Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fit For A Queen?

An article in April's Gourmet magazine reiterates a statement originally made by its editor in chief, Ruth Reichl, in March 2005- "At this moment, London is the world's best place to eat." Having made a recent trip to London, I can attest to the fact that the food is much more appealing than it is oftentimes made out to be on this side of the pond, but stating that it is the "best in the world" is rather bold, and in my opinion, unexplained. Gourmet fails to make available to its readers the criteria used to determine how it came to this conclusion. Why is London currently the best place to eat? Is it the birthplace of a culinary innovation? How do presentation, flavor, atmosphere and price factor in?

Severely jet-lagged after a long flight from New York's JFK Airport, I met up with a friend to commence our tour of London with lunch and afternoon tea at the St. James's Restaurant located on the top floor of Fortnum & Mason. While I wouldn't recommend indulging in dishes as filling as risotto and gnocchi when your body clock is telling you it's 7:00 a.m., the atmosphere was relaxed (far above the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus), and the food was appetizing.

Cream of cauliflower soup with chive oil- St. James's Restaurant

Roasted pumpkin risotto with sage and parmesan- St. James's Restaurant

Potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms and truffle veloute- St. James's Restaurant

Lemon sole 'normande'- St. James's Restaurant

Tea- St. James's Restaurant

In the days that followed, we sampled meat pies, puddings, and fish and chips in London's innumerable pubs. We chatted with vendors and satisfied our cravings at Portobello Road Market where the food is plentiful and is layered with complexity that is unrivaled by New York City's food stalls (I'd do almost anything to avoid a water-soaked hot dog).

Chocolate and almond tarts- Portobello Road Market

Rustic fruit tarts- Portobello Road Market

Dried fruits and nuts- Portobello Road Market

Variety from the "Olive Bar" buckets- Portobello Road Market

Seafood paella- Portobello Road Market

When we wanted to branch outside of the traditional British fare and experience something a little more sophisticated than Portobello Road Market, we hit up the Cinnamon Club for an Indian inspired menu and Zuma for sake cocktails and Japanese cuisine. The menu at the Cinnamon Club proved so memorable that I purchased the restaurant's cookbook and persistently attempt to recreate Vivek Singh's masterpieces in the comforts of my very small Manhattan kitchen.

I have learned over the years that taste, particularly when it involves food and restaurants, is entirely subjective. That being said, my idea of what makes something "the best" may not always mesh with someone else's. Many of the dishes I tasted while visiting London were bursting with bold flavors (is this what makes them fit for a Queen?), but I certainly would not categorize my overall dining experience as being "the best in the world" - especially without providing an explanation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Terminal, Revisited

Angels & Demons is set to hit theaters May 15, 2009. One can only assume that in the coming weeks Tom Hanks will be quite busy making the obligatory rounds on all the major talk-shows. After spending time at the JFK airport this week, I think Tom should leave the movie's promotion to Director Ron Howard and carve out time in his schedule to remake his 2004 hit, The Terminal.

In the original movie Tom plays Viktor Navorski, a man trying desperately to leave JFK for his home in Krakozhia, but he finds himself stuck in the airport day after endless day. Fastforward five years to 2009 and picture the revamped version of The Terminal (we can call it- "The Terminal, Revisited") with JFK's new JetBlue terminal, T5, as the setting. With the quality and number of new restaurants in T5, I can't imagine why Viktor would ever want to leave for Krakozhia. He could easily pass the time devouring flavorful Italian dishes from AeroNuova, learning to roll sushi from a menu created by Buddakan's Michael Schulson at Deep Blue Sushi, and ultimately fall in love with a flight attendant who bears an uncanny resemblance to Catherine Zeta-Jones over a filet and a beer at 5ive Steak. With 23 new food and beverage outposts in T5, "The Terminal, Revisited" is sure to be a box-office success. Now I just need to figure out how to get in touch with Tom Hanks...

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Few Wise Words From Public Enemy

Excited by the buzz generated from an endless number of positive reviews and by my affection for all things bread, I set out for lunch with a friend at Jim Lahey's new pizza restaurant, Co. After a fumbling waiter finally came over to acknowledge us, my friend chose the Boscaiola ($17) and I settled on the traditional Margherita ($13). The menu warns that Co.'s pies are not always round (nouveau or too bothersome?), but what it and the waitstaff neglect to tell you is that there is an unnecessary lag time between the arrival of each pie. Without explanation, the Margherita arrived at our cramped table a full 10 minutes after the Boscaiola. When we finally sampled both pies we concluded neither were overly impressive. Jim Lahey is a celebrated bread baker, so we expected the dough -at the very least- to be above par. Unfortunately the dough is nothing more than ordinary. It is commonplace for pizza in New York City to have thin, crispy crust. Co.'s pizza dough is thin, as expected, but the edges of our pies were overly charred and the underbellies lacked the crispness needed to balance the weight of the toppings. We paid our bill (rather exorbitant for 2 individual sub-par pizzas and shameful service) and resigned to the notion that Co.'s pizzas are edible (how many times have you met a pizza that isn't?), but definitely not buzz-worthy.

A tight circle prominently reigns as the culinary elite in New York City, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when mediocre restaurants with a public figure attached (enter investors Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Phil Suarez) continuously receive the highest accolades. While it is not surprising, it is disheartening. Overhyping a less than stellar restaurant does a major disservice to hungry, paying customers. So, as a warning to all those who are planning to eat at Co. sometime in the near future, I refer you to the poetry of Public Enemy- "Don't Believe The Hype." And for your viewing pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP2tyZu0lqs

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Drink To Consumerism!

My friend's husband once told me I am a prime example of consumerism at its finest...an advertiser's dream.  Today, I wholeheartedly agree with him.  

Last week I made a quick stop to pick up hummus and pita bread at my local Whole Foods, and was suckered into tasting a free sample of Naked Juice's Green Machine juice.  It was the bold "Superfood" label on the front of the bottle that lured me in, and the delivery of an all natural nutrient packed sweetness that hooked me.  I left Whole Foods with one small bottle (to sip on my walk home), one large bottle (to feed me super powers through the rest of the day), and one tub of hummus (apparently I was too dazed by the taste of apple and kiwi to remember the pita bread- one of only two reasons for making the trip in the first place).  After a week and several empty bottles of Green Machine later (yes, Naked Juice, your marketing campaign is working!), I continue my obession with fresh juice, but on a much grander scale.  This morning, I became the proud owner of the $300.00 Breville Juice Fountain Elite and $30.00 worth of fresh fruit.  Somehow, during what some refer to as the "worst economy in decades", I justified needing it- and now, a drink to consumerism!