Essence Magazine June 2011 Contributor

Check out my article and recipe contributions to the June issue of Essence magazine-a three page spread!


Review: James Beard House-Take 3

For a someone-special's birthday, we decided to treat ourselves to an extraordinary experience at the James Beard House. Each time I've had the opportunity to visit the amazing venue, I've always been enchanted by the soiree. The welcomed master of the evening was executive chef Lawrence Knapp, of The Hurricane Club. A most appropriate theme for a hot summer day-Polynesian Luau!

   Tobegin the hors d'oeuvre hour, we helped ourselves to The Hurricane Club's signature cocktails, including: 'In the Shell' (an overly sweet coconut concoction, served in its home of a coconut shell), 'Stormy Ginger" (a refreshing citrus drink made with ginger beer), and "Strong" (appropriately named Knob Creek cocktail, garnished with cucumber and tomato).

As we settled into the hot summer air in the outside patio, the small bites made their way into the crowd. Peking duck tea sandwiches were melt-in-your-mouth tender, served on crispy mini white toast. Chicken parm shumai, served in porcelain spoons, were a colorful delight with a slight sweetness.

Crunchy coconut shrimp were served elegantly on skewers. The Elvis, a unique combo of crispy, thick cut bacon, banana, and spicy peanuts was an incredible marriage of flavors. While my favorite of the evening outshone the rest: a peanut butter and guava jam sandwich with prosciutto and Thai basil. Superb!

As we were called into the grand dining room the fantastic staff showed us to our table, where we continued the culinary adventure. A trio of ceviche (snapper, hamachi sashimi, and toro tartare) were served with a cool Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and tangy flavors were subtle, allowing the fish to shine.  Honey glazed baby back ribs and The Club's signature wings arrived on family style serving platters. The tender meat departed the bone with ease, while the sweet and succulent marinade coated our fingers. San Miguel, a light amber and slightly citrusy beer, complemented the multitude of succeeding helpings.

While anticipating the next course (and as if we weren't already loose enough), we received a watermelon surprise at our table...for more lubrication. A vodka-watermelon cocktail, served family style, was a fun and extremely boozy conversation piece.

Crispy peking pig (paired with a sweet hard cider) was yet another family style presentation of tender and crispy meat. Served with a multitude of sauces and buns, each guest made their customized version of a pork bun (or two.... or three... or...).

The black bean lamb chop and spice crusted shrimp surf and turf arrived plated. While the Hawaiian fried rice and baby bok choy were served for the table. Once more the chef presented us with extremely delicious flavors and textures (paired with a bit overly-sweet Riesling). I reluctantly gave up the bone of my perfectly cooked chop and couldn't get enough of the delicious rice and vibrant greens.

With the consumption of the aforementioned cocktails, wines, beers, and liquors, we were exceptionally at ease and happily cheered for the chef as he made his way into the dining room. He briefly described the desserts we were about to feast on: chocolate kill devil's food cake (an unimpressive and somewhat bland spongy cake), the pina colada upside down cake (a tasty, flavorful, and doughy batter, served with a rich yet refreshing pineapple ice cream), and the king of the evening's desserts...the Samoan! An incredible, lick-your-plate-clean melange of angel food cake, coconut, and caramel. An airy delight to end yet another incredible J.B. experience.


Review: Perry Street

When the name Jean George is uttered, the palate is automatically aroused while an intrigue and excitement sets in. This was the initial spark when we entered Perry Street-Jean George's 'neighborhood joint' in downtown Manhattan.  The low-pitched hostes showed us to our lunch table-an almost comunal attachment to the clients adjacent, with paper placemats yet comfy chairs. The floating and serene waitress took our orders and we were greeted with buttery croissants to start. As we waited for our first course to arrive, we examined the pristine atmosphere, chatty clientele, and well dressed staff.

The arctic char sashimi was presented on a white square, simply garnished with lemon zest, crispy skin, a few paper-thin slices of chilis, and olive oil. The tender slices of fish were garnished with large salt flakes (Maldon perhaps) and had a pleasant texture.

Crispy calamari were our other starter...extremely tender, however, a bit difficult to pierce with a fork, as the batter had hardened significantly-resulting in fried dough pieces all around. The whipped ponzu-sesame sauce was savory and a perfect dipping accompaniment for the croissant as well.

Service was quick and attentive and the semi-communal seating added to our amusement. We couldn't help overhearing a few gentlemen comment on their discontent with portion size, as they ordered more plates after finishing their entrees.

When our main dishes arrived, we understood their concern. Although cooked to perfection and delicious, the two humble slices of grilled hangar were questionable size for an entree. Unfortunately the 'crispy' potatoes were appropriately called due to still being crisply undercooked...not so much to their fried composition.

The slow cooked salmon was the biggest surprise of the lunch. Having experienced this dish at the James Beard House, as well as preparing it in the past, I was looking forward to the melt-in-your-mouth-feel of the delicate preparation. I was presented, however, with a simple baked salmon, overcooked at the edges. The accompanying asparagus and bok choy were fresh, crispy, and delicious, and the herbal chili sauce was flavorful and had a smooth consistency, however lacked the chili mentioned in its title.

Dessert was once more a hit and miss. The warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream seemed as if originating from the frozen isle of Trader Joes (which I love...however, I was expecting more). The cassis mousse with a small carrot cake layer and sorbet was a delicious mix of sweet and tangy flavors and greatly succeeded it's partner. Although beautifully presented, the food did not WOW our excited palates.

Were my expectations too high? Is Perry Street a faulty representation to the JGV world? I hold my breath and anticipate a better experience in one of his alternate venues.