were the epitome of meat eating.

Next was the fabled GALLAGHERS which opened in 1927 on West 52nd St. with its street-front window looking directly into a locker filled with dry-aging meat. Gallagher’s was spot-on. And I noticed that nowhere on the menu were dishes like Trout Amandine, Walleyed Pike, Chicken Kiev and other staples of supper club dining.

PETER LUGER in Brooklyn made the list, too. The steaks were, of course, wonderful. What wasn’t so wonderful was to discover at the end of our meal that they didn’t take credit cards…”CASH ONLY, BUMPKIN!!!”….and I didn’t have enough cash.  Embarrassed? YES. My clients bailed me out (saving me from having to commit hari-kari with a steak knife.)

SPARKS STEAKHOUSE, founded 57 years ago on East 46th St., rounded out my initial exposure to the restaurants that eventually inspired MANNY’S.

So it was this past August that I and a cadre of PARASOLE colleagues, after almost 40 years, revisited Sparks. As far as I could remember, nothing had changed – not the menu, not the décor, not the spotless starched white linen tablecloths, nor the really good booze, tuxedoed maître d’ at the door or the waiters speaking in thick, thick Brooklynese, Queens and Bronx accents.

Well, perhaps one thing had changed. SPARKS has always been a shrine to excess – the kind of place where even the most committed carnivores occasionally have to wave a white napkin. So over-the-top masculine was the environment that Sparks developed a reputation for being the go-to steakhouse for Mafia dons and their made men. Consequently, few were surprised that it provided the backdrop for one of the most famous mob hits ever, in December of 1985. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, after satisfying himself with a succulent New York Strip steak, Sparks regular “Big Paul” Castellano – boss of the Gambino crime family – was gunned down, allegedly by Jimmy Hoffa’s men.

The night we were there, not a wise guy was in sight. Yet under the ownership of the Cetta brothers – the late Pat and his brother Michael – Sparks still feels like a “deal place” with middle-aged men draping their suit coats over the backs of their chairs and tossing their ties over their shoulders.

This is an “OLD SCHOOL” New York steakhouse.

We started with platters of fat, paunchy oysters, iced and on the half shell. As expected, they were pristine, fresh and proudly briney (which got me wondering how many former Sparks regulars now sleep with the fishes).

The rest of the appetizers included butterflied shrimp cocktails (some of us added lump crabmeat, raising the price to $36.95). Quintessential steakhouse salads included a Caesar, Tomato/Onion, Wedge and Sliced Tomato with Burrata. All good.

With main courses coming next, it was time to think about wine. This is where Sparks sets itself apart from the other New York steakhouses. The wine list sports, by my count, over 600 choices. There’s a lot of good drinking in there.  And the Lord only knows just how many back-up bottles in each classification they stock…and what the average cost is…especially those bottles of big inky reds that stand their ground when up against big thick steaks. The cost of their wine inventory has to be absolutely staggering! STAGGERING! However, the prices are extremely reasonable.

Wine authority Robert Parker, the most influential wine critic in the world, says of Sparks’ wine list: “Remarkable and fairly priced.” And that it is.

Prominent New York food critics regularly cite Sparks as “the absolute best steakhouse in New York City”…with the “best New York Strip in town.”

If you select “Steak Fromage,” you better love – and I man LOVE – real Roquefort cheese from the town of Roquefort, France because your New York Strip will be THROTTLED with the real thing ($57.95).  Wretched excess? You bet.

Lobster, presented tableside, was luxurious, sweet, tender and enjoyed immensely by all who shared.

Fresh halibut and tuna, while well prepared, felt like sort of silly intrusions on the menu…$54.95. Then again, even Manny’s has tuna and salmon for those pesky pescatarians.

Sliced steak with roasted peppers and caramelized onions was probably a nod to the Cetta Brothers’ heritage in Calabria, Italy.

Three double-cut lamb chops were perfectly prepared as was the grilled veal chop that I had. But to my surprise, the ”tail” was left on the chop. At MANNY’S we cut the tail off as it is almost all fat. At Sparks, I ate the tail…$59.95.

Sides are predictable. The hashbrowns were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside…$13.95. Asparagus was prepared al dente and it snapped as I pinched it between my fingers. Pecan pie à la mode is a signature dessert and deservedly so.

There are certainly hipper, chic-er, cooler, more youthful “next generation” steakhouses in the city. Sparks is old, OLD school. It’s all about the steaks – dry-aged, none of that grass-fed stuff.

If you go…you won’t be disappointed. Culinary history, New York history, and of course mob history lives at Sparks. You can savor it all – no A-1 or Heinz ketchup needed.




Back in 2019, I wrote about the legendary FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT losing its lease after nearly 60 years housed in the soaring Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York.  They relocated a few blocks up the street on 49th St. – and just a few months later ran out of gas and closed for good.

I guess lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.

The original was home to a string of A-list tycoons, moguls, statesmen and power lunchers like Henry Kissinger, Jackie Kennedy, Barbara Walters, Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. Never in history had there ever been a restaurant more in line with the tempo of New York City.

The building – a collaboration between Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and IDS Center-architect Philip Johnson – was stunning. But van der Rohe wanted nothing to do with the interior public spaces, or a restaurant, for that matter. Philip Johnson, however, had no such reservations. He teamed up with noted restaurateur Joseph Baum and created something unique: a restaurant that combined all the elements of the building that housed it. From architecture and design to furniture, uniforms, table settings, service, attitude, cutlery, music, lighting, artwork (think Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist and Pablo Picasso), this was the most FULLY INTEGRATED, HOLISTIC restaurant in America.

The cost to build The Four Seasons restaurant, you ask?  $4.5 million in 1959 – or about $32 million in today’s dollars.

As a restaurateur myself, I’ve always used the rule of thumb that whatever the buildout costs, your annual sales have to be double that in order for the business to be considered a success. Think they did the equivalent of $64 million a year?  HMMMM?

In my pre-restaurant life, I traveled frequently to New York. Occasionally I’d meet clients for cocktails at The Four Seasons’ bar, which resided discretely between the restaurant’s dining rooms: the POOL ROOM and the GRILL ROOM. The centerpiece of bar was a Richard Lippold bronze sculpture featuring hundreds of square rods dripping from the ceiling directly above, creating an intimate space within a much larger environment. Another distinguishing feature: the now iconic metal chain-beaded, floor-to-ceiling curtains that softly rippled in the currents of the ventilation system. 

The 60’ x 90’ Grill Room dazzled with glass curtain wall on its western and southern walls, as well as French walnut walls on the north and east. The Pool Room, identical in size, boasted a 20’ x 30’ white marble pool with fig trees at all four corners. Each space had 20’ ceilings and was column free – a feat enabled by modifying the tower’s superstructure to transfer structural loads from the building’s upper floors.

The restaurant received numerous prestigious architectural and design awards over the years, and in 1990 The Four Seasons and the Seagram Building were granted Landmark status. In 2015, NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected building owner Aby J. Rosen’s plan to make what he characterized as minor changes to the interior. The Four Seasons could not be tampered with…ever.

Well, that was all then.

And this is now.

After The Four Seasons permanently closed in 2019, a highly respected restaurant company, THE MAJOR FOOD GROUP, renewed the lease and took over The Grill Room and rebranded it as THE GRILL.

I had the privilege of dining there with PARASOLE colleagues a few weeks ago. From what I remembered, it felt and looked about the same as it did years ago when I used to have cocktails in the bar.

Some things from the original had been sun-setted: the Huxtable custom-designed china, champagne flutes, glasses and flatware….the splendid Hans Wegner chairs from the elevated section of the dining room…the huge Pablo Picasso tapestry, LE TRICORNE. None of these elements enjoyed Landmark status protection.

Because of designation as a New York City Landmark, I wasn’t surprised that The Grill essentially had the same bones. Much of what was there in 1959 remains in 2023, including the 20’ high chain-metal curtains that quiver in endless waves, the magnificent bronze sculpture over the bar, the deeply rich book-matched French walnut paneling and most all of the Knoll BRNO chairs that Philip Johnson has selected.

But something was different. Under the new leadership, the place was still swanky, but it felt more approachable and confident.

I like the new spirit of the place and the new menu – A LOT.  The hushed old-money crowd that I remembered has given way to a clientele with a more vibrant, youthful and rambunctious bravado. And the new menu seems to flirt with the notion of becoming a brand new, sort of “energetic power chop house.”

Our meal started off auspiciously with the house-made bread basket of warm, pillowy Parker House rolls and salt-flecked pretzel bread, served with chive butter.


I’ll describe just a few of the things we had, but check all the delectable offerings in the attached images……

First…I’ve never had an omelet as a starter. Then again, I’ve never had any omelet quite like the Smoked Wild Mushroom Omelet prepared tableside. The eggs merely serve as a delicate binder to the legion of springy morels, nutty chanterelles, and deeply earthy maitakes and black truffles.

A big, fat sea scallop arrives bedded down among a fricassee of snails in a delicate puff pastry shell. The Seagram Crab Cake in mustard cream sauce was nicely topped with a crunchy layer of Potatoes Anna. Although it seemed to be jumping the season, the Cream of Pumpkin Soup was as smooth and velvety as a courtesan’s buttocks – especially when laced with silky nuggets of crème fraiche and a salty counterpoint of crispy bacon. The Nicoise-y Tuna Ravigote was almost too pretty to eat, but utterly delicious, as was the Langoustine Cocktail, with deep briny notes countered by a pleasantly mild mustard mayo.

BTW, ever wondered what the difference is between langoustines and shrimp? I have. Langoustines are a delicacy, served with head attached. They have longer pincers, are harder to catch, and the taste is rich and pleasantly fishy. Shrimp are more of a commodity – affordable, tender and a little sweeter.

My darling, precocious little granddaughter, who explores all boundaries of excess, of course ordered the “Duck Pasta à la Presse” as her appetizer. One of French cuisine’s most spectacular presentations, it is finished with a tableside flourish by a tuxedoed captain and involves a brass, silver-plated French Duck Press (think upwards of $10,000).

Parts of roasted duck, pheasant, and squab, along with herbs and vegetables, are wheel-pressed and pressured by a dozen cranks into a super-rich savory stock that is tossed with tagliatelle pasta. “Delicious,” I think she mumbled through her pasta-stuffed mouth.

A salad course was next. One of us ordered the chopped offering. Another had an endive salad, prepared with toasted walnuts, apples and true Roquefort cheese. And, in a carryover from the original restaurant, there was the Dungeness Crab Louie. All wonderfully delicious and theatrical, some-tossed tableside.

For the main event, Joanne had Dover Sole, the pride of the Cliffs of Dover. Now, Joanne knows a bit about this dish from dining at the best seafood restaurants in London, including SCOTT’S, J. SHEEKEY and BENTLEY’s. It’s always filleted tableside with restrained fanfare. The verdict? There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the best in the world and The Grill’s iteration of Dover Sole.

In an ode to past menus and a tribute to Craig Claiborne, the New York Times restaurant critic of yesteryear, the restaurant has made Guinea Hen Claiborne a signature dish. Guinea hen meat is moister, firmer and leaner than chicken and has a slightly gamey flavor. One bite of this preparation – which marries braised endive with Madeira wine sauce, black truffles and foie gras – and you can see it can’t be consigned to history. Another blast from the past is Steak au Poivre, the classic French steak prepared with coarsely cracked black pepper, shallots, red wine, cognac, heavy cream and butter, butter, butter. Nothing can go wrong with that. Ditto for the Lobster à la Newburg. This version is very different from what my mother occasionally, on pay-day Friday, used to make with frozen baby shrimp and Kraft Cheez-Whiz over melba toast (all ingredients from the A & P). Who did it better, my mom or The Grill? I can’t say.

Another dish that, thank God, was also carried over from the past: Triple Lamb Chops with yogurt, brushed with curry oil (mint jelly served alongside). Thick slices of Roasted Venison in Cumberland Sauce were adorned with chopped walnuts and countered with a mound of huckleberry jam.      

Not for everybody…the pastry-encrusted Scottish Wood Pigeon Pie. Some folks call it squab, but it’s really just pigeon. I suspect there’s an aversion to the idea of eating feral pigeons off the city sidewalks. Are they rats with wings? Or a haute delicacy? The Grill’s version, as I recall, went something like this: breast of pigeon encased in puff pastry along with mushrooms, ruby port wine, heavy cream and butter. We didn’t try it, but I will…next time.

Alas, my ever-curious sweet – and utterly cost-oblivious – granddaughter could not resist the gleaming $35-40,000 French Christophle silver meat trolley that kept gliding by us. When it eventually cruised up to our table, would the young lady indulge in the Hand-Carved Salt-Crusted Prime Rib from the rolling gueridon? OF COURSE SHE DID.

Aside from the rather predictable chop house sides, including cottage fries and asparagus, there were two offerings that did surprise. Broccoli Chinois featured tiny morsels of broccoli with ginger, garlic, chopped scallion tops and seitan – a sort of firm, spongy, Chinese wheat gluten that absorbs the flavors that surround it. The other side dish, an artful and tasty Baby Corn Picalili, was a mustardy, tart and snappy British interpretation of a pickle relish. It stood up well to strongly flavored foods.

Stephanie Prida is the pastry chef at The Grill, and from what our table experienced, she is a rock star. Our dessert parade began with a graceful champion from the previous Grill Room – Lemon Chiffon Cake. We also devoured a subtle, sweet and gooey German Chocolate Cake. (Fun fact: German Chocolate Cake is not named after the country of Germany, but rather its creator, Samuel German, who in 1885 was a pastry chef for the Baker’s Chocolate company in Dorchester, Massachusetts). Another star dessert was the Zucchini Cake. Yeah, it tastes a lot like a really good rendition of a moist carrot cake, but boy, it was a LOOKER.

A pleasant and final surprise to me were the crullers. Yeah, CRULLERS. You don’t see them much in the Midwest.  Unlike donuts, French crullers are made with pâte à choux pastry dough instead of yeast dough. Like profiteroles, which are made from the same dough, they’re light and airy, crispy on the outside and delicate on the inside. But Stephanie Prida takes them to a whole new realm, branding and decorating the crullers in various ways. Among the offerings we sampled were Moka (espresso frosted and laminated with toasted hazelnuts), Key Lime Pie (citrusy, sweet, tropical and tart, with a torched meringue medallion on top), and various chocolate crullers, the king of which is the Chocolate Blackout. Eat at your own risk. Hazards include weight gain, tooth decay, sleep disturbances and, in rare cases, donkey fever. Through caution to the wind and order them should you visit The Grill Room. THEY’RE NOT TO BE MISSED.

Okay, that’s it.

The Grill is expensive – somewhere between “Ye Gads” and “Are You F****** Nuts.”

But the food is EXCELLENT.  The service is PERFECT. And the dining room? Buzzy and SPECTACULAR.

So….is The Grill back?

Oh, yeah, Baby. IT’S BACK.



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.”