Writing about restaurants and books, wine and theater, art galleries and museums

Monthly Archives: May 2014


Eataly class

Eataly class

I recently took a cooking class at Eataly.  It was taught by Fitz Tallon, the executive chef of Eataly and since it was entitled “Spring at the Greenmarket”, the chef put the menu together based on ingredients that were available in the Union Square greenmarket that day.






Cheese course

Cheese course

First we had a cheese course.  Nothing to cook here, this was a little amuse bouche.  The plate had a prune jam, and three cheeses:  Drunk monk (a cheese washed in brown ale), brebis blanche (a young sheep’s milk cheese) and Shushan snow, a soft camembert style cheese.

Asparagus with Zabaglione

Asparagus with Zabaglione

The next course was asparagus and some ramps with a zabaglione of parmesan and black pepper.   I learned that ramps and wild and never farmed and that the stems and peels of asparagus can be saved and used for a puree.  Both ramps and asparagus have a very short season in New York.



Monitor showing stovetop

Monitor showing stovetop


Farrotto with Swiss chard and mushrooms

Farrotto with Swiss chard and mushrooms

The next course was a farrotto with baby Swiss chard and mushrooms.  A farrotto is like a risotto, but made with farro instead of rice.  I learned that when you want to sauté mushrooms, you shouldn’t add salt to the them–that will make them release liquid.  And, don’t add the mushrooms to the pan until the oil is super hot to the point of being smoky.  This helps to prevent the mushrooms from just soaking up all the oil.  And finally, don’t move them around in the pan right away–let them get golden.

Stuffed squid

Stuffed squid

The main course was grilled stuffed calamari over baby turnips and turnip leaves. We were shown how to clean and cut the squid, prepare the stuffing, and how to cook the baby turnips and greens.

Dessert was an apple strudel.

With the meal we were served three wines:  They were all wines I was not familiar with but really enjoyed.

A white wine made from the vespaiolo grape

Velenois, Passerina Brut NV

Velenois, Passerina Brut NV

A sparkling wine from the Marche region that is a great alternative to prosecco or cava.




Crotta di Vegneron, Chambave Rosso

Crotta di Vegneron, Chambave Rosso







And a light red wine from Northern Italy (Valle d’Aosta) that was paired with the squid.


I opened a bottle of  St. Supéry 2012 Estate Sauvignon Blanc this past Memorial Day weekend.

St. Supery is a family owned winery in the Napa Valley. They have two vineyards—the Rutherford property where they grow cabernet sauvignon and the Dollarhide Ranch where they grow Bordeaux grape varieties particularly cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The “Estate” Sauvignon Blanc is their entry level sauvignon blanc. It is made from 100% sauvignon blanc grapes and there is no oak contact—fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. They also make a sauvignon blanc labelled “Dollarhide Estate”—that one is a little pricier and sees some oak aging.

The Estate wine was delicious—a crisp white wine which was perfect for a warm afternoon. There was nice citrus flavor, grapefruit was present but not overpowering and it was complemented by notes of tropical fruits. I noted some herbs and spice, but not cat’s pee. The wine had a nice intensity, moderate acidity and 13.5% alcohol.

Sauvignon blanc grapes are also grown in France’s Loire Valley (e.g. Sancerre), Bordeaux (usually blended with semillon) and New Zealand.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate called the St. Supery a big, fruity white displaying lots of exotic melon and buttery citrus notes in a fruit-driven, front end-loaded, light to medium-bodied, clean, pure style. Best drunk over the next several years. (86 points)

Natalie MacLean gave it 90 points and suggests pairing with cheese, shellfish, Caesar salad, and corned beef and cabbage.

The suggested retail price of the wine is $20.00.  It is available at Union Square Wines for that price.  You can also find it at these places.

Most stores seem to be out of the 2012 and are now stocking the 2013.  Sherry Lehmann has the 2013 for $15.95.  K and L Wines has the 2013 for $14.99.




Though the restaurant Mission Chinese Food closed last autumn, you can now enjoy their greatest hits.  Mission Chinese Food is doing a pop-up behind Frankie’s Spuntino in Brooklyn.  It started as a one night pop-up in April, and then kept going.  It continued a couple of days a week in May.  And now they are continuing in June on assorted Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Danny Bowien and team have brought their dragon with them and it is now decorating the ceiling of a room out back in the garden behind Frankie’s in Carroll Gardens.  The old illuminated menu board from the Orchard Street restaurant and some of the wall decor are also there.


The menu is fixed priced:  $40 per person, though there were a couple of supplemental add-ons available for the table  (crispy pork peking style or salt n’pepper king crab legs, the night I was there).  In addition to the eight courses on the menu, we were served two other courses:  a red cabbage with toasted buckwheat and anchovy vinaigrette and a ramen noodles (no broth) with peanuts, scallions and fennel seeds.
The food was as good as ever.  My tongue was numb and my lips were burning from the wings.  I enjoyed the cucumbers and the eggplant dishes on the cold platter.  I loved the crunchy kasha in the red cabbage and the slight hints of licorice when I bit into a fennel seed in the noodles.  Also pleasing was the smokiness of the bacon and the texture of the rice cakes.  It was like the old Mission Chinese without the wait (they take reservations by email).


Rice porridge

Rice porridge

Cold platter

Cold platter

Chicken wings (after we started eating them)

Chicken wings (after we started eating them)

Salt fish fried rice

Salt fish fried rice

Mapo tofu

Mapo tofu

Tennessee bacon and rice cakes

Tennessee bacon and rice cakes

Kung pao pastrami

Kung pao pastrami

Market greens

Market greens

Red cabbage

Red cabbage

Ramen noodles

Ramen noodles

I spent the afternoon in Chelsea.  It is a great place to see art.  There are about 350 galleries and they are so concentrated that it is easy to walk from one to another.  Many of the exhibits are as good or better as any museum shows and they are all free.  Sometimes the doors are barely marked and you can’t tell what is behind the opaque glass.  You just have to take a chance and walk right in.  On my most recent visit, I only covered the territory between 18th Street and 22nd Street.  Here are some highlights:

Sterling Ruby at Hauser and Wirth, 511 West 18th Street

Hauser & Wirth opened this gallery space in the from Roxy nightclub space less than 2 years ago.  But it has been recently announced it is going to be torn down and a high rise condo building will be built here.  In the meantime, to enter the gallery, you must walk up an extra wide flight of stairs with striking stripes on the walls.   Through July 25th, the large gallery space is housing the works of L.A. artist Sterling Ruby.  I’m familiar with him as a sculptor, but the show includes spray paint paintings, fabric collages and cardboard collages.  The sculptures are monumental in size.  They employ a wide variety of materials, colors and styles.

The most striking is the cup:

The Cup by Sterling Ruby

It is about 10 feet tall.  The sculptures stands out first because of its bright red color.  But then one notices that the red looks like bloody viscera that repulses, as if Ruby has just binge-watched the TV show “True Blood”.

I had a similar dual reaction to another work, Big Yellow Mama:


Big Yellow Mama by Sterling Ruby

At first, it looks like a large Alice in Wonderland type chair for children to play on, but then I realize it is more like an oversized electric chair.

The Hauser and Wirth show includes a ceramic “Basin” sculpture like the works of Sterling Ruby that are currently included in the Whitney Biennial.

BASIN THEOLOGY/2C-T-XX by Sterling Ruby

Glenn Brown at Gagosian Gallery at 522 West 21st Street

Glenn Brown at Gagosian Gallery

I don’t know anything about Glenn Brown and wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked into the gallery where I have seen amazing museum quality shows of artists like Monet, Picasso, Frankenthaler and Rauschenberg.  At first it didn’t look like something I would enjoy, but the more I looked, the more I found myself drawn into these colorful, yet grotesque paintings and scuptures.

A few examples:

The show is on view until June 21st.

Tom Duncan at the Andrew Edlin Gallery, 134 Tenth Avenue

Also on view until June 21st is the Tom Duncan show at the Andrew Edlin Gallery. The show features sculptural assemblages, both large and small, inspired by Duncan’s childhood memories. I liked many of these works, especially the small ones, most of which were sold.

Works by Tom Duncan

No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984-1989 at David Zwirner Gallery

Cologne/New Show at David Zwirner Gallery

Another museum quality show is at the David Zwirner galleries on 19th and 20th streets.  It features artists who showed in both New York and Cologne between 1984 and 1989 and includes works by Americans Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Jenny Holzer, and German artists Albert Oelen, Gunther Forg and Walter Dahn.  Many artists included in the show have been the subject of  recent solo museum shows in New York, such as Cindy Sherman, Christopher Wool, George Condo, Martin Kippenberger, Rosemarie Trockel, and Mike Kelly.  The show is on view until June 14, 2014.


I spent an afternoon wandering through Chelsea galleries. One of the stranger art exhibits I came across was in the David Zwirner Gallery space at 519 West 19th Street.

The artist, Oscar Murillo, who lives and works in London, has been called “a 21st century Basquiat”. Best known as a painter, Murillo has somehow installed a fully functional candy-making factory, workers and all, in the gallery space.murillo factory

Murillo is originally from Colombia. His hometown is home to the factory of candy manufacturer, Colombina, and many people in the town, including Murillo’s parents, worked at the factory.

Now, when you open the doors to the gallery, you first see racks of candy packages.


The desk of the gallery workers has the usual literature on the exhibit and is also half covered in more packages of candy.

When you turn away from these candy wrappers, the first thing you see is a multi-screen video display,


A couple of the screens show a conveyor belt of chocolates.

The room opens up into a warehouse like space, in the middle of which sit containers of unwrapped candies and more wrapped candy


Along a side wall are Jeff Koons limited edition Dom Perignon boxes each with a drawing by Murillo inspired by a Jeff Koons balloon.


On another wall, there is an unexplained framed job application of Belisario Caicedo Florez, dated September 20, 1982.


But all the action is going on behind some shelving units full of boxes. Through the gaps, I see people in white uniforms and head coverings presumably at work making candy.


I am not allowed to go into the back factory area.  Visitors are allowed in the factory in back between 1 pm and 3 pm when the workers are not making candy.

Gateway to the back room

Gateway to the back room

The gallery press release says: “by turning the gallery into a fully operational production site, [Murillo] opens up for consideration not merely . . . trade and globalization, but also . . . individual relationships and communities, roots and immigration.” Roberta Smith of the New York Times has a mixed review of the show.  She says “there’s little that doesn’t feel obvious and generic in this laborious re-creation of life as art.”  And while she finds the show overly “warm and fuzzy”, she says that the effort “deserves some credit for exposing, with unusual directness and resonance, the gaps created by race, class and nationality in an art gallery, one of the world’s more privileged spaces.”

For New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, the show just represents one big disappointment. He points out that 28-year old Murillo is already selling artworks for a few hundred thousand dollars each, yet most people haven’t heard of him and don’t even know what his art looks like. Saltz was hoping to see paintings. He’s “not a chocoholic” and he doesn’t even “really like marshmallows”.

Did I say that viewers are allowed to take as much candy as they want? The candies are chocolate covered marshmallows, the signature candies of Colombina, called Chocmelos. The candy wrapper says “Made in Colombia by Colombina”—but it also says “Produced as part of A Mercantile Novel, 2014 by Oscar Murillo at David Zwirner Gallery”.

The show is fully immersed in social media, with it own website, Instagram, Twitter account and Facebook page.

It is not the first time that candies have been featured in an artwork. Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is perhaps best known for his 1991 sculpture which consists of a pile of individually wrapped candies on the floor in a corner of a room. Viewers are invited to take a piece of candy—making the art work something which changes and eventually disappears. The piece was a representation of the artist’s partner who was dying from AIDS.

Portrait of Ross by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz makes giant paintings from chocolate syrup or sugar and then photographs them, turning the works into something more permanent and a more manageable and saleable size.

Vik Muniz chocolate painting of Pollock

In 1961, the artist Piero Manzoni packed his own excrement into cans, signed them and sold them as art. Supposedly, no one opened the cans to verify the contents. They wanted to ensure that they maintained their value as art objects. In 2014, however, I opened the Oscar Murillo candy wrapper, removed the candies and gobbled them down.



Understanding Wine: Spain

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) has recently made its internal wine training program available to the public at Institute of Culinary Education. The 10-week course, entitled “Understanding Wine: a Course for Enthusiasts and Professionals,” is the same one that the Group’s sommeliers have gone through.

A friend of mine is taking the course and, because she is out of town, I got to sit in her seat for last night’s class covering Spanish wines.

The course is led by John Ragan, the Wine Director of USHG, which includes restaurants Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, and The Modern. Ragan is a Master Sommelier (one of only 135 people in North America) and has received a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service. For last night’s class, he was joined by Andrew Rastello who works at Gramercy Tavern and recently passed the Advanced Sommelier level.


I received a warm welcome when I arrived. I was given a glass of fino sherry to sip before the class got started and I served myself a plate of cheese, olives, almonds, grapes and ham to accompany the tasting and make sure the wine doesn’t go straight to my head.

Before starting the material on Spain, there was a discussion of a few general issues. One question discussed: In a restaurant, when is it okay to send a wine back? The answer: Of course, send back a corked bottle and we also should feel comfortable sending back a bottle that was recommended by the server or sommelier that is not what we wanted. And if a wine is really not what someone expected, restaurants like those of USHG may even accommodate those customers with a new wine. The restaurant can do many things with the unwanted bottle—incuding using it for staff training or pouring it by the glass.

Spanish Wine

After a quick look at the map and a run through of the classifications of Spanish wines, we began a tasting of 8 wines, which would take us through the regions of the Basque Country, Rias Baixas, Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Priorat and Jerez. For each region we got a look at things like climate, soil, and vine growing method. For the tastings, we went through, as a group, a discussion of appearance, nose, taste of the wine.   We used a framework which divided nose and palate into categories of “fruit”, “earth” and “other” (flower, vegetable, herbs and spice). We also discussed the structure of each wine: its acidity, alcohol level, tannin and body.

Then we went though possible pairings for each wine with Rastello giving examples of pairings with dishes on Gramercy Tavern’s menu.

Blind Tastings

The tastings included an interesting side by side blind tasting of two wines. They turned out to be the same wines from the same producer except that one was a “Reserva” while the other was an older “Gran Reserva”. While more people seemed to prefer the Gran Reserva, there were plenty in the group who preferred the less expensive Reserva.

American vs. French oak

Rioja wines are known for their use of American oak. In order to contrast American oak with French oak, we were given cups of Bourbon and Cognac to smell.

Rioja vs. Ribero del Duero

We tasted two red wines from the Rioja region and one from the Ribero del Duero. All three wines are made from the Tempranillo grape. I’ve been a big fan of Ribero del Duero wines, and this tasting confirmed my preference for these wines over the Riojas. We tasted a 2010 Emilio Moro wine which was more fruit forward and youthful, with less notes of American oak , than the Riojas we tasted. Unlike Riojas, we were told, Riberos are meant to be drunk young—there doesn’t seem to be any indication that they will get better with age.


The first wine we tasted was a Txakoli—a bracing, lightly effervescent white wine from the Basque country. In the Basque country, it is cheap and plentiful. It’s served in big water glasses—sometimes poured from high above the glass for show. Like water, it is served all the time regardless of what is being eaten. I’ve been noticing txakolis on wine lists lately and it’s been served to me in some wine dinners recently.  I admit—I’ve had a hard time taking this wine seriously. Should it be? It included as one of our three white wines (not counting the sherries). And, it was quite well-received by the class. I’m going to look into this some more—Stay tuned for more about Txakoli next Wednesday!

So, I have to thank my friend for giving me the opportunity to take her place. It was a real pleasure to have the perspective of these two high calibre restaurant professionals. The class was informative, it featured a range of wines and focused on tasting skills.  And the wines were delicious—I didn’t spit out a drop!

 ruthozeki-1-largeA Tale for the Time Being is Ruth Ozeki’s third novel, after My Year of Meats and All Over Creation. It was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.

The main character is also named Ruth Ozeki and her life bears a lot of resemblance to that of the author. Ruth, the character, lives on a small island off the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada, where she finds a plastic bag containing a diary of a Japanese teenage girl washed up on the beach. The novel alternates between a narrative of Ruth’s life, as she reads the diary and tries to find out what happened to the girl, and the first person narrative of the diary itself.

Within this framework Ozeki plays some games with time. The diary is written in a notebook that had been has been made by replacing the pages of Proust’s book “In Search For Lost Time” with blank pages.  In a Guardian newspaper interview, Ozeki said “I think that all writing is in search of lost time.”

The girl calls herself a “time being”. In fact, the girl’s name is Nao—pronounced “now”. The girl is addressing the diary to a reader—putting them in the same time zone—the present. But, what Ruth is reading is history and for the girl, her reader is someone in the future. The girl may not even be alive—did she die in the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami? Did the girl kill herself, as she indicates she may do in certain passages?

Nao’s story is quite harsh. She is the victim of brutal bullying from other students. Teachers seem to be complicit and her parents oblivious. Nao moves away from school and home into a world of Japanese culture that seems quite bizarre—from cafes where the waitresses are dressd as French maids ready and willing to indulge their customers fantasies and fetishes to the life of Nao’s great-grandmother who lives in relative isolation as a buddhist nun and in which Nao encounters the supernatural.

Ozeki’s characters are dealing with displacement and disconnection. Ruth, the character, like Ozeki, has moved from New York to British Columbia to be with her husband, but after years there, she still doesn’t feel at home. She and her husband are not always able to communicate well. Nao has spent much of her childhood in northern California and has only recently returned to her country of birth. She was never fully American and now is being taunted as an outsider within Japan.

The novel explores suicide—through Nao’s father, who tries unsuccessfully to kill himself, through Nao who contemplates it, and through Nao’s great-uncle who was a kamikaze pilot in World War II. There are also explorations into technology—as we see how the internet affects both Nao’s story and Ruth’s investigation into what happened to Nao. We learn about enviromental issues, quantum physics and garbage floating on the oceans gyres.  In a Bookslut blog interview, Ozeki has said “the whole idea of a time being is a being that has a limited amount of time . . . So this negotiation around how much time we have . . . and the way we live our lives as a result of the way we think about it — these are very important things in the book. And so it does make sense to me that there are so many characters contemplating the end of their life in one way or another.”

 At the end of the book, Ruth is having trouble finding traces of Nao and her family on the internet. Also, she has seen items on the internet that seem to have disappeared. It turns out that someone in the book may removing specific personal histories from the internet—particularly useful when the history is embarrassing or the includes the result of humiliating pranks of bullies. I thought of this part of the book when reading about the EU’s recent ruling that people can have links removed from Google.

There was some lovely writing and some interesting juxtapositions and expositions in “A Tale for the Time Being.” But the themes were sometimes too disparate.  At times, particularly when the story verged on the surreal, I had to struggle to make it to the end.