Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best

The best cookie you'll ever eat will not be one I write about. It won't be from a bakery you read about, or hear about from friends.

The best foods you'll ever taste are surprises.

Two summers ago I was working at Michael's Genuine in Miami. I was leaving one day, around five pm, and passed by the pastry station on my way to the door. The pastry chef had just pulled a tray of cookies from the oven and offered one, "For the drive home!" she said.

I hadn't been working there long, maybe two or three weeks, and wasn't versed in the dessert items. I started walking to the parking lot and took a bite. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I stopped in my tracks.

The cookie was small, maybe the size of two or three quarters. I would later learn it was a Chocolate Chunk Cookie. I call them crack cookies. They are nothing more then a hunk of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate encased in just enough cookie dough to be deemed a cookie, and not simply melted chocolate. Before hitting the oven, the cookies are sprinkled with sea salt.

Fresh out of the oven, the chocolate is gooey, the cookie, tender, and the twang from the salt unbelievably decadent.

I have had Hedy's chocolate chunk cookies many times since then, but none measure up to the first. It was the fact that I didn't know what I was eating that made its deliciousness so much greater.

I have come to enjoy food writing less and less. I'm torn between the pleasure and reward of walking into a random restaurant and discovering its greatness and the way Eater or Grubstreet can tell me where to get the best dim sum in Chinatown. In the end, there's just no way I can wander in to all those restaurants in Chinatown. But something significant is lost when you go somewhere knowing the food will be good. It is good. And you're glad you went. But it is never as fulfilling as if you happened upon the location by chance.

Best Cookie:
The chocolate chip walnut cookies at Levain Bakery on the upper west side are, in my opinion, the most perfect chocolate chip cookies you can get. On the planet. They are six ounces (roughly the size of a hockey puck). They are amazing. The center is purposefully under-baked, so you get a normal chocolate chip cookie near the edges, and a semi-doughy center (for anyone who enjoys eating raw cookie dough, this is the cookie for you).

I mention this cookie because I don't think you would ever happen upon Levain. Unless you are looking for it. It's literally a hole in the ground, tucked under an apartment building. So please, try this cookie. It won't be the best cookie you'll ever have, and I'm glad that it wont. But it is still really, really good.

Best Doughnut:
The square peanut butter doughnut with blackberry jelly from Doughnut Plant is the perfect doughnut. The yeast dough: a ten. The filling: made in house, amazing. The peanut butter glaze (with chunks of peanut): otherworldly.

Again, I write about this because Doughnut Plant is in an area on the Lower East Side that no one would "happen across." So, again, go, please, and try. The best doughnut you'll ever eat will probably be from some mom-n-pop place on the side of the road that you go to stop at while driving cross-country. It will probably be fresh from the fryer, just glazed. You'll probably never eat there again. And that is beautiful.

But, while you're not driving across the country, go to Doughnut Plant.

Levain Bakery
167 W 74 St

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dessert at Locanda Verde

I admire dozens of chefs, each for radically different reasons.

Johnny Iuzinni is brilliant in his ability to improve existing pastries using innovative ingredients (agar agar, maltodextrin, etc). I look up to Alex Stupak because he is one of a handful of people that are reinventing pastry techniques with science (brand new ways of making ice cream, of creating fluid gels). Michael Laiskonis is a baller, and his refined flavor combinations like pistachio and caramelized white chocolate, or dark chocolate, chicory, and burnt orange are amazing. I love Hedy Goldsmith and her knack for transforming childhood treats into restaurant desserts.

Tonight I had the chance to sample Karen DeMasco's desserts, whose cooking I was told would, "rock my world." I've read about DeMasco for a while, always seeing the same thing: she does simple food, and she does it better than anyone else.

She does make simple food. And she does do it better than anyone else. And it will rock your world.

The first dessert I tried, a sweet corn budino, was spectacular. Budino, by the way, is the italian word for pudding, and is simply a baked custard set with egg yolks. DeMasco's literally exploded with sweet corn flavor and was perfectly complemented by blueberry sauce, fresh blueberries, and an ultra smooth blueberry sorbetto. And for a bit of salt and crunch? Some caramel popcorn dropped around the plate.

The second dessert, a lemon tart, was equally impressive. The tart had a great crust (i.e. super flaky) and was unabashedly lemony (i.e. super tart). The tartness was balanced by buttermilk gelato, and a fun temperature contrast was added with a spoonful of limoncello granita (a lemon liqueur that is frozen and then shaved--think wonderfully flavorful shaved ice). Hiding underneath the granita were sweet, syrupy slices of preserved lemon.

DeMasco's desserts are admirable because they're so damn simple. Lemon and buttermilk. Two flavors. It's almost stupid how good that dish is. Similarly, corn (sweet and popped) and blueberries. Wow.

I didn't have the caloric allowance or stomach capacity to taste the toasted almond semifreddo with bing cherries and cherry sorbetto, or the peach + blackberry crostada with peach swirl gelato OR the chocolate-pistachio tart with raspberries. But I saw all of them pass by the bar as they were headed for their table, and they all looked ridiculously good.

I also didn't even taste anything on the savory side of the menu, but from the desserts and the vibe alone, I'd recommend Locanda Verde as a place to meet up for drinks, for a quick meal at the bar, for a multi-course gustatory expedition, for a great brunch (hello lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberries and meyer lemon curd!) or for a sweet fix. It would also make a fantastic place for a date (come on, what girl would turn down the peach and blackberry crostada?).

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich Street

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

There are going to be a lot of restaurants I eat at while I'm here at Columbia. I'd like to write about most of them. However, for the vast majority, I will not be dining with a party of four or five. Which means that I will probably only be sampling a small portion of the menu. For those restaurants (like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que), I don't intend for the post to be a review of the restaurant (like the previous post on Maialino). Instead, it will simply be an account of my impression of the restaurant and a brief commentary on the food (as well as a general thumbs up/down).

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has several locations in New York. I recently ate with a friend at their restaurant in Harlem, just 15 blocks north of Columbia. It's a great spot, nestled underneath the Riverside Drive bridge, with all of the hokey pig statues, mounted deer, and blues posters one expects from a barbecue joint.

There is live music nightly. The musicians were excellent, but the concrete floors, low ceiling, and larger-than-necessary amps made conversation difficult.

The food, though, was almost flawless. It's exactly what you want from a place named Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: juicy pulled pork, fork-tender brisket, flavorful mac-n-cheese, and soulful baked beans. The only misstep, the cornbread, was boring and mediocre, and when placed next to that pulled pork, a real let down.

Oddly enough, the standout item was the jumbo barbecued chicken wings. We opted for the "hot" version, which are dry rubbed, smoked, and finished on the grill. The Maytag blue cheese dressing was velvety and perfectly cut the wing's heat. At $7 for six wings, though, they are slightly overpriced.

The total came to about $16 each (that includes tip).

Monday, September 6, 2010


Today concludes the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) at Columbia. Because I transferred here I was required to go to only a few meetings and events, which left me with a ton of free time to go explore New York City. I set a limit of two Metro Card swipes a day (one to go downtown, one to return to Columbia), which often led to walking a hundred or more blocks a day. Oh, and I learned that walking from Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a lot farther than it looks on an iPhone map. I also tried to keep every food purchase under $5. I ate very few real meals this week, but was able taste food from many places I'd read about. A recap is below.

Kumquat Cupcakery: mini cupcakes sold for $1 at the Brooklyn Flea (I tried the Coffee Caramel Bourbon cupcake, which was moist, flavorful, and had a perfect cake/icing ratio).

People's Pops: homemade popsicles also sold at the Brooklyn Flea for $3 (the Peach Camomile popsicle was great and had giant chunks of fresh peaches).

The Good Batch: one of the few purveyors of stroopwafels (Dutch spiced waffle cookies with a caramel filling) in New York City (I didn't fall in love with this cookie, but for it's large size and $1.50 price tag it's hard to complain).

Momofuku Milk Bar Cake Truffles: a vanilla cake crumbled, mixed with frosting and Funfett, shaped into truffles, dipped in white chocolate, and rolled in cake crumbs (surprisingly, they weren't too sweet, and they are a pretty good deal at 3 for $3).

Mast Brothers Chocolate: supposedly some of the best small batch bean to bar chocolate making in the county (I tried the 72% Madagascar dark chocolate bar with almonds, sea salt and olive oil, which was crazy good).

Nunu Chocolates: I bought a box of four assorted chocolate caramels (the chocolate covered caramel sprinkled with Fleur de Sel was amazing, the dark chocolate caramel with peanut ganache was the best interpretation of a Reese's I've ever had, but both the cashew caramel and soft caramel butterfly were "eh").

Liddabit Sweets: I tried The King, a candy bar homage to Elvis that layers a brown sugar/brown butter cookie, peanut butter nougat, and banana ganache, all dipped in milk chocolate (you'll never want to go back to conventional candy bars again).

Early Bird Granola: small batch, homemade granola (I bought a bag of the 'jubilee' blend, which combines oats, pepitas, coconut, pistachios, maple syrup, dried sour cherries, brown sugar, olive oil and salt, which is the best granola I've ever had, period).

Shake Shack: I had to try a shack burger, since I'd heard that the burgers in NYC are better than those made at the Miami outpost (I don't know if it was any better or worse than Miami, but it was still a damn good burger, and at $4.75, a great deal).

Eataly: Mario Batali's 50,000 square foot Italian food emporium (I tried the stracciatella and banana gelato, which was flavorful and not too sweet, but way too icy/grainy).

I ingested a ridiculous amount of sugar this week, but the copious amounts of walking, frequent visits to Columbia's gym, and limited intake of actual food made this extended binge entirely possible without any weight gain.

Now, I'm off to go running.

Then, some Early Bird Granola for breakfast :-)

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Danny Meyer’s newest restaurant, Maialino, is a Roman-style trattoria located in the Gramercy Park Hotel. You enter the restaurant through the hotel lobby, a warm room with double-vaulted ceilings, reclaimed mahogany furniture and tile floors. Once at the hostess stand, it is immediately apparent that Meyer has again expertly staffed his restaurant. Every employee radiates genuine charm. It’s that comforting, Union Square Hospitality Group style where everyone seems to hail from the Mid-West but is entirely adept at whisking you out of Manhattan and straight to Rome.

The kitchen is run by Nick Anderer, a former student of Mario Batali at Babbo and Tom Collichio at Gramercy Tavern. Prior to working in restaurants, Anderer earned a BA in Art History from Columbia University. His love for Italian cooking began while studying abroad during his junior year at Trinity College’s Rome campus.

After the hostess (whose smile seems impossibly friendly), the restaurants next striking feature is the bar. Extremely long and made of walnut, it was designed by David Rockwell (the man behind Bobby Flay’s restaurants, the Nobu restaurants, and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze in London). The rest of the restaurant, though, kind of looks like it was furnished with several trips to Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma. That’s not to say it isn’t homey and fun to eat in, but it does feel contrived.

There are two stations flanking your entrance into the dining room, one for bread and dessert, the other for cheese and cured meats. As soon as you sit down—at a cozy table where a white tablecloth is layered over a blue-checkered one—a bread basket is brought. Skip the county loaf and head straight for the pizza bianca, a thin, pizza-like crust sprinkled with herbs, sea salt, and olive oil. Yum.

Recommended appetizers are the Prosciutto e Melone (delicious, fatty Parma ham and summer melon), Carciofini Fritti (crunchy fried artichokes served with an acidic anchovy bread sauce), and Crostini with ricotta, figs, and honey. The Trippa alla Trasteverina (tripe with pecorino and mint) is interesting, but forgettable.

The pastas at Maialino will blow you away. Definitely try the Raviolo al Uovo (a single large ravioli filled with ricotta, brown butter, and an egg yolk). Cutting into the raviolo mixes the runny yolk and brown butter, creating a thick sauce that is lick-off-the-plate good. The Agnolotti (sweet corn ravioli) will make you smile. They are the perfect summer pasta dish. Finally, the Spaghetti alla Carbonara, while a bit heavy for this time of year, is a well-done classic. The spaghetti is refreshingly al dente and the guanciale (like bacon, but cured pigs jowl instead of belly) has a great peppery kick.

When in Rome, go all out. If you’re dining with a party of four or more, get the Maialino al Forno as an entree. This is the restaurants central dish: whole roasted pork loin, belly, ribs, and shoulder. The skin is crackly, the meat tender, and the rosemary potatoes that lie underneath are surprisingly good. If you are in a lighter mood, the Spigola (sea bass with squash and summer bean salad) is expertly cooked, and the beans are more flavorful than one could ever expect from such a humble accompaniment. Side dishes like summer beans with lemon and garlic (all straight from the Union Square Greenmarket) are delicious, but overpriced (between $9 and $11) for what they are.

End the meal simply with pastry chef Jennifer Shelbo’s homemade gelato. The cinnamon toast flavor is a fun choice, and the dark chocolate is rich, pleasantly bitter, and rounded out with a subtle hint of spice.

Maialino isn’t cheap, but it isn't out-of-reach expensive either. The pasta dishes especially, which run around $16, are worth every penny.

This restaurant brings together everything I look for in a great place to eat out: genuinely friendly service, a fun vibe, a comfortable design, and delicious, simple food.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summer Hiatus

I'm heading down to Grand Cayman tomorrow to work at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink Camana Bay for the summer. Expect a decrease in posts between now and August. Have a great summer everyone! :-)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Brooklyn's Treats

Liza de Guia is a food blogger who makes 6-7 minute videos that profile small shops in and around NYC. Her site, Food Curated is dangerously addictive. Below are a few of my favorites.

Justine Pringle and Andy Laird co-founded Nunu Chocolates in Brooklyn, NY.

The Self-Taught Chocolatiers: NuNu Chocolates from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Nekisia Davis makes artisanal granola at Early Bird Granola.

Early Bird Granola: A Salty, Sweet Step Towards Mindful Eating from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Keavy Landreth runs Kumquat Cupcakery.

Re-inventing the Cupcake: Kumquat Cupcakery *food curated* from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Finally, Liz Gutman and Jen King founded Liddabit Sweets in 2009 and have become known for their homemade versions of Mounds and Snickers bars.

Liddabit Sweets: Small Batch Candy w/Unique, Nostalgic, Seasonal Flavors from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Definitely four great reasons to head down to Brooklyn next time you're in NYC.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Everything Bagel

This is a dish served at WD~50 that has all the flavors of bagels & lox. Pretty damn clever.

On the menu this dish is listed as "Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese, red onions."

The "bagel" is actually everything bagel flavored ice cream. Everything bagels are toasted, chopped, and steeped with hot cream. The infused cream is then used to make an ice cream that is set in savarin molds.

The ice cream is airbrushed with an edible carmel colored paint and rolled in poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and dried onions.

The salmon is made using a Japanese technique called furikake. It's poached until well done, shredded, and cooked with mirin, sake, and soy until dry and airy. The onions are pickled (they have a very aggressive flavor when raw). Since the everything bagel is a creamy texture, the cream cheese is made crunchy. The cheese is combined with methylcellulose and dehydrated into a chip. Finally, the dish is finished with wood sorrel, a lemony herb that takes the place of a traditional chive.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mast Brothers Chocolate

These guys are doing small batch chocolate making in Brooklyn, something that's practically unheard of because of the labor involved and time required. Cool stuff.

75% Madagascar dark chocolate sprinkled with fleur de sel? Sign me up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cornell Underground Garden Party

The Cornell Underground is a group of students (hotel, architecture, design) not technically affiliated with the university that host once-a-semester dining events. Previous dinners have included a seven course meal served in a space literally created from the ground up by architecture students and a whimsical evening of 'flavor tripping' in a venue that looked like it came straight from the Willy Wonka set. The group is veiled in mystery, and to participate one truly has to "know somebody." Luckily, I knew somebody.

This semesters event, labeled as a Garden Party, took place yesterday evening in the Cornell Plantations. My sole responsibility for the dinner was to help prepare food, but I'll try and explain what the guests experienced from the bits and pieces I overheard.

100 guests were selected from throughout the Cornell community (students, parents, professors, etc) and given an elaborate invitation--a small wooden box, inside of which was growing wheat grass, and etched into the lid was a message informing guests to meet in front of the Cornell Dairy Bar around 3:45 pm. The 100 guests were led on a walk through the plantations, where they toured the herb gardens (all herbs used for the meal came from the herb gardens) and snacked on herb tea popsicles (made by yours truly).

The guests continued through the plantations, eventually arriving at a large gazebo, inside of which was a bar and jazz trio. Guests had their choice of horchata (see previous post) or a mojito-like cocktail using mint, lavender, and lemon-verbena. Guests could snack on popcorn, some flavored with truffle butter, some with cayenne pepper and chili powder. After a bit of mingling, a gong was rung and guests were led to dining table.

In the middle of the plantations, on a small slip of land separating two ponds, was a 100 foot long table, made of a single piece of wood, four inches thick, and supported by saw-horses. Excuse the language, but the table was fucking magnificent. The pictures below really doesn't do it justice. Some hotelie knew of a lumberman in a nearby town who just happens to own the largest mill in the U.S., and voila, a 100 foot table was born.

50 guests sat on each side, and dinner was served.

The first course was a collection of spring vegetables, served on a large slate, family style (one slate for two people). The vegetables included grilled asparagus with a pistachio sauce, pickled zucchini, pickled daikon, picked carrots, pickled green beans, marinated beets, pickled ramps, almonds, and a salad of arugula, manchego, and cucumber. The picture below is mid-plating.

The main course was Kobe beef (with a sauce made from pan drippings, truffle butter, onions, garlic, red wine, and piment d'espelette) and caponata (an Italian dish that includes eggplant, raisins, red onions, and various spices).

Dessert was again served on the slate and was a baba au rhum cake (a yeast cake soaked in rum syrup) served with whipped cream, a rum sauce, crystallized flowers, freshly picked flowers, chocolate powder, and praline. Again, the picture is mid-plating.

After dinner, guests could enjoy a fire pit, fire dancers, a hookah, and a guitarist/singer performing.

The entire event was put together on a $5000 budget (100 guests who each payed $50).

All the food was prepped in a frat kitchen and driven to the plantations.

I wasn't in many pictures, but I can say with certainty that once I got to the plantations, saw the event space, and wound up in front of an eight foot charcoal grill tending to $700 worth of kobe beef, I was grinning from ear to ear. Definitely a better way to spend my Monday than studying for finals.

*All photo credits go to Crystal Calabrese


Made/tasted this for the first time yesterday.

It's an incredibly time consuming process involving cooking, pulverizing, and straining large amounts of almonds, lime zest, cinnamon sticks and rice, but it's worth it. The spiced almond/rice milk is blended with simple syrup and a bit of heavy cream and served over ice. Absolutely delicious, especially in warm weather. Next time you're in a Mexican restaurant, definitely order a glass.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Food Memories

The weather was great today, and I couldn't bear the thought of spending all day in a library, so I went on a 5 hour, 14 mile walk around northern Ithaca. I started thinking about flavor memories (well actually, here was the real train of thought: dishes at MGFD that will be served at Camana Bay this summer --> Hedy's Childhood Treats --> chefs that try to evoke "childhood memories" in their food --> the legitimacy of a "childhood food memory" --> what, if any, are my food memories?). I didn't come up with any answers as hackneyed as standing at the counter while my grandmother taught me how to make *insert cultural dish here*, but I did think of a few interesting examples.

First memory of being "taught" to cook: Grandfather (mothers side) teaching me how to fry tilapia (pat the dry fish, flour, egg wash, breadcrumbs).

Dishes I associate with my "childhood": Mother making chicken cacciatore, chicken with rice and cream of mushroom soup, rosti, french toast, beef stroganoff.

True food "memories": staying at a friends cabin on the Hood Canal in Washington and picking oysters straight off the beach. We cooked the oysters on a wood grill and topped them with lime juice and tabasco. I can still taste them, they were that good. Also on the Hood Canal--using the friends boat to go crabbing and eating crabs for dinner that had been out of the water for an hour. I can also distinctly remember being at this same friends house back in Redmond, Washington and trying Brie for the first time.

Random Note: at one point in my walk I realized I was in the nearby town of Dryden (where the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is located). By the lab is a walking path, and by the path is a cairn designed by the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (I studied him in an architecture class this semester). The picture is below.

It's pretty cool--about 6 feet, 4 inches tall, hollow inside, and made without mortar (the piece is held together by the downward pressure of the stones).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kettle Corn

Oh. My. God. Where has kettle corn been all my life?

I have always dismissed kettle corn and opted for popcorn, its saltier cousin. However, after a handful of fresh kettle corn today, I think I'm converting.

Cooked in an iron kettle, doused with sugar or honey and finished with a bit of salt, it is sweet, salty, and reminiscent of caramel corn. In other words, it's absolutely delicious.

Still not sure how I'd use it other than straight from kettle to mouth (not that there's anything wrong with that). Maybe a kettle corn bread pudding with caramel creme anglaise? Or kettle corn cotton candy would be fun to make, combining two carnival foods into one snack.

Monday, April 26, 2010

30 Second Sponge Cake

Albert Adria runs the pastry kitchen at el Bulli and has devised a method for microwaveable sponge cake. Instead of using traditional leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda), Adria loads his batter into an iSi food whipper and aerates it with N2O (nitrogen). The batter is dispensed into plastic cups that have a few slits cut in the bottom and cooked in a microwave for thirty seconds. Below is a recipe for a pistachio version.

Pistachio Thirty Second Sponge Cake
80 g pistachio powder (pistachios that have been run through a food processor and sifted)
80 g sugar
20 g all purpose flour
3 eggs

Combine ingredients and pour into food whipper. Load with 2 cartridges N2O. Dispense into a plastic cup (fill 1/3 of the way) that has a few slits cut in the bottom. Microwave at full power for 30 seconds.

el Bulli's version: chocolate sesame

In the image above, notice the size of the air pockets (much larger than you'd achieve in a traditional sponge cake).

Friday, April 23, 2010


I was reading through a food science textbook and found this to be pretty interesting.

So we've all had soda before and experienced the "fizz" or "tingle" of a carbonated beverage. Turns out, that fizzy sensation has nothing to do with bubbles.

Carbonation refers to dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution. A byproduct of this process is carbonic acid (H2O + CO2 --> H2CO3).

Pepsi did an interesting study where they put consumers in a hyperbaric chamber that was set to the same pressure as a can of soda. When opened, the soda contained no bubbles, because there was no difference in pressure between the can and environment. However, consumers said they still experienced the same "bite" we expect in soda.

Further studies showed that the "fizzy" aspect of soda is caused entirely by carbonic and phosphoric acid.

You could mess with someone's head by dissolving a little bit of phosphoric and carbonic acid in fruit juice. It would appear entirely flat ("bubble-less"), but have the same "bubbly," "fizzy" feeling as a carbonated beverage.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Today the Daily Sun ran a review I wrote of Moosewood Restaurant. Due to space limitations, my editor had to cut some of the review. Below is the original.

“Shit!” exclaims a server. She had accidentally begun making a customer’s Bloody Mary with generic vodka, instead of Ketel One as they requested. “Don’t worry about it, they can’t tell the difference,” replies the bartender. She shrugs and stirs in tomato juice. While the diner was probably content with their drink and couldn’t detect the substitution, this unapologetic disregard for their true satisfaction would come to embody many of my experiences with Moosewood Restaurant.

Opened in 1973 in the Dewitt mall (a renovated school building), Moosewood has become a vegetarian Mecca. Known for a menu that changes daily and abundant use of local and organic produce, many liken the restaurant to an east coast Chez Panisse. In fact, Bon Apetit named it one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century.

Moosewood is run by a “collective” of 18 individuals—possibly because it is more efficient this way, possibly because no one person wants to take the fall for shoddy food. In any case, their brand has exploded over the past thirty years, and Moosewood has gone mainstream. Grocery stores now carry their salad dressings, all-organic refrigerated soups, and frozen entrees. The restaurant has published twelve cookbooks that have sold over 3 million copies. Moosewood cooks have appeared on TV and radio shows during book tours, and have participated in cooking demonstrations, chef trainings, vegetarian cooking classes, and book signings.

However, for all the attention given to this temple of vegetarian cuisine, upon eating at Moosewood one fact becomes unshakably clear: the food really isn’t that good.

The menu at Moosewood is divided into starters, salads, soups, and entrees.

Non-alcoholic drinks include Classic Ginger Tea (the liquid equivalent of sucking on raw ginger) and Raspberry Herbal Tea (which, as a fellow diner agreed, “doesn’t taste like much.”). Both were served with compostable paper straws; a nice touch, but no amount of tree hugging can make up for flavor.

Half of the starters are static and consist of items like marinated artichoke hearts, cottage cheese, low-fat plain yogurt, a fruit platter, and brown rice. During my visits, these were avoided entirely.

From the rotating appetizers side of the menu, a Salmon Cake was dubious. The dish was served mere moments after being ordered, indicating that it had been fried previously and was sitting in a warming tray. A barely lukewarm temperature confirmed this notion. A melon wedge and sliced tomatoes were strange garnishes, begging to be eaten, yet unattractively so. Sadly, even a flavorful lemon herb aioli could not save the day. Another appetizer, BBQ Tofu, was equally disappointing, crying out for salt, pepper, seasoning of any kind. A Bread (Ithaca Bakery) and Butter basket ordered for the table was an opportunity for simple greatness gone awry. The bread, served room temperature, could have been made revelatory from a quick warming. And rock hard tabs of butter? Come on, guys. Just because Moosewood was built in a renovated school doesn’t make cafeteria quality food acceptable.

Soups, an item Moosewood is especially lauded for, lacked in flavor and complexity. Corn Chowder initially tasted of corn but slowly faded into a bland afterthought. Similarly, Spicy Peanut Soup turned flavors of peanut butter and Tabasco into a goopy amalgamation.

Every entrée comes with a side salad, offering dressings like Miso-Ginger (watery), House (flavorless), and Lemon Tahini (the best of the three). Containing shaved carrot, sliced zucchini, and a single kalamata olive, the salads are palatable, but by no means live up to this Vegetable Palace’s hype.

Entrées are hit and miss. Lasagna is served piping hot with a tasty ricotta/mozzarella/Romano cheese combination. However, the noodles were overcooked to the point of mush, the béchamel sauce tastes of chalk, and tomatoes and spinach tucked inside add little. Stuffed Vegetables served on a bed of brown rice and pecans are borderline delicious, and the side of asparagus is perfectly cooked. Tilapia, though, is served with sweet potatoes sugary enough to be a dessert. While the Moosewood website refers to its food as “healthful,” which it very well is, it is no more “imaginative” than Olive Garden fare. When dining at Moosewood, I’d skip the entrées: playing Russian roulette with your main course just isn’t worth the $17 price tag.

Desserts are the most successfully executed items on the menu and at only $5, rarely disappoint. Jamaican Gingerbread, while dense as clay, is a flavorful cake (though what exactly is Jamaican about it remains a mystery) served with sliced apples and whipped cream. Apple cake has the same texture and flavors as banana bread, and is decadently moist. A chocolate mousse made with ricotta was thick enough to snap a plastic spoon, but rich and not too sweet. Blackberry Tiramasu was the best dessert tasted (ironically, it was also the one dessert our waiter tried to talk us out of ordering), a sweet and tart combination of blackberry compote, ladyfingers, and lemon cream.

You’d be better off saving yourself the time, the trek, and the tip, and heading over to Moosewood at Anabel Taylor. The soups are no better than at the flagship—Savannah Sweet Potato Bisque is terribly bland, Tuscan White Bean and Vegetable suffers from a fatal dousing of oregano—but the sandwiches are delicious and reasonably priced. A Hummus Pita combines hummus, alfalfa, spinach, tomato, and the salty kick of feta cheese. Simple, clean, and bright, this is what vegetarian cooking at Moosewood should be. The 2nd Avenue Rueben fills a whole-wheat pita with Russian coleslaw, BBQ seitan (a tofu alternative made from wheat gluten) and Swiss cheese. Though an aesthetically horrendous fusion of dull purple slaw and seitan that’s an unnatural shade of brown, the flavors blend nicely, hinting at a traditional Rueben. For dessert, don’t miss the Homemade Chocolate Cake, easily one of the best on Cornell’s campus. Moist, rich, not overly sweet, and covered in a decadent chocolate glaze, this cake puts the Vegan Chocolate Cake at Oakenshields to shame. Open Monday-Friday from 11 to 2, the café accepts BRBs.

Back at the Moosewood bar, I sat with a friend, chatting and nibbling on some forgettable dish. A server sheepishly approached the bartender, holding a bottle of white wine. “A customer asked if you could chill this,” he said. The bartender glared at him, snatched the bottle, and smashed it into a bucket of ice. My companion and I looked at each other and shrugged, unfazed. With food like this, it’s understandable for the staff to act like that.

My plea for Moosewood: get back to the food. Hold off on the retail soup line, t-shirts, cookbooks and whatever other branded crap is in the pipeline and return to making creative, flavorful, exciting vegetarian food. Until then, I’ll be content at Anabel Taylor.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Other than cooking at the hotel school at Cornell (where I'm making other peoples recipes), it's hard to find the time or the resources to cook, much less experiment with ideas. Since September I've been writing down ideas I've had (as well as classic dishes I'd like to make) on scraps of paper, my dry erase board, in random .txt files saved to my desktop, etc. I was about to make a master word document compiling all these thoughts, but realized it'd be just as interesting to post that list here.

-pillsbury biscuits --> doughnuts with yuzu curd and vanilla glaze
-pate de fruit
-caramelized white chocolate (applications)
-cornmeal+ lemon + olive oil cake
-mousses (frozen, molded)
-hockey puck sized macaroons
-layered cakes (petit fours)
-opera cake
-pate a choux donut holes filled with pastry cream
-vacherin (lined with white chocolate) + passion fruit pastry cream + tropical fruit salsa
-frozen alginate --> thaw in calcium bath (perfect spheres)
-plastic tube --> riff on Alinea --> root beer float = vanilla + root beer tapioca + birch beer gel
-deconstructed s'more
-deconstructed tiramasu
-big semisphere chocolates (a la Migoya) with layered fillings
-alcoholic bubble tea (either spike the tea itself with vodka, bourbon, rum, amaretto, tequila OR soak tapioca pearls in simple syrup + alcohol)
-apples --> cut into cubes --> cook like bananas foster --> spherical mold on place --> flavors of brown betty
-cake balls
-pate a choux (the perfect eclair)
-different types of sweeteners (sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, invert sugar, trimoline, honey, molasses)
-how different types of flours act (all purpose, cake, baking, self-rising, almond, whole wheat, unbleached)
-eggs, pasteurized yolks vs shell
-using whipped egg whites in cakes
-how does steeping work in flavor infusion (hot cream + citrus peel = flavored cream --> HOW?)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chocolate Demonstration

Another HEC event today, this time a chocolate demonstration sponsored by Guittard. It was held in the food labs and consisted of a half dozen stations, each making a different type of chocolate. In the center of the space was a larger table at which Chef Peter Greweling from the Culinary Institute of America made a chocolate sculpture.

My partner and I made citrus truffles, citrus bonbons, and caramelized white chocolate hot chocolate. Everything was a hit. One guy even said, "These are the best truffles I've ever had."

This event was another first: interacting with guests. Guests would walk by our station, sample chocolates, and ask questions.

The recipe below is for chocolate ganache and is perfectly scaled for adding other flavors (peanut butter, citrus peel, herbs, spices, liqueurs, etc).

Chocolate Ganache
180 g heavy cream
60 g glucose (or corn syrup)
30 g flavor** (this can be anything, see above for ideas)
20 g butter
430 g dark chocolate

**If using a non-liquid flavoring (herbs, spices, citrus peel), heat the cream, pour over flavoring, and let steep for about half an hour. Strain the cream and use for ganache. Discard what's left in the sieve. If using something that will incorporate into the chocolate well (jam, peanut butter, nutella, etc), you can just add with the butter.

Heat cream and glucose to simmer. Pour over chocolate. Let sit 30 seconds. Mix with rubber spatula. Add butter and flavoring. If not completely melted, place over double boiler for a couple seconds and stir. Pour into pan, cover with plastic wrap (so the plastic touches the chocolate) and let sit for about an hour.

At this point you can table the chocolate to use for truffles, pipe it into chocolate molds for bonbons, eat it as is, etc.

Friday, April 9, 2010


This week has been crazy.

In addition to multiple exams and a twenty eight page paper, I've been working at Hotel Ezra Cornell (a massive three day function organized by the Hotel School students). There has been very, very little sleeping the past few days.

I joined a team of three that was making desserts for an after dinner cocktail party.

Prep started wednesday, continued until this afternoon, and the function was tonight from 9 pm to midnight. It was my first true experience with catering (everything was made at the Statler, put onto a speedrack, loaded onto a truck, driven to the biomedical engineering building--while our team stood in the back of the truck holding onto our pastries--and unloaded). The desserts were finished and plated on site. The design team was amazing and managed to turn the atrium of the biomed engineering building into an opulent lounge.

The team: myself, Victoria (a senior at the hotel school from Singapore), Alexa Quiros (crazy talented junior here, went to CIA for pastry), and Tommy (a 32 year old senior hotel student who has a culinary degree from CIA as well as a bachelors in accounting from UCLA). Also, Ben *I don't remember his last name* joined us on site to plate.

The menu:

Truffles--white chocolate truffles. Pink ones are cherry flavored, blue ones are blueberry, and orange are orange. They are rolled in finely ground cake crumbs (that match their flavor).

Marshmallows--white peach marshmallows dusted with violet pop rocks (making pop rocks, by the way, is awesome).

"Happiness"--these are the orangish squares. Bottom layer is a sugar cookie dough, followed by guava puree, then a coconut jaconde (sponge cake), passion fruit mousse, and a mango glaze. So. Damn. Good.

Macaroons--pistachio macaroons with a pistachio mint filling, raspberry puree, and topped with white chocolate and raspberry powder

Vacherin--vanilla poppy seed vacherin filled with white chocolate, lemon pastry cream, topped with strawberry and candied lemon

Tomorrow I'm going back to work a chocolate demonstration for HEC guests (apparently someone at the hotel school thinks I know a lot about chocolate.....). Will probably make mojito bonbons and caramelized white chocolate truffles.

Pictures of tonight's event are below.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Food Updates

Le Bernardin stage was fantastic.

Recently made caramelized white chocolate bonbons (delicious).

Have been given the opportunity to write more restaurant reviews for the Daily Sun. Vietnamese restaurant will be published this week, followed by Moosewood for Earth Day, and a not-yet-determined restaurant two weeks later.

Using leftovers from around the floor, I made chocolate bark tonight. Melted down dark chocolate and added frosted flakes, cheerios, corn flakes, dried fruit, nuts, and oatmeal. Let cool and drizzled with white chocolate. While passing the bark out throughout the building around 1 AM, at least a dozen people asked "how much pot is in this?" Only in college is it ASSUMED that the chocolate I'm offering you is laced with marijuana.

Madison Flager, your belated birthday gift will be in the mail soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Had the chance to give a culinary demo today at a food science club meeting.

On the menu:

Mango 'ravioli' (spheres made with sodium alginate + sodium lactate/calcium chloride)

Cherry Coke Caviar (made with sodium alginate/calcium chloride + xanthan gum)

Dry Nutella (made with tapioca maltodextrin)

'Dragon's Breath' coconut quinelles (aerated with an iSi whipper and CO2 canisters, frozen in liquid nitrogen, when eaten a puff of smoke comes out of the eater's nose)

One more week until spring break, then a one week stage at Le Bernardin.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Yeah, I'm a loser. I haven't been able to put up a "real" blog post in a few weeks, and it looks like it will be a few more until I have another chance. Cornell is kicking my ass.

I've been thinking about religion a lot these past couple days. Specifically, how to articulate the idea that music has always been my "religion." I still can't.

The best I can do is tell you to listen. Take thirty minutes out of your day. Go on iTunes and buy The Dharma at Big Sur by John Adams (its a buck, maybe two). Turn off your phone, close the door, ensure you won't be disturbed. Put your headphones on and listen.

I have no idea what you or anyone else will feel after listening to this piece. But, I can say that it is the closest thing to a religious experience that I've ever had.

Finally, because every post should at least attempt to relate to food, I found the image below. This is Tony's BLT served at Tony's I-75 Restaurant. It is 1 pound of bacon.

I love bacon, but that is wrong. So very, very, deliciously wrong.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Odds and Ends

Below are some random thoughts I've had recently.

Yes, this is another cop out. The post I intended to do on a surge in restaurants making sodas in house was going to require much more research than I have time for. Next week. I promise.


-What is a meal? Does a restaurant have an obligation to provide someone a meal? Is providing an "experience" enough? Are patrons to a restaurant "diners," "guests," or "customers"?

-What is the relationship between architecture and food? Beyond appearance (color, height, shape) a chef must consider function. Should buildings get away with having more aesthetic appeal than practical use? When constructing a dish, where does the balance lie between structure and how the dish will be eaten? Like ornamentation on a facade, are caramel domes, drops of sauce, pinches of this, or a paintbrush of that add anything to the overall product?

-Does the way dishes are currently served do them justice? Should restaurants/waiters try and do more to explain how a dish came to be? What spark of inspiration led a chef to combine X, Y and Z? Should the cooks do more of the serving?

-What is the relationship between the building that houses a restaurant and the restaurant itself? Whether the French Laundry in California (which resides in what used to be a French laundromat) or Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan (housed in the old Metropolitan Life Building) does a restaurant (or should it) try and reflect its setting?

-I've also been trying to figure out what kind of stand alone structure could combine food, art, architecture, sculpture, music, dance, literature, journalism, theater and the internet. I'm still working on it.

Eleven Madison Park

The French Laundry

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It's late. This post is a bit of a cop out.

Valentine's Day is coming up, so I figured a post on chocolate was appropriate.

Enjoy, and indulge in some great chocolate this weekend.

This video does a fantastic job at explaining the process of making chocolate, from bean to bar.

Contemporary Chocolate Desserts:

Chocolate| blueberry, tobacco, maple

Soft Chocolate| peppermint ice cream, black cardamom, toffee

Chocolate Cremoso| sea salt, olive oil, sourdough crostini, expresso parfait

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Serving Pieces

Below are images of non-traditional serving pieces.

The "Hot Potato/Cold Potato" dish from Alinea. Cold potato soup is served in a paraffin wax bowl. Suspended above is a metal pin containing parmesan cheese, chive, a hot sphere of yukon gold potato cooked in butter, and a slice of truffle. The pin is removed, the ingredients fall into the soup, and the dish is "shot."

A "spider" on which several bites of food are served.

Bacon wheel.

A metal clip holding a raspberry transparency

A cylindrical plastic tube. Inside is a dessert made of Bubble Yum flavored tapioca, hibiscus gel, and creme fraiche. The dish is meant to be "slurped."

A bowl with a small notch for the fork. Inside the bowl is a sauce/soup. The intention is for the dinner to dip whatever is on the fork into the sauce.

Plastic serving piece with metal pin.

Another version of a "spider." This time the food is removed (a cinnamon stick plays the part of handle).

A stone container filled with sauce into which the dish is placed.

Dish served on a pin.

Guitar pick.

A hole was drilled on the right side for aromatics to be inserted.

A "bottomless" bowl. There is nothing in the bowl, which has no bottom. Once the spoon is removed, the diner realizes the bottom of the bowl is actually the table below.

Dish is served on a burnt log.

Dish is served on a pillow that is filled with scented air. As the diner eats the dish, the pillow slowly deflates, releasing the scent around the table.

Doing away with a serving piece altogether. The chef comes to the diners table and unrolls a silicone sheet across it. The dish is plated directly onto the silicone mat. After finishing, the mat is folded up and removed from the table.