Fall Is Here

Meals, drinks, movies, books as we move into a semi-normal autumn...

Fall at last feels here, and so fall meals begin, such as Ann’s risottos, above, along with a simple salad of greens, radishes and fennel, dressed with Spannocchia olive oil and lemon and cracked black pepper. Ann, bless her, so enjoys making risotto that she makes two, because she knows I don’t love Risi e Bisi with frozen peas. I get mushroom risotto.

But the above risotto, as I think about it, as I think about Ann silently, slowly stirring, adding more wine or broth, and stirring, I’m reminded how calming and soothing cooking can be. Kurt Vonnegut famously postulated that reading was the West’s version of Eastern meditation. For me, it’s cooking.

I remember Thomas Keller saying to me about cooking, “You’ve got to love doing the same thing over and over.” Like a mantra.

It also reminds me of one of the reason cooking can also be un-fun and stressful—when you don’t give yourself enough time. Always give yourself enough time. Clear the counters so you have plenty of space to work in. Oooohm…

How to make perfect risotto every time…

Risotto is also one of those great no-recipe meals (Sam Sifton, is there a risotto recipe in your latest book?). And I’ve found that one handful of arborio rice is the perfect per-person quantity. So if I’m cooking for four, four handfuls of rice, lightly toasted in the pan, followed by a glug-glug-glug-glug of white wine (I don’t love red wine in risotto), then stock or good boxed broth, in increments till the liquid becomes creamy and the rice is al dente. Finish with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Presto!

Ann rissoto caveat:

“Love, that’s not how you do it.” You start with a tablespoon of olive oil and butter each, add minced shallot, saute, toast the rice, then add warm stock or broth, incrementally. When it’s 2/3rds done, add your extras, sauteed mushrooms or ham or sausage (“I love sausage in risotto”), and when it’s still liquidy, add another tablespoon of butter (“it becomes super glossy”), then add a half cup of parmigiano.

Bottom line: “Risotto is something that you learn to do by feel.” So says the beloved paisono.

Autumn in New York…

Ann has begun in-person teaching at The New School in the Village and I’ve had a couple book-related meetings, one top secret, the other very not secret: planning promotion of Gabriel Kreuther’s first cookbook, The Spirit of Alsace, a big format book due out this November, beautifully photographed by Evan Sung, and co-authored by me.

What fun it’s been learning the farmhouse cooking of Alsace, that unique region of eastern France, how to prepare a proper choucroute, how to cut spätzle straight off the board and into the boiling water, how to make a proper kugelhopf and his famous tarte flambée (pictured below). And then to see how such dishes inspired Chef to create the kind of fine dishes that earned him two Michelin stars, such as the sauerkraut and sturgeon tart, under a smoke-filled glass.

Returning to restaurants…

Russell Baker once noted that fall in New York is like spring everywhere else—suddenly everything seems to come alive—and never feeling more vibrant than now, following a year of lockdown. Broadway is opening. And restaurants are back. One of the great luxuries Ann and I treated ourselves to was our first meal at Angie Mar’s new restaurant down the street from us in the West Village, Les Trois Chevaux.

Angie had been chef-owner of The Beatrice Inn, the anointed Meat Queen of 12th Street, until her landlord, listen to this, until her landlord raised the rent on her during the pandemic. She rightly gave them two middle fingers and opened up next door to the darkened Beatrice.

And what a restaurant it is. Angie, clearly in the New York spirit of go-big-or-go-home, has created an old school, white-table-cloth, jackets-required, defiantly old-school French restaurant that feels utterly contemporary and fresh.

It doesn’t get more classical than an aspic terrine—but suspended in her Lillet aspic is foie gras wrapped around fat chunks of lobster. The below is another example: a calves brain quennelle in a cream sauce with white truffle. Balls of brass, she has.

Destined to be one of the important power restaurants in the city—that at least was the vibe when we went on Tuesday. (It doesn’t come cheap: $180 prix fixe.)

But we’ve also had some great economical dishes:

Not to mention the superb $4 tacos at The Little Taco House (West 4th and Charles).

What we’ve been drinking…

We were in Cleveland last week for a college-tour trip that coincided with my fortieth high school reunion. Gadzooks! Time’s wingéd chariot, indeed.

But I have to reiterate the discovery of the season, the Chartreuse and tonic. I’ve always looked down a bit at Chartreuse, the expensive liqueur you’ll find in fancy drinks such as The Last Word. Look down not on the spirit itself—but rather that I might buy a $60 bottle to add a half ounce to a cocktail.

Brandon Chrostowski, who opened Edwins, on Shaker Square, to train formerly incarcerated men and women of Cleveland (watch his truly inspiring Tedx talk), sent out to our table what proved to be the perfect late summer cocktail: a Chartreuse and Tonic. I can’t resist reposting the photo here:

It was absolutely perfect all the way down to its beguiling pale green color. We pay extra for our Dingle gin and tonics. I am now willing to buy this liqueur in its stead. And I’ll be able to make the Last Word, a superlative cocktail, when the desire strikes.

It was so impressive, Ann and I returned the following evening to do our Friday Cocktail Hour live on Instagram and talk about this monk-made elixir. We even stayed for an extra live IG to watch the bartender make another Chartreuse cocktail, the Greenpoint.

What we’re watching…

Shang-Chi was a marvel comic delight, with beautifully choreographed fight scenes. A little weak on story but the performances were superb.

Ever since we saw the trailer for Border (in a pre-covid theater) Ann and I have been wanting to see it. What promised to be a truly odd romance, turned out to be a kind of horror story. It is one weird frigging movie. But it changed this New Yorker writer’s life, God bless him. If you love movies, see it. There’s nothing like it. (Mom, this is definitely not for you!)

And finally, I saw by myself, The Green Knight, about which I’d heard so many good things (“sumptuous, ragged and inventive”—AO Scott in the NYTimes). It was gorgeous to look at (including its excellent star Dev Patel, whose face fills the screen almost continuously), but from the opening words (which I could barely decipher) through its baffling conclusion, this movie made no sense whatsoever. I had more fun struggling through the actual middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in 10th grade than I did watching the sumptuous filmed version. Even if you love movies, I’d spare yourself.

And on to TV. I’m well into season two of Mike White’s Enlightened and Laura Dern’s incredibly nuanced performance. BJ Novak’s The Premise is promising. First episode nonsensical and creep, episode two, fucking brilliant. I’m in.

What we’re reading…

From Ann, the best of readers:

SORROW AND BLISS by Meg Mason, she writes, about a young woman’s descent into madness in London. It’s spellbinding, for sure. The author chose not to name what was wrong with the protagonist, even after she’s diagnosed by a psychiatrist. Instead, in place of the diagnosis there’s a blank. Mason wrote an afterward explaining why she did this, and in it she mentions OWLS DO CRY, a 1957 autobiographical novel by New Zealand writer Janet Frame about a woman’s descent into madness. Gorgeous, terrifying, devastating, magnificent.

I’ve been reading the short stories of fellow Clevelander Mary Grimm, particulate and gorgeous (Stealing Time). And have just been sent Every Deep Drawn Breath, by Dr. Wes Ely (Scribner), former fraternity brother of my pals who went to Tulane. I love medical stories, and this one about ICU life and critical care looks to be both edifying and a page-turner. My friend Les texted me, “Wes is as close to a saint that I have ever known.”

Links we’ve loved…

Amy Hempel, short story writer and journalist, born 1951, wrote a short story, “Harvest,” about an accident she had and explains after, what she chose to change and what she chose to retain, fascinating look from 23 years ago given current discussions of autofiction. (From pif magazine, via Ann.)

In 1956, a furniture store in Sweden opened a restaurant reasoning that you couldn’t do business with people who had an empty stomach. Thirty years later, the restaurant introduced its Swedish meatballs, called HUVUDROLL. If you’ve ever shopped at an Ikea, you may well be familiar with them. You can order them online from the store. And now, according to Food&Wine, you can buy HUVUDROLL-scented candles.

By day a game designer, by night an explorer of non-standard McDonalds franchises, such as this one in Poland. (via NPR)

By far the most beautiful McDonalds Ann and I have ever seen was in Porto, Portugal, an art deco wonder with ornate friezes and a chandelier.

Nicolas Gentile, a 37-year-old Italian pastry chef, did not just want to pretend to be a hobbit – he wanted to live like one. Those nutty Italians!

Ann found this excellent film from Eater on the making of Maker’s Mark, which is our go-to bourbon for a classic Manhattan.

And this great poem “Smoke,” read by the poet Wyn Cooper, about a son and his dying father.

And finally…

The comedian Norm MacDonald died last week of cancer. Watch this six minutes of comic genius:

See you in a couple of weeks!

— Michael