My James Beard Awards weekend came to a end at about 3:30a.m. last night. When I left the impromptu celebration at Gramercy Tavern it was still going strong. Overall, I’d say it was one of the better awards weekends in recent memory.
The Edison Ballroom had more than enough room for everyone at Chefs’ Night Out hosted by Bon Appétit on Friday. The bonus was the dance floor and a pretty decent DJ. Chefs getting their groove on is always entertaining. I’m not sure who thought of it, but the Good Humor ice cream truck parked in front was brilliant. The bow-tie clad driver was handing out free ice cream bars at the door. Everyone, including fancy chefs, loves a cool strawberry shortcake on a stick. The after parties inevitably flowed downtown, with people reconvening at Blue Ribbon, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Spotted Pig, and Florent.
For the first time ever, the Who’s Who induction was a separate event on Saturday. The cocktail reception was hosted by Gourmet magazine at the Plaza Hotel. I do believe that the Terrace Room has some of the best air conditioning in the city, which was crucial in the 90+ degree heatwave. It was quite an elegant soiree and a lovely addition to the festivities.
By the time we arrived at the Sunday awards, everyone was much more relaxed (i.e. tired and hungover), better dressed and ready to go again. As the night progressed and the winners were announced and the champagne was uncorked, the evening took on a vivacious sparkling quality.
The after parities in the immediate vicinity were at P.J. Clarke’s, hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits, and a wine and paté malay in the downstairs room at Bar Boulud. As tradition dictates, there were spontaneous parties at Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern to celebrate their winnings. Everyone agreed they were two of the best after parties in recent years. Revelers did not seem to be deterred by the late hour and the staff kept pouring drinks and serving food.
I wonder how lunch service went for them today? I wondered if there would be any wine left to serve. The staff at both restaurants deserves their own After-Party Service Award for the fantastic job they did into the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps a new awards category to consider for next year.
We just braved the gauntlet balcony, which is, yes, still sweltering. You can barely move out there; only Higgins’ dry-cure Berkshire ham is sweating more that the rest of us. We went out there for the cocktails, but we’re going to come back to talk about the food. We’re a little stunned. After waiting all night for some samples, we have feasted.
First off was the Osteria Mozza, the one that we tried to get a peak at earlier. They were in full swing slinging out big, pillowy mozzarella with a beautiful artichoke stuck on top. The artichoke was slightly sweet, and perfectly tender. It’s probably the best artichoke Nick had ever had.
We finally had a taste of that 43-ingredient, 6-chili, blackberry mole we were eyeing earlier. It lived up to expectations, deep, complex, and in possession of a beautiful bitterness. Jaime Martin Del Campo once again went into the passion he had for the dish, and it showed.
Nostrana from Portland, Maine, were serving olive oil-poached tuna with wood oven-baked Zofino beans. They were the best beans Blake has ever eaten–creamy as ever, the skins perfectly formed. Of everything we ate, this was the quiet, subtle star.
We did finally get our hands on that Back Forty cocktail: tequila, lime juice, and fresh strawberries. It’s like a fancy, slushy daquiri, and they mix in black pepper with the sugar for the rim. Definitely worth waiting for.
Then I guess it’s a party.
Someone who’s managed to get drunker than me knocked down a spectacular pile of glasses. It was a miracle no one lost an eye. The poor waiter who instantly arrived to clean up was chastised by a guest with an orange tan for not instantly corralling every last sliver of glass with his bare hands.
I love that even surrounded by wonderful food people and wonderful pork products and Jacques Pépin, I can find at least on person to hate. Yay!
Rick Bayless wishing for margaritas.
We just had a cool conversation with Melissa Kelly of Primo Maine restaurants, who is cooking squash blossoms with handmade sheep’s milk ricotta and pesto pantesca. Her restaurant in Rockland, Maine has its own produce farm, pigs, and soon-to-be-installed windmill. “I don’t know if you can ever be totally off the grid,” she said, “but we’re pretty close.”
We were interested to learn, though, that Primo Maine has expanded to Florida, and now Arizona. How did the philosophy of a self-supporting system keep its integrity. How did they keep it local?
“It went hand-in-hand,” she explained, referring to the restaurants and their devoted produce farms for ingredients. In other words, Melissa is so enthusiastic about absolute freshness that she wouldn’t even open a restaurant until it had its own farm nearby.
But why expand at all and leave the pastoral coast of Maine? “To support the restaurant itself,” she explained. Maine has a very short tourist season and they’re at least an hour and a half from Portland, where chefs like Sam Hayward of Fore Street run award-winning kitchens (he’s also here tonight). To make sure she stayed afloat, the other locations were opened. But Melissa has stayed in Maine to run the original kitchen. Local places like Chase’s Daily, another restaurant/farm, share their values, and create what seems to be a Maine ethos.