Those of us fortunate enough to have achieved some measure of success as restaurateurs are here to tell you: This is a great business. You get to eat out all the time, and you can travel the world for inspiration. And I love doing that, but one of my keenest pleasures comes from reading critical, and not-so-critical, reviews of restaurants from world culinary capitals.

Although I never followed Craig Claiborne, I think I started following Bryan Miller of the New York Times in the early nineties and have continued on with William Grimes, Frank Bruni, and Sam Sifton, right through to Pete Wells.

I also like Adam Platt of New York magazine, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post and Jay Rayner of the Guardian in London. Our own Rick Nelson of the Star-Tribune also belongs in their company.

And while these are all entertaining and accomplished, knowledgeable writers, the one who made me laugh out loud was A.A. GILL, the revered and feared critic…. from the London Sunday Times – “the witty wielder of the hatchet.”

Gill died a little over two years ago. But a few days ago I came upon one of his pieces and laughed ‘til I cried. So, I thought I would share some of his dazzling and fearless writing.

First I’ll share the positive reviews. Not surprisingly, with one exception, his favorite restaurants match up with mine.

THE WOLSELEY, London: ”…a cross between the traditional robustness of the Parisian brasserie and the gloriously grand, but cozy, Viennese café.”

ELYSTAN STREET, Chelsea, London: ”Pure food joy.”

CLUB GASCON, London: ”Frankly, I cannot think of a higher recommend.”

BRASSERIE ZEDEL, Piccadilly, London: “Along with the Brasserie, the Grande Café combines an opulent setting exclusively for everyman. Zedel is such a place.”

CHUTNEY MARY, St. James Street, London: “Chutney isn’t a verb or an adjective. Maybe we should make one up. Cat got your chutney? It’s the dog’s chutnies. It’s a red card! He was chutnied!!!!”

Then there’s GAUTHIER in Soho, London. Joanne and I LOVED it; Gill HATED it, and wrote, ”We ate everything…including beans arranged around a mash of something that might have been peas, but also might have been GOAT’S EARWAX.”

The Atlantic magazine said of Gill, “He was willing to say that something tastes like crap, no matter who the chef or what the price.”

So here goes….

Gordon Ramsey’s AUBERGINE in Chelsea (where he and Joan Collins were thrown out): ”The Gruyere and goat cheese toasted sandwich boasted more grease than a lube job.”…“The frogs legs tasted like something sour and slimy that had been fished out of a heron’s throat.”

At an unknown restaurant, he wrote, “I had a jelly that involved Campari and fennel. It was a pretty color, but tasted exactly as I’ve always imagined suicide capsules would – fantastically bitter and fraudulently medicinal.”

Unrepentant, he was reported for violations on two occasions to England’s Commission on Racial Equality.

Describing the Welsh, he wrote, “Loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly pugnacious little trolls…WAIT A SEC!…I’M PART WELSH!”

Offering his view of The Isle of Man: “Citizens fall into two types – hopeless inbred mouth-breathers and retired small-arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures.”

Celebrity chef Jean-George Vongorichten opened a “Chinese-ish” spot a few years back on Church in New York, called simply 66. Joanne and I ate there and didn’t hate it, but didn’t like it enough to return.

Gill, on the other hand…well, read on:

Upon his arrival, “We were treated at the door like social scurvy with contagious halitosis…The greet and seat procedure is modeled on the aliens line at Immigration, just after the Friday-night flight from Khartoum has landed.”

He was further annoyed by the server at 66 who said, “Do you know how this works?” Gill replied, “WHAT? I order. You serve. I eat. I pay. You give me my coat back.” To which the server replied, ”NO, NO, NO, we bring the food when and in the order it’s prepared.” To which Gill wrote in his column, “The rest of the meal slid into a long, bland, watery compost that could barely incite flatulence.”

There’s more. He wrote that the Shrimp-Foie Gras dumplings were “properly vile, and tasted like fishy, liver-filled condoms with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as a swab in an animal hospital.”

And finally, “We spit in your soy sauce. And the dim sum is incubated in our chef’s jock strap.”

Probably not a good idea to piss him off…

Gill did not confine his acrimony to restaurateurs and the Welsh…..and did not spare the singer, musician and songwriter….Morrisey. “Morrisey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whining, self-martyred human being whoever took a breath. And those are just his good qualities.”

And lastly, the Anglophile Mecca in Paris…the bistro that screws over Americans…the grotesquely overpriced restaurant where Joanne and I were treated rudely (really rudely) yet for all those abuses remains a magnet to Americans….

L’AMI LOUIS..in the 3rd on Rue du Vertbois.

Gill begins his piece. “It feels like a 2nd class railway station…painted in a shiny, distressed dung brown and staffed by paunchy, combative surly men who exude a pantomime insolence, an existential…Le ‘FUG YOUSE.’”

He continues…

“The crowded tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be the suppository”…and “In the middle there is a stubby little stove that looks vaguely proctotorial…”

And we’re just now getting to the food…

Foie Gras: “…comes as a pair of intimidatingly gross flabs of chilly paté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat that tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction.”

“Veal Kidneys en Brochette: “…could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor.”

He concludes the disemboweling of L’Ami Louis with, “It’s undeniable that L’Ami Louis is really special and apart. It has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, THE WORST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.”


In his Sunday column, shortly before he died, he summed up his career as follows: “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you watch television, eat good food and travel and then write about it?’ Gill responded, “As lives go, that’s pretty good.”




In early January I read that the 100-year-old Lord & Taylor flagship store on 5th Avenue closed. In the same piece it was announced that Henri Bendel, the store that first featured Coco Channel in America, had folded its tent as well.

Did they, like so many other brick and mortar businesses, fall victim to the seismic upheaval caused by e-commerce?

One thing I know: Some very august culinary institutions have recently shut their doors – among them, some of Joanne’s and my favorites.

A while back I posted about the CARNEGIE DELI quitting business. Now, here was the gold standard of New York delis, the one that had it all: good food, big scale, star power and great management.

Rock star chefs were not immune. Bobby Flay’s BAR AMERICAIN (not one of our favorites) folded, as did Daniel Boulud’s DBGB pork and sausage-centric emporium in the Bowery.

No chef is hotter these days than David Chang. And yet, I’ll no longer be able to ravage the signature Habanero Fried Chicken at his upscale Ma Pêche, which closed after eight years in Manhattan.

The list goes on…and on….

The demise of KARL RATZCH’S, Milwaukee’s Teutonic temple of German food and oompah music represented another passing of a great American institution…113 years! That was our “go-to” spot for weiner schnitzel and roasted goose shank when we were opening BUCA in Milwaukee.

(What does one do without a reliable outpost for goose shank???)

And how about, after 83 years, the demise of the famous celebrity hangout in Chicago, THE CAPE COD ROOM in the Drake Hotel? No more giant platters of Clams Casino for the table.

Across the pond, three of our favorites have gone away, including SIMPSON’S ON THE STRAND located near Piccadilly Circus, where commanding Christofle silver-plated trollies ferried haunches of roasted Scotch Beef, deftly carved tableside? It closed after nearly 130 years in business.

Also sad: the shuddering of FERA, the Art Deco masterpiece at Claridges Hotel in Mayfair. Joanne and I ate there only once (at table #14) and enjoyed possibly the most beautiful and stunning plates ever. Check out our amuse bouche of floral tartines. I guess that there just wasn’t a big enough audience for that sort of thing.

(RUMOR !!!!! ELEVEN MADISON PARK might be taking over the space. Stay tuned.)

A neighborhood favorite in London, Mayfair’s WILD HONEY, went south. That was double sad because the owners shuttered its sister restaurant, ARBUTUS (one of our favorites), just a year earlier.

And even though Joanne and I weren’t able to go there all that often, for some reason I was caught flat-footed upon learning that the iconic Boston Landmark, DURGIN PARK in Faneuil Hall, was about to serve its final order of Yankee Pot Roast after a nearly 200-year run. This was THE bastion not only for that dish, but a roster of other Yankee fare as well: enormous slabs of Prime Rib…Clam Chowdah…Boston Baked Scrod…Little Neck Clambakes…dinosaur-sized lobsters…and that ballast against Boston winters and Nor’easters, Boston Baked Beans, cooked for seven hours (none of that Heinz canned stuff here).

Those fortunate enough to visit Durgin Park on St. Patty’s day could feast on platters of Corned Beef and Cabbage, most always followed by Apple Pan Dowdy or Baked Indian Pudding (not the south Asian kind, but instead a nod to the Native American/early settlers version, made with cornmeal, honey, custard and molasses, and topped with a whopping scoop of vanilla ice cream. It probably tasted the exact same way on Durgin Park’s last day as it did when they opened in 1827.

The seating was communal, with long red-checkered tablecloth tables that sat 20 people. The place was built for fun.

And part of the pleasure (when you finally get the joke) were the most unpleasant waitresses that we have ever experienced. They were rude…and famous for it (God only knows where they’ll find new employment). I recall that our waitress, with her thick Southie accent and dyed red hair, seemed to genuinely resent our presence. But that was all part of the “shtick.”

DURGIN, we hardly knew ya….




A couple weeks ago, on January 10th, I wrote a post (Good Morning, London) on the Brits’ mastery of breakfast. And as I wrote it, I got to thinking about other memorable breakfasts I’ve had – over the years, and very recently.

First, of course, is New York, where three spots stand out…..

SARABETH’S, which has six or seven locations, offers wholesome comfort food and luscious, just-baked goods right out of the oven. It’s rated 4.0 by Zagat’s.

And you cannot visit New York without starting your day at NORMA’S in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel on west 56th Street. Known for lavish breakfasts and brunches, beautifully plated and big enough to share, it sports a whopping 4.4 Zagat rating.

Finally, if you can get in, there’s the buzzy French BRASSERIE BALTHAZAR on Spring Street. Also boasting a 4.4 Zagat rating, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Keith McNally, the legendary creator of New York’s top French bistros and brasseries. The food is great across the board, and the breads in particular approach perfection.

These New York breakfast spots are on the same high level as THE WOLSELEY in London (get their gut-busting Full Monty) and HUGO’S on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. Like our own GOOD EARTH, Hugo’s all-natural menu offers many healthful options and a few decadent ones (get the Pumpkin Pancakes with real maple syrup. They don’t even have the fake stuff).

But sometimes I need to remember that not everything I write about has to be in far-flung cities – because there are several remarkable restaurants right here in our own backyard. Forgive me for sounding hopelessly self-serving….BUT…Is there a better steakhouse anywhere on the planet than MANNY’S? (Sorry, but if it’s the truth, it ain’t braggin.’

That brings me to a wonderful breakfast that Joanne and I had with our daughter and two of her kids a few weeks ago. The fare was strictly American and yet just as enjoyable as any of the London or New York restaurants that I speak of.

Where?…….Golden Valley.

Who and what?……THE GOOD DAY CAFÉ.

Expect a wait on weekends – maybe 30 – 40 minutes. But that’s only testimony as to how good and how popular it is – especially when you consider the fact that this place ain’t new. It’s been around for years now, but the operation is so smooth, the property so well-tended, and the menu so on-trend that a first-time visitor might well assume it’s newly opened.

And the owner/operator, Nancy, is all over the place…bussing tables, running food, doing resets, all while seating guests…and always with a smile. Staff clearly follow her lead, because once you’re seated, the speed and efficiency of the service trump all. This is a VERY WELL-RUN restaurant that has two powerful advantages over the cookie-cutter chains: HEART and SOUL.

Our group ate large. Joanne savored every bite of her deep and creamy quiche. I dug into the Southwest Souffle Omelette, while our daughter vacuumed up the Payslie’s favorite …. eggs bennie with guacamole and topped with perfectly poached eggs. And the kids? The one with a more refined palate (or perhaps just a penchant for ordering the most expensive thing on the menu) made short work of the Crab Cakes Benedict, and the other one – a confirmed sugarholic – devoured the Glazed Donut Pancakes. I suspect she stopped bouncing off the walls sometime before dinner that evening.

Check out the images below. Good Day Café may not be exotic. It’s not gimmicky or weird. But damn, it’s good!





So many are gone now……

I can remember a few…LUCHOW’S on 14th street….the WEINERSCHNITZEL EMPORIUM…..MAMA LEONE’S, a temple of Italian wretched excess, with 1250 seats and gigantic platters to match. Mama shuttered the place in 1994, but I’ll never forget the fun and generous spirit of this Theater District landmark. They even gave you food – sometimes bread, sometimes cheese – to take home.

And how about DELMONICO’S – New York’s first steakhouse – in lower Manhattan? It’s long, long gone, and to this day I regret not eating there.

SPARKS STEAKHOUSE survives – and indeed thrives. Which is more than you can say about its most notable patron: mobster Paul (Big Paulie) Castellano, who in 1985 was gunned down by the Gambino family outside Sparks’ front door after downing a 24-ounce Porterhouse (medium rare) dinner.

Still going strong as well: KEEN’S CHOPHOUSE, open since 1885 on 36th Street (see my October 19, 2017 post about this restaurant). Even today, it boasts a stratospheric ZAGAT rating of 4.5. Don’t miss the MUTTON CHOP.

And, of course, there’s still the grandaddy of ‘em all – THE OLD HOMESTEAD STEAKHOUSE, founded in 1868 down in the Meatpacking District. Still robust! Still packed!

But there is one other that I have admired for years, and that’s GALLAGHER’S STEAK HOUSE. In the late 1970s, when I was in New York almost every other week for business, I would find myself wandering over to West 52nd street simply to marvel at the camera-ready meat locker (visible from the street through the front picture window). Staring at haunches of Prime beef on their 30-day dry-aging journey to the table, I can remember thinking, “That’s my kinda place”.

Maybe Gallagher’s is where the seeds for MANNY’S were planted in my mind.

Created in the late 1800s, it was called Club Evelyn until 1927, when Helen Gallagher (a Ziegfeld Girl) took over and rechristened it GALLAGHER’S STEAK HOUSE.

Decades passed, and the restaurant’s look hardly changed at all. But then, in 2015, a fellow by the name of Dean Poll took over and reportedly sunk a badly needed $5,000,000 into the place to bring it into the 21st century. In my view, he was really smart about it, because the menu doesn’t appear to have strayed from the steakhouse classics that proved so durable over the last hundred years or so. It still checks all the boxes of a big and brawny New York-style Power Steakhouse.

Poll did make some updates to the interior – the kitchen, for example, now opens to the dining room – but the beautiful u-shaped bar remains. And most important, the restaurant retains the slightly saloon-y vibe that is so reassuring, non-threatening and comfortable. BRAVO!

Check out the images below….

A stiff drink…Flintstone-sized Porterhouses grilled over hickory charcoal…

swordfish and lobsters…

salads and hash browns…

desserts right out of Steakhouse Central Casting…

and a 10-ounce burger to boot.

No wonder Gallagher’s remains a favorite of movers and shakers, bankers and brokers, mobsters and movie stars – and, of course, athletes.

Now, I did not go to the men’s room when I was there. But I can imagine the walls are emblazoned with pictures of jocks – generation after generation of them. In fact, I think it’s that it’s possible – maybe even probable – that Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter not only share wall space, they might have even shared the same original porcelain fixtures. I don’t know. I was just wondering.





On September 22, 2018 the New York Times reported that Anne Russ Federman, age 97, had passed away.

Anne was the oldest surviving daughter of Joel Russ, founder of RUSS & DAUGHTERS, the temple of smoked sturgeon, herring, lox and bagels on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. All three of Joel’s daughters – Hattie, Ida and Anne – worked the counter full-time beginning in their teens, with Anne starting in 1935 at age 14.

It all began with their father, Joel Russ, a Jewish immigrant from what is now Poland coming to New York City in 1907. Penniless, he started out by selling herring and schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat) out of a barrel on Hester Street. Soon he was able to buy a pushcart and added mushrooms and a few assorted delicacies to his budding enterprise. And finally, in 1914, he moved to a brick & mortar store that he named RUSS’S CUT RATE APPETIZERS. Six years later, in 1920, he moved the operation to its present location at 179 Houston in Soho.

So why the word “Appetizers?”

I understand that Jewish dietary laws dictate that meat and dairy cannot be eaten or sold together, nor can meat and seafood. As a result, two kinds of stores emerged: those that sold meat (delicatessens); and those that sold seafood and dairy, which came to be called “appetizer stores” – kind of like a seafood deli.

(I don’t know this for sure, but Russ & Daughters may be the last remaining “appetizer store” in New York.)

And so it was that in 1935, having no sons, Joel Russ made his three daughters full partners in the business. Thus began a long line of family generations that run the store to this day. The girls’ husbands all became part of the family business.

Third-generation operators were Mark Russ Federman and his wife, Maria. Mark quit lawyering for good after filling in as a “counter man” one week. In addition to slicing lox into paper-thin slices, Mark went on to write his reflections in a book titled The House That Herring Built. Not stopping there, he wrote and produced a film called The Sturgeon Queens, which was directed by Julie Cohen as an ode to his mother, Anne, and her sisters.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morley Safer all had cameos in the film.

Today the fourth generation is at the helm, led by Niki Russ Federman and her cousin, Josh Russ Tupper. They’ve add a New Age “wasabi flying fish roe” to the mix – as a topping for the sliced smoked sturgeon inside the bagels – but for the most part the offerings remain as they always have.

In my posting of September 15, 2016, The Best of the Wurst, I cited Russ & Daughters as one of our favorites in NYC. Check it out because it was on that visit one Saturday morning that Joanne and I stood for twenty minutes ass-to-elbow amongst the throngs of hungry Type A Lower Manhattanites just to get a bagel.

As it turned out, we ordered a lot more than just a bagel. While patiently staring at the refrigerated cases loaded with smoked mackerel and sturgeon, lox and pickled herring (some with curried sour cream), along with chopped chicken liver redolent with schmaltz and onions begging to be slathered on an onion bagel, Joanne and I both lost it.

We have a habit of occasionally pigging out and pig out we did. First, I ordered an onion bagel with smoked salmon, sliced fresh tomatoes, capers and loads of scallion cream cheese…. schmear. Then I blurted out “Gimme one of those salmon and cream cheese bagels with the salmon fish eggs on top.” Joanne, being only slightly less out of control than me, went for the sweets – ordering a Babka (a sort of yeast risen brioche-like coffee cake wrapped around a dark chocolate fudge filling); a Raspberry Rugelach, a semi-light and flaky pastry; AND an iconic New York Black & White cookie. I can’t figure it out….she maintains her weight right around a hundred pounds. Damn her.

Well, we got our overstuffed big bag of goodies only to realize that Russ & Daughters has no seating, save for two iron park benches that sit outside in the front. After another 20-minute wait for this coveted spot, we finally sat down and tried our best to ignore the stares from everyone else who wanted that seat. Screw ‘em (Joanne’s words).

You do not stay in business for a hundred years without being smart and crafty. And they were plenty smart to open RUSS & DAUGHTERS CAFÉ two short blocks away on Orchard Street. It’s an attractive, sit-down-and-be-waited-on kind of place where you can get dishes with any of their Houston Street offerings as well as complete meals such as Shakshouka, a Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a peppery tomato stew.

The Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict comes atop a toasted brioche. Potato Latkes (think mini hash browns) come with a savory side of sour cream and salmon roe. And there are a number of “Boards,” some with smoked salmon, others with smoked sturgeon, and always with sliced tomatoes and red onion.

Thirsty? Get a classic Chocolate Egg Cream – a drink that has neither eggs nor cream, but is concocted with carbonated water, milk and chocolate syrup.

And if it’s cold outside or if you have a cold…well, there’s always a steaming bowl of Matzo Ball Soup. I can’t recall if they have Chicken Soup. If they don’t, they should.

So there you have it…..take-out or eat-in at Russ & Daughters.

I’ll leave you with this: Mark, the enterprising third-generation operator whose son, Noah, is a physician, was quoted in the New York Times piece as saying, “As far as I know, I am the only Jewish father who was disappointed that his kid became a doctor. I was thinking ‘sturgeon,’ not ‘surgeon.’”




NUSR-ET. That’s what this is blog is about: An experience I found to be fascinating, fun, a little weird – and loaded with “high camp” – at a restaurant called… Nusr-Et.

Some back story: Nusret Gokce is a Turkish chef who opened an eponymous steakhouse in Istanbul in 2010. He has since grown his empire to eleven restaurants in locations ranging from Ankara and Istanbul…to Dubai and Abu Dhabi…then Miami (on Brickell Avenue), and now New York, on the ground floor of “Blackrock,” former home of China Grill, at 60 W. 53rd Street.

When Joanne and I were in Miami in January, we noticed that a placed called Nusr-Et was getting a lot of buzz. So of course we had to go.

We were welcomed at the front door by a bevy – yes, a bevy – of beautiful hostesses who, while pleasant, cheerful and earnest, seemed to be hopelessly disorganized.

We were shown to an immense dining room, but because it was such a beautiful evening, we chose to eat outside on the palm tree-loaded, sultry, tropically-flavored “front porch.” This proved to be a brilliant choice for a couple of geezers like ourselves because, as the night wore on, the noise in the dining room became deafening….BOOMPA, BOOMPA, BOOMPA!

No problem, though, because the volume level outside presented no problems. By the way, if you choose to eat on patio, request table 305, 306 or 307 – all four-tops, and all-set a respectable distance apart. You’ll be pleased.

This place is ALL ABOUT STEAK. And lest you forget, the see-in meat locker and fully loaded meat case in front of the kitchen are there to remind you. If you’re ordering fish or chicken, clearly you don’t understand why you are here.

The first clue that something was amiss came when our server approached the table and asked if we’d like water. I ordered, “Miami’s finest tap water, please.” I was then informed that Nusr-Et does not serve tap water – only VOSS at a whopping $9 a bottle.

Joanne said, “Hmmmmmm.”

(And I almost said, “F*** You!” for forcing me to pay for water)

I was told that we MUST try the Meat Sushi for an appetizer. My curiosity trumping my better judgment, we took our waiter’s advice. It wasn’t very good. BUT WHAT A PRODUCTION.

A cart was ceremoniously wheeled tableside and out came the blowtorch to put a sear on Paper-thin slices of beef wrapped around sushi rice, plated with avocado cream and shoestring potatoes for $20. There’s a reason why sushi is seafood-centric.

Salad was next, and we shared the Nusret Special Salad – which was good. It featured greens, walnuts, goat cheese, black raisins and pomegranate molasses. Good thing we shared, though, because all salads are $25 each!!

And then…..HE APPEARED!!!

NUSRET HIMSELF….in his snug white t-shirt, gold chain, round mirrored sunglasses and a jet-black pony tail. But…he is no longer Nusret Gokce. He has become….


Maybe you’re familiar with the Youtube clips of him. If not, I’ll explain in a second.

I learned that initially he was a butcher in Istanbul. But now his sole purpose seems to be to travel from table to table, carving and slapping the house signature Mustard Marinated Grilled Rib Eye (called “THE OTTOMAN”) which, as part of his final tableside act, he very SLOWLY and SENSUALLY SALTS by letting the flakes trickle down his forearm and finally flicking a blizzard of white crystals at (but not always hitting) the Rib Eye on the table.

Then, without uttering a word, SALT BAE LEAVES.

SALT BAE. I got the “salt” part, but I wasn’t sure about “bae.” Well, apparently the “bae” is a slang expression for “sweetheart” or “babe.” So I guess he’s “SALT BABE.”

What can I say? This guy is absolutely “chock full” of himself. He’s a put-on. He’s an actor (and it is ALL an act). He’s a consummate showman. And he’s AMUSING AS HELL. This guy knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.

As The Eater said, “He’s like watching a “cheezy movie.” Yes, he’s THAT GOOD. And he has gone viral, racking up millions upon millions of views on various platforms, becoming a full-fledged MEME that people just feel COMPELLED to share with one another.

And all the guy’s doing is flicking salt.

Check him out. He loves to pose for photos with the guests – frequently with macho steak-eating men, but more often with pretty girls. And he never, ever smiles.

Now, Nusr-Et reportedly has a great hamburger. It better be. It’s $30.

The $15 mashed potatoes, however, were not so hot. But then again, as Pete Wells wrote in the New York Times, “He’s not SPUD BAE.” The Pistachio Baklava served tableside is really good (considering his Turkish pedigree and the $15/slice price, it should be). Joanne and I finished up with a deep, thick Turkish coffee…also good.

A couple of things to stress. Nusr-Et is really expensive. The New York Post critic, Steve Cuozzo, recently called Nusr-Et’s NYC outpost “public rip-off #1.” And yet…and yet…”People still flock to see SALT BAE in action.”

Expect to pay at least $125 per person, without wine.

So here’s my take on Nusr-Et. As Robert Sietsema of The Eater wrote, “If you are viewing Nusr-Et as a steakhouse, you’ll probably be disappointed.” The steaks are not the quality of Peter Luger’s…or Manny’s…or St. Elmo’s. Maybe that’s why “The Ottoman” rib eye is marinated in mustard. “If, on the other hand, you appraise the place as ‘dinner theater,’ you’ll probably find it quite satisfying…BUT ONLY IF SALT BAE IS IN THE HOUSE.”

At our dinner in Miami, SALT BAE was in the house, just not at our table. Our tableside carver was pleasant enough and competent enough, but I guess I wasn’t pretty or macho enough to merit a visit. I wish we’d gotten one, though!

Not even Donald or Bernie can fill his shoes.



The Abruzzi in America

I’d heard great things about the original IL MULINO restaurant in downtown New York – its 4.6 Zagat rating, its reputation for great service and ambiance, and its slavish devotion to using only the best quality ingredients.

Learning it was also a celebrity hangout sealed the deal. So I booked a table for Joanne, myself and some friends. Alas, Martin Scorsese and Tony Bennett were nowhere to be found, but I brushed shoulders with enough CEO types and elderly gentlemen with bejeweled ladies to get that “only in New York” feeling.

The meal began with a parade of complimentary antipasti – first, a quarter wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, gouged into generous chunks by our tuxedoed waiter. It was accompanied by slices of a spirited dry salami, and followed by a tableside presentation of tomato bruschetta with a steamed mussel as a counterpoint. And finally, a plate of crispy zucchini slices “bucked up” with garlic and chili flakes.

The hits just kept on comin.’

We started with an order of Clams Casino – perfectly toasty, and beautifully bacon-y.

A well sauced, “frisky” and unforgettable Penne Arrabiata, laced with hot chili flakes, abruptly awakened my palate. Joanne had a knockout half-portion of Linguini Al Vongole – the noodles perfectly al dente and loaded – really LOADED – with fresh clams. That ran about $30. We also shared a Rack of Lamb ($80). And one of our guests had the Double Veal Chop, topped with fried sage ($65 as I recall).

This is NOT Canyon Ranch Food!

Your overstuffed critic ended the meal with a Ricotta Cheesecake and a glass or two or three of Limoncello.

Now, Il Mulino has its roots in Abruzzo, Italy, the region to the east of Lazio (where Rome is). That’s important because the area borders the Adriatic Sea to the east and the mountains to the west. So Abruzzi cuisine has the best of both worlds – abundant seafood as well as lamb and beef from nearby grazing lands.

The location also sits right on the line that divides the vastly different North and South of Italy.

As you may know, there are French culinary influences in the North (during the French Revolution, quite a few of the aristocracy’s chefs fled there). Plus, the upper portion of Italy is blessed with a climate and soil that easily support the raising of cattle (think Bistecca Fiorentina), as well as the production of cream and butter, along with glorious cheeses of all varieties (Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano being among the best known). Then there’s the prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

The South, on the other hand, has it a lot tougher. Most of the soil is not nearly as rich as in the North. The climate is too hot to raise cattle – and few can afford that luxury anyway.

Southern Italians did, however, import water buffalo, who love the heat, from India, and BINGO: we got Buffalo Mozzarella, one of the world’s greatest culinary pleasures. And the hot climate and rich, volcanic soil around Mt. Vesuvius give us the incomparable San Marzano tomatoes that show up in so many southern specialties. But those are hardly the only assets of the South. Just like the North, seafood abounds here – tuna, swordfish, calamari, branzino, etc. Barnacle all that with the Arabian and North African culinary influences, and….WOW!!

Now, let’s switch gears – from remote Abruzzo to Las Vegas. Yep, Vegas.

Having had such a great experience in New York, Joanne and I feverishly anticipated dining at Il Mulino in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Place a few years back.

And while it was good, something seemed “off” to me. Despite the glitz of its surroundings, Il Mulino’s dining room was distinctly vanilla and almost utterly lacking in character. I think Il Mulino was in an expansion mode at the time, because they’ve since opened in the Hamptons, Atlantic City, Chicago, Aspen, Puerto Rico and Miami Beach (more about Miami later).

As the disappointments added up, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way rapid growth can beat up on quality. For example: The tableside antipasti service that we loved so much in New York was non-existent here. The salami, zucchini and bruschetta were all pre-set on the table – saving labor at the expense of theater. Instead of presenting our bread choices tableside, an unenthused wait assistant discarded a basket. The Bison Steak seemed out of place in an Italian restaurant. Moreover, both the Gnocchi with Basil Pesto and the Lobster Ravioli were way, way over-sauced.

As J.K. Simmons says in the Farmers Insurance ads: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Well, one thing I know from my numerous trips to Italy over the years and in cooking classes with Marcella Hazan in Bologna and Anna Tosca Lanza in Sicily is: DON’T OVERSAUCE THE F***ING PASTA!

Fast forward to Miami Beach a few weeks ago.

I was a little reluctant to go to Il Mulino on South Beach after our Vegas experience, but I gave it a shot and called to reserve a table by the window. No answer. I tried again that afternoon. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. But I was in a forgiving state of mind and decided to call back near opening time, when staff would be there to answer the phone. So at 5 PM, I dialed them up and…no answer.

Now, I’m “red-assed.”

“They just don’t give a shit”….”They’re not trained”….”It’s Thursday night, so I know they’re not closed. WTF is going on?” Don’t they know: hospitality starts BEFORE you enter a restaurant!

Well, being a glutton for punishment (and perhaps eager to dole out some of my own to a hapless waiter), Joanne and I walked over. I was really pissed – all set to enter the joint and “carve them a new one.”

So we walk in, loaded for bear…

…and are greeted with a broad smile by the manager. And before I can spit out my first invective, he leads us to a gorgeous table by the window, the best in the house (#50, I believe). Our waiter shows up immediately and gives us a genuinely welcoming smile and takes our drink order. He’s followed by another server bearing a quarter wheel of Parm. And THAT was quickly followed by me feeling like a first-class JERK.

Privately embarrassed, Joanne and I settled into our chairs in the white on white on white dining room that could have just stepped out of Italian Vogue Magazine.

The fresh-baked bread and focaccia, as well as the antipasti were graciously and politely served tableside – all with style and flair. That was just the start of a parade of some of the freshest, best-crafted Italian food I’ve ever had stateside.

Highlights included Joanne’s Langoustines – so fresh that they may have been swimming yesterday. We shared a loaded-up, pristine Seafood Salad. Joanne savored every bite of featherweight Gnocchi in a lite marinara sauce ($17 for a half portion), and I splurged on the Ravioli Stuffed with Lobster and Porcini Mushroom in a Champagne Cream Sauce with Shaved Black Truffles. Wretched excess? ABSOLUTELY. $25 for a half portion. But that’s about a once-a-year indulgence.

For our mains, Joanne (as predictably as she’d order a salad over a pâté) zeroed in on the fish – a Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) expertly de-boned at the table and simply dressed with just a light drizzle of olive oil, lemon and a little salt and pepper. I, being the carnivore, ordered the Costoletta – a crisply breaded pan-fried veal chop with the bone attached and, in a contrasting note, topped with chilled arugula and chopped tomatoes (A “cotoletta,” incidentally, is essentially the same thing, but without the bone).

Espresso and a shared Limoncello Cake with Zabaglione made tableside rounded out a wonderful night.

Vegas: You are forgiven.



Not Your Pillsbury Baeckeoffe

As I sit here writing this post, the radio is warning of a giant snowstorm bearing down on the Twin Cities. Schools have been closed, and all anyone can talk about is how miserable their evening commute will be.

So today I’ll write about a dish I’d LOVE to come home to – especially on a night like this.


The origin? ALSACE, on the French-German border.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it. I hadn’t until a few years ago. Baeckeoffe is an ALSATIAN MEAT STEW from the BAKER’S OVEN. (Really, how much more do you need to know before saying, “Yes, please!”)

Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it…without question.” In 2016, New York magazine cited this seminal reference source in a piece about Baeckeoffe, describing it as a popular Monday night special among the town folk of Alsace. Why Monday? Because that was laundry day, when housewives often found themselves too busy to cook. Their solution was to prepare an earthenware casserole of mutton, pork and beef stew marinated in wine, and then drop it off at the village baker, who – like a human crockpot – was responsible for slow-cooking everyone’s Baeckeoffes in his oven after he finished his bread. Then the kids would pick up the finished dish on their way home from school.

In Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants that specialize in this dish. Some have even named themselves after it. And what better place to sample the various iterations of this quintessentially regional specialty than in its largest city?

Some versions are made entirely with lamb, others with pork and sometimes duck. But most common is the combo style of mutton, pork and beef, with sliced potatoes, garlic, carrots, German Riesling wine, preserved lemon, artichokes and herbs – all layered like lasagna in a Dutch oven and sealed with a simple elastic dough of flour, egg and warm water. (I recommend Le Creuset or Staub for your Dutch oven).

If you happen to find yourself in New York City on a bitter cold winter night – and if you can summon several dining companions – be certain to go to GABRIEL KREUTHER restaurant in Midtown (I posted on this place on October 17, 2017) and treat yourself to a truly authentic dinner of classic Alsatian comfort food – including baeckeoffe.

About a year ago (April 20, 2017 to be precise), I wrote about LE COQ RICO bistro in Paris – “The Bistro of Beautiful Birds” and home, in my opinion, to the best chicken in all the world.

What does that have to do with baeckeoffe? Well, Parisian chef Antoine Westermann has since opened a New York branch of Le Coq Rico (near Gramercy Tavern, on East 20th Street) and guess what? His menu features baeckeoffe. Westermann’s take is a lighter, springtime version and features roast chicken instead of the meaty combo. I haven’t tried it, but I sure as hell will, because, based on my dining experience at Le Coq Rico in Paris, it will be delicious.

Here’s where things get a little tricky if you make this at home (and you CAN make it at home; recipes are on the internet). First, the chicken: In his Paris restaurant, Westernmann primarily uses Bresse chickens – the only chickens in the world protected with France’s official A.O.C. designation (the same as with French Champagne and Roquefort cheese) guaranteeing its authenticity.

You can’t get a Bresse chicken in the United States. You can’t even get a Bresse chicken egg (see my post from July 28th, 2016: “I’m a Bresse Man”). So what to do? What to do?

Well, one of the things that makes a Bresse Chicken so special is its size. Our supermarket chickens are around 40 days old. The Bresse chicken is much older – 90 to 130 days old – and weighs in at around 7 pounds or more; double what we’re used to. This allows the older and bigger bird to develop a much deeper, richer flavor.

So you need to source a BIG FAT CHICKEN. You won’t find it at the grocery store, but a good butcher or even a chicken farmer at your local farmer’s market might have one – if only available as a preorder (in which case you’ll have to wait a month or two while the bird fattens up).

And while there are no Bresse chickens in America, we do have several breeds (depending on where you live) that will work quite well: Plymouth Rock, Amish, Blue Foot, Bell and Evans, to name a few. They’re all-natural, all free range. All are American facsimiles of the Bresse chicken.

The other thing they have in common: Price. When you look at the cost of a chicken, 90% of what you’re paying for is the feed. The older the chicken, the higher the price.

Chef Westermann seems to have locked into a breed called “Brune Landaise” at Le Coq Rico. The New York Times describes it as a chicken with “a pedigree.” From what I understand, it’s a bit milder than, say, a Plymouth Rock.

The decision you have to make: Should you seek out or prepare a traditional, three-meat Baeckeoffe, perfect for winter? Or should you look to spring and make yours with a chicken? (A warning: While Westermann’s chicken version eats lighter than others, the price is on the hefty side. It costs $140. But hey, you can get it any night of the week, AND it will feed at least two people. You may even have leftovers for laundry day.



Cuckoo for COUCOU

Chef Daniel Rose has taken a peculiar route to stardom. Born and raised in Chicago…moved to Paris…and in 2016 he astonished Parisians with his creation of the “ingredient obsessed” SPRING restaurant located on the Rive Droit near Les Halles. Gregory Marchand, the chef of the wildly popular FRENCHIE restaurant, said of Daniel, “His love for French cuisine and French culture made him accepted by the Parisians and by the French as well.”

But it wasn’t simply his love of French cuisine that dazzled Paris. Rose’s nerve and playful re-interpretation of classic French dishes thrilled their jaded palates. The restaurant also had none of the heaviness of the traditional fine dining spaces in Paris. It was a perfect counterpoint to restaurants hidebound by tradition.

And then suddenly – SPRING CLOSED. It wasn’t immediately clear why.

But then I learned that Daniel had partnered with acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr and opened LE COUCOU on Lafayette Street in New York in June, 2016. A coucou, of course, is a bird, but it also describes someone who is, in Daniel’s words, “sweetly crazy.” Visit the restaurant and you’ll find that there’s nothing crazy about it – it’s a well-oiled machine – but the ambiance and crisply edited menu also evoke a relaxed “happy to be alive” attitude that never takes itself too seriously. Recognizing the refreshing attitude (and delicious food) of LE COUCOU, the New York Times awarded it three stars in a review that applauded Rose’s “modern take on French cuisine.”

Three stars it is…I would even suggest 4 stars. After all, the James Beard folks named it “The Best New Restaurant in the Country.”

Now, forewarned is forearmed: LE COUCOU is a tough reservation. You’ll need to book weeks in advance. However, you can finesse the situation by wedging yourself in at the “shoulder times” – 5:00-5:30, or 10:00-10:30. Not a problem for Joanne and me. We’re confirmed early birders. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve been up later than 9:00 PM in the last five years.

Something else to note: LE COUCOU ain’t cheap. But at the same time, it’s definitely not an exorbitant indulgence. Think of it as a “splurge night.” Lunch, by the way, would be an excellent way to save a few bucks while enjoying a wonderful dining experience – especially because this is a rare restaurant that’s just as attractive during the daytime as it is at night.

Where to begin, where to begin? So many excellent dishes.

Let’s start with the Lobster Tail with tomato and basil and a great salad ($34. Yeah, I know).

Joanne had my favorite: Pike Quenelles – feathery eliptoids of pikey mousse served in a decadent lobster broth of whipped cream and egg called Sauce Americain (and here I thought that was ketchup). She loved it. My wife was less enthusiastic, however, about the Buckwheat Breaded, Fried Eel, even though it was sauced with a delightfully aromatic curry vinaigrette.

Our friend, Michael, had the “show stopper.” Called “All of the Rabbit,” it was a three-course sequence beginning with a crusty panko-coated foie gras ravioli in rabbit leg bouillon, followed by the leg and thigh stewed with summer vegetables…and then two fork-tender medallions cut from the saddle. It was worth every penny at $43.

The Halibut Buerre Blanc was surpassingly creamy and buttery, and served over a bed of braised pickled daikon radish choucroute. $44 for a five-ounce portion, but the taste justified the price. Sure, some critics have argued that the butter sauce overwhelms the halibut. Not me: The more butter, the better.

And the list goes on….

Tripe with olives and green tomatoes (“Oh God, not that again!”) sounds awful; tastes delicious. If your dining companion won’t give you a taste of his Glazed Lamb Neck with Eggplant, Olives and Almonds, strangle him for it. Pan-Fried Sweetbread Lobes in a union of heavy cream, white wine, tomatoes, maitake mushrooms and tarragon are fantastic. Ditto the Duck with Cherries, Foie Gras and Black Olives. In the mood for Poussin? Order the whole roasted young chicken (28 days old).

My God, this stuff was good!

The Medallions of Beef were, as expected, spectacular. But what stole the show were the accompanying Oxtail Potatoes – thin, crunchy slices of potato glazed with juices of braised oxtail. (Let me tell you, there is NOTHING that won’t be improved by braising it with oxtail).

But…. it doesn’t stop.

We returned for BRUNCH.

Here’s what you need to do: Get the Buckwheat Crepe stuffed with Lobster and Poached Egg ($24). The Egg “Norwegian” – smoked salmon wrapped around a layer of cream cheese and a poached egg – all atop a bed of Arugula. Avocado Toast seems to be on every menu nowadays, but the LE COUCOU iteration sits on a grainy slice of buttered sunflower spelt toast with two poached eggs – a bargain at $18.

After a recent trip to Paris, I tried to introduce Eggs Murette at SALUT – a classic French country recipe of poached eggs in red wine with veal stock, smoked bacon and mushrooms. Edina would have none of it.

Ah, but LE COUCOU? In New York? From what I could observe, that may have been the most popular brunch item on the menu. (I may have to try again at SALUT).

Desserts? OMG. If you save room, get the Rice Pudding. DO! It’s in the same league as the world-renowned version served at L’AMI JEAN in Paris. Other choices include an impossibly rich Chocolate Mousse with 80% Cocoa Chocolate Shards shaved on top tableside and the surprising nod to Italy with the Baba Rhum with apricots and crème fraiche. But if you can only get one dessert (after the rice pudding), choose the house signature, CHILBOUST: a super-rich combo of vanilla, meringue, pastry cream and marinated cherries. YUM.

Our table also shared the Large Cheese Platter, featuring five generous wedges (that change daily). These selections are not supermarket-variety cheeses. They’re rich and pungent – some buttery beyond words. They’re SOOOO good. They don’t taste pasteurized (by American law) like most all American cheese. Do you suppose?

We left plump and happy.

I need a nap!



Not so much anymore, but in past years Joanne and I always planned some sort of festivity for New Year’s Day – usually a party centered around the Rose Bowl game, with “hair of the dog” concoctions central to the offerings.

The full phrase, actually, is “The hair of the dog that bit you” – meaning that if you over-imbibed the previous night, a wee dram of the same drink in the morning will soothe the nerves and calm the soul.

Originally, however, the phrase supposedly had nothing to do with alcohol. It’s thought to date back to ancient times in England or Scotland, where people believed that you could speed the healing of a dog bite by putting some of the animal’s hair on the wound.

Could be a bunch of hooey. But I told Joanne that if she ever gets bit by a dog on one of our walks around the lake, we’re going to give it a try.

I’m also reminded of Homer Simpson’s favorite toast: “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

No truer words were ever spoken to someone nursing a New Year’s Eve hangover. And no better drink has ever been served on New Year’s Day than a BLOODY MARY.

Where and how the world’s most famous brunch drink was born is subject to some dispute. But there seem to be a few prevailing opinions, none of which – or any of which – may be true.

One view is that in the 1920s, at HARRY’S BAR in Paris, Ernest “Papa” Hemingway took to drinking a simple concoction of vodka and tomato juice – nothing more. Such was his fame that it became an instant classic.

Others say that in New York City a decade or so later, the 21 CLUB and the KING COLE BAR in the St. Regis Hotel prepared Bloody Marys for the comedian George Jessel, who requested his with a celery stalk garnish and, some say, a dash of Worcestershire Sauce.

Garnishes, of course, are THE distinguishing feature of Bloody Marys, even though the spiciness of the mix itself can vary widely.

So this posting is going to be different from my others: It’s a “visual feast” of outrageous Bloody Mary garnish ideas for your New Year’s Day celebrations. Look at the pictures, read the captions, and seize the opportunity to knock out your guests with your creativity even as you nurse them back to health with your cocktail.

We’ll start with the simple foundations of the Ernest Hemingway and George Jessel iterations and proceed to the more bizarre and clever possibilities.

Somewhere along the journey, you’ll need to figure out just where the garnishes end and the buffet begins.

Enjoy – and Happy New Year!