Just what the hell is “Noble Rot?”

I had heard the term from time to time but never bothered to investigate.

Then a couple months ago, when Joanne and I were in London, we were seeking out restaurants that were not expensive… yet had earned a lusted-after Michelin star. One of the names that popped up was THE NOBLE ROT in Mayfair.

That prompted an investigation.

Noble Rot, I learned, is a type of grey fungus (Botrytis cinerea) that is affectionally and deliberately cultivated on grapes to enhance the making of certain wines, especially expensive sweet wines that earn consistently high Wine Spectator scores.

The Botrytis grapes are not pretty. They are partially raisined by a process that concentrates their flavor and sugar while still on the vine.

The Noble Rot is a neighborhood restaurant located in Shepherd Market, an oasis of calm, in Central London……And as you might suspect, it’s a wine bar with a cleverly curated carte that caters to all tastes and budgets…with a Coravin wine-by-the-glass list that’s reputedly the best in town…and it all comes with all MICHELIN-STARRED food.

The founders, Don Keeling and Mark Andrew, have opened two other locations besides Mayfair – one in SOHO, the other in Bloomsbury.

The dining room is timeless and impressively approachable, softly lit and old school. The cuisine, while basically British at its roots, has one foot entrenched in tradition while the other foot kicks it forward, resulting in an inventive modern Euro/British dining experience.

The drill…

Joanne and I shared several starters and snacks, including choux buns filled with savory duck liver mousse and drizzled with honey – a delicious counterpoint.

Next came four creamy Maldon raw oysters (think Maldon Salt in the spice aisle at Lunds). Two were bathed in Raveneau Chablis wine sauce. The other two were paired with miniature chorizo meatballs.

Spicy fried Mylar prawns with their whiskery heads were delightfully crunchy and ready for dipping in house-made mayonnaise (a really nice mayonnaise).

Palourde clams from the Iberian peninsula, steamed in white wine and butter and paired with little morsels of Basque sausage, were a big hit, too.

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – skip the bread plate with slices of chewy rye, sourdough, springy focaccia and the light bitter tang of Irish soda bread. Tear off pieces, slather them with farm butter, and sop up the broth of the steamed clams.

Other appetizers included Parma prosciutto with fresh figs and Hereford prime beef carpaccio with piquant green peppercorns.

Okay, Minnesota, don’t freak out on the upcoming offerings.

Cornish cod roe, spread on sourdough toast, was salty and wonderful. How about Devonshire smoked eel with sour gooseberries and horseradish?

Grilled octopus and deviled eggs casino with anchovy butter followed. Both good.

Salads were large enough to be shared. We still ordered three. Chilled smoked sea bass with cucumber, fennel and Marcona almonds was an unexpected combo. A classic followed: Belgian endive, pear, walnuts, dried cherries and Stilton blue cheese. YUM! But the best of the salads paired smooth, silky burrata with fresh figs, arugula, olive oil, mint, chile flakes and anchovy. Yep…the BEST!

Then came a few “tweeners.”  Could have been appetizers, could be mains.

One combined chilled salt cod, octopus, fingerling potatoes, sugar snap peas and breakfast radishes with yellow mayo – more of a summer dish.

As it was fall and truffles were in season, I ordered the tagliolini with white Croatian truffles. This was the only item that broke the budget. But how could I resist the sweet, earthy “He-man” armpit aroma? Does that make me a BAD PERSON?

Speaking of aromas, gnocchi with goat curd and winter mushrooms looked and smelled good. We didn’t order that.

The problem was that we were getting full. So the following images capture notable selections made by our fellow diners.

I hope I wasn’t the Ugly American roaming from table to table taking photos. But the other patrons were friendly enough and didn’t seem to mind. Then again, it’s said that the British will never say what’s really on their mind – * “Yo! Fugger pig! Get the hell away from our table, you wanker!”

Oh well, here goes – and it’s a beautiful sampling of what to expect from this pocketbook-friendly Michelin-starred London restaurant/wine bar: Heritage breed Middle White pork loin…prime Scotch beef sirloin…Welsh Blackface lamb chops…smoked eel resting in crab bisque dotted with caviar…Dover sole for two with crab butter and Jersey royal potatoes…Slip sole in smoked butter…Cornish monkfish with mussels in mustard bourride…French Challans duck breast (the same duck served at Paris’ iconic Tour d’Argent)…and the leftover leg of the duck, you ask? Why duck confit, of course.

All right, here is what Joanne and I ordered…

Perhaps one of the best side dishes ever: Delicata squash, spinach, walnuts and Roquefort butter.  And for our main dish? Roasted chicken in Vin Juane sauce for two with morel mushrooms.

By now we were really full. But you know what they say: There’s always room for a cheese course. I remember the Brie and the Stilton Blue.  But other than that? My memory is obscured by a recollection of chocolate mousse served with brandied prunes, vanilla ice cream and a hazelnut biscuit (“cookie” to you and me).

Finally, I conjure a vision of a sort of profiterole, the likes of which I had never seen: a baseball-sized choux pastry with dark chocolate syrup, lip-smacking salted toffee caramel sauce, toasted hazelnuts, sea salt flakes and mascarpone cheese. THAT was memorable, even at the end of a wine-saddled dinner.

Now, one last thing about noble rot, the nasty fungus that is among us: It’s related to penicillin, creamy blue cheeses, wines of superior quality and, finally…., ATHLETE’S FOOT.



* “Yo! Fugger Pig”…. A.A. Gill, London Times


It’s testimony to the wonderful childhood my parents provided for me that I had little idea how precarious our family finances were. I should have seen it because, after all, we had three families living under one roof. But the actions they took to keep us fed didn’t seem born of necessity – maybe because I enjoyed them so much.

In the summertime, my dad I and I (along with our uncle and fellow housemate, who had a car) would head for the canal where we’d catch crappies for supper (we never called it dinner). During the fall and winter, the men would hunt for squirrel and rabbit, which my mom, grandmother and aunts would fry up, then roast with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. All perfectly normal. No hardship at all. It was just what we did.

When I was 10 or 11 and on the early, early cusp of manhood, my Dad began taking me to Stetson’s cattle farm each spring for the owner’s popular cookout. It was a strictly male-only event. Giggling about it, my mom and aunts told us to have fun as we left for an evening of feasting, beer drinking, and male bonding.

You see, this was the time of year that bulls were birthed. And that mean it was time to cut their balls off.

I, of course, had no idea what was involved at STETSON’S ROCKY MOUNTAIN OYSTER ANNUAL SPRING COOKOUT. There I was, an 11-year-old early adopter of open-fire oak-grilled bull testicles (served on a burger bun slathered with French’s yellow mustard) and it didn’t even occur to me to brag about it to friends. “Please sir….may I have another”.

Later in my culinary life, I became familiar with chefs using the whole animal – including balls, snouts, brains and innards. The movement is called “the Fifth Quarter” and it allows restaurants to make ethical and environmentally sustainable use of the entire animal.

You may also have heard it referred to as “snout-to-tail dining.”

Major markets around the globe have seen the sprouting of whole-animal restaurants. SABOR in London, located just off Regent Street, features deep fried pig’s ears and half whole-pig feasts where hard-core carnivores thrill to ears, jowls and snouts still attached to the head. Also in London, there’s BARRAFINA, where Joanne and I enjoyed (well, perhaps only I enjoyed) lamb sweetbreads from the wood-fired grill.

Perhaps the first time we ventured into the joys of snout-to-tail dining was in Paris when our kids were probably 5 and 6 years old. PIED DE COCHON, which opened in the old Les Halles market area in 1947, specialized in serving left-over pig parts. In fact, it’s probably the only restaurant in the world to be named after a pig’s foot. I remember the experience vividly. After all, it was at my insistence that we visited Pied de Cochon and ordered their signature deep-fried trotter. Talk about dining as theater – each platter arrived at our table with TOENAILS INTACT and hair-bristling between them.

Only I gave the “pieds” a proper go. Noting the unsatisfied look on my kids’ faces, the staff served each of us a complimentary young “pig cup,” which turned out to be a watery small bowl of canned fruit cocktail. WTF.

A place in Chicago has caught our attention: THE PUBLICAN. It’s still there and thriving. Joanne even scarfed down a few salty pig-skin crackling (you can take the girl out of Sparta, Illinois…). 

And that brings us to the Prince of Pig…the King of the Kidneys… the Oracle of Offal…the Baron of Balls and Guru of Gonads: FERGUS HENDERSON, who in 1995 boldly launched ST. JOHN RESTAURANT near the Smithfield Market in London. His simple creed was, “If you’re going to bang an animal on the head, it’s only polite that you eat it all.”

St. John is a favorite of mine and I’ve eaten there several times both with family and Parasole colleagues. It’s not Joanne’s favorite (that’s an understatement), but I’m pleased to report that with my then 9-year-old grandson, the ball doesn’t fall far from the sac. He devoured a plate of DEVILED LAMB KIDNEYS, served on toast with a mustard sauce.

Fergus Henderson was the first, I believe, to offer roast beef bones with parsley salad as a signature dish. It arrives loaded to the brim with gelatinous beefy marrow for spreading on toasted bread.  

Another appetizer choice would be smooth and effortless Chicken Liver Mousse, slathered on toasted pumpernickel.   

Even if you are a bit on the prissy side, you should at least try a kidney with gravy and mashed potatoes. You may not like it, but you can have bragging rights.

Now, it takes a certain kind of person to not like crispy, salty Deep-Fried Chicken Skin, especially as a crunchy counterpoint in a leafy green salad.

A pair of thick and gloriously fatty Middlewhite Heritage Pork Chops are a carnivore’s dream.

Wild game makes frequent appearances on Fergus’ menus, including Roasted Wild Rabbit, Pheasant and Lamb leg Pot Pie For Two.

So what was Joanne to order? Fortunately, St. John’s offers safe harbors such as Roast Leg of Lamb, Grilled Halibut, and a few other seafood options.

DESSERT? Sticky Toffee Pudding, of course, and a plate of madeleine cookies.

BTW, if those offerings make you squeamish, you should know that St. John has earned a Michelin star 15 years in a row.

Closer to home, I had another favorite: ANIMAL in Los Angeles. Sadly, it didn’t survive COVID and closed last June. But they deserve a mention because chefs Vinny Detolo and Jon Shook came as close as anyone in the United States to honoring Fergus Henderson’s philosophy. They proudly admit to “knocking off” the legendary chef’s roast beef bones and marrow, crackly beef tendons, and chicken liver toast – not to mention veal brains.

Joanne had a difficult time at Animal and eventually ordered the Soft-Shell Crab, which she loved. But the idea of Buffalo Pigs Tails and Chicken Feet caused her to step outside for some fresh air.




As a kid growing up in central Illinois, I would always look forward to my dad’s two-week summer vacation. Along with my aunts and uncles (they were the ones with the car), my parents and I would head for a fish camp in Walker, Minnesota, about four hours north of the Twin Cities. We would leave in the middle of the night in order to make the 600-mile drive non-stop.

I managed to sleep most of the night (despite the nicotine buzz I got from riding in a car full of smokers), but I insisted that they awaken me so I wouldn’t miss the famous EAR OF CORN water tower on the outskirts of Rochester, Minnesota.

It still stands today.

Of course, I never imagined that Rochester would play a significant role in my professional life. Rochester, just like Joanne and myself, has “growed-up.” I’m reminded of the song from the musical Oklahoma: ”Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City…They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.”

They couldn’t have written that song about Rochester, because it just keeps on growing. And talk about up-to-date – the multi-billion dollar expansion of the Mayo Clinic will make it the world’s preeminent health care destination.

As some of you may know, five years ago we launched PITTSBURGH BLUE STEAKHOUSE in the new, world-class Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area, a 440-room, 18 floor tower located in the heart of downtown Rochester.

And what a pleasure it has been to serve throngs of friends and locals as well as the multitude of folks visiting Mayo.

Having been named the “THE BEST STEAKHOUSE“ in Rochester, it is fortunate for our patrons that we are so close to the Mayo. After all, Pittsburgh Blue specializes in weapons-grade cholesterol-laden beef – the kinds of cuts that London Guardian food critic Jay Rayner recommends you enjoy in proximity to a defibrillator.

If you gotta go…what a way to go!

Though my first stop in Rochester is always Pittsburgh Blue – I’m partial to its Flintstonian slab of bloody, rare prime rib –or a 24 ounce dry -aged Porterhouse steak.  ….medium-rare.   I find that the next night something else may suit me.

But where to go?

I dream of a small family-owned place that nobody knows about, one of those “best kept secrets” that is simple and unpretentious, where the father cooks for the sheer joy of it and the mother and son ply you with refreshing local wine as the family dog lazes hearthside.

YEAH….in my dreams!

But let me fill you in on a Rochester restaurant that Joanne and I have come to know and love – a place that has some of those same attributes, and even more.

It’s called the BLEU DUCK KITCHEN. Situated on the edge of downtown, this small restaurant is folksy, easy-going and yet smartly designed.  

The chef, whom I have not met, seems to know physics, biology, surgery, art, and design. Moreover, an impressive imagination allows him to bridge multiple culinary cultures and preferences with ease. Seasonal fare is well represented. Healthy dishes complement decadent choices. Asian and Latin-influenced items are joined by Italian, Greek and American-inspired offerings. Some dishes are spicy, others are safe-harbor comfort-food preparations. And all of them have the culinary underpinnings of French technique. It’s FRISKY and FUN!

Joanne and I have dined at the Bleu Duck on a number of occasions over the past several years, and although I frequently take notes, I just haven’t done that here. So my descriptions of the food are from my occasionally flawed memory. Big deal. You’ll get the gist.

The menu is short: 5 starters, 5 second courses, and about 10 mains. Offerings change frequently. In fact, in all the times I’ve eaten at the Bleu Duck, I’ve never seen the same menu twice.

Dinner always begins with slightly sweet and soft Hawaiian rolls.

And then come the STARTERS. Among them: Deep Fried Oysters; a riff on Scotch Eggs using tiny quail eggs; Pork Egg Rolls with a spicy chili sauce; Calamari, sometimes served with artichokes, but usually with jalapenos and peanuts; Frog Legs offered Nashville Hot or perhaps Buffalo Style with bleu cheese, celery and hot sauce; and savory Crème Brulée with Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and bacon.

SALAD CHOICES have included a simple green salad, a Tuna Poke Bowl with spicy yellowfin tuna and avocado, and a Cauliflower Bowl as well as a hen-of-the-woods mushroom salad with marrow mousse and caramelized onions.

An oyster bar in Rochester, Minnesota? You betcha! Apparently, the owners cut a deal with the Maine Oyster Company on Casco Bay and bring in fresh oysters daily.

Sometimes I break tradition and enjoy Starters as Mains and Mains as Starters. A few examples: Lobster Risotto (or, in the summer, Sweet Corn Risotto with goat cheese, salmon and tomato); Lobster Bisque with only claw and knuckle meat, parmesan croutons and chives; Mac ‘n Cheese; and a favorite: Fried Cornish Game Hen on a savory waffle.

And now the MAINS……

Choices might include Grilled Lamb Chops with white beans; Roast Duck with corn pancakes and chipotle aioli; Lamb Shank with corn tortilla, black beans and watercress; Sea Scallops with roasted carrots, chard and roasted garlic; and Shrimp & Grits with andouille sausage, sambal and scallions.

And finally…DESSERT

There’s a signature 16-layer Vanilla Crepe Cake (also available with strawberries); Croissant Bread Pudding with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate shavings; and a Chocolate Torte with raspberry coulis, chocolate ganache and whipped cream.

So that’s it…Humble and charming….deep and punchy flavors….frequently exotic…..modest portions… and I’m certainly not going to knock size, because, as we all know….size isn’t everything.

This is a restaurant with a consistently seductive menu. To paraphrase the late A.A. Gill, food critic for the London Times: “Girls who don’t want to go all the way on a first date, should be very, very cautious about dining at Bleu Duck.”




During our past visits to London, Joanne and I have visited iconic restaurants….well-known and often physically imposing rather large formats like SCOTT’S…BRASSERIE ZEDEL…CLARIDGE’S and J. SHEEKEY. All good, all large.

But during our recent visit in October, we shifted gears and also smoked out several lesser-known places, typically family run, with carefully curated menus and generally smaller spaces. Some sported a Michelin star, but most were a bit off the radar – a quality reflected by their tender pricing.

Charlotte Street is in the borough of Fitzrovia, in the heart of London. It’s a modest little street but chock-full of charm, little shops and restaurants.

One particular find was a restaurant called THE NINTH at 22 Charlotte Street. Warm, inviting and moody, it’s decked out in dark wood, with marble table tops and exposed brickwork. Under the steady hand of owner and chef Jun Tanaka, the restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2015 and has held onto it ever since. More about Tanaka later.

The Michelin Guide states, ”The Ninth is the best price/value restaurant in London and a cause for celebration.”

Food writers claim that the best places to sit are on the second floor, but Joanne and I snagged table #9 – a deuce – on the first floor, right in the front window looking out on to the action on bustling Charlotte street. We loved it.

On to the menu…

By and large, the succulent and delightful dishes are unexpected rifts on British heritage cooking with Japanese influences…and all underpinned by French technique. And dishes are meant for sharing…or not.

I confronted the menu with my usual GUSTO for achieving my end-of-night goal of becoming a SATISFIED PIG.

We started with oxtail-filled croquettes on a bed of watercress mayo – £3.50 each, followed by something called “Barbajuans,” a deep-fried savory pastry said to have originated on the eastern shores of the Riviera near Monaco. They were filled with green onions, chard, garlic and ham and topped with a fistful of Parmesan (£6.50).

Razor Clam Ceviche was next, accompanied by a crispy deep-fried whole artichoke with a leek aioli dipping sauce. Finally – and I don’t know quite how to characterize it – we enjoyed an appetizer, or maybe a pizza or main course, of Beetroot Tarte Tatin. It was savory with sweet wedges or beets, feta and pine nuts on a somewhat chewy, buttery crust. Delicious.

Onward to pastas….

Truffles were in season, so…

As one of my mains, I ordered Conchiglie (little shells) with cream and parmesan, smothered with a slew of black truffles. The Ninth also featured a similar dish featuring Orecchiette (little ears) and white truffles. Both dishes rollicked with a soft-cooked egg. nesting dead center.

The boiled-then-fried Gnocchi had a nutty, crispy exterior and were bathed in a sweet pea puree, then finished with shaved parmesan, peppery watercress and tiny Girolles mushrooms. We also tried the Gnudi – a cousin to gnocchi, made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. The tiny dumplings were cooked in foaming butter with shallots, shitake mushrooms, garlic and thyme.

Because it was fall, wild rabbit was on the menu, offered in the form of a lasagna. I’ve never had wild rabbit confit lasagna, even in Italy. I wish that I had ordered it. But my second main course of Langoustine Ravioli did not disappoint. It was laced with intense datterini baby plum tomatoes and just-cut basil leaves – £31.

Here’s a winner: beetroot and fig salad with coconut yogurt!   COCONUT YOGURT ? YEP !    YOU BET !

And in the mystery of the Salad/Main Course world was the crispy Lamb Shoulder Salad with tomato, watermelon and feta cheese. Little gem lettuce leaves and cucumber gave it a nice crunch while pickled red onions provided an additional flavor note.

Another lamb offering was Chargrilled Lamb Cutlets, served up in a cast-iron skillet. The beautifully cooked lamb was accompanied by apricots, “cine de rapa” greens from Puglia, Italy, and a raft of anchovies. Oh, c’mon Minnesota. Try ‘em – you’ll like ‘em!

Salted Beef Cheeks came in three iterations, including one with oxtail consommé and braised sweet hispi cabbage (£19.50). Another featured peas, broad beans, and Girolle mushrooms and almost pickled vegetables. Yet another – this one more of a starter – consisted of a single beef cheek with a dollop of horseradish, red beets and a slice of crispy fried bread to crumble.

Another nod to the fall hunting season was whole roasted quail with foie gras, smoked bacon, pistachios and green grapes.

Joanne’s one-and-only side dish (sissy) was the Salt-Crusted Whole Sea Bass with castlefranco lettuce from Italy, radicchio and daikon radish. She declared it “wonderful.”

I didn’t know what “Belle de Fontenay” potatoes were, so I ordered ‘em. Turns out they’re not some fancy French recipe, but instead a breed of waxy potato from France. They were actually prepared “Hassleback Style” – partially sliced and oven-fried with gobs of butter (yielding gobs of flavor). It originated at the HASSLEBACKEN RESTAURANT in Stockholm, Sweden.


Chocolate Cremeaux Pudding came with a scoop of raspberry ice cream. It was rich and decadent, but oh so refined.

Apple Tarte Tatin is a classic, but this one, featuring a chewy, caramelized base under apples that wobble, shook things up with an accompaniment of rosemary ice cream.

We had to get the Cheese Plate, of course. It featured Sainte-Maure goat cheese, Bleu d’Auvergne, and…I can’t remember the third one.  Too much wine by then? Naw.

Then there was the housemade Paris Brest – the classic French baked choux pastry sliced in half and filled with praline mousseline crème and flavored with baked almonds. Not that again!

But I’ve saved the best for last: Pain Perdu – house-made brioche bread pudding that had been marinated in custard for 24 hours and fashioned into a soft brick, then fried in copious amounts of butter. If that weren’t debauched enough, it’s dusted in caster sugar and blowtorched like a crème brulée. A scoop of vanilla ice cream rode shotgun.

So that’s it: Michelin-starred cuisine – meticulously prepared and invitingly presented in an immeasurably appealing and approachable atmosphere.  And the price ?  Our dinner was around $ 150 USD including wine.

So how did Chef Jun Tanaka create such a jewel of a restaurant?

Well, he’s worked in nine of London’s most prestigious restaurants, among them the three-star icon Le Gavroche, under Michael Roux and alongside Michael Pierre White and Eric Chavot – all three celebrated Michelin-starred chefs.

In 2015 he purchased the space on Charlotte street and opened The Ninth, a minimalist moniker representing the number of restaurants that he has worked in.

Jay Rayner, the insightful and endlessly entertaining restaurant critic for the Guardian newspaper in London, has said that, given his background and training, Tanaka “would be expected to emerge as head chef of his Ninth, with a restaurant that would look like all the ones that had gone before. It would be a white table-clothed restaurant, the kind where dishes are plated on pieces of porcelain-like eggshell, and delivered with hushed reverence to tables of long-married couples…the only ones that can afford the bill…who no longer have anything to say to each other. It would be the kind of place where nobody ever admitted farting.”

He did just the opposite.



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?