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Pete Wells Gives 3 Stars to Annisa

Pete Wells Gives 3 Stars to Annisa

This week, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells gives three stars to Greenwich Village’s Annisa, whose chef Anita Lo crosses borders with the food she serves.

He begins by raving about the rarity of her Spanish mackerel dish: “Take the stunner of a Spanish mackerel dish that I ate there a few months ago. After marinating in sweetened soy sauce, the fish is blistered under a hot salamander, flesh side down, until the skin is crunchy with a bittersweet char… In Hong Kong, she will pick up some fried milk, golden battered globes of squishy-soft pudding made from condensed milk. The oily mackerel could demolish the meek taste of milk with one flick of its fin, so she builds in depth by blending the pudding with mellow roasted garlic and, after a quick shopping run to Southeast Asia, fish sauce. For the brick-red paste beneath the mackerel she pops over to Seoul for gochujang, funky and unabashedly hot.”

Lo’s “free-form” cooking comes from her Asian background, explains Wells. Her mother is Chinese, from Malaysia; her father was Chinese, from Shanghai; but Lo was raised in Michigan by her mother and a non-Chinese stepfather.

“Ms. Lo will tell you that the taste of her mother’s cooking made its way into Annisa’s soup dumplings,” he says. “They have been on the menu from the beginning, and can still startle with their seductive filling of foie gras mousse in a thick, glistening broth seasoned with ginger, star anise and cinnamon.”

The restaurant’s space, Wells says, is just as “remarkable” as the food: “The dining room sits a few steps above Barrow Street, where you can watch terriers wearing warm jackets and disapproving expressions take their evening walk. The canine fashion parade is virtually the only distraction from food and conversation. Around 10 one evening, when a few tables had emptied, a friend asked a question nobody ever asks in most new restaurants: ‘Have they been playing music all night?’ Every week I get emails from readers who say they feel unwelcome in restaurants that have industrial noise levels, congested dining rooms, penitential chairs and subterranean lighting. Annisa is free of these annoyances. I don’t think anyone of any age who enjoys going out to eat would feel out of place there.”

In 2010, Sam Sifton gave Annisa two stars, calling it ‘rare and noteworthy,’ but Wells thinks the restaurant deserves a third star, which is quite a comback after the restaurant was destoyed in a fire in 2009 and was forced to completely rebuild.

“It’s still not easy to say what Ms. Lo’s style is, but it is hers, and hers alone, and the city is a more exciting place for it.”

For Wells' full review, click here.


The New York Times Gives Zero Stars to Locol

In what looks like a low blow, the New York Times sent its restaurant critic, Pete Wells, to Oakland, Calif. this week where he dropped a harsh review on Locol, the feel-good fast food chain from West Coast-based chefs Roy Choi (Kogi, Los Angeles) and Daniel Patterson (Coi, San Francisco). The restaurant — which is the second location of what the chefs hope will become a nationwide chain serving areas without access to healthful, convenient food — opened last May, four months after the first outlet debuted in Los Angeles.

Wells gives it zero stars, mostly because its food falls short of expectations: “The chili is the bean-and-ground-beef kind, which for some Texans is a deal breaker. I was more bothered by how hard it was to detect any spices other than a shadow of hot sauce. This was less like chili than like a slightly spicier version of the meat sauce my corner pizzeria pours over penne. Supermarkets sell canned chilis that are seasoned more persuasively.”

But Wells also takes issue with the service. A chicken noodle soup came with neither chicken nor noodles. (For what it’s worth, the restaurant’s menu calls the soup “Chicken NOodle Soup,” a play on words Wells seems to have missed.) On the day of his meal, Wells says, the restaurant was out of the dessert menu’s soft-serve ice cream. The critic enjoys the coffee (“it’s excellent”), the egg sandwich, and the roll sandwiches are served on, developed by noted SF baker Chad Robertson of Tartine fame. But Wells is less interested in the burger and, particularly, the chicken: “Like a McNugget, Locol’s chicken is an amalgam of chicken bits invisibly bound together,” he writes. “Inside a thin sheath of fried coating, this composite of ground meat is mysteriously bland and almost unimaginably dry. It can be had as a single patty between buns with coleslaw, as the Fried Chicken Burg, or in a paper cup, with barbecue sauce, as bite-size Chicken Nugs. But the best thing to do with it is pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Wells could have dined anywhere in Oakland, or San Francisco, or on the West Coast, or across the country, and it’s not clear why he chose to shine such a damning light on Choi and Patterson's fledgling project, which is as much of a social mission as it is a restaurant. On the other hand, his harsh observations aren’t empty of purpose. Wells points out that the Oakland Locol is located on a street where there are plenty of other food options, many of which are more delicious. He writes: “I understand why [Choi and Paterson] want to take on fast food, but in the neighborhoods they hope to reach it’s one of the few kinds of food available. Why offer less satisfying versions of what’s already there, when they could be selling great versions of something new? . Mr. Patterson and Mr. Choi seem to have thought about the social dimensions of fast food so much that they now see their target audience as problems to be solved, not customers to be pleased. The most nutritious burger on earth won’t help you if you don’t want to eat it.”


Restaurant Review: Eleven Madison Park in Midtown South

Will Guidara, center, leads the front of the house at Eleven Madison Park. Daniel Humm, his business partner, is the chef.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Will Guidara, center, leads the front of the house at Eleven Madison Park. Daniel Humm, his business partner, is the chef.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Since 2012, Eleven Madison Park has offered a single, $225 tasting menu with a New York theme.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Mr. Guidara became Mr. Humm’s business partner in the restaurant when it broke off from the Union Square Hospitality Group.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Mr. Guidara is working to establish a loose, entertaining tone in the dining room that sets Eleven Madison Park apart from its competitors.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Servers want to draw you out and make you an active collaborator in the fun. Here, the manhattan cart, stocked with mixers for the classic cocktail and its five variants to be stirred up at your elbow.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Mr. Humm is a neo-classicist at heart, a master of pruning the old-fashioned curlicues from the traditional haute cuisine of his training to make the pleasures more modern and direct.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

In one dish, cold oysters rest on ice pebbles and cooked ones sit on hot rocks.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

The restaurant tries hard to bring delight to the table with every course. It succeeds so often that only the most determinedly grumpy souls could resist. Here, Paul Downie, the general manager, prepares the lobster Newburg table side.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Lobster Newburg with baby button mushrooms and bibb lettuce.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Globes of celery root braised in a pig’s bladder, inspired by the classic French dish poulet en vessie.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

The white globe of celery root bathed in a truffled chicken reduction and set beside a circle of celery root purée that has been spooned over more truffles.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Chris Flint, the chef de cuisine, prepares a Waldorf salad.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Fondue served in a roasted squash, with a salad of bitter greens.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Cold foie gras layered with red cabbage and served in a wedge that looks like a slice of marbled Bundt cake.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Maple and bourbon with milk and shaved ice.

Credit. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

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Can a restaurant still succeed when it fails at what it says it wants to do?

This is not a question critics ask every day. But then the place in question, Eleven Madison Park, is not a restaurant where most of us would or could eat every day.

This, in fact, is one of the sticky issues raised by the drastic changes its two driving spirits, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, have made since its last review in The New York Times, in 2009. Back then, when Frank Bruni promoted it to four stars from three, most customers still selected three courses from Mr. Humm’s menu at a cost of $88. Today, lunch or dinner is $225 for more than a dozen courses. All but two are typically chosen by the kitchen. A few days in advance of a recent reservation, the head maître d’hotel, Justin Roller, sent an email warning, “Our tasting menu lasts approximately three and a half hours, so please plan your day accordingly.” The last time I got a message like that, it was from my doctor, shortly before my colonoscopy.

Meals at Eleven Madison now cost more, take longer and offer less variety from one week to the next. As might have been predicted, this took the restaurant out of regular rotation for many locals. Perhaps to make up for the loss of actual New Yorkers in the dining room, Mr. Humm and Mr. Guidara turned the restaurant into a theme park about the city. In its very early days in 2012, the result was the most ridiculous meal I’ve ever had.

Nearly every course began with a clunky, humorless history lesson about steakhouses, appetizing stores, clambakes, cheesecakes and even Times Square scam artists. The patter overshadowed and undermined the food. Notably, it had no voice, in a city full of them. “Three-card monte is now illegal, but along the same lines, we had a deck of cards made for us,” my server recited, before doing a magic trick. I never figured out how it was done, but the greater mystery was just why a restaurant charging hundreds of dollars for such kitsch would want to lecture diners about “hustlers and scammers.”

Some of this gab has been dropped, but not all. Even now, when any ingredient is grown in New York State, someone is sure to point it out. Hang on, New York has farms? And chefs can cook their stuff just like the ingredients I get at the supermarket? Wait, I need to write this down. Constantly mentioning the region only underlines the shallowness of Eleven Madison Park’s approach to it. (A server announced that the oysters grew “upstate” in Greenport, N.Y., which will be news to Long Islanders.) Mr. Humm doesn’t dig down into the natural and cultivated landscape of his region the way, say, Christopher Kostow, Sean Brock and Dan Barber do. He practices entry-level locavorism.

Objections like this buzzed before my eyes so insistently that at times they blinded me to what was going on in the soaring Art Deco space across from Madison Square Park. Which was: a roomful of people almost goofy with happiness. The woman dining alone with her camera shyly accepting an invitation into the vast and gleaming kitchen for a special course prepared a few inches in front of her the couple watching, as if seeing their first sunrise, a sommelier who removed a cork by melting the bottle’s neck with red-hot tongs the guests at my table going limp as they tasted a crazily good braised pork collar and cheek in a dark sauce that was like pig marmalade and finally even me, the overthinking picker of nits and finder of faults. Under the restaurant’s relentless, skillful campaign to spread joy, I gave in.

What Eleven Madison feeds your intellect can have the value of junk food, but what it feeds your mouth, stomach and spirit is something else. The restaurant tries as hard as any I know to bring delight to the table with every course. It succeeds so often that only the most determinedly grumpy souls could resist. Even the spoken intros have a role. They serve to tee up the surprises that emerge from the kitchen, which reliably turn skeptics into swooners, especially as Mr. Humm has axed some of his sillier gimmicks. (Back to Times Square with you, three-card monte.)

Image

More crucially to this restaurant’s intent, the patter opens a window between customers and staff. The dopey speeches work like pickup lines you may smirk, but at least you respond, and once you’ve done that, a conversation can start.

Mr. Guidara, a front-of-house man who rose to become Mr. Humm’s business partner in the restaurant when it broke off from the Union Square Hospitality Group, is a creative partner, too, working to establish a loose, entertaining tone in the dining room that sets Eleven Madison Park apart from its competitors. The servers are deeply attentive to details. As a manager told New York magazine, “It takes 10 months to learn how to pour water.”

The remote formality that typically comes with punctilious service has been banished. Servers want to make you an active collaborator in the fun. As Bacall said to Bogart, it’s even better when you help.

At the center of the collaboration is, of course, Mr. Humm’s cooking. He is, at heart, a neo-classicist, a master of pruning the old-fashioned curlicues from the traditional haute cuisine of his training to make the pleasures more modern and direct. This isn’t always clear when he is trying to keep up with path-blazing chefs like Grant Achatz and René Redzepi. But it’s the force that drives his best innovations, like globes of celery root braised in a pig’s bladder, inspired by the classic French dish poulet en vessie.

The white globes will be bathed in a truffled chicken reduction and set beside a circle of celery root purée that has been spooned over, guess what, more truffles. And Mr. Humm, always alert to opportunities for spectacle, knows that beyond forming an airtight vessel for steam, an inflated pig’s bladder shimmying around a copper sauté pan makes a great conversation piece in the dining room.

Recently, the cheese course packed into a picnic basket was retired. A fondue has taken its place, and it is both homey and spectacular. The serving bowl is a baked carnival squash and the utensil a hot, soft pretzel stick from the protean pastry kitchen. There is no homily about the glories of the street-corner pretzel cart. You are left alone to revel in the melted cheese, to mash the pretzel against cubes of sweet squash, and to imagine anything you like. I decided to imagine that the fondue came straight out of Mr. Humm’s upbringing in Switzerland, because it worked on my senses with the deep, soulful pull of a childhood memory.

There are no printed menus at the start of the meal, just a conversation led by the table’s captain. Once allergies and aversions are out of the way, two choices remain. One concerns the main course the other is about foie gras. Mr. Humm is a virtuosic handler of fattened duck liver, so either the hot or cold version is likely to produce altered states of consciousness. He brings out foie gras’s sweet and silky traits by layering it with braised red cabbage and serving it in a chilled wedge that looks like a slice of marbled Bundt cake its meatier and robust qualities come through in a seared slice under fried brussels sprout leaves and smoked eel.

Many people will choose no foie gras at all. I don’t know what you can give a meat-avoider to make her feel she’s not missing out as her dinner partner goes bug-eyed over foie gras, but the watermelon and goat cheese salad served to a guest of mine last fall was definitely not it. So much attention goes into the showstoppers that substitutions do not always measure up.

By now, a more glamorous alternative may be in the wings. Many things are in the wings at this restaurant, which is defined above all by its fluid movement into the future. The New York theme may wind down, though I hope the manhattan cart stays, stocked with mixers for the classic cocktail and its five variants to be stirred up at your elbow. Whatever new theme rolls to the table after that may be only partly baked, like the initial New York menu, but Eleven Madison Park’s true theme will stay the same: convincing you that you’ve been lifted to some better world until the man in the top hat outside whistles for your cab.


An Impresario Shines His Light on the Customer

Cherche Midi opened in June on the corner of East Houston Street and the Bowery.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Cherche Midi opened in June on the corner of East Houston Street and the Bowery.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Cocktails compete with French and Italian wines on the drinks menu.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

The dining room, which feels intimate, almost private, although of course every face is on display, bathed in light the color of apricot jam.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Restaurateur Keith McNally opened Cherche Midi in June and it may be his most thorough repudiation of the downtown scene.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

The dining room isn’t blaring music, like some restaurants in the neighborhood, giving diners the feeling they might have traveled back in time to a Continental restaurant off Sutton Place in 1964.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Shane McBride is one of two chefs sharing the work at Cherche Midi. Daniel Parilla is the other.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Frogs’ legs served in a green garlic velouté.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

The prime rib, served with a side dish of pommes soufflées, has edges with the intensity of the bark on great barbecued brisket.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Cherche Midi is so good with beef that even the best main courses may register as a half step down like this roasted chicken breast.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

Pot de fromage, an appetizer of Parmesan custard, which arrives with anchovy butter toast.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

The dessert menu is one argument after another for bringing back old-fashioned pleasures here, raspberry soufflé.

Credit. Ben Russell for The New York Times

We were halfway through appetizers at Cherche Midi, passing the steak tartare and spreading anchovy toasts with softly jiggly Parmesan custard, when one of my guests suddenly tilted his head and listened. He looked like the boy in a tornado movie who notices that the birds have stopped singing.

“There’s no music,” he said. “They have speakers all over the dining room, but they’re not using them.”

The restaurateur Keith McNally opened Cherche Midi in June on the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery, in a neighborhood where you don’t go out to dinner unless you are prepared to shout over some Pavement song the chef loved in college. But we were talking, with no recorded soundtrack, as if we were in some Continental restaurant off Sutton Place in 1964 eating veal Orloff by candlelight.

This is the paradox of Mr. McNally. Food writers who were still eating applesauce through a straw when he opened his first restaurant (the Odeon, 1980) write about him with the same reverence that music writers have for Leonard Cohen. He’s “the king of cool,” the restaurateur who “owns NYC.” Yet when it comes to current dining trends, particularly those in favor downtown, Mr. McNally shows a healthy disregard, verging at times on hostility.

Of the six restaurants he operates between 14th Street and Canal Street, Cherche Midi may be his most thorough repudiation of the downtown scene. It isn’t just music that’s missing. There’s almost no view of the street. Tapas, shared plates, tasting menus, wine pairings, “Chef recommends,” two-hour waits for a table the size of a chessboard — no, none of that. Nor did Cherche Midi’s servers try to tell me “how the menu works,” as if it were some complicated and expensive piece of machinery that I was likely to break.

In Mr. McNally’s restaurants, chefs are rarely treated like stars. At Cherche Midi, two men, Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla, share the work and the credit. As a result, perhaps, their cooking is almost egoless it’s not about what they want. It’s about what you want, especially if that happens to be red meat and French wine.

The prime rib may be the only dish at Cherche Midi that could be accused of trying to make an impression. The dark, roasted edges had the irresistible intensity of the bark on great barbecued brisket, even on the night they were aggressively salted. Lending this slab of dry-aged beef a bit of finesse is the side dish of pommes soufflées, like inflatable potato chips or, as one guest said, “gluten-free beignets.”

The menu gives three more main-course slots to beef. Steak frites does a fine impersonation of a Parisian bistro steak, the kind you don’t mind chewing and chewing between glasses of the house Beaujolais Villages, served at Cherche Midi in an $18 carafe. Filet mignon au poivre is far more tender, of course, with less sacrifice in flavor than usual. The tall, compact, rather lean, drip-free and wholly excellent burger is made from dry-aged prime rib if you put your nose close enough, you can smell the meat locker right through the aroma of onion-bacon jam. All three dishes come with dark, skinny fries.

Cherche Midi is so good with beef that even the best of the other main courses may register as a half step down: a pot of fat, clean mussels with bits of preserved lemon clinging to them a roast chicken done right a salade niçoise that pays attention to the last detail, including, in a wonderful departure from tradition, the pile of smashed potato salad at the bottom of the bowl.

Here and there, the kitchen tends to overembellish. The decent roasted salmon comes with a lentil salad that tries to do too many things at once, and limp white stewed onions and fennel did not give skate Grenobloise (billed as meunière) anything that it really needed. It would be nice, too, to taste the meat under the aggressive seasoning in the steak tartare appetizer, given the chefs are clearly buying good beef. At least it made a strong impression, which is more than I can say for the $18 heirloom tomato salad. Heirlooms from where, exactly? Food Emporium?

Still, unless you are coming to Cherche Midi to commune with the essence of summer, it is a good enough salad. The desserts are much better than that. The floating islands, the mocha pot de crème, the small pink raspberry soufflé hovering above a bed of warm berries — the lineup is one argument after another for bringing back old-fashioned pleasures.

After a recent tour of all his restaurants, I think Mr. McNally’s great talent may be knowing which things are worth worrying about and which can get by with being just good enough. At Morandi, the main courses were almost impressive in their mediocrity, but the pasta was just swell, which may be all the place needs to keep its chairs full. The short-rib patty melt was the only good dish on a table full of disappointments at Schiller’s Liquor Bar, but I enjoyed myself more than I have at far better restaurants.

There is a limit, though, and Balthazar is approaching it. The cooking, under Mr. McBride, has become utterly mundane, a pretty but flavorless imitation of French food of the kind found at any generic fake bistro. Cherche Midi’s salade niçoise is delicious from start to finish Balthazar’s is a bowl of ingredients that can’t remember what they’re supposed to taste like. How can the same chef and the same restaurateur be responsible for both?

Mr. McNally does worry about service, which at Cherche Midi manages to be everywhere without crossing the line to helicopter waitering. And, of course, he worries about the interiors. Cherche Midi’s is lovely. Outside is a dystopian intersection. You’d never know it in the dining room, which feels intimate, almost private, although of course every face is on display, bathed in light the color of apricot jam.

For three decades, Mr. McNally has been rooting around in the same Lego kit: distressed mirrors, chipped subway tiles, bottles backlighted to look like stained glass. In his hands, these well-worn tricks give restaurants the battered nobility of a vintage Saab. When anyone else tries, they end up with a 1986 Ford Escort. Sets and lighting will never be the whole show.


Nine Women of Color Who are Changing the Food Industry

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It is no surprise that white males dominate the positions of prominence in the food industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, only 19.6 percent of the head cooks and chefs in America were women . Compare this to the 54.5 percent of women that make up the food industry as a whole— bartenders, dishwashers, line cooks, and servers. The data shows that while women make up a majority of the food sector, men continue to hold the positions of higher esteem.

The 2016 winner of the James Beard Foundation Awards alone, which honors achievement in the American food and drink industry, women made up 25 percent of the nominees and only 9 percent of those women were women of color .

Despite these statistics, women of color are making strides as chefs and food business owners across the country.

Food Tank has come up with a list of women of color who are reshaping the food industry and shining a light on a group that is so rarely recognized.


New fridge gives you recipes based on your soon-to-expire food

Samsung has revealed a next-gen version of its Family Hub smart refrigerator that can give you recipes based on what’s inside your fridge.

The genius kitchen appliance promises to help you plan meals using personal info on food preferences, diet restrictions and even food expiry dates.

The new model is an evolution of the original Family Hub fridge from 2016 and is now on show at this week’s CES 2018 Las Vegas tech show.

It boasts a double-door American style design that includes a large touchscreen display, plus interior cameras that let you check up on your fridge using a smartphone.

The headline feature of Samsung’s latest model involves syncing up your food storage with meal preparation functions — like recipe suggestions.

But there’s also a new Deals app that helps you find great bargains and save them to your virtual Shopping List, or a loyalty card.

The fridge also connects to a host of other Samsung SmartThings smart devices, if you’ve paid out for them.

For instance, you can use the fridge to see who rang the doorbell, adjust your thermostat and even check on a sleeping baby in the next room.

Samsung has even built its own Bixby digital assistant into the fridge.

Like Amazon Alexa, Bixby can be controlled by your voice and can help you out with daily tasks.

Ask “Hi Bixby, what’s new today?” and she’ll read out news, weather and calendar updates.

By learning your voice, Bixby can even tell you apart from other family members and give you personalized content — like your own daily appointments.

Speaking about the new fridge, Samsung’s John Herrington said: “We’ve been listening closely to current users and created a new Family Hub that’s even smarter and more advanced than before.”

He adds that the latest model is “bringing a new level of intelligent connectivity” into the kitchen.

The new Samsung Family Hub also works as an entertainment center, using the large display and AKG speakers for video and audio playback.

Samsung has partnered with a host of companies to serve content to your kitchen, including HomeAdvisor, Pinterest, The Weather Company and even Buzzfeed’s Tasty.

Samsung says the new Family Hub will be available this spring, but pricing is still a mystery. Previous models have priced between $2,500 and $5,500 so it won’t come cheap.


Money, discipline, and numbing hard work

Over a century ago, two French tire manufacturers accidentally created the world&rsquos preeminent food guide. In 1895, Édouard and André Michelin designed the first detachable car tires. To get more wheels on the road (Michelin wheels, of course), the well-to-do brothers of Clermont-Ferrand published a guidebook of hotels and fuel stops in the French countryside in 1900. Restaurant recommendations increasingly came into play, ushering in a ranking system that prevails to this day: One star&mdash&ldquoa very good restaurant in its category&rdquo&mdashtwo stars&mdash&ldquoworth a detour&rdquo&mdashand three&mdash &ldquoworth a special journey.&rdquo

Soon enough, the Michelin pivoted from motorists to gourmands, and today it is the world&rsquos gastronomic atlas. Of course there&rsquos Zagat or the World&rsquos 50 Best Restaurants. But Michelin, with its secret inspections and romantic, open-road inception, resonates deeper with public imagination. And its global reach is incomparable. After its 20th century conquest of Europe, the guide ventured across the Atlantic to the United States in 2006, and then to Japan in 2007. It now covers 25 countries worldwide.

&ldquoWe remain true to our roots with the intention of helping travelers and localists get around to find people to find a place to eat and sleep,&rdquo says Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guide. &ldquoWe&rsquore going to continue to plant the Michelin flag around the globe. Asia is of particular interest. It’s really economically dynamic, with very strong and deep food culture that is sometimes centuries old.&rdquo

For many in the restaurant biz, landing a Michelin ranking is the ultimate triumph. It lifts the red velvet rope and ushers a restaurateur into the vaunted club of Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. It can also springboard a chef into a full-blown celebrity. &ldquoThose three stars that you can get, they can give you a platform,&rdquo says Juliette Rossant, author of Super Chef: The Making of the Great Modern Restaurant Empires. &ldquoSome chefs reject that because they’re passionate about cooking. But some are tantalized by the power and profit that’s inherent in the whole machine that gets created by the celebrity of a chef.&rdquo

Of course, there were celebrity chefs before Michelin. They emerged from obscurity in the 1960s, when the likes of James Beard and Julia Child debuted on television, catalyzing America&rsquos emergence from the dark ages of post-war frozen food. But Michelin helped egomania reach new levels. From the fiery f-bomber Gordon Ramsay, to plate-throwing empire-builders like Joël Robuchon, who has racked up an unparalleled 31 Michelin stars internationally, chefs find that one star can explode into a galaxy. &ldquoIt creates chefs that have huge egos&mdashsometimes way too big,&rdquo Rossant says.

&ldquoI think they all have healthy egos at the top. You kind of have to to say, &lsquoOkay we&rsquore gonna be the best restaurant in New York,&rsquo&rdquo says Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times. At the same time, a lot of the pot-slamming perfectionism that shapes public perception of upscale kitchens comes from television. Holding on to three stars, as Lung King Heen has done for ten years, takes tremendous amounts of money, discipline, and numbing hard work, and doesn’t always take the form of the expletives thrown around on the Food Network.

&ldquoHonestly a real show that was just behind the scenes, it would be so boring,&rdquo says Wells. &ldquoIt would be the worst television show ever.&rdquo


Guy Fieri Times Square Eatery Skewered by NYT Critic

His restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, received a scathing review from NY Times critic Pete Wells yesterday. The three-story, 500-seat restaurant was awarded no stars on the Times' zero to four star grading scale.

In what some are calling his harshest review ever, Wells asks Fieri a series of questions.

"When you cruise around the country for your show 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,' rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it?" he asks.

Following it with, "Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy's American Kitchen & Bar?"

Wells describes the Cajun Chicken Alfredo as "ghostly nubs of unblackened, unspiced white meat" and the nachos as "deeply unlovable."

He dubbed the watermelon margarita a mix of "radiator fluid and formaldehyde."

The onslaught of questions follow, including "When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?"

The restaurant's manager told ABC News, "It seems less factual, and more personal than I feel was necessary."

This isn't the first bad review of the restaurant. Popular food website Serious Eats posted a less harsh, but still critical, review of the restaurant in September.

Pete Wells told ABC News he stands by his review.

Susan Collins: Infrastructure negotiations 'the test' that 'will determine' whether Biden, GOP can work together

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Mini Muffin Frittatas

Ingredients

  • 2 large chard leaves, center ribs removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt for the blanching water
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4-6 shiitake mushrooms (1.5 ounces total), minced
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon of dried crumbled oregano
  • 2-3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • Equipment needed:
  • Two 12-well mini-muffin tins, greased with a little butter or olive oil

Method

Heat a couple quarts of water to boiling in a pot. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water. Add the chard leaves to the boiling water. Boil until just tender, 2-4 minutes. Remove from pot and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze out excess water. Then chop finely and set aside.

Melt butter in a small sauté pan on medium heat. Add the minced shallots and mushrooms. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms are soft. Stir in the oregano.

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Stir salt and pepper into the beaten eggs. Pour eggs into a measuring cup with a pouring edge or spout to make it easier to fill the wells of mini-muffin tins. Fill the wells a quarter of the way.

Distribute the mushroom shallot mixture, chard, and feta in even amounts throughout the muffin tin wells. Then top with the remaining egg mixture.

(160°C) for 20 minutes. If you want, finish by browning under the boiler for a minute or two, until lightly browned.


What the Critics Are Saying About Vespertine, Jordan Kahn’s New Tasting Menu Experiment

This summer, Los Angeles chef Jordan Kahn debuted Vespertine, a self-described “dinner experience in four acts.” In the lead-up to the Los Angeles restaurant’s July opening, Kahn likened the Eric Owen Moss-designed building to “a machine artifact from an extraterrestrial planet that was left here like a billion years ago by a species that were moon worshippers” a press release declared Vespertine “a spirit that exists between worlds” and completely indecipherable photos of objects that Vespertine promised were actual photos of dishes on the menu raised several questions.

Until now, what exactly has gone on in the place of “shadows and whispers” that is Vespertine has been a bit of a mystery, thanks in part to a strict no-photo policy. But, critics are finally weighing in on the ambitious fine dining experiment, and they have feelings.

See what the critics are saying below, and stay tuned for updates — we’ll incorporate more reviews as they materialize.

The Oddest Dish in America News

At Vespertine, LA Times critic Jonathan Gold found the oddest dish in America. The fish course, he writes, “nudges the idea of culinary abstraction dangerously close to the singularity. It looks rather like an empty bowl, coarse and pebbly inside and out, of a blackness deep enough to suck up all light, your dreams and your soul.” And for Gold, the oddness doesn’t end with that dish. "You are not sure exactly what you are eating. You are not meant to know. You have traveled from darkness into light, and that is enough,” he writes.

While Gold doesn’t reveal whether or not he thinks Vespertine is bad, he does note, “Almost all good Los Angeles restaurants have a sense of place and time, fashioned from local produce, a sense of season and a nod to the diversity of the area. At Vespertine, you may as well be on Jupiter.”

Ultimately, as a restaurant, Vespertine is confusing. “I still have no idea whether Vespertine was designed to function as a restaurant or as an architectural folly by Eric Owen Moss a dining room or an art installation a showcase for the ceramics of Ryota Aoki or a stage for an extremely ambient soundtrack by the Texas post-rock band This Will Destroy You, three or four thrumming notes that will follow you around for hours,” Gold says. He concludes: “It's not dinner it's Gesamtkunstwerk.”

The In a Four-Star Bind News

LA Weekly restaurant critic Besha Rodell awarded Vespertine an impressive four out of five stars, despite “feeling trapped” and “worn out” by the “repetitive” meal on a first visit that was marked by service “so blank and stark and cold.” But, on a return trip aboard the Vespertine ship, although the “discordant sonic groan” that is the Vespertine sound track was unchanged, there were smaller portions, fewer courses, and “imperceptibly warmer” service.

This shift “was enough to humanize the experience — which as a result was less alien, the spell of the performance broken. But it also was less silly and more comfortable and . better,” according to Rodell. However, while the current dining experience at Vespertine is more pleasurable than in its early days, the sense of otherworldliness the restaurant promised is missing, and Kahn fails to meet Vespertine’s “metaphysical aspirations.” Rodell writes: “Kahn might be in a bit of a bind: Either Vespertine is not weird enough, or it's so weird that it ceases to be fun.”

Photo by Jeff Elstone, courtesy of Vespertine

The Looks Better Than it Tastes News

New York Times dining critic Pete Wells shared his “preliminary impressions” of Vespertine — but, note, this is not one of his rare starred reviews of restaurants outside of New York. His reasoning: “Writing up my preliminary impressions seems more appropriate than a full starred review for a work that is explicitly, intentionally in progress, one whose aim is to do something restaurants haven’t done before.”

Despite his refusal to rate the restaurant with stars, it’s clear that Wells is not Vespertine’s biggest fan. He admires Kahn’s attempt to “wrestle [his cooking] away from familiarity.” He enjoyed puzzling over the best way to consume the 17 inscrutable courses. But, the aesthetics of the food were more impressive than the actual eating of it. “I remember the way my meal looked much more vividly than how it tasted,” Wells writes. “Mr. Kahn is letting his gifts as a sculptor and colorist, which are real, get the upper hand.”

Vespertine, Wells says, “gets inside your head,” and in this respect, he admits, Kahn knows what he’s doing: “Anybody inclined to paint the restaurant as a steaming pile of pretentious nonsense will find that Jordan Kahn, Vespertine’s chef and overall impresario, is standing there with a an open paint bucket and a brush.”

The Most Depressing Dinner News

An early review from Gary Baum for the Hollywood Reporter described the experience of dining at Vespertine as “intentionally joyless.” The restaurant, Baum writes, “specializes in depressive haute cuisine” and “presents itself as a citadel of monastic-apocalyptic meditation, rejecting the age-old ideal of special-occasion restaurant as place of celebration.” But at times, “moments of envisioned awe manifest themselves,” as with the sea urchin course, which, according to Baum, “verged on the spectacular.”

Baum visited Vespertine on the fourth night of service — a night when Kahn stood at the elevators “[asking] for understanding as the kitchen finesses toward intended perfection” — and the mostly negative review, published just weeks after opening, was met with criticism from fellow food writers, like Rodell who explained why she waits to review in an essay for in an essay for L.A. Weekly, writing, “the first few weeks of a restaurant are not reflective of what that restaurant will be like over the course of its life.

In a second piece for THR, Baum defends the controversial early critique. He writes that Kahn has likened dining at Vespertine to a performance, and performances are usually reviewed on opening night. Plus, if a restaurant is charging money for the experience it offers, it should be ready to be judged on that experience — “Especially considering the restaurant in question: One which will only accept a reservation that's paid in advance (to the tune of a minimum of $250 per person, although in reality each diner will end up paying closer to $500 or more) without divulging basic details of the experience, including its menu,” Baum writes.

The Just Another Tasting Menu News

Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt recounted her Vespertine experience in her weekly newsletter, where she called it “the most interesting new restaurant in years.” Kludt had hoped Vespertine “would live up to its promise of being different in a meaningful way.” But, although the four-and-a-half hour dinner contained moments of joy and some beautiful bites, in that respect, it failed.

While Kludt commends Kahn for his “serious and moody and austere” point of view and creating a style of plating that is unique, she notes that the experience doesn’t break out from “the usual tasting menu trappings” apparent at “Vespertine’s modernist cohorts around the world.” She says, “It’s not boring. But neither is it a paradigm shift, nor a peek at a ‘time that is yet to be.’”

According to Kludt, Kahn is simply not the genre-busting artist the early hype made him out to be: “Kahn is a talent. He’s not the James Turrell of gastronomy.”

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The Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience News

Yelpers, however, are (mostly) raving. The amateur critics on the user-review site have called Vespertine “unique, beautiful, and delicious,” “a wonderful sensory dance,” and a “one-in-a-lifetime meal.”

Just a few Yelp reveiwers weren’t fans of the “deliberately un-instagrammable” dishes at Vespertine. One calls it “creative but unnecessarily complicated,” and another compares it to “alien food.” But, according to one “seasoned foodie” Vespertine isn’t about the food, anyway: “It is about escape and surprise, sensation and suspension of disbelief, and most importantly, it is about obsession.”

The Not For Instagram News

Two staffers from Infatuation LA attempted to document the full Vespertine experience in an Instagram story. They got caught and scolded by “space emperor” Kahn, but not before sharing shots of the moody interior and noting that Vespertine is a “miserable, dark trap.”

In the site’s subsequent review, Brant Cox gives the ultimately “dull” experience a rating of 3.2 out of 10. “Walking into the main dining room is like walking into a funeral where everyone’s been told they can’t cry. It’s dark, dreary, and lifeless,” he says. “No one is talking or smiling or even pretending to be enjoying themselves.” And the food, he adds, isn’t incredible enough to make up for it.


Watch the video: Eating for a Living: Life as a Food Critic (October 2021).