festivals and events
raves and reviews
the sweet scoop
the sweet scoop
Wednesday kicks off the 21st annual New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, and my excitement over heading down to the Big Easy for all the food, fun, and festivities is overwhelming.
It was an absolute honor to be invited to be one of the judges of the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off—a yearly cooking competition where celebrated local chefs create their most delicious signature dish showcasing fresh Louisiana seafood in all its glory. Helping select a winner will surely be a tough task, considering the caliber of chefs competing. So am I ready for the challenge? You bet! I may even pack my elastic waist pants.
Last year, chef Keith Frentz of Lola restaurant won over the judges and was crowned “King of Louisiana Seafood” for his “Friday Lunch Special,” a cornmeal-dusted wild Des Allemands catfish with Camellia red beans and local crawfish succotash, braised collards, and homemade tartar sauce (get the winning recipe here). And on Saturday, one of these talented ten will snag the coveted 2013 title. It’s thrilling to be able to play a role in this year’s Cook-Off excitement — wishing all participating chefs the very best of luck! Really looking forward to meeting you and trying each of your dishes.
Image courtesy of LouisianaTravel.com
It was another thrilling year for the New York City dining scene, and last night, Time Out New York held their annual industry awards honoring the best new restaurants, bars and chefs. “It’s been an incredibly exciting year for food and drink,” shares Mari Uyehara, TONY’s Food & Drink editor. “Sensational new restaurants opened on Madison Avenue and in the West Village, but also in Bushwick, Flushing and Red Hook. It also brought national superstars, celebrated cookbook authors and daring upstarts to town. Our roster of winners reflects the astonishing range of drinking and dining experiences in New York City right now.”
Taking over the spacious Stephen Weiss Studio, the 2013 Food & Drink Awards paid tribute to the city’s culinary finest in a grand celebration attended by top toques, restauranteurs, mixologists and industry insiders. Before the winners were announced, guests sampled bites from nominated spots, including L’Apicio, Pork Slope, Dear Bushwick and Gran Electrica, and sipped prosecco, Stella Artois and Frederick Wildman cocktails—all while eagerly anticipating the results.
TONY’s food-obsessed readers voted for their faves out of 40 nominees to determine ten winners in the Readers’ Choice categories—top honors included Best New Restaurant (The NoMad), Chef of the Year (Daniel Humm), Best New Italian Spot (Perla), Best New Cocktail Bar (Pouring Ribbons) and Best New Bakery (Ovenly). Additionally, ten Critics’ Picks were presented, in aptly named categories ranging from Best Big-Pimp’ Brooklyn (Blanca) and The New Nordic Wonder (Aska), to The Same Same But Different Award (Pok Pok NY) and The High Rolling Stoner Sushi Award (Chez Sardine). You can check out the full list of this year’s winners here.
Many congrats to all the winners and nominees!
On Tuesday, the Village Voice’s sixth annual Choice Eats tasting event took over the 69th Armory on Lexington Avenue. The highly anticipated affair featured Voice food critic Robert Sietsema’s culinary favorites from more than 50 handpicked restaurants spanning the five boroughs, along with beverage pairings from craft beer, wine and spirits producers.
As if all this wasn’t enough, VIP guests were invited inside a full hour before general admission for a live culinary demo from City Grit’s Sarah McSimmons and offerings from a dozen local restos including Pig and Khao, Qi Thai Grill and Exchange Alley. VIPs also indulged in the exclusive “Choice Sweets” dessert lounge featuring confections from Butter Lane, Grandaisy Bakery, Ovenly, and more.
A few of the night’s many standouts included Anella’s velvety handmade burrata with tomato jam and basil salt, fresh seasoned shrimp rolls from both Luke’s Lobster and Red Hook Lobster Pound, tangy buffalo chicken balls from The Meatball Shop, Porchetta’s savory crackling-topped pork crostini, John Brown Smokehouse’s succulent pastrami sliders with sweet ‘n’ tangy slaw, moist red velvet squares from Carlo’s Bakery, and perfectly indulgent fudge brownies from Robicelli’s. A selection of suds from Blue Point Brewing Company, Lagunitas and Stella Artois, along with creative cocktails mixed with Sidney Frank spirits and Prairie Organic Vodka, helped wash it all down.
Whether you prefer savory, sweet, spicy, ethnic, Americana, inventive, classic, vegetarian or carnivorous, Choice Eats aims to please any palate. And with a surprisingly reasonable ticket price point, the bang-for-your-buck appeal is just another reason to attend the eating extravaganza next year.
Thursday night, the 5th annual New York City Wine and Food Festival kicked off with two of the weekend’s most anticipated events. And though I would’ve loved to witness food royalty roast Anthony Bourdain, the Italian in me couldn’t bear the thought of missing one of my favorites—Meatball Madness hosted by the lovely Giada De Laurentiis. “This is the best Meatball Madness ever,” Giada exclaimed about the ‘always sold out’ event, which is in its fourth consecutive year.
The large-scale tasting showcased dozens of the city’s best chefs, who rolled out their version of the perfect bite. Hundreds of meatball maniacs packed into SoHo’s 82 Mercer to sample 36 different types of saucy spheres—in styles ranging from traditional Italian polpette with tomato gravy to pretzel-stuffed Austrian balls and Spanish oxtail albondigas.
Judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian and Anne Burrell, along with Pat LaFrieda and Mark Pastore of sponsor La Frieda Meats, crowned Gabe Thompson of the soon-to-open L’Apicio the night’s big winner for his Amatriciana version. The carnivorous crowd also casted their votes and Donatella Arpaia snagged the coveted People’s Choice Award for her mother’s classic recipe of melt-in-your-mouth tomato braised veal meatballs.
Aperol Spritz cocktails, a selection of vino and sparkling San Pellegrino refreshed partygoers, while a display of cake pops from pastry hotshot Johnny Iuzzini provided some sweet relief. Meatball Madness started off the NYCWFF in delicious fashion and everyone seemed to have a ball—while devouring dozens!
So much to eat, so little time. New Orleans is one of those over-the-top eating cities that brings out the glutton in everyone, in the most delicious way possible. And no matter how many multi-course meals I’ve savored, po-boys I’ve put down, or pounds I’ve packed on, I always leave the Big Easy craving more.
A few short days in that sinfully tempting town never seems to be enough. I mean, how can I possibly hit up all my favorite NOLA standbys (starting the day with beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde, bellying up to the Acme Oyster House bar for raw oysters and the charbroiled variety at Royal House, sucking down Bloody Marys and barbecued shrimp at Mr. B’s Bistro, indulging in the ultimate pork supremacy at Cochon…) and expand my eating horizons at the same time!?
Since I’m always on the hunt for new flavors, places and experiences, it was essential to find the time and stomach space (in between several New Orleans Wine & Food Experience events and tastings, I may add) for a little culinary exploration while in the area. Here are a few of the incredible new discoveries and mouthwatering highlights from my recent trip:
Hungry for a standout meal outside the French Quarter? Head a few blocks due south to this elegant, modern bistro located in the up-and-coming Central Business District. Everything about Ste. Marie feels fresh and current — from the chic industrial decor, to the extensive list of Champagnes and sparkling wines, to the menu of refined French fare made with locally sourced ingredients. Since opening in early 2011, this NOLA gem has been firing up flavorful dishes such as escargot with bone marrow, tempura battered soft-shell crab BTL, velvety three cheese crawfish mac, and the best Moules Frites this side of the bayou — plump mussels nestled in a thick white wine garlic broth spiced with fiery chorizo, topped with a heap of thin cut fried potatoes to soak up the sauce remnants at the end. Très magnifique!
Contemporary and inviting, Ste. Marie impressed in all the right ways — definitely one to add to your New Orleans must-try list. And when you do stop by, ask for Miles and tell him I sent you ;-)
‘Local Ingredients, Global Inspiration’ is the philosophy behind this highly anticipated Hotel Monteleone newcomer. Criollo (the Spanish word for Creole) pays homage to the unique blend of cultures and influences that comprise Louisiana cuisine, with an ingredient-driven, seasonal menu boasting the region’s bounty of fresh seafood and produce. Chef de Cuisine Joseph Maynard delivers inspired dishes — like refreshing Gulf shrimp, blue crab and avocado layered over spicy tomato coulis, and savory herb marinated chicken paillard with sunchoke slaw and grilled Celeste figs — that pack the bold flavor punch New Orleans is famous for, executed with elegance and finesse to suit today’s contemporary tastes.
Standout service and spot-on wine pairings added to the overall enjoyment of my lunch at Criollo, and I’m already anticipating feasting here again once dinner service starts (slated for July).
Criollo at Hotel Monteleone • 214 Royal Street • 504.681.4444 • www.criollonola.com
There aren’t enough sweet sentiments to say about this darling dessert boutique from celebrated pastry chef-owner Tariq Hanna. Go here. Try everything. Smile and repeat. I can go on for days about Sucré… or you can just check out my previous post for more pictures and all the delicious details. How sweet it is!
Sucré • 3025 Magazine Street • 504.520.8311 • www.shopsucre.com
I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Restaurant August before (last year at a Pride Mountain Vintners dinner as part of the 2011 NOWFE), but this visit was my first à la carte experience. And it far exceeded the already high bar set during that first fine meal.
John Besh’s award-winning restaurant is a New Orleans signature, located in a historic 19th century French-Creole building. The interior is rich, elegant and polished, with three breathtaking dining rooms, and the cuisine is contemporary French with a farm-to-table focus on local ingredients. A late Saturday dinner here turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory. Talented executive chef Michael Gulotta presented an impeccably prepared succession of robust dishes, each more mouthwatering than the last, leaving me eager with anticipation of what was coming next. His precision, finesse and balanced approach to flavor was remarkable. And pastry chef Kelly Field’s desserts were simply stunning — she is a true artist in every sense of the word.
After this epic spread, paired with a stellar selection of wines and top-notch service, I can say with confidence that August is my favorite restaurant in all of New Orleans, hands down. Forks down, too — I was officially (and so satisfyingly) stuffed!
Restaurant August • 301 Tchoupitoulas Street • 504.299.9777 • www.restaurantaugust.com
After meeting pastry chef Zak Miller during NOWFE (and hearing from multiple sources about his dessert mastery), I just had to check out his restaurant, Coquette. Occupying the corner of Magazine and Washington in the scenic Garden District — and just down the street from Sucré — this acclaimed two-floor French bistro and wine bar charms with exposed brick walls, crystal chandeliers and paintings by local Louisiana artists. With a daily changing menu of haute cuisine at fairly reasonable prices, Coquette showcases fresh, seasonal ingredients in dishes such as succulent cochon de lait over pureed sweet potato and crisp corn relish, and plump salt-crusted sea scallops with snappy English peas, fennel and sherry vinegar. There’s also house infused spirits, signature cocktails and an eclectic wine list to round out the menu. But no matter what you eat or drink, be sure to leave room for dessert. Zak’s visionary confections cannot be missed!
Coquette • 2800 Magazine Street • 504.265.0421 • www.coquette-nola.com
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a po-boy or muffaletta. So, if you’re in the French Quarter and that comfort food craving sets in, try Johnny’s — a tiny St. Louis Street landmark that’s been serving its signature sandwiches since the 1950’s. This casual, order-at-the-counter spot rolls out all the standards, as well as special varieties like a seafood muffaletta (catfish, shrimp and oysters) and surf and turf (hot roast beef topped with fried shrimp) po-boy. The sandwiches here are massive and filled to the brim, so be prepared to chow down and get a little messy. And for the true experience, order ‘em “Dressed, baby!” with lettuce, tomato, pickles & mayo, along with a bag of crunchy Zapp’s chips and a Barq’s root beer to wash it all down. For a quick, satisfying bite, no place hits the spot like Johnny’s — especially on the day after a late night on Bourbon Street. You’ll thank me later.
Johnny’s Po-Boys • 511 Saint Louis Street • 504.525.8037 • www.johnnyspoboys.com
Until we eat again, New Orleans…
Where are some of your favorite spots to eat in the Big Easy? I’d love to hear from you!
New Orleans is world-famous for its savory cuisine — a unique combination of Creole, Cajun and French flavors that produce the city’s indigenous culinary landscape.
Yet over the past several years, the Big Easy has been gaining recognition for the sweeter side of things. More and more New Orleans restaurants are employing acclaimed pastry chefs, who are elevating the level and quality of desserts across town. There’s been an emergence of local sweet shops and pastry boutiques that offer far more than pralines and pecan pie. And just last week, The Big Gateaux Show brought world-renowned pastry chefs together for a theatrical cake competition and tasting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience.
One of the pioneers of the city’s pastry movement is Tariq Hanna, the celebrated chef-owner of Sucré. Upon visiting New Orleans several years ago, Tariq noticed that the local dessert scene was somewhat uninspired. “It was the same four desserts everywhere.” Tariq mentioned, “Bananas Foster, beignets, pralines and bread pudding.” Determined to bring something new to NoLa’s dining culture, Tariq opened Sucré in 2007 — a bright, inviting sweets haven in the Garden District that specializes in exciting, handcrafted desserts and confections that weren’t typically found in area restaurants at the time.
While in New Orleans last week, I had the pleasure of joining Tariq at the oh-so-charming Sucré to delight in some of his signature delicacies. Feast your eyes on the striking array of French macarons, fine chocolates, handmade marshmallows, decadent desserts, cupcakes, gelato & more featured in the gallery below.
After a generous sampling from Sucré and several other indulgent creations from Zak Miller (Coquette), Kelly Fields (August) and Phillip Lopez (Root), N’awlins officially put me in a sugar-filled state of bliss. Clearly, a new desserts standard has been set in this city and it was thrilling to witness so many restaurants stepping up their game. Afterall, there’s no better way to cap off all that savory cuisine than with a sweet finish. Or a few.
For more sweet inspiration, check out this clip to see what Tariq Hanna has to say about Sucré and find out which New Orleans treats chefs John Besh, Johnny Iuzzini, Ron Ben-Israel & more can’t get enough of.
Filmed during the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience at the The Big Gateaux Show event and throughout the weekend festivities. Learn more about New Orleans pastry culture in this great article on Nola.com.
Stay sweet New Orleans!
You may not know the name Pat LaFrieda (yet!), but many New Yorkers have already sunk their teeth into products from the acclaimed Brooklyn-born meat wholesaler. From Shake Shack to Minetta Tavern, Union Square Cafe to The Spotted Pig, hundreds of top restaurants in NYC and across the country count on LaFrieda Meats for the best quality cuts and blends. And it’s been that way for nearly 100 years.
On April 9th, Food Network will debut Meat Men, a reality show that chronicles the daily grind of Pat, his father Pat Sr., and cousin Mark Pastore at their family owned and operated 35,000-sq. foot New Jersey factory. The series spotlights all the meaty magic and daily drama that comes with running the business, like creating custom burger blends for celebrity chefs, rushing emergency orders to restaurants across Manhattan, and the perils of long, vigorous days in the meat locker.
I recently spoke with the notorious master of meat to get the scoop on his new TV show and iPad app, where he goes when he’s craving steak or a juicy burger, and more.
Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors has been around for three generations and nearly 100 years. Was being in the family business always what you wanted to do?
I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and my dad wanted me to get out of the meat industry and not follow in his footsteps—ya know, working overnight in a 35-degree refrigerator. He sent me to private schools and college with the idea that I’d go off and do something different. After school, I became a stock broker and absolutely hated it, so it completely backfired. I rejoined my dad in the mid-90’s and asked if I could help grow the business, because I had worked with him since I was a kid on weekends and days off from school. Being part of the family business was something that I always loved and felt comfortable with.
What’s the best part of what you do everyday?
Like most people, the end of the day! But my favorite part of the job is fulfilling orders. Restaurants and chefs really depend on us to get them quality products when they need it—especially in Manhattan, where space is limited and they need a daily delivery, we try to make it easier for them. And when the last truck leaves and they all go out on time—that’s my favorite part of the day. Because we’re helping out their business.
Since summer barbecue weather is coming up, what’s your secret to perfectly grilling meat?
Cook your meat on a really hot grill. I always see people putting meat on a grill that’s not hot enough. Friends always wonder why I cook so fast. Well, the first thing I do is turn on the grill, and then I start prepping my food while it heats up to 450 degrees. Grilling should be quick and all the flavors intact. When you cook meat on a warm grill and close the cover, you’re almost steaming it.
You just launched the Big App for Meat on iPad. What made you want to create an app?
Over the years we faced a lot of questions about meat—about types of meat and where it comes from, things that were always so natural to us. Even veteran chefs would ask us questions. So, we wanted to make those answers available for everyone since people seem to want to know. We thought of doing it in a book, but knew people could be more interactive with the app technology. There are hours of video and hundreds of photographs to show you what types of meat are available and where on the animal those parts come from. (find out more about the app here)
Do you have a favorite cut of beef?
My favorite cut of beef is outside skirt steak, but my favorite kind of meat is lamb. There’s nothing like lamb leg and roasted lamb loin…
Your new show, Meat Men, debuts on Food Network next week. Congratulations! What can viewers expect to see when they tune in?
Yes, it’s exciting! The show is about our family business, but more what goes on behind the scenes as meat purveyors. When sixty to seventy percent of restaurants are meat-driven, all that meat has got to come from somewhere. The show is about where it comes from and how we portion and produce meat for restaurants and deliver it daily. The characters are hysterical—my cousin, my dad and I—as well as the way we interact and run our company. And you get to see a lot of chefs, which is really cool! Chefs that cook with our products and truly benefit from using our meats.
Was it strange having the cameras follow you around all the time?
It’s not that we didn’t get used to it, but it sometimes got old quickly. When you are suddenly followed around by cameras, you can’t do things you would normally do. Filming a reality show can be very difficult when you are really just trying to run a business. Sometimes you have to just turn off the audio, sit in a corner, shout out some profanity and then get back out there.
I understand the very talented chef Michael White will be on the premiere episode. How was working with him?
Yes, when Michael opened Ai Fiori on 5th Avenue, he really wanted a signature burger that would stand out on the lunch menu. We worked with him to create a blend of meat from scratch, and with just a few tweaks here and there, it was exactly what he wanted. It’s really cool to follow the chefs and see the ideas and desires of what they think is a great burger, and then execute it and get it to their restaurant.
If you could create a custom burger blend for any chef or celebrity, who would it be?
I’d love to make a signature burger for Bobby Flay. I’ve never worked with Bobby. I’m a big fan.
If you’re craving a great steak in New York City, where will you go?
A new restaurant that just opened called Perla. The chef, Michael Toscano, used to work at Babbo and Eataly’s Manzo. I had a rib steak there a couple days ago—and, I swear—it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. It’s a 109 rib steak aged for 56 days, has porcini powder dusted over the top, it’s just perfect.
How about your favorite burger?
I love Shake Shack, of course, but I really like my burgers seared on the outside and kind of rare on the inside. I go to The Spotted Pig for that—they use a grill as opposed to a flat top, and I love that grilled flavor. And the blue cheese over the top doesn’t hurt!
Any other must-try meat dishes you’ve had recently?
The goat’s neck at Kin Shop is a must. Everyone has to try this dish! Chef Harold Dieterle braises it and cooks it in a yogurt sauce. I’ve eaten it several times, it’s amazing—cooked perfectly and to die for.
Eataly is my go-to for LaFrieda Meats, but how else can people in the area buy some to prepare at home?
We’re very exclusive with retailers, but the easiest way to get our grinds and burgers is through Fresh Direct. However, Eataly is great because it’s a beautiful store, they have such an amazing staff and a huge selection. The butchers there will portion the meat for you anyway you like. It’s hard to find something like that in New York City.
To keep up with the latest from the meat maven himself, you can follow Pat on Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to tune into Food Network on April 9th at 11pm for the premiere of Meat Men. Thanks Pat and best of luck with the show!
Image courtesy of LaFrieda Meats