Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New York Chronicles Day 1

Early morning departure from Richmond as the sun came over the horizon. Landed in New York before 9 and took the M60 into Manhattan through Harlem, straight down the main artery, 125th Street. Signs of the old - "Fried Chicken, oxtail, collard greens and yams" juxtaposed with Presidential Pizza, a nod to one of Harlem’s newest residents, Bill Clinton.

After dropping our bags in Midtown, we headed over to Brooklyn to visit our old friend Dave Crofton, and see the new digs of One Girl Cookies, founded by Dave’s bride Dawn. It has grown literally from an apartment industry to a 14 + employee operation with a retail storefront in the hot Smith Street. They make a variety of sweets including cookies, cakes, Whoopie Pies and chocolate macaroons. We walked around Brooklyn a bit- with a requisite stop at the iconic Arab market, Sahadi on Atlantic Avenue. A crowd waits for bags to be filled with treats from enormous bulk glass jars of nuts and grains and dried fruits. Mountains of fresh pita bread, a dozen varieties of olives, fresh grape leaves and bulk spices fill out the scene. We met Dave back at the shop and went next door to French café, Bar Tabac. A cold Stella Artois took away any travel edge from the morning and a steak sandwich and pommes frites made for a lovely start to a 3 day food extravaganza. Friday afternoon was lazy and meandering, from Broooklyn to Nolita and Soho. We window-shopped, people-watched and enjoyed an afternoon of freedom on a perfect New York 75 degree day. Stoppped for a fresh limeade at Café Habana before heading uptown for a rest and a cocktail before dinner.

We ventured back downtown to the East Village to David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar with the hopes of having dinner- I had heard stories about long waits, and on the way there we passed his newer ssäm bar where a large crowd waited outside. Much to our delight, the noodle bar only had a 1/2 hour wait. We hung out with a few Brooklyn Pennant Ales and stood in front of an enormous photo of The Band from their Music from the Big Pink album in Woodstock. B side classic rock filled the room amidst the chatter of long communal tables of folks slurping ramen. The food. The reason for the visit. And worth the wait. We started with Seasonal Pickles, a nice variety of lightly pickled veggies including turnips, shitttake mushrooms, carrots, fennel and kimchi. We moved on to one of the house specialties, Steamed Pork Buns. David Chang is serious about his pork- he sources it from Paul Willis/Niman Ranch & Eden Farms. His steamed pork buns are a perfect combination of fluffy sweet bun smeared with hoisin and topped with crispy pork belly, crisp cucumbers and scallions. The pork melts in your mouth. Baby Bok Choy is sautéed with onions and chunks of Benton’s smoky bacon from Madisonville, TN- a great combo of crunchy bacon and spicy dried chili peppers. We finished the evening with another of Chang’s brilliant concoctions, the Momofuku Ramen- chunks of crispy pork belly and shredded pork swim in a dark and rich broth; poached eggs sit atop perfectly spun ramen noodles. We ate and slurped and tipped our bowls to drink every last drop.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can food preference predict voting tendency?

Some say yes indeed. According to an article in today's New York Times, " If there’s butter and white wine in your refrigerator and Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, you’re likely to vote for Hilary Clinton. Prefer olive oil, Bear Naked granola and a latte to go? You probably like Barack Obama, too. And if you’re leaning toward John McCain, it’s all about kicking back with a bourbon and a stuffed crust pizza. "

There has been a trend in consumer research over the past decade to micro-segment target audiences and to reach beyond demographic information to potentially more telling psychographic data. Pollsters and retailers can tell a lot about consumers by what they buy- it provides a roadmap to potential sales and votes.

"So, for example, Christopher Mann of MSHC Partners, a political communications firm, knows that someone who subscribes to lots of gourmet cooking magazines is more likely to be a Democrat or at least more open to progressive causes. That can help a campaign decide if it’s worth spending money courting that person’s vote. "

However, some issues cross partisan boundaries. Rising food prices affect all of us and might be the tipping point. The question may not be, what do you eat, but for some, can you afford to eat?

For the full story, take a bite and then go out and vote.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eating Local

I am excited that Spring is here, the markets have started to buzz with activity and the ground is offering up fresh greens and other treats. My friend Paige and I have started an environmental group at our church- St Thomas' in Ginter Park. The basic idea is to educate our community about ways that they can positively impact their environment and live a more responsible life. The idea being that we are all stewards of this beautiful world and we have a moral responsibility to care for our creation. Last Sunday we had a kick-off event that included storytelling and planting for the kids, live music, fair-trade coffee and light bulbs for sale and a "local" lunch to enjoy.

I was in charge of lunch and crafted a menu that took advantage of what local goods I could find this early in the season:

Pork Barbecue ( the pork- 2 Boston Butts and a bone-in shoulder came from Faith Farm in Amelia. It was slow cooked for 18-20 hours over cherry and hickory on my buddy JP's Egg)

Cole slaw- the cabbage came from the 17th Street Market - i think they got it from NC

Challah Rolls- from our friends at Montana Gold on Cary Street- they mill the wheat daily

Route 11 Potato Chips - from Middletown VA

Dominion Ginger Ale and Root Beer- from Ashburn VA

Salad- picked fresh on Saturday morning at Charlie & Gina Collins' Victory Farm in Hanover- a pop in your mouth fresh combination of lettuces, mizzuna, arugula, spinach and radishes- they should be out at the local markets soon with their beautiful greens.

We hope to continue the eat local potluck idea throughout the year- it will be easier as the season matures.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Herbal Remedy

Style Weekly

April 9, 2008

Herbal Remedy

Verbena cures a case of the same-old.

by John G. Haddad

Verbena the plant is grown to attract butterflies and bees and is said to have divine powers. Verbena the restaurant is conceived to attract serious gourmands with its striking creative powers.Credit owner David Bess for the concept, as well as for chef Todd Richardson, who laid a foundation for culinary inspiration with experiences at None Such Place and Dogwood Grille. He’s broken new ground with a menu that includes rabbit, wild boar and foie gras BLTs. Based on the crowds the nights I visited, he’s beginning to hit his stride with Richmond diners looking for something new.

On a Thursday — ’Tini Night — my wife, Susannah, and I sat upstairs in the V Lounge. The trancey techno-beat was the only loungey part. Small two- and four-tops and a few pub tables complement the bar, where TVs cast a hollow light in an otherwise lovely space. Dark wood, brushed copper and exposed brick are tastefully illuminated. The martini menu was at least 10 deep and I enjoyed a tart pomegranate laced with hints of grapefruit; Susannah indulged in a chocolate espresso variation. In addition to an extensive drink list, the lounge serves a few entrees and a dozen or so small plates ($3-$9) that range from deviled eggs to lamb-chop mint julep.

Except for a hint of onion, nothing about the deviled egg stood out, but my next choices made up for it: The vegetable-quiche bites nicely combine fresh herbs, eggs and cream; the crab and tomato tart is a dreamy combination of crab in a slightly sweet tomato sauce. The ravioli of the day, tender dough stuffed with nutmeg-spiked pumpkin and topped with truffle sauce, was terrific. The pot-roast potato was homey and nostalgic, but a bit dry. In all, though, most of the small plates delivered. But there was still room to indulge. The lemon verbena cheesecake was out, so I went for the molten chocolate cake — adequately rich but very average. The peanut-butter-and-jelly tart reminded me of Linzer torte and gave me a taste of childhood.

On a visit with a larger group on a busy Saturday night, we were seated immediately in the inviting dining room. Our waiter was a recognizable face from a certain brasserie and is one of the best in town. He knew the menu well and made great recommendations.I started with the foie gras of the day, a stunning stacked crostini with truffle mayonnaise, smoked applewood bacon, sliced ripe tomato and seared foie gras. The skilled juxtaposition of tastes and textures put this dish head and shoulders above most dishes I’ve had in Richmond. Another fine starter was the Bibb lettuce salad, lightly dressed in black olive vinaigrette. Bread, baked daily in-house, is served warm with butter.The major misstep of the night didn’t stem from what was brought out of the kitchen. It was what wasn’t — our entrees, for more than an hour. I’ll forgive and forget, partly because I know that kinks need to be worked out in a fairly new restaurant on a busy Saturday, but mostly because of the quality of what followed. I was lured by the Mexican rabbit prepared three ways. Mole roasted-leg empanadas encased in a light, crispy crust were enhanced by the traditional chocolate-chili sauce. The liver pâté was creamy and dense with a slight hint of tequila in the glaze. My favorite of the trio was the juicy seared loin, topped with a chimichurri sauce. My wife opted for a trio of raviolis stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and pumpkin, all in a creamy truffle sauce. I was impressed by the freshness of several of the fish dishes that I sampled and by the variety of sauces and sides that came with the entrees. The menu will keep me coming back.For the second time, I came up empty when I tried to order the lemon verbena cheesecake. I settled for a strawberry shortcake and its unusual pairing with a balsamic reduction — a nice tart to the strawberry’s sweet.

Verbena has a lot going for it — a hip new space, an inventive menu and a visionary attitude among the partners. While the execution and delivery lag ever so slightly behind its creative potential, given time, Verbena will prove its worth.

Verbena ($$-$$$)
2526 Floyd Ave.
Dinner: Wednesday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
Brunch: Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
No smoking in dining room.