UES’s New Thai-Inspired Gastropub – Review of Flight


1479 York Avenue at E. 78th Street
Upper East Side


Seafood flight of jumbo crab cake, blue corn crusted calamari and roasted jumbo shrimp

Flight is a new gastropub featuring 16 rotating craft beers, happy hour food, and soon, live jazz.


The chef is inspired by the flavors of Thailand, which he features in dishes like PEI mussels with a wonderfully spicy coconut curry sauce. I could eat that dish with one of a few IPA draft options and be perfectly happy. It paired nicely with Newburgh Double IPA.  

Cheese and charcuterie flights are available, as well as slider flights, seafood flights, or a “barnyard flight” of filet mignon, fried chicken and rack of lamb. Prices are reasonable; 3 cheese and charcuterie options are $15 or 5 for $22. A slider flight with fries is $14. All of these work well with flights of beer, wine or whiskey.  

Beverage director Dermot Kelly brings his Irish heritage to some of the menu (traditional Irish breakfast and homemade brown bread ice cream, anyone?), but it really shines on his beer list. Four 6-ounce pours cost only $12.   Flight replaced longtime neighborhood spot Dresner’s, but Kelly said they see both former Dresner’s regulars and new folks. The light cream chairs and hanging lights give the atmosphere a brightness that most other craft beer-centric restaurants lack. There’s a glass outdoor cafe for warm months. Check it out for good beer and affordable bites.

Flight on Urbanspoon

Relaunch brings good spirits to Long Island City! Review of Crescent Grill Relaunch


Crescent Grill
38-40 Crescent Street,
Long Island City
Dutch Kills
(718) 729-4040/crescentgrill.com

When a New York City restaurant gets its liquor license, it’s a reason to celebrate!

Crescent Grill in Long Island City, also just added a gallery in the front of the restaurant featuring local artists and welcomed Chef de Cuisine Milton Enriquez.

Chef Shaun Dougherty was in good spirits Thursday night, as he greeted guests and reflected on the journey that brought his 100-seat New American restaurant to a former hair goods shop in Long Island City.

“I want to be able to say ‘I’ve been on this corner since 2013,’” Dougherty said.

Dougherty, who said his favorite high school class was Home Ec, hails from Johnstown, Pa. and opened the restaurant with his brother, Daniel, who has lived in Long Island City for 30 years. He considered opening the restaurant near State College, home of Penn State University’s main campus until his brother came aboard with the idea of bringing it to Long Island City.

Dougherty’s focus is on local, fresh food, and he really means it. He’s at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket every Sunday to pick up his goods from farms like Ronnybrook Dairy. He’s been using the same Western Pennsylvania farm to source his meats since 1993. “Farm-to-table” isn’t just a trend for him.

Pan seared Day Divers' Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

Pan seared Day Divers’ Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

duck confit pasta at Crescent Grill resized

Pappardelle Pasta: duck confit, butternut squash, sage, brussels sprouts leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano

For appetizers, we tried local salmon with citrus creme and a truffled mushroom quiche. For an entree, I indulged in one of my favorite seafoods, pan seared diver’s scallops, which are handpicked by licensed scuba divers. The dish had a shredded Asian-style salad of bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger dressing, which was a light and lovely accompaniment to the scallops.

The pappardelle with duck confit and butternut squash was certainly rich and hearty but the portion was just enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. All the flavors were just right and went together perfectly, with the brussels sprouts leaves helping to lighten it up just a touch. It was a hit!

There will soon be a private dining room downstairs, where guests can watch the kitchen staff work their magic.

The Dutch Kills neighborhood is looking good these days. Dutch Kills Centraal is down the street. A former auto-garage is now M. Wells Steakhouse, closer to Queensboro Plaza, but not far from Crescent Grill. New York City staples Murray’s Cheese and Amy’s Bread have outposts near Queensboro Plaza as well. The area has been home to tons of artists and families who’ve lived here for years. Only a few subway stops from Times Square, there are tons of hotels and office buildings nearby. As more businesses keep popping up, it could very well be the next Bushwick.

The energy here is infectious, with people excited and outwardly supportive of new businesses, and warmly welcoming of new visitors to the area. I can’t wait to go back.

Crescent Grill on Urbanspoon

Not your average sports bar – Review of BottomzUp


344 Third Avenue
Murray Hill
(646) 918-7220 / bottomzupnyc.com/


The 3400 square foot space at 344 3rd Ave. opened Thursday and features a menu of eats from around the nation. You can root for your team while pretending you’re at your favorite tailgate spot from New England to Texas. If you prefer, you can tune out the sports theme and order sushi and oysters, something you don’t see in most sports bars. 

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tempura sushi

Tempura sushi

The bar features a sleek design with 45 flat-screen 60” HDTVs, and guests can listen to their game of choice (or music) on tabletop wireless speakers. This is ideal for serious sports fans like my dad, who listens to football while watching hockey. It’s also nice for people who want a little diddy with their oysters. The apathetic folks deserve a Sunday funday, too.

As time goes on, more regionally inspired features will make their way onto the menu. I may have to check in once their Primantis-style sandwich makes an appearance.

Bottomzup Bar & Grill NYC on Urbanspoon

Tennessee Whiskey for Lovers – Raising the Bar


So George Dickel is trying to break into the New York market? I think it’s about time another Tennessee whiskey rode into town.

Literally “Raising” the bar @ Dickel’s SoHo Party

Literally “Raising” the bar @ Dickel’s SoHo Party

George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey hosted a party last week in SoHo for the top mixologists in town touting their new offerings as well as showing off their tried and true recipes. Their new campaign ‘Raising the Bar’, does just that. It raises the bar, not necessarily on Tennessee whiskey itself, but on what most people know Tennessee whiskey to be; an already syrupy liquor best served mixed with cola. Dickel’s repertoire of four varieties provides a crisp, small batch take on Tennessee whiskey it’s George Dickel Rye, the newest member of the family.

The whiskey was surprisingly versatile with featured cocktails from some of NYC’s best ranging from a mojito-like ‘shake’ by Giuseppe Gonzales (Golden Cadillac) to a vibrant punch from Julie Reiner of Clover Club and even a twist on the Sherry Twist no. 2 from TJ Lynch (Mother’s Ruin). While each was decidedly inspired by the subject matter, Dickel’s products run the gamut from smooth and aged to earthy and spicy – all while remaining true to strict Tennessee Whiskey guidelines.

What sets Dickel apart?

Each batch of Dickel whiskey is chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, double distilled, and filtered through a charcoal mellowing process before aging making each batch of Dickel the same as the last. With only a handful of people working at the facility, Dickel prides itself on being a small batch, hand-crafted distillery producing only a tenth of its capacity last year. John Lunn, master distiller for Dickel is only the 3 third set of hands Dickel has run through since its rebirth in 1958 ensuring that Dickel stays true to its roots.

George Dickel 2

Frozen Mint “Shake” – Photo courtesy of George Dickel Whiskey

Frozen Mint “Shake” – Giuseppe Gonzales

• 1.3 oz. Dickel 12

• .75 oz. Lime

• 1 oz. simple

• Mint leaves.

• 1 Dash of angostura bitters

Blend until texture is thick. Pour into baby coupes. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serve with Long straw.

Glass: Coupe

Garnish: Mint sprigs

Tennessee Rose Punch - Julie Reiner

Tennessee Rose Punch – Julie Reiner

• 18 oz. lemon juice

• 6 oz. ginger syrup

• 12 ounces raspberry syrup

• 1 – 750ml bottle Dickel Rye

• 6 oz. Amaro Nonino

• 24 oz. Ruby Slipper tea (Serendipitea makes this)

• 18 oz club soda

Large block of ice

Tennessee Rose Punch – Photo courtesy George Dickel Whiskey

The Classy Mother – TJ Lynch

• 1.25 oz. Dickel Rye

• .50 oz. Gutierrez Colosia Oloroso Dry Sherry

• .25 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

• 2 dashes Regans orange bitters

• 2 dashes chocolate bitters

Stirred and served up

Flamed orange peel and Luxardo cherry garnish



Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai


203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

A Contemporary Brooklyn Spin on Big Easy – Review of Fort Defiance


Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt St. (at Dikeman St.)
Red Hook, Brooklyn
(347) 453-6672 / fortdefiancebrooklyn.com/

Muffaletta at Fort Defiance

When you walk in to the restaurant you won’t find yourself standing in front of a podium.  Your last name doesn’t matter and ‘party of five’ would just be a Jennifer Love-Hewitt reference.  There’s no host or hostess and you certainly won’t find a maitre’d making pleasantries.  You’re water is going to be filtered.  So long as it’s not sparkling you won’t be charged for it, and although the restaurant is in Brooklyn, there’s no room for strollers.  The only conventions Fort Defiance boasts are a front door and a chef.

A sign hanging inside at the end of the bar explains how Fort Defiance was built during the Revolutionary War to help detain ships from entering the East River.  The bar itself is set beneath large panels of dark wood that suggest the hull of a cargo ship.  The night I dined there the captain smiled and waved me in.  Her name is Abigail and it turns out she’s leaving for New Orleans in a couple weeks.  The cocktail list is headed with an homage to her departure and, in regards to her drinks, suggests you ‘Get em while you can.’  Ingredients like flamed orange peel and rosemary smoke reveal cocktails that express the vision Fort Defiance has.

Pickled herring sits in horse radish and creme fraiche and manages to retain a freshness despite its preparation.  Biting into the dense, meaty flesh invites a sensation that must be the human equivalent to bears catching salmon swimming upstream.

Monday’s are burger nights at F.D. and it’ll only run you $10.  For $12 you’ll get a beer with your burger.  Make it $14 and you can wash down the perfectly seasoned blend of lean and fatty cuts from Pino’s Prime Meats with homemade punch–obviously spiked.  The burger is dressed economically; lettuce, red onion, and pickles.  It’s accompanied by a side of roasted potatoes that is kept warm in a cast iron skillet, the likes of which can be seen through the pass being tossed with the same frequency a saucier may skim the fat off a stock.  A pleasant spectacle though perhaps a better plate of food if the potatoes were hot out of the oven.

Aqua walls invoke more maritime spirit and lend themselves to a bright room should you decide to dine here for lunch.  Any of the $6 beers on tap are the perfect companion to the New Orleans inspired muffaletta.  The history of its creation at Fort Defiance started with St. John Frizell’s longing for the sandwich he became familiar with living in The Big Easy for eight years.  He is the owner and proprietor of the restaurant so no one could really tell him having muffaletta’s FedExed from New Orleans was a bad idea.  His intention?  Dissect the sandwich and put it back together using local products.  The result?
 An authentic product trapped between perfectly toasted lips of bread that scream of cured pork, briny olives, and rich Provolone and Emmental cheeses.  The sandwich is a symbol for the effort that goes in to the restaurant.

Adam Baumgart is the current chef and his well-crafted menu exists in a remote corner of Brooklyn.  Peter Luger’s gets diners from all over the country.  Roberta’s serves sweet breads to patrons from the Upper East Side.  Fort Defiance may not have what it takes to entice guests from all reaches of the city but you quickly get the feeling that’s not what they’re after.  Instead, Fort Defiance succeeds as a subtle, reliable, neighborhood fixture and shows no signs of going anywhere.  These notions are quickly set into place after one of the servers or the bartender catch your eye and politely steer you to a table, should there happen to be one open.

Fort Defiance on Urbanspoon

A Healthy Version of Southern Cuisine? …It’s Here! – Review of Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter


94 Avenue C
Alphabet City / Lower East Side
212-228-2972 / bobwhitecounter.com/

Counter seating area

            Opening their doors January 4 of this year, Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter has already gained popularity with the locals providing affordable Southern foods in LES. Located on Avenue C, the new lunch and dinner spot has added a healthy twist to the southern food craze of 2011. While it’s difficult for diners to accept the concept of a healthy Southern-style meal, Bobwhite is serving up crispy chicken, homemade mac and cheese and buttery biscuits that are sure to change your view of healthy eating.

Pressure fried chicken dinner plate.

            The chicken and pork come from the owner’s farm in Hudson Valley while the vegetables are bought from local farmers. Side dish options, all priced at $3.50, change regularly based upon the season and availability but so far grits seem to be a staple item on the menu.

            The chicken is soaked in sweet brine and fried in a pressurized fryer, which keeps the meat from drying out and knocks off some of the calories. When ordering the chicken you have a choice of white or dark meat, both equally delicious. Rather then coming with a heavy side like mac and cheese your chicken comes with a biscuit and side salad. The biscuits are light and, fluffy and when topped with the cayenne honey prepared in house they are pretty irresistible. We would also suggest adding some of the cayenne honey to your chicken you wont regret it.


Pork chop Sandwich.

            A dish that has been popular with walk in customers is the pork chop sandwich ($8.50). The pork chop sandwich is topped chow chow, a southern relish recipe that comes from the owner’s grandmother, and served on a bun with salad.

            During our visit some of the sides on the menu were cheese grits, mac and cheese and roasted vegetables. The mac and cheese was creamy and they didn’t skimp on the cheese, much like the cheese grits that are cooked in milk and loaded with cheddar, not like we’re complaining. Though I love cheese just as much as the next guy my absolute favorite side had to be the roasted vegetables. Onions, carrots and melt in your mouth garlic cloves cooked up with minimal seasoning allowed for the vegetables natural sweetness to shine.


Banana cream pie parfait

            To close the meal we sampled two traditional Southern desserts made on site ($4.00 each). The red velvet cupcake was moist and the cream cheese frosting wasn’t too sweet. The second dessert sample was a banana cream pie parfait made with vanilla wafers, vanilla pudding, freshly made whipped cream and bananas, all made with organic whole milk. 

            If you are in LES and looking for somewhere to go for a quick, and affordable, bite we strongly suggest you check this place out. They also deliver from E 14 Street to Houston, First Avenue to Avenue D.

Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter on Urbanspoon



Gourmet Execution and the Comfort of Brooklyn – Review of Vinegar Hill House


72 Hudson Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-522-1018 / vinegarhillhouse.com/
Monday – Thursday, 6 – 11
Friday and Saturday, 6 – 1130
Sunday 530 – 11
Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 330

Tucked in a corner of Brooklyn, about as close to the nearest train as it is the Lower East Side, Vinegar Hill is a dozen or so streets sandwiched by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Heights.  The neighborhood gets its name from the Battle of VinegarHill, which took place in Northern Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of  1798.  Eight years later, in 1806, the Brooklyn Navy Yard became an active shipyard, and 202 years after that, Sam Buffa and former Freemans chef Jean Adamson opened Vinegar Hill House.

You are liable to walk right past the restaurant.  It’s on a quiet cobblestone street and from outside it looks like nothing more than a modest farm house.  Inside it’s warm and dim; there’s a wood burning oven in the back whose digital temperature reads 749 degrees.    Old hard wood floors set the stage in this theater and there’s not an empty seat in the house.  That’s not a terribly challenging task given the 40 seat capacity, but given its location, and the temperature of a January night in New York, you get the idea that the food is going to be worth the trek.

The copper bar offers to hold your elbows as you wait for a table.  They’re all good choices, except for the one that didn’t finish the transformation from a tree.  It sits just inside the entrance as a small, kidney shaped slab of wood that is not sensible or necessary.  We had to join the statistic of guests that asked to be moved.  The food is too good here for the likes of such tables.

After a short stint in the oven, the croutons in the Caesar Salad ($11) are fried in schmaltz.  The preparation leaves the outside crunchy while the middle stays tender and warm.  The dressing had the perfect amount of acidity, fat, and saltiness that comes from a classic incorporation of Caesar dressing ingredients.  For the price though I thought another handful of romaine wouldn’t have hurt the food cost.

The handmade garganelli ($16) were the right choice for a sauce of preserved lemon, capers, chick peas, and kale.  It was a light dish that excited the palate but could have benefited from a grating of pecorino.

The wild boar shank ($24) rested on a delicious, but restricted portion of grits.  The wood stove proves to be an exceptional heating element when it comes to finishing a braise, as the meat pulls effortlessly from the bone and melts in the diner’s mouth.  The dusting of fennel pollen that covers the pecan grits is exactly the breath of fresh air an otherwise rich entree may have suffocated without.

There is something timeless and satiating when it comes to eating this particular cut of meat.  Jonathan Safran Foer may disagree on this point, but it speaks to the human soul in the same manner as a campfire, when you’re staring into one on the prairie—instilled in humans after centuries of hunting and evolution.

The food is exceptional at Vinegar Hill House.  It is well thought out, professionally executed, and perfectly seasoned.  The place is quaint, the menu is economical and concise, and the service is an ideal match for the restaurant’s vision.  It executes the Brooklyn restaurant theme to near perfection but forgets the lower overheads that distinguishes them from others across the river in Manhattan.  With a Brooklyn location, Vinegar Hill House has the ability to offer New Yorkers what Manhattan restaurants don’t and others in Brooklyn do.  All they need to cross their t’s and dot their i’s is tune up the portions or tone down the prices.

Vinegar Hill House on Urbanspoon

Cream of Wheat Goes Gourmet


Foods that remind you of your childhood. Ready, set, go!

Some that come to mind for me are Corn Flakes, grilled cheese and pancakes. Easy, affordable, accessible, staple foods. Many people across the country would say that Cream of Wheat is one of those items that they remember eating as a child. However, did you ever think that Cream of Wheat could be a main component of an upscale dish, such as Crispy Catfish Fritters with Red Hot Cilantro Aioli or “French Style” Cream of Wheat with Mushrooms and Leeks?

Cream of Wheat Upside-Down Apple Cake

Family favorite Cream of Wheat has partnered with an all-star line-up of chefs to launch Cream of Wheat Goes Gourmet, a charitable initiative leveraging the product’s rich history and exciting versatility. Earlier this year, the brand invited top chefs around the country to develop upscale recipes featuring Cream of Wheat as a key ingredient. Eight notable chefs tapped into their favorite memories of Cream of Wheat and merged it with their distinctive styles to create unique recipes.

Participating chefs and their recipes include:

  • Antonia Lofaso of Bravo’s “Top Chef” fame, created Crispy Catfish Fritters with Red Hot Cilantro Aioli
  • Arturo McLeod of Benjamin Steak House in New York, created Cinnamon Swirl Nut Cake
  • Claudine Pepin, noted chef and author of “Jacques Pepin’s Kitchen: Encore with Claudine,” created “French-Style” Cream of Wheat with Mushrooms and Leeks
  • Donatella Arpaia of Donatella, DBar and Iron Chef America, created Upside Down Apple Cake
  • Jet Tila of Wazuzu in Las Vegas created Crispy Thai Salmon with Green Apple Slaw
  • Josh Wahler of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and Symcha’s in South Beach, created Pan Seared Chardonnay & Thyme Marinated Florida Black Grouper with White Truffle Scented Cream of Wheat and Citrus Grilled Asparagus
  • Michael Ferraro of Delicatessen and macbar in New York, created Cream of Wheat Crusted Tuna with Charred Corn Cream of Wheat Sauce and Marinated Tomatoes
  • Sara Moulton, noted chef and star of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” created Warm Creamy Mocha Pudding

Each recipe and accompanying photo can be easily downloaded from the Cream of Wheat Facebook page.  In addition to making a monetary donation in each chef’s name, the brand will donate one box of Cream of Wheat to a national  hunger relief charity, up to 5,000 boxes, for every recipe downloaded on Facebook. Please do your part by liking the Cream of Wheat Facebook page and downloading recipes.

I got to chat with celebrity chef Donatella Arpaia about some of her childhood Cream of Wheat memories:

Donatella Arpaia

Do you have memories of eating Cream of Wheat as a child? What other foods remind you of your childhood?

We used to call Cream of Wheat “farina” when I was growing up.  I remember the original box had a little blond boy on the box cover.  On especially cold weekend mornings, my mom would make the special treat for us – we were used to cold cereal during the week so this was always a special treat!  My mother would also make my siblings and I Cream of Wheat as a nighttime snack and swirl maple syrup throughout the creamy mixture.  I have fond memories of sharing a bowl right before bedtime.

Your recipe for Upside Down Apple Cake looks delicious! Do you have any other favorite C of W recipes?

I really enjoy adding Cream of Wheat to my muffin recipes.  They change up the texture making it similar to cornbread and add a slightly sweet and hearty flavor to any muffin recipe.  Truly delicious!

 As a food blogger, I am always looking for affordable ways to create memorable dishes that look more expensive than they really are! Cream of Wheat seems like a great way to do that. Any other tips?

I am a firm believer that presentation is the way to make humble, affordable dishes look more expensive.  Next time serve up your Cream of Wheat in a stemless martini glass and top it with edible gold dust for a special finishing touch!

Who knows – maybe Cream of Wheat will be the next secret ingredient in Iron Chef AmericaAlton, are you reading?

Upclose with Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone and Why The Big Apple’s Local Dishes Are the Best

Hotel Indigo Invites NYC Locals to Meet Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone and Prove The Big Apple’s Local Dishes Are the Best – Friday, September 30, 2011


Chef Curtis Stone at Dish on the Dish at Hotel Indigo, NYC

The Hotel Indigo was clearly having a bountiful foodie afternoon. The stream of black-clad New York foodies eddied in and out. The ladies in black and white uniforms with trays of little tiny edibles like a wicked maguro roll with dipping sauce cunningly concealed in the bottom of a tiny cup, or a tiny crème brule garnished with an even tinier mint leaf and seated on a red pomegranate base, efficiently made the rounds. The buzz of conversation and appreciation rose.

Displays of local delicacies– from the five boroughs—were mounted around the room. A magnificent Brooklyn bakery, Brooklyn Bread Guy, Inc., with an amazingly wide variety of breads, rolls, baguettes, was posed next to an importer of olive oils so that one could rip off a chunk of fluffy baguette and dunk it into the olive oil seated at the adjacent table and savor both.  Tumbadour chocolates, also from Brooklyn, created by pastry cook Jean Francois Bonnet, (formerly of Daniel Restaurant) were cunningly decorated to display their contents – an abstract swirl of lime for a lime scented chocolate, for example.  They inspired broad smiles in anyone who came to their table, and everyone did.   A Double Cross Pear Martini made with Double Cross Vodka from Slovakia, the delicious garnish of a Chilean Wild Baby Peach, and wild baby pear juice, was amazing, the juice masking the strength of the vodka.

But all of this was merely the introduction. The star of the day and the event was Chef Curtis Stone, Australian super chef, and star not only of the cutting board in Australia, Britain and the US, but also a media darling.

Described variously as an important ’young gun” chef and by People Magazine (to his stated embarrassment) as “one of the sexiest men alive,” Curtis describes himself endearingly as a kid learning about making delicious meals from his mother and grandmother. He said that family and food were a close association with him. And was it not true that most people, when asked what was the best food they could ever remember, was a dish their mother had cooked?  It was certainly true for him.  A cherished memory, family sitting around the table, eating food cooked especially for the occasion, and the meal featuring his mother’s bread—she is a baker. Curtis likes to bake bread from her recipes.  “Good food,” he said, “has that personal touch.”

I asked him if he had a philosophy of food.  He said that a great meal starts with really great fresh ingredients.  Go looking for the perfect local fresh cheese, meats, vegetables–that’s what he wants to have end up, cooked perfectly, at the dinner table.  And remember the cooking timelines of each food element in order to put together your total timetable for cooking the meal. So that the timing of the cooking all works together.

Curtis has said that he loves soaking up local cultures as he travels, so I asked what was his favorite cuisine. He said that French cuisine would have to be at or near the top of his list. That they used their beautiful local produce and products to create brilliant, flavorsome exquisite meals and had been honing their techniques for hundreds of years—to perfection. And that their elegant foods are an integral part of their culture.

Did he have a signature meal? Curtis commented that as one got to know the history of food one learned about certain striking spots – such as Liguria in Italy- the birthplace of pesto.  The name means “pounded.”   Pesto is the pungent, aromatic, brilliant mixture of garlic, basil, and pine nuts pounded together and blended with olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.  He said that one could really get a feel for the wonderful taste of squashed mashed young basil leaves.  That it was very important to use young basil leaves.  Then the pesto will be powerful and delicious.

Curtis reluctantly acknowledged that he has become a media darling but insists that it was all by accident.  He said he started with a number of segments, (Oprah, Ellen) during which he worked hard to share his love of food, and that it just caught on. People love food! And they love hearing other people talking well about food!

Who was his favorite talk show host? Curtis adroitly dodged that one, saying that Al Roker comes backstage frequently to sample his wares even when he isn’t on the show, and that he loves Curtis’s cooking.

His advice to a new chef just starting out?  Think of assembling your meal as a Sherlock Holmes or treasure hunt experience.  You start with great fresh local ingredients and then start asking questions about them. And going on a hunt for ingredients which will complement the first element.  Find a great bunch of asparagus—then ask, what goes well with this? A beautiful prosciutto? Then what?   Keep building on those initial blocks and you will have assembled the pieces to a beautiful meal.

When I asked Curtis what he felt was the key to success in his restaurants, he said that he always strove for integrity.  He said that a chef and restaurant owner must love his customers and must care for them and their needs from the minute they walk through the door. The chef’s warm attitude must be consistent throughout their time in the restaurant. Love- that’s the key!

And the perfect note on which to end the conversation.  Curtis had served us the dessert, you might say, and the fine cup of coffee