Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco): Bacon, Oysters and A Beer

If you, like me, head to the Ferry Building each time you come to San Francisco, you’ll know the problem that lies ahead.

After all the honey sniffing, cheese poking and book browsing you’ve done, a question inevitably arises: Where to get a lovely drink and nibble with a sweeping view of the water and Bay Bridge?

If it’s anytime after 4:30 p.m. or so and you’d like a comfy spot in the Ferry Building — good luck. Some of the places there have such terrific happy hours that you’ll be battling swarms of commuters and tourists all looking to belly up.

On a recent visit, however, my friend Matt had a better plan. Outside, on the Embarcadero, he started going north, pushing head-on into thick gales determined to blow us back. After a few minutes, our struggles were over when we came upon a little shack of a building.

From the palm trees plastered on its side and the kitschy neon sign that said “Pier 23,” I knew this would be the perfect spot …

Continue reading

Cheddar-Pecan Crisps: Bubbly-Friendly Bites

Summer always brings much to celebrate — delicious pies, sandy beach picnics, sunny farmstands plump with fresh produce.

This July, we have one more thing to toast: the second anniversary of Let’s Lunch, a monthly Twitter lunchdate that began two years ago when three women from Paris, San Diego and New York gathered online over a sudden — and monstrous — shared craving for BLTs.

Since that first lunch, the group has expanded — the Let’s Lunch bunch now includes folks from ParisSydney (yes, Australia), St. Louis, and more. To mark the many feasts we’ve had, we decided to devote July’s lunch to nibbly bits that that go well with champagne.

What to make? I decided to pull out an old favorite …

Continue reading

Buvette: Chicken, Au Courant

It is never easy to lose something you love.

For me, this moment in New York restaurants occurred in late 2009, when the storied Pink Teacup, a soul food spot that had drawn celebrities ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Mick Jagger (and had the autographed photos plastered on its walls to prove it) suddenly shuttered after 55 years. For years, this sleepy rose-hued cubby hole along slender Grove Street in the West Village was my go-to place on many a weeknight and lazy Sunday afternoon. Strawberry pancakes, smothered pork chops and — in my opinion — the best fried chicken in New York, the Pink Teacup had it all. Astronomical property taxes and rising food costs ultimately sealed its fate, however. (The restaurant has since reopened in a different spot but the scene — massive, clubby and loud — is different and sadly, so is the fried chicken.)

Just over a year later, a new restaurant has shoehorned its way into the old Pink Teacup’s sliver of a space, however, and it could not be more different. Billed as a “gastroteque,” Buvette, by chef Jody Williams (formerly of Morandi and Gottino), is a lot of things its predecessor was not. Packed with a crowd that looks as if it would be completely at home on the set of “Gossip Girl,” the place is French, constantly burbling with loud chatter, downtown chic and anything but homey and comforting.

When chef Simpson suggested we check it out, I was instantly dismissive. Surely, I couldn’t possibly like my old sweetheart’s replacement. Why waste my time?

Curiosity is a powerful thing, however. And soon enough, I found myself reluctantly sliding into a seat at Buvette’s jammed bar …

Continue reading

Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


IMG_4959 

Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

Continue reading

Jeffrey’s Grocery: A Restaurant Owner’s Take On Takeout


IMG_5705

Late at night in New York's West Village and we find ourselves perched on high stools at Jeffrey's Grocery — the slender bar counter is packed with the young and in the know, this being only the restaurant cum market's second night of existence, after all. And the thick hum of chatter all around almost lulls you into a stupor.  

Quickly, wine is ordered to stave off the yawns. Gabriel Stulman, the owner of the place, saunters over, looking pleased with the crowd, happy to chat about his new endeavor, which he has called “our best vision of a fifties mom-and-pop local grocery.”

Stulman first rose to New York culinary fame in 2005 as a partner in West Village favorites The Little Owl and Market Table. (He's since divested himself of his share in those restaurants.) Since then, he's opened Joseph Leonard, an American place named for both his grandfathers, and is expanding his footprint further in the Village. (Jeffrey's Grocery, named for his father, is the first of two restaurants he's opening in the West Village this fall. The other, Fedora, is slated to debut as a "1930s-style supper club.")

With a produce refrigerator that is the first thing you see as you walk through the door and shelves packed with cereal, pickles and Sriracha sauce, the place does feel like a decades-old grocery store — sans mustiness, plus a bar counter. The menu has lengthy lists of cheeses and meats and a decent raw bar selection; sandwiches are fairly basic — well, if you consider lobster rolls and braised brisket sandwiches basic.

What's popular on the menu at Jeffrey's Grocery so far? It's too early to tell. "We've only been open … 48 hours?" Stulman says.

What he does go on to tell us is where he eats when he's not at one of his restaurants …

Continue reading

Riverpark: American, With A View


IMG_5628 

The first sign that the newest Tom Colicchio restaurant in New York City is going to be a little different pops up the moment we step out of the cab at 29th and First.

The desolate street is so brightly lit it feels like we've dropped into an oddly quiet lull in a tense Cold War movie. It is discombobulating, to be sure — especially when we spy a sentry eying us suspiciously. He points, indicating that we should just keep walking down the road. And soon enough, signs of life appear when another uniformed guard toddles out of a tall metal building. The man is frantic, waving his hands and saying over and over, "NO pictures allowed."

This is a science park, after all, and Alexandria Building, the structure we've been snapping, houses a host of biotech tenants such as ImClone, the subsidiary of pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly that handles cancer research. The tenseness and growing paranoia persist until you walk across the stark silver lobby and come upon the warm glow of a sign that says "Riverpark."

And that's when you start to feel relieved. You're in the right place after all. Your camera hasn't been ripped from your hands and stomped on. Scully and Mulder haven't appeared. (Not that Mulder would be an unwelcome presence.) You've not been grabbed, shoved into a black sedan and spirited away.

You step into the restaurant and quintessential Colicchio starts to take over…

Continue reading

The 12-Hour Bolognese


CIMG0728

I used to think Martha Stewart was high maintenance — but that was before I encountered Heston Blumenthal.

Yes, the man — chef/owner of the three Michelin-star Fat Duck in Bray, U.K. — is a molecular gastronomy genius responsible for tongue-boggling dishes like powdered anjou pigeon and scrambled egg and bacon ice-cream.  

But let’s take something like, say, bolognese, one of the most basic dishes in classic Italian cooking. It should be fairly easy to make … well, except that this is Blumenthal we’re talking about.

His bolognese recipe includes this instruction: “Cook for at least six hours.” And this would be taking place after a good two hours or so of cooking and prep work.

By the time my Blumenthal bolognese was done, it was 4:30 a.m. and the ragu had taken a total of 12 hours to make. I was mad at my oven, my bolognese — while also plotting a trip to Bray to give Blumenthal a piece of my mind.

But then I had my first spoonful of the ragu, a rich and muscular concoction that was beefy and hefty but also so, so, so sweet. Each morsel had just the slightest hint of licorice and the beef was so tender that I wondered if it was possible that I was actually feeling it melt on my tongue.

It was, in short, a joy to eat.

Continue reading

La Derniere Goutte (And A Lovely Discovery)


CIMG4928 

When in Paris, we wanted to do as the Parisians do.

Or rather, given our limited French, what some expats in Paris do.

And so we found ourselves wandering the streets of St. Germain in search of La Derniere Goutte, a little wine shop my friend Barbra, a former and soon-to-be-again Parisian, had recommended.

Continue reading