I never knew there was such a thing as a “New York Steakhouse” until the late seventies, when one of my New York clients took me to THE PALM. Subsequent visits to Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky and Spark’s (notwithstanding the shooting of mobster Paul Castellano at their front door) and KEEN’S CHOPHOUSE caused me to realize that Minneapolis NEEDED a New York-style steakhouse…..thus MANNY’S.

All were good. All had similar menus, with great dry-aged steaks. All had a decidedly masculine vibe.

But one had an edge that was unique. That was KEEN’S CHOP HOUSE on 36th Street near 6th Avenue.

Founded by Albert Keen in 1885, Keen’s features all of the steakhouse clichés, starting with the nude painting over the bar…continuing with the clubby, masculine atmosphere of the dining rooms…reinforced by their PIPE CLUB…and – adorning the ceilings throughout the restaurant – a collection of 50,000 clay pipes belonging to celebrities like Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur and Buffalo Bill. The menu also touches the necessary bases of a New York steakhouse. To top it off, Keen’s has a ZAGAT rating of 4.5.

As New York magazine put it, “Keen’s is a bastion of urban carnivores fueled by single malts and expense account blowouts.” Expect steakhouse prices.

Meals begin with a retro touch: a supper club relish tray. We’ve followed with steakhouse favorites, including crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, clams & oysters, as well as a really good twice-baked Vermont blue cheese pastry puff ($15).

Salads are out of central casting with all of the usual suspects…all good.

Mains include a porterhouse steak for two, t-bones and filets, all with a puzzling red pepper garnish (why?). Keen’s also offers a great prime-rib hash crowned with a fried egg, a delicious buttermilk-brined chicken, lobster, and Dover sole.

Hot fudge sundaes, Bananas Foster and Key Lime pie form the core of the dessert menu.

But now things get interesting.

Keen’s is known worldwide for its MUTTON CHOPS………NOT lamb chops.

But first a little primer on mutton.

Definitions vary – even among experts – but it’s generally defined as the meat of a full-grown sheep that’s over one-year old. In this country, we prefer lamb. Mutton fell completely out of favor after World War II when our troops were fed canned mutton – and nowadays most people don’t even know what it is. Among those who do have an opinion, they think of mutton as tough old meat from old fat sheep: horrible smell, strong gamy flavor, and that lingering, wretched tallow-y aftertaste in your mouth. And they’re not entirely wrong about the gaminess. In fact, as early as 1918, Fanny Farmer wrote in her iconic cookbook, “Many object to the strong flavor of mutton.”

In other countries, mutton is used in spicy stews and curries or anything else that serves to mask the flavor. As the French say, “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”

Yet against such a negative backdrop, Keen’s not only offers mutton, it sells the hell out of it. In fact, Keen’s Mutton Chops – tender, delicious, utterly unlike the mutton of yore – are its signature dish.

WTF? Well, first of all, modern lamb, like chicken and beef, grows much faster and larger today than at any time in history. In the United States, sheep between 12 and 16 months are known as “yearling mutton.” I understand that Keen’s buys right on the cusp, sourcing 1-year-old sheep whose chops retain the wonderful flavor of lamb but are about two inches thick and weigh in at about 2 pounds. I’m also told that the meat is dry-aged to improve the flavor and enhance tenderness. Apparently, it’s also seared in a 1000-degree broiler before it is finished in a 500-degree oven. This is a perfect cooking technique.

Next time you’re in New York, you need to go to Keen’s and order the mutton. You might just fall in love with it. You certainly WON’T BE THE FIRST to do so.

WTF, Phil

A Visit to Gabriel Kreuther

Years ago Joanne and I took our kids to France and Germany. We flew Icelandic Air out of New York and landed in Luxembourg, which I believe at that time was the only place that the airline had the rights to land.

After two days, we left Luxembourg by car heading south for the ROUTE DU VIN (the wine road in ALSACE-LORRAINE), ending up in Strasbourg for a couple of nights before setting out on our wine tour. This, we learned, is where France and Germany collide. Situated not far from the Black Forest, Strasbourg is currently in France but sits right on the border of France and Germany. I say “currently” because for hundreds of years the city of Strasbourg has ping-ponged back and forth between the two countries. Since the end of World War II, it’s been part of France.

Road signs are in both German and French. Beer and wine are equally popular.

But the architecture in Strasbourg definitely leans German – almost Hansel & Gretel-like.

In the heart of the city lies the premier landmark of Strasbourg: The Notre Dame Cathedral, built with pink sandstone from nearby mountain quarries. A beautiful example of Gothic architecture visible for miles around, it was completed in 1439. Actually, “completed” may not be quite accurate because the south steeple was never built. Consequently, the asymmetrical form makes it unique among European Gothic churches. There are various theories as to why the south tower was never finished, but from what I can smoke out, the prevailing opinion was that the earth under the south tower couldn’t support the additional weight.

The culinary side of Alsace is just as fascinating, and a little weird…and a real treat.

The Alsatian dishes had a boldness and earthiness that was no doubt influenced by their German roots, while the French-influenced offerings demonstrated attention to detail, beauty, quality, and nuance. And then there were the “tweeners” – part French and part German…..WOW !!!!

Flash forward to this summer. Joanne and I had just landed in New York. It was around noon, and since we had no breakfast on our morning flight, we were thinking about where we might have a late lunch. I wanted to select a spot near our hotel at 41st and 5th Avenue.

Consulting my trusty Zagat Guide, I came upon a highly rated restaurant on 42nd street called GABRIEL KREUTHER. I had never heard of the place but it was rated 4.8 by ZAGAT. That’s really high.

Arriving about 1:30 PM, we were seated in the corner table (table #73), which was just fine and not busy. Not quite knowing the restaurant’s DNA, we began by puzzling over the bar menu. It was at once refreshing in its “Frenchie” offerings, while at the same time I felt it was looking for its voice – that is, until I saw the Alsatian section on the menu. Then it all made sense. Of course you could have two vastly different cultures and cuisines living together side by side as they have for centuries in ALSACE-LORRAINE. Frogs legs on the menu right next to liverwurst? “Mais oui!” and “yah, yah, der liverwurst, too.”

We started with the “Frenchie” stuff, including Lobster Croquettes ($15), Langoustine Tart, and of course a Foie Gras Terrine with duck prosciutto and porcini mushrooms (any one of those ingredients would get my vote, but all in one dish? Yes, please – and I’m not sharing).

Next, the German counterpoint: Sturgeon Tart over Sauerkraut, Liverwurst with pickled Kirbie cucumbers and grainy mustard ($19), and Kougelhoph (scallion bread) with creamy chive cheese ($7).

What fun!!!

Mains? The delightful counterpoints continued. Joanne opted for something French: Roasted Halibut with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Celery Root and Cockles. I took the Teutonic trail and ordered a large, turgid Country Sausage with Homemade Sauerkraut and Spicy Violet Mustard ($26).

We’re not done yet, folks. We needed to try the “tweeners” – half-German, half-French – and what better expression of the love-hate relationship between the two countries than a special featuring LOADS of white truffles atop cheesy German spaetzel. I don’t remember what it cost – I blocked out the memory – but I couldn’t resist.

Finally, a sampling of Artisanal French and German cheeses ($8 per piece; we had two), shared along with a Bleu Cheese Tarte with Fresh Figs and Balsamic Vinegar.

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Gabriel Kreuther until then, but I’ve since found out that he was born and raised in a little town just to the north of Strasbourg. After graduating from cooking school– the Ecole Hoteriere in Strasbourg, he worked at Le Caprice in D.C. for a year-and-a-half before returning to Europe. There he trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Switzerland before returning to the States to work for Jean George Vongerichten and at the helm at The Modern at MOMA in New York, before opening his own place.

What a pedigree, what an apprenticeship – and what a restaurant! No wonder we loved our meal there.



Junoon: Passionately Indian

I’ve always had a thing for Indian food, but living here in Minnesota, there just aren’t that many options other than a host of buffets (mainly for lunch) and none I’ve yet discovered that approach anything unique or special. Not that I’m a fine dining snob… all know better than that.

Now, Joanne and I have never been to India. And to be honest, I’m not that certain that I want to go. Several of our friends, who are seasoned travelers, report WILDLY MIXED and OPPOSING REVIEWS. Some wax passionately about the richness of the culture, history and landmarks.

Others can’t get past the rampant poverty and all the problems that come along with it. It’s said that if you have money – and ONLY if you have money – you can indulge in some of the world’s best hotels, equal to anything in New York, London, Bangkok or Hong Kong. You can also journey luxuriously by train (think THE ORIENT EXPRESS on steroids)…all of which insulate you from the conditions endured by many millions of India’s citizens. Even then, however, the country’s harsh realities present themselves. Yes, your hotel has state-of-the-art environmental protection, but step outside in a city like Delhi, and you’ll breathe air more polluted even than that of Beijing or Mexico City.

Will we ever visit India? I don’t know…I just don’t know.

But if I go, it’ll be for the food, because Joanne and I have been fortunate enough to experience really wonderful, stylish, clever and creative Indian cuisine, especially in London, where the huge influx of Indians and Pakistanis over the last several decades has created one of the richest dining scenes imaginable.

Our first experience was 25 years ago at the BOMBAY BRASSERIE, known for its bright and airy conservatory. This South Kensington restaurant is still a delight – and it’s still going strong.

More recently in London we’ve enjoyed AMAYA (in Belgravia), where dining theater is provided by three brass-clad Tandoori ovens right out front. The food here is outstanding – so good, in fact, that you can forgive the staff’s pompous attitude. We also love CHUTNEY MARY, now in St. James Place. The dining room here isn’t as dramatic as its old location on Kings Road in Chelsea, but the food is still as good. Keep CINNAMON CLUB (a little stuffy….but good) on your radar screen as well. Ditto for JAMAVAR on Mount Street in Mayfair. This is the first outpost of an acclaimed Indian chain, and it’s a knockout (If you go, request table #16 for two, in the corner).

Up until the last five years or so, New York didn’t seem to have much to offer in the way of interesting Indian cuisine.

But good news….we’ve discovered two possibilities that you might enjoy. The first is TAMARIND in Tribeca (check out my mention in my November 8th, 2016 posting, “LITTLE SPROUTS in the BIG APPLE”). I’ll do a major posting on TAMARIND in the next several weeks.

The other place that challenges Tamarind is JUNOON (pronounced U-NOON; I’m told that the name means “passion”). This Michelin-starred restaurant boasts a handsome, contemporary dining room lit in soft amber tones. These days, it’s considered un-PC to refer to cultures and countries from beyond our shores as “exotic,” so I’ll describe Junoon as worldly and intriguing, but its location actually IS kind of exotic: on a dark stretch of 24th Street just west of 5th Avenue.

The chef, Vikas Khanna, comes from Amritsar in the Punjab region of northwestern India, a tourist mecca and home of the GOLDEN TEMPLE.

The lengthy menu celebrates five distinct Indian cooking techniques:

TANDOOR….”white-hot” clay oven
SIGRI…open fire pit
TAWA….cast iron
PATTHAR….stone cooking

Our evening began with baskets of salty, buttery, garlicky NAAN plucked fresh from the white-hot walls of the Tandoori ovens and accompanied by a selection of exotic chutneys. Appetizers included a sharing dish of TANDOORI OCTOPUS with black garlic aioli, crispy potatoes and citrus wedges ($22). Another hit was EGGPLANT CHAAT, spicy hot crispy eggplant with tamarind chutney and – for those who can’t stand the heat – a cooling RAITA (yogurt, cucumber and mint) at $15. Another offering, not for the “faint-of-heart,” that we loved – and you should definitely try – was Tandoori chicken thighs and cashews and peppers called GHOST CHILI MURGH TIKKA (you probably know that the GHOST PEPPER beats out HABANEROS on the SCOVIL HEAT SCALE)… extra bowls of RAITA!…please !!…quickly !!!…now dammit !!!!! BTW, service was professional, polite and efficient.

Spices are so central to Indian cuisine that JUNOON has installed a special glass enclosed room on the lower level that’s used solely for the daily grinding and storing of spices. Ask your server and you’ll be escorted downstairs for a peek.

LAMB CHOPS were a real treat – effectively “tricked-out” with sweet potato puree, charred pineapple and Swiss chard ($39), as was a vegetarian dish called HARA PANEER KOFTA with mustard greens, paneer dumplings, preserved lemon relish and green chili for an extra kick (or should I say wallop?) at $23.


Now comes dessert, including a trio of seasonal KULFI (Indian ice cream); SAFFRON PHRINI, a Punjab treat of mango, rice, sugar and milk; and FALOODA, a sweet and creamy treat with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, rose syrup and pink peppercorn foam.

While Junoon’s meal enders were uniformly delightful (except for one medicinally flavored green ice cream), they’re somewhat out of the mainstream as western desserts go. In fact, they’re out of the mainstream compared to most Indian desserts. Wasn’t it food writer Calvin Trillin who observed that the preponderance of them “tend to have the texture of face cream?”

Does the POND’S INSTITUTE have a culinary branch in India????

Maybe so……maybe so…..


Paris, via the Lexington Ave. Line

Long before I ever heard of Keith McNally, I was a big fan of his restaurants. In my frequent travels to New York during my previous life, I was an early adopter and a regular patron of THE ODEON, his first big hit. Perhaps its combination of French bistro/brasserie fare reminiscent of LA COUPOLE in Paris, served alongside American classics, resonated with me. Maybe it was the energized vibe of the restaurant, or the big neon Edward Hopper-ish sign promising excitement. I remember being taken by its location – a desolate, barren and scary neighborhood called TriBeCa. What really floored me, though, was the fact that Odeon looked like it had been there forever. It just seemed REAL to me.

A few years later, he opened CAFE LUXEMBOURG in the culinary wasteland of the Upper West Side. This was the pioneer of what became Keith McNally’s aesthetic sweet spot: French bistros that faithfully evoke 19th century Paris – and I mean FAITHFULLY. As Pete Wells of the New York Times put it: “…not exactly the real Paris, but the way you remember it a year after taking a vacation there.”

Full disclosure: It was about this time that I was creating BUCA, and McNally’s attention to detail drove me to obsess over the minutiae of Italian immigrants’ homes and neighborhood restaurants – the plastic flowers, kitschy trinkets and gaudy Catholic icons. The bad plaster statuary and floral carpets. The Christmas lights left up year-round; everything a visual and cultural metaphor of a STATE FAIR FRINGED PILLOW. So thank you, Keith.

My next discovery of McNally’s genius was BALTHAZAR, the quintessential SOHO brasserie, right out of central casting…and today possibly the busiest restaurant in New York (with a branch now open in Covent Garden in London). It was here that I truly began to appreciate his attention to detail. Sure, other New York bistros had the obligatory Parisian ochre walls – but McNally’s were purposely stained to evoke years of exposure to a clientele of two-pack-a-day cigarette smokers. Then there were the mirrors – not clean and bright, but distressed with hopelessly damaged silvering. The mosaic tiled floor’s patterns were imperfect and patched – from the day they were laid. And McNally bathed everything in flattering Renoir-ish light.

PASTIS soon followed in what was then another culinary backwater, the Meatpacking District. Here he capitalized on all the bistro/brasserie clichés, including the requisite Parisian “egg and dart” facing on the zinc bar. And the “decorating hits” just kept on coming. New Parisian “touchstones” beyond Balthazar’s red leather banquettes and marred mirrors included mismatched chairs, a stamped and faux-soiled tin ceiling, and what would become a McNally signature decorative device: chipped and damaged Paris Metro subway tiles adorning columns and walls.

Oh, and the food was pretty good, too.

The hits came in quick succession…. the striking, subterranean PRAVDA VODKA BAR; SCHILLER’S LIQUOR BAR (best name ever?); and the impossibly cozy, always-satisfying Minetta Tavern. As the New York Times wrote, “…McNally is the restaurateur who invented downtown Manhattan.”

Then McNally dabbled in two Italian adventures: MORANDI, a trattoria; and PULINO’S, a pizza-centric venue that opened and closed after a short run, but was quickly reimagined as CHERCHE MIDI (see my blog entry dated November 2, 2016).

That brings us to AUGUSTINE, McNally’s newest bistro and his giddiest yet. Last week, our Parasole culinary team visited Augustine, housed beautifully in the restored BEEKMAN HOTEL not far from City Hall. Note the image of the dining room – an over-the-top and gorgeous accumulation of all the visual and sensual devices that have served him so well over the last thirty years, with the addition of Art Nouveau-style glazed tiles featuring hand-painted climbing vines, tiger lilies, peonies and poppies. Pay particular attention also to the use of mosaic floor tiles.

And if there are two of you dining at Augustine, get the corner table pictured (#62). On Saturday, we started with brunch at a window table (#91; #92 is also good).

Joanne chose the Cheese Soufflé, perfectly prepared and really cheesy with Gruyere and Parmigiano Reggiano, accompanied by a horseradish fondue ($19, but worth it).

This was followed by the Heirloom Beet Tartine with ricotta, watercress and toasted walnuts – a bargain at $10. The Heirloom Tomato Salad with fresh mozzarella and charred jalapeno vinaigrette, while very good, was a whopping $19. I had Eggs in the Hole with smoked salmon, arugula and lemon creme fraiche. Avocado Toast followed with poached eggs, tomato coriander salsa and sliced avocados atop grilled focaccia (best Avocado Toast ever; $16). Finally, a perfectly “serviceable” Eggs Benedict on brioche – just fine, but just Eggs Benedict.

The Parasole folks gathered again at 6:00PM for dinner, and to reach our table we had to fight our way through Augustine’s lively bar, filled even at that early hour with drinkers and diners.

Shared dinner appetizers began with Salt Roasted Oysters topped with salmon roe. I had the Beef Tartare with yuzu, nori and a quail egg, while one of our group opted to go “snout-to-tail” and ordered the Marrow Bones with oxtail ragout. Joanne, in my opinion, had the biggest hit: Chilled Watercress Vichyssoise, drizzled with chive oil and served with buttery miniature brioche croutons – just $10 for a generous serving. Two crispy salads came next: a lightly dressed Frisée and mixed greens…and a surprise: a Waldorf Salad. Not very French or bistro-like, but delicious nonetheless.

I won’t go through all of the mains. They’re all pictured and all good. But I will mention a few standouts, including the tasty, artfully plated Duck à l’Orange, featuring juicy slices of Grand Marnier-braised breast meat layered over turnips and greens, served with a side of duck confit and orange marmalade. I had the Steak Au Poivre – fork-tender and beefy (and, as Pete Wells said, “dry aged and tender without being floppy). It was served with a generous side of crispy pomme frites – double fried (or maybe triple fried) just like in France.

But perhaps the most interesting offering at our table was a side-dish: POMMES PRESSÉ: layers and layers and layers of wafer-thin potato slices, stacked on a bed of pureed Yukon Golds and served with garlic aioli and wild thyme. I don’t know how it was prepared, but I think they deep fried the whole thing.

Apple Tarte Tatin with salted caramel ice cream, a Dark Chocolate Terrine and a surprising plate of sliced Blood Oranges with mint leaves sent us all crawling back to our hotel.

Finally, I wondered, Why the name “Augustine”?

Was McNally playing with us? Is this the same Augustine as the St. Augustine that Stephen Greenblat cited in the New Yorker magazine, who in 370 AD, at age 16, had an “incident” in a public bathhouse? “Hardly a world-shaking event,” he writes, “…but Augustine did become celibate and perhaps even obsessed with human sexuality” causing him to believe “‘that there is something fundamentally damaged about the entire human species’” – thus Adam & Eve and Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin?

I don’t know. I was just wondering. What exactly did happen in that bathhouse?????


Estiatorio Milos

I’ve had the pleasure of vacationing in Greece on several occasions. And among the most memorable things about it was the pristine freshness of the fishermen’s catch. It didn’t smell like fish; it smelled like the ocean. That was the “driver” when I created THE OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM– that and the utter simplicity of the Greeks’ preparations: simply grilled or broiled, or quickly sautéed.
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