"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well" - Virginia Woolf

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The John Dory Oyster Bar - Exactly


No Reservations

   In  many ways The John Dory Oyster Bar is exactly what Bar Eaters are looking for. Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield are riding the crest of a trend in dining. Sam Sifton in the New York Times knows what he is talking about when it comes to food, but when he gets to grousing about the wait for a table... Well I think he needs to loosen up and join the bar eaters movement. While we waited for a spot at the bar, we enjoyed a crisp Spanish Albarino, and got on the spot recommendations from a very nice couple who had just finished their meal. It was Friday night about eight when we arrived, our dear friend and Bar Eater Blog wine consultant, Jackie joining us. The wait wasn't bad. Maybe we were lucky. Time is relative, and thanks to Tre Bicchieri we were in a festive mood. 

Bartenders, Theo & Tom

   Theo and Tom have got it down. They were busy but never seemed rushed. Concocting Sasha Petraske's authentic cocktails requires real craftsmanship. But, there is more to bar-tending than the mixing of drinks. People bring a range of expectations to a bar, looking for everything from servitude to friendship. Bartenders walk the line, the sweet spot is in the middle; that's where you will find the best.

The Oyster Bar

   Of course we had oysters. You don't go to an oyster bar and skip the oysters, unless you are forced to against your will. I understand even some vegetarians will eat oysters. We ordered half from the east and half from the west. Can't say which were better, although I must confess the Peconic Bay oysters, which we tried because they are local, were not our favorites. The food reviewers have spoken and I'm not a food reviewer, so I'll just say April Bloomfield's offerings live up to the hype. We had the octopus, the squid and the fluke with a quinoa crust, all were excellent, (check the menu for details). The Parker House rolls deserve special mention. How can something so basic be so fabulous? 

  Whoa baby, that's refreshing! Tom whipped us up a mid meal cocktail using some of his own patented elixer. (If he hasn't patented it yet, he'd better.) We'll be looking for the stuff to show up out east this summer.

   Looking back at The John Dory Oyster Bar, as we walked out into a prematurely warm February night. I could not help but wonder why it took us so long to get here. Well, three months is probably just the right amount of time for a restaurant to hit its stride. Friday night she was a thoroughbred. 

John Dory Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Tre Bicchieri - First the Wine

First the Wine

   I realize Tre Bicchieri is not a bar and does not serve food, unless you count some fruit and cheese. In fact its only open to the trade. Tre Bicchieri means "three glasses." It is the highest award bestowed by Gambero Rosso, on the best wines of Italy. Getting one or two doesn't hurt either. 

Jackie in her element.

   Tonight we are guests of dear friend and Bar Eaters wine consultant, Jackie. She has been "in the business" and is greatly experienced in Italian wine. Despite her refined taste she is down to earth about the stuff. 

Talking wine.

   All the wines we tasted were delicious, naturally some stood out to us. I made notes on all of them but the list is long.

We learned a few new things this evening, thanks to Jackie. We always do.

As far a we are concerned Tre Bicchieri was a huge success!

On to dinner...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Café Luxembourg - Perennial Favorite

Perennial Favorite

Café Luxembourg

     I've been going to Cafe Luxembourg since Keith McNally opened it... a long time ago. The business, along with the Odeon now belongs to his ex-wife Lynn Wagenknecht. It's still a great place for the basics, like French onion soup, (a Patti favorite when its done right). The steak frites, their "Luxemburger," and their tuna burger are all tasty. Not to forget minted peas, a personal favorite. We don't go there expecting fine art just a good meal in comfortable surroundings.  

   None of Keith McNally's establishments are original creations. It is his interpretation of European classics that makes them special. Luxembourg while calling itself a bistro is actually a riff on a brasserie. The New Oxford Dictionary defines a brasserie as “a type of restaurant with a relaxed, upscale setting, which serves single dishes and other meals. A brasserie can be expected to have professional service, printed menus, and, traditionally, white linen (unlike a bistro which may have none of these). Typically, a brasserie is open every day of the week and serves the same menu all day.” 

    While Cafe Luxembourg is based on a European classic it is, never the less, very "New York" in its way. Nothing finishes off a long stroll in Central Park like a warm meal and warm company at the bar.

Sometimes the well worn path is the best way home.

Cafe Luxembourg on Urbanspoon

Le Jolifou - Sincerity


   Bear with me, as I sketch out the Bar Eater philosophy. I know we're bouncing around a bit but Montreal isn't far to go to have a unique experience. While many of Canada's cities aren't so different from their US counterparts; Montreal is distinct, not only on the continent, but in the world. In less than an hour, (six by car), from New York, you can be there. (Don't forget your passport).
Joli fou translates to "pretty lunatic."   

   I was born in Montreal and although my family left Canada when I was young, the city still holds a place in my heart. Patti and I had come for the weekend, to celebrate my birthday. Saturday night we were looking for a unique and lively place for the birthday feast. The reviews of Le Jolifou were excellent and the name implied a certain levity. French - Mexican fusion definitely sounded different. Whoever was putting those cuisines together had a sense of whimsey. The who turned out to be chef David Ferguson and with his wife, sommelier, Helene Brault.   

   There is a proper bar at Le Jolifou, however out of curiosity, we sat at the one over looking the kitchen. I remember watching David and his crew in full culinary fury, cranking out one enticing dish after another. We couldn't help but ogle the oysters as they were lined up. I don't know how he noticed, With so much going on, but suddenly there they were, Oysters with green apple mignonette, as tasty as we had imagined! I understand they have recently changed the menu so I can't speak to it directly. I don't know what to make of the new "roadhouse concept," but I'm sure David's experimentally playful spirit is behind it. We'll have to check in when next we are in town.

Cooking for people

    During the hight of the evening, chefs are too busy for any real interaction. But when the dinner rush is over, sometimes there is an opportunity to meet them. Fortune was with us this night. We got to talking with David and persuaded Helene to stay for a glass of wine before she headed upstairs to the kids. He is an anglophone from Ontario and she a francophone from Quebec. They live a life they have created for themselves. And they share their creation, Le Jolifou with anyone lucky enough to drop in. Pianist and blogger Minna Re Shin tells the whole story in her post from last summer. 

 Helene & David

   There is no pretense, nor posturing at Le Jolifou. These are real people and this is real food. Art is genuine when it is practiced with sincerely. What a lovely place to spend your birthday. And what lovely people to share it with. Canadians are known to be among the nicest people on earth. 

Sincerity is a big part of that.

Monday, February 14, 2011

La Huella - The Ideal

The Ideal

La Huella

   Last winter Patti and I escaped, briefly to José Ignacio, Uruguay. If fortune ever finds you there, you will see what a simply beautiful place it is.

A convient map of José Ignacio

"La Huella" means "The Trace"

   I know this is a little far afield for many, but I begin here to establish what we see as perfection. The Zen of perfection to be precise. Not a striven for perfection, but a natural, unforced perfection. While there are many excellent places to eat and drink in José Ignacio, we kept going back to La Huella.

   The crowd is from literally everywhere, with substantial Argentinean and Brazilian strains. What they say about these South Americans is true. They are warm, friendly and sensual, hedonistic in the best sense of the word. Their love of life, family and friends is palpable. Likewise, La Huella's staff achieves that often elusive balance of casual yet attentive service. The physical setting is essentially an elegant surf shack, airy and open letting in the surrounding beauty along with an ocean breeze. 

   La Huella cuisine is more about execution than invention. Everything we ate was simply perfect. Coco Weissmann in responsible for the sushi, some of the freshest we have ever tasted, likewise the cocktails, especially the Mojitos. Nothing about La Huella tries too hard and yet everything is just right.

Mmmm, take me back to José Ignacio...