Monday, January 21, 2008
Asiana is an attractive restaraunt in Greenwich CT that Lynn and I stopped at during a detour coming from Poughkeepsie. We had wanted to visit Greenwich on many occassions but for one reason or another we never had the opportunity.
We hit the attractive Connecticut town around lunchtime with no real sense of where to eat or really what we were hungry for. We glimpsed Asiana, a small, apparently Oriental restaraunt on our first pass through Greenwich's downtown. Seeing nothing more interesting or appealling, we decided to give it a shot.
The experience was odd for us. The menu, with Japanese, Chinese and Thai offerings sounded better than it tasted, and the decor, though striking was undermined by the banal setting of the restaraunt in a small shopping center. The service, though satisfactory was by no means memorable nor warm.
As was stated earlier, the food did not keep the promise of the menu. The Tuna I had was beautiful, but had a rather ordinary flavor that was compromised by an overuse of wasabi. The spicy tuna roll I had seemed uninspired, and did not seem freshly made either. The food was inexpensive, but all things considered the place was ultimately a dissapointment.
130 E Putnam Ave, Greenwich, CT 06830
Monday, January 7, 2008
International Woman of Mystery and Cookbook Author Anissa Helou talks about her new book Savory Baking from the Mediterraneaun
Anissa Helou's life story sounds like something out of Ian Fleming, born of a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. She moved to London at 21 and studied art and interior design. She soon started working for Sotheby's where she quickly was appointed as the house's representative for the Middle East. She also ran an antique store in Paris for a time.
About 10 years ago, Anissa decided to reboot her life. She sold her house, most of her treasured and rare belongings at auction and began to seriously pursue her latest and current passion which is spreading the beauty of Mediterranean cuisine. Her books like Mediterranean Street Food and Lebanese Cuisine have introduced many western foodies to the exotica that is food from the Mediterranean.
Her latest work is Savory Baking from the Mediterranean (William Morrow). Ms. Helou was traveling in Italy when we contacted her, but she was incredibly nice and accommodating (even finding a wireless connection in Italy to correspond with us during the week of New Years.)
MLAF: Do you think it is harder to be creative when baking as opposed to cooking?
AH: "No, I don't think so, as long as you are aware of the need to be precise and to follow the correct measures, percentages, etc. you can introduce your own flavorings into a bread recipe but you cannot really change the formula for the dough. it's easier in savory pastries, pies and tarts but it is more in the make-up of the filling that you can be creative rather than in the pastry, although you can be creative there by substituting one type of pastry to another, or changing the fat used, for instance use butter instead of lard or olive oil instead of butter. "
MLAF: Was it different writing a book that concentrates baking as opposed to a typical cook book?
AH: "Yes, again there was a need to be very precise in both writing and testing the recipes. sometimes the research was frustrating. i remember one visit to a Greek island to meet some bakers and all of them unfailingly, told me that they measured 'by eye', ie. by looking at the amount of flour or yeast or water, which was no good to me as i didn't have the years of experience they had making a bread or a pie. this meant that i had to make up my own measures to try to approximate the recipes they gave me. it worked with some like the sweet bread and not for others. of course, this also meant a lot more work and sometimes having to ditch recipes that i had liked because i couldn't make them work."
MLAF : Is there a difference in approaching baking as opposed to cooking (emotional or otherwise)?
AH: "Well, baking is a great occupation. it is very nice to work with dough, and I always knead by hand. and at the end of baking, the smells that fill the kitchen are always incredibly appetising and never overpowering like with a highly spiced dish, or with cooking fish, or frying. and because of the need for few ingredients, which you would normally have in your kitchen cupboard or in the freezer (yeast), it is very gratifying to know that you can wake up in the morning and decide to bake a bread without having to worry about shopping for the ingredients."
MLAF: Was it important to you to take all of the pictures in the book or merely a matter of practicality?
AH: "It was a great way to concentrate on the bakers and what they were baking, and of course the photos were a wonderful record for me to remember what I had seen on my trips. i also really like photography and I am happiest when i have a purpose for taking photographs as against just going out to look for the perfect shot. the only problem is that i often had to be quick so i couldn't spend any time getting the lighting or the framing just right."
MLAF: "Your work in other areas such as photography, art and antiques is well-documented. Do these things help you in your work in the kitchen?"
AH: "Yes, I attach a particular importance to aesthetics both in my food, and in my writing, and of course in my kitchen. my kitchen is very functional but it is also very beautiful, I never present food if it is not attractive to look at. Even when I am cooking I pay attention to how I arrange the ingredients, and utensils. somehow everything always looks attractive, perhaps because I do not like any kind of mess and I am very neat, and I should say rather fastidious in my cooking."
MLAF: What do you think about when you are baking?
AH: "All kinds of things: a trip i am preparing; what i am going to say, the introduction to the recipe, if i will have time to go and buy something i need during the rise time, things i need to remember, and so on."
need more anissa? Check out www.anissahelou.com
Thursday, January 3, 2008
On a recent Sunday (Dec. 3oth) to be exact. Lynn and I drove into the lower east side of NY to go to Freeman's Sporting Club (www.freemanssportingclub.com) to redeem one of my gift certificates. The idea was that I was going to get a trim and a straight razor shave in what is considered one of the hipper places in NYC. Indeed, FSC is full of taxidermy, ancient Playboy magazines, super expensive outdoor clothing and old masculine totems like boxing gloves, trophies, daguerreotype photos and the like.
Before this, we had brunch at a place a few blocks away called Schiller's Liquor Bar. The place's modest glamour is the brainchild of legendary Gatsbyesque restaurateur Keith McNally who created the legendary eighties hangout The Odeon as well as Balthazar. The place was packed by the jet set poverty that one sees walking around in one of New York's more self-consciously cool neighborhoods. We had made reservations for 2 pm, but hunger and a long line at Freeman's barber shop helped us to arrive at noon. The host and hostess graciously showed us to a table immediately and we had an interesting looking young man with a shaved head wait on us.
The food was good, but a Vodka martini with campari that I had was one of the best I ever had as it contained flecks of ice (a sign of an expertly deployed shaker). The seared tuna salad I had was memorable too (it is the only time I ever remember enjoying anchovies-maybe it was the martini). The prices were commentdable too, we left buzzed and stuffed for less than $50.00.
A bit of commentary-Long Island has cheap places and hip places-But hardly any cheap, hip places- Most of the so-called hip places on LI like the Old Blue Honu (now Honu kitchen or something like that) in Huntington or Tony's Sushi near Quogue tend to be very expensive and off-puttingly sleek. The model on LI seems to be the W Hotel chain and something like The Hudson Hotel. The result is that there is a definite mid-town vibe in many of these LI venues with real estate and banker types posturing (men and women). This dreary clientelle can make dining experiences in these places depressing. It would be nice if there were more places like Schiller's (cheap, but somehow chic) on LI (Tula's in Bay Shore is close).
contact and info
The Dressing Room Restaraunt is situated in Westport Ct. and is famously a collaboration between Michel Nischan and Paul Newman. The intent was to have a restaurant that, paraphrasing the mission statement on the website, would "Celebrate and update regional American heirloom recipes." Naturally, the restaurant works hard to utilize local and organic resources in the menu and is very conscious of the role a restaurant plays in the life and welfare of a community.
Lynn and I had eaten there almost a year ago to the day as a part of Lynn's birthday celebration. We had read about the place previously and had stopped by at one point on the way back from upstate NY (but got there too late for lunch, too early for dinner). When he did eat there we were a bit disappointed. The food seemed heavy (especially for lunch) and while it was well-prepared, lacked any interesting flavors. Our waiter, though friendly and competent, was, for some reason, nervous, which made it hard for Lynn or I to relax.
We did not give up on the place, and, indeed, had thought that we might make a visit there part of a December ritual in conjunction with the proximity of Lynn's birthday (12/17) and Christ's birthday (12/25). Another reason for this strategy was that the Westport Country Playhouse (which Newman has also been involved with over the years) which is literally next door has a tradition of staging The Christmas Carol and we thought that would be fun to see this performance and get something to eat.
So, this year we did just that. We got tickets to the Christmas Carol (thanks Sara) and I took Lynn out on Dec. 16th to Westport to check out the Dressing room and celebrate her birthday.
This time, we were much more impressed and satisfied. The clear winner of the lunch menu was the "Super fresh Connecticut Oysters" which had an amazing flavor and were elegantly displayed.
We made quick work of them and ordered another batch.
I had the Tobago Blackfin Tuna which was served Sashimi style. It too was excellent. Lynn had the Niman Ranch Hanger Steak which she seemed to be very satisfied with. We had a couple of excellent glasses of red wine (can't remember the grape or vineyard).
Overall, we were much happier with our experience this time around. The menu does still have a lot of rich, heavy food that is not typically something we gravitate towards (i.e. bacon, apple cabbage slaw, onion gravy, etc.) in our eating out, and, again, this is the lunch menu. There still is not much in the way of flavoring (for example the sauce with the oysters was not memorable). Part of this is that there seems to be a kind of rock ribbed Yankee/New England/Puritan quality to the food that is part of the philosophy of the DR. Knowing what to expect food wise helped us enjoy the place better the second time around.
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Links of note from M & L...
- I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...