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Who Is This Man? And Where Does He Work?

Having seen an advance screener of the Top Chef premiere, we’re all set and ready to dig in and immerse ourselves in the show’s patented straight-faced lunacy this season. But something is getting in the way. The most annoying of the new cheftestants — this season’s Howie — is the high-strung Andrew, supposedly a cook somewhere here in New York. But where? His Top Chef bio calls him a “Sous Chef in NYC,” but no one seems to be able to give us a hint of where. (One tipster seemed to think that it was at Tocqueville, but the lead was a dead end: Jo Ann Makovitzky, Tocqueville’s co-owner, tells us, “He does not look familiar to me.”) Have you seen this man? Tell us all about him in the comments. Top Chef Cheftestant Bio: Andrew [Bravo] Related: What to Expect From the New ‘Top Chef’ Update: The mystery has been solved. An Eater reader has IDed Andrew D'Ambrosi as a sous chef at Le Cirque.

Sexy East Villager Open for New Year's; Bar Blanc Opening Not Imminent

East Village: One of Gael Greene’s sexy-restaurant-picks, Strip House, made this list of New Year’s Eve dining options. [Restaurant Girl] Sakaya and its daily tastings are now just a day away. [Down by the Hipster] Fort Greene: The new trattoria Caffe e’ Vino’s menu is so standard that it’s not doing a good jobs of tempting potential diners. [Eat for Victory/VV] Union Square: The area "centered on Broadway south of Madison Square" was called Ladies Mile in the 1800s because of its concentration of retails shops. Nowadays, restaurants like Tocqueville, BLT Fish, and Bar Stuzzichini have made the locale a culinary destination. [NYT] West Village: Bar Blanc is supposed to open on Saturday, but these pics of the unfinished space might tell a different story. [Eater]

Drink Japan Without Leaving Little Italy

Sake has been the next big trend for so long that we’ve been loathe to recognize it now that it’s actually arriving. If, like us, you're utterly mystified by the stuff (not being able to read the bottle is part of it), check out the Joy of Sake next week. The city's biggest sake event will hit the Puck Building on Thursday featuring 300 different sakes, at least a third of which aren't available outside of Japan. The restaurant lineup looks good too: Seventeen restaurants are creating dishes meant to be paired with sake, including wd-50, Sakagura, and 15 East. Tickets are $75 in advance, $90 at the door. Joy of Sake [Official Site]

15 East Offers a ‘Study in Seaweed’

15 East, Tocqueville’s long-planned sister restaurant, has made a lot of fans with its excellent sushi and sashimi. But owner Marco Moreira’s proudest achievement may be the “degustation of sea lettuces,” a $14 appetizer that presents New Yorkers with eleven varieties of authentic Japanese seaweed. “Seaweed is so unappreciated here,” he says. “You see seaweed salads that come in already dressed and frozen, with different seaweeds mixed together. I wanted to create a dish that showcases different seaweeds, textures, looks, and flavors.” As always, mouse over the different elements of the dish to see them described in Moreira’s own words.

Tocqueville’s Foie Gras Special Really Isn’t About Seasonal Vegetables.

The evils of foie gras production are old news, but somehow, the stuff keeps finding its way to our tables. Possibly because it’s so freaking good. David Coleman, chef de cuisine at Tocqueville, is featuring the controversial delicacy on his menu tonight, simply seared and served with apricots glazed with sherry caramel, alongside ramps and chocolate-mint purée. “The dish is inspired by the first spring ingredients finally available — ramps from the Greenmarket and also the first apricots from California, which have a short season from May to July.” Sure, David. The dish is inspired by spring produce, not the voluptuously buttery, sweet taste of what gastronomes like Charles Gerard have called “the supreme fruit of gastronomy.” We don’t believe you, but we will happily eat it anyway.

Dueling Views on Morandi; Varietal Taken to Task

Morandi gets absolutely slaughtered by Steve Cuozzo. Keith McNally has hardly received a bad review yet. [NYP] Meanwhile, Moira Hodgson loves the place: “You’ll want to taste everything on this menu.” She seems to have liked all of it, with the possible exception of an overpriced veal chop. Did these two even go to the same restaurant? [NYO] Bruni one-stars Varietal, calling the food creative but uneven and lambasting avant-garde dessert chef Jordan Kahn, who has enjoyed a lot of critical love. The desserts “don’t so much eschew convention as pummel and shatter it — literally, and often pointlessly.” [NYT]

Déjà Vu: Toqueville, Tasting Room, Frederick's, and Periyali

Bruni visits the bigger-but-not-better new locations of the Tasting Room and Tocqueville, taunting them with the same number of stars (one and two, respectively) Grimes gave their old locations. [NYT] Meehan turns his nose up at BLT Burger, agreeing with Augieland's earlier assessment that the Kobe sandwich isn't worth the extra $50 — and pointing out that you can get a better burger at BLT Fish. [NYT] Moira Hodgson eyes the beautiful people (well, beautiful bankers) at Frederick's Downtown and finds the food (including the "dish of the moment," scallops with cauliflower and white raisins) makes up for the pounding techno. [NYO]

Tocqueville's Mendes Opening Own Restaurant, Which Is Nice

We've learned that George Mendes, the very visible chef de cuisine at Tocqueville, is finalizing the lease on a restaurant space. Mendes tell us that his new place will be "gastronomically serious" but "modern, casual, and hip." No other details yet, but the guy is an imaginative young chef — one to keep an eye on. Tocqueville, meanwhile, is still going strong in its new space at 1 East 15th Street; executive chef Marco Moreira will be converting the old room at 15 East 15th Street into a modern Japanese restaurant.