I don’t quite exactly when things shifted, but for many years, if you wanted salt you either bought granulated table salt, usually sold in a round canister for less than a dollar, or kosher salt, which came in a big box. Kosher salt didn’t get its name because it’s kosher, it’s because the bulkier crystals are a better size for salting meat, which koshers it.
If you live somewhere where your choices of salt are limited, kosher salt is usually available in any American supermarket, I recommend ditching your table salt and switching to that. But with salts now being imported and exported all over the world, the salt aisle’s gotten a lot larger, with a lot more options and choices.
Not many of us saw it coming, certainly not me, way back in 1989 when La Brea Bakery opened, and I thought, “Who the heck is going to buy freshly baked bread in Los Angeles? That’ll never work…” And the rest, as they say, is history, as La Brea Bakery and Campanile restaurant, the adjacent restaurant in the same Spanish-style building (that Charlie Chaplin built), both became mega-hits.
Things change, and people move on. In the meanwhile, Los Angeles became a culinary destination, and new owners of the building took over the restaurant and bakery, turning it into République. Margarita Manzke and her husband Walter, rebooted the restaurant and the bakery for today, carrying on the tradition of making rustic breads, filling the showcases with Margarita’s fruit-topped brioche tartlets, croissants, Kouign aman, and a variety of other pastries.
Here’s a round-up of places I visited in New York City. One big change (which is also happening in other cities in America) is the proliferation of excellent bakeries. While Americans don’t buy bread daily, as the French do, you can get terrific bread and pastries if you know where to look.
Bâtard is what modern French (and European) cooking should be. Respect for tradition, but using it as a jumping off point for creating more contemporary fare. I was hard not to wolf down the stellar housemade brioche buns but we saved room for seared scallops in saffon sauce, Arctic char with spring peas and favas, and finishing up with a soufflé (a riff off Salzburger Nockerl) baked over a confit of perfect strawberries. Kudos to pastry chef Julie Elkind for creating a dessert that has me thinking about it weeks later. The seedy bread they serve with the brioche, also made on premises, is one of the best breads I’ve had.
It’s hard to say whether the sausage & kale pizza with young pecorino and stracciatella, braised short ribs under a pile of herbs and shaved asparagus, or shrimp marinated in tomatoes and garlic with jasmin rice was the top dish of the evening, but a relative of mine said the shrimp was “probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.” As memorable as most of the meal was, I’d have to agree with her. The cookie plate for dessert was also an embarrassment of riches. Rumor has it that the cheeseburger at lunch is one of the best in the city. That’s on my docket for my next visit.
I’ve been wowed by the food at Via Carota every time I’ve been here. I’m happy to try everything but the Cacio e Pepe pasta really stands out for its simplicity and perfection in a bowl. Everything here is pretty perfect, including the deceptively simple green salad. I also like that they have small (25cl/1 cup) pitchers of wine, which are perfect for sharing at lunch. One downside is the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so go for lunch, preferably at off-hours.
(The team that owns Via Carota just opened Bar Pisellino across the street. I wandered in one afternoon while waiting for friends, and got the sense they should have someone on the floor directing things. Once I got to the bar, I had a terrific White Negroni on ice and Cacio e Pepe-flavored potato chips.)
Normally a tough reservation, lunch opens up entirely new possibilities, and tables, making it possible to get into this pasta hot-spot. Missy Robbin’s pastas are justifiably revered. The Corzetti with mint, Italian broccoli, and pinenuts, is a favorite, are the Spinach and Mascarpone tortellini in brown butter with dried ricotta and Buffalo-butter slicked Fettuccini with aged Parmesan. The Grilled baby artichokes, when in season, served with mint salsa verde are obligatory to order as a starter. Finish with housemade Mint stracciatella gelato, please.
I’m not completely enamored of the Chinese food in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in spite of people passing on les bonnes adresses to me. But Han Dynasty usually delivers. This mini-chain offers up Szechuan specialties which include Dan Dan noodles, sauteed pea shoots (which Romain keeps asking why we don’t get them in Paris), and wontons in chili oil. (You can skip the Kung Pao chicken.) Lunch is a deal.
This may be my favorite restaurant in the U.S. right now. If I told you that it has a Michelin star, you might be tempted to blow it off. But don’t. Mexican food is one of the great cuisines of the world, and the food at Claro! is rooted in Oaxaca. I had mezcal-like cocktail made with Estancia Raicilla, which can’t be called mezcal, but its smokiness lent an alluring backbone to my cocktail. The star was the Yellowfin tostada (above) with Cara Cara oranges, kumquats, pasilla chile, and chicharrón (crunchy pork skin) on a housemade tortilla. The wild mushroom memela with goat cheese, epazoté and pasilla was also superb. This isn’t a taco joint but it’s not fancy either (hence my apprehension about touting its Michelin star) – although it’s tempting to order everything on the menu, the food is quite filling so just remember, you can always go back.
We hit this hotspot the first week they opened. Some of the restaurant is devoted to walk-ins, including the breezy outdoor space out back (with a pétanque court). The specialties here are French/Japanese mash-ups. Yakis (skewers) make up the main courses, but the firsts really blew us away. I didn’t know ducks rillettes could taste so good. (Like, wow, where they good!) Lowly escargots are a lot more interesting with herby shiso butter. (Sorry butter and garlic…) When I ordered the puffy Pommes Dauphine, the waiter assured me I made the right choice. And the warm, house-made baguettes with yuzukosho butter I could eat every morning for breakfast. Nothing on the menu is more than $10, subject to change.
Some say the New York deli is dead. This family-owned deli in Greenpoint offers smoked fish, smoked and braised meat. I assumed people on Instagram that the well-piled pastrami sandwich I posted, I was sharing, to stave off any questions about how I eat so much, but if no one was watching, I could probably polish off a whole one.
These two bars are the best of the genre, with very, very good cocktails, and bar food that meets the quality of the drinks. Both places have oyster happy hour, where fresh oysters are only $1 a piece, hours listed on their websites. Both places have inventive cocktails, with those at Maison Premiere incorporate French spirits, so I always feel right at home. Grand Army takes reservations and I suggest you make them if you want to get a seat.
One of the great things about New York is that there are lots of places to eat outside. And since smoking is forbidden, you can dine smoke-free. Romain always wants to eat overlooking the water, which isn’t always possible in New York but Fornino on Pier 6 in Brooklyn offers up wood-fired pizzas not far from the water. Warm weekends it gets quite crowded and it’s less pleasant during the week, especially when the pizza over (and bar) get backed up.
I met up with Rhulman, a ne plus ultra drinking and dining buddy, and his wife Ann Hood for drinks and dumplings. The wontons in spicy peanut sauce are a must-order. The Manhattans are pretty good as well.
The website says Bar Sardine is “laid back” but when I went with my friend, spirits writer Brad Parsons, the place was hopping. Famous for their Bloody Marys, extra-friendly bar direction Brian Bartelswrote the book on them, at 10pm it seemed a little late (or early). After a cocktail tasting at Momofuku, I went with orange wine, something you don’t get in Paris, which was the right choice with the especially crisp pig ears with hot pepper jelly and deviled eggs with chickpea puree, which we followed up with Fedora burgers served with bbq mayo, smoked cheddar, and les frites. A good time was had by all.
While I like Miss Korea (warning: website opens with music, which scared the kimchi out of me), and it’s fun to hit the salad bar-style Woorjip, but I think it’s good to mix things up and hit The Kunjip for lunch. Lunch menus in Koreatown offer bargains and my Kalbi beef (above) was $19 and came with six banchans, soup, and cold buckwheat noodles. The young woman next to me, who was also dining alone, was startled when the server came over with a tray over side dishes, soup, etc., protesting she didn’t order it, until they explained it was all included. She didn’t eat as much as I did.
Tip: A number of people on social media asked about getting into high-demand restaurants. Restaurants that are on RESY will let you set a notification and will send you a text if a table opens up on the date and time(s) you requested. I was on the notification list for a lunch table at Misi, which was completely booked the day I wanted to go. I got four notifications of openings, one of which I jumped on.
I was in New York to tape a few television shows and in the green room, others on the show insisted I stop in at Stick with Me. When I looked at the website, I wasn’t so sure: colored chocolates don’t usually do it for me. But I had to admit, once in the shop, these were gorgeous and perfectly presented. Each was creamy inside, but had the intensity of the intended flavors, from guava-passion fruit to peanut butter & jelly.
I loved meeting French baker Gus Reckel, aka: Monsieur Gus, who starts baking at 4am to prepare a line-up of breads that beat many of the bakeries of his homeland. His Chocolate chip cookies have won kudos for being one of the absolute best in the city, beating the locals at their own game. We tried his new vegan version, which was also absolutely delicious.
This American outpost of a Danish bakery serves up open-faced sandwiches and pastries. My chocolate-covered marshmallow puff, on a crisp shortbread, was light, fluffy, and sweet. The rugged bread that was solid grains was hearty and filling. Open from breakfast through dinner.
The former chef at Breads bakery presents his own babkas and rugelahs, as well as a selection of bite-size Middle Eastern-inspired pastries. The feta-filled puff pastries treats would have been best if hot from the oven, but it was nice to sit in the
Sweden is also well-represented in New York at Fabrique. The cardamom rolls were delicious but I was into the granola bar; a solid block of seeds and grains, with dried cranberries providing some tartness. A little off-the-beaten-track, with a line up of nice-looking breads and croissants, this is exactly the kind of bakery you want in your neighborhood.
My search for a great Black & White cookie led me here. (There’s a recipe for them in my book, Ready for Dessert.) Doughnuts made with everything, from salted butter caramel to bacon lined the shelves, but I went with the Black & White. The cookie was HUGE; literally big enough to feed four. It was quite thick, and a good one. But if they made them thinner, which would tilt the ratio of icing to cookie more in favor of the frosting, I probably could have finished it off by myself. A big plus was the terrific salesperson, who kept calling me “honey.”
My friend Renato, who founded Baked bakery, is striking out on his own with an Italian-accented cafe and bakery. They’re still building the bakery, but you can follow their progress on their Instagram feed, and I’ll see you there, when they open.
Papaya isn’t a very common fruit in many parts of the world. But if you go to the tropics, you’ll see them piled up at markets, and even alongside the roads, where people are selling the overload from their trees. Papaya is a curious fruit that is often just out of the sightline of our radars, and is usually eaten fresh. Some varieties are spectacularly colored, making them a perfect fruit to turn into a vibrant sorbet.
When I lived in California, there were plenty of papayas in the multicultural markets, some as large as footballs and as bright as navel orange inside, whereas others are more muted. But I haven’t bought one in recent years.
When I did, I always went for the ones that were as heavily blushed inside as possible. Latin American and Asian markets usually have one or two varieties on offer, and they’ll cut giant papayas into small pieces, which gives you a good chance to check out the color of the flesh beforehand.
When I originally came up with this ice cream, the year was 2009, which seems like a long, long time ago, in so many ways. Absinthe had been banned in France since 1914, blamed for a host of societal ills, even being accused of causing people to go crazy (which has since been debunked; most blame additives added to cheap absinthe, which caused brain damage), and the spirit was revived and legal again, nearly a hundred years later.
Distillers quickly hopped back on the absinthe bandwagon, the green anise-flavored drink revived everywhere, from Switzerland (where it was originally created), to France and California. People went a little crazy again, inventing everything from absinthe gummi bears to absinthe cake. Eventually some of the hoopla subsided as people realized – with its high-proof (many hover in the 60-75% range) – that absinthe was something best enjoyed in small doses. Or in my case, with chocolate.
When I was a kid and we went trick-or-treating for Halloween, we’re run around the neighborhood, collecting candy from various houses, filling our bags with candy bars, sour bites, an occasional apple (ugh!, for a kid…), and assorted other goodies. Once home, we’d spill our loot onto the floor and commence with some serious trading.
The ne plus ultra of candies to get were coconut-chocolate bars, namely Mounds and Almond Joy. Those never got traded, at least for me. You could keep your beige-filled nougat bars coated with sweet milk chocolate, black licorice, and anything jellied and green, I was happy to trade away.
It was hard (for me) to part with anything that had peanuts in it, but were as precious to me as coconut bars dipped in dark chocolate. The tropical flavor of the juicy coconut, whose shreds scrunched pleasingly between my teeth, enrobed in bittersweet chocolate (and yes, it came in two pieces, which was like getting two-fer) was my bonus for a job well done. And I deserved it.
I was talking to someone about cookbooks recently. In the age of the internet, things have changed as recipes became available by the thousands, or hundreds of thousands, online. Some are good and others don’t quite make the grade. Developing and testing recipes ensures the recipe is a good one, or at least will work. But when recipes are churned out, or posted by who-knows-who, all bets are off.
One thing my favorite cookbooks have in common is that the voice of the author is in there, and even better, they discuss the origin of the recipe, including how the recipe was developed. There’s been a backlash a little about food writing, aka: “get to the recipe,” as some don’t care about process shots, “I don’t need to see a cup of cream,” but those photos are proof positive that the recipe actually was made (which, surprisingly, doesn’t always happen…) So it’s good to keep your scrolling finger in good shape, and keep your cookbook collection well-curated.
Spring is the time of year when new cookbooks land. (Fall is the other.) I check out a lot of them, buy them or get review copies, cooking and baking from them. But it’s always interesting when one cookbook comes along, and as I’m reading through it, I realize that I want to make every single recipe in it.
But I should backtrack for a moment. A few months ago, I was sent a preview of Vietnamese Food Every Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors (for a back cover quote), and as I was paging through the PDF, I found myself mentally bookmarking all the dishes that I wanted to make. So I was thrilled when the actual book finally landed in my lap, or in my kitchen, and decided to start with the Coconut caramel shrimp. I mean, with a name like that, how could I not?
A couple of things about this pie. (Other than once you make it, you won’t be able to stop eating it. Just so you know…) One is that I know for a fact that many people have extremely sharp eyes out there. Someone was able to identify and an empty nut container in the far background of a photo of mine recently, that was almost completely out of focus. (And it was on Instagram, so they likely were able to discern that on the screen of a little smartphone, to boot.) I should start handing out awards for that kind of vigilance! But you don’t need to have laser-sharp vision to see that I’ve got two different pie crusts going on here.
After I gave it a try with my standard all-butter pie crust, I wondered what it would be like with a pretzel pie crust instead. So gave it another go the next day, to taste and compare. And because, of course, you can never have enough pie.
Another thing to discuss is the honey that I used. I like use a slightly darker honey when baking, which taste less-sweet,and are are often labeled “amber” or wildflower honey in the U.S. In France, honey is usually labeled by the plant, and dark honeys include bourdaine (black alder), bruyère (heather), and other types. Although I love strongly flavored chestnut and buckwheat honey, if you want to use them, I’d cut them perhaps 50:50 with a lighter-flavored honey.
For those who remain unconvinced that sea salt tastes better than fine table salt, if you choose to sprinkle this with table salt, you will likely throw away that canister of salt, and probably have to throw away your pie, too. This is your chance to showcase that lovely finishing salt you’ve been saving. There are several to choose from, including fleur de sel (France), Maldon (U.K.), Jacobsen (U.S.), or another salt, like the black salt I got in Iceland. While kosher salt is fine for cooking and baking, I don’t recommend using it here.
As for the aforementioned crusts, I relied on the “Romain Test”, leaving both pies – one with a standard pie crust (recipe below) and one with a pretzel crust, on the counter, and watched which disappeared first over the next few days. It seemed to be a tie, although he admitted he preferred the pretzel crust, saying he liked the “surprise et contraste.”
Salted Honey Pie
The crust will get a little darker as it baked, once filled. If it's getting too dark, you can either 1) Drape a sheet of foil lightly over the entire pie (making sure it's not touching the top of the pie filling, 2) Fashion pieces of foil over just the crust while the pie is baking, or 3) Use a pie shield.
To make this gluten-free, you can use the Pretzel Pie Crust (using gluten-free pretzels) and cornstarch in place of the flour in the filling.
The pie dough can be made in advance and either refrigerated for up to two days (either unrolled or rolled and fitted into the pan), or frozen (either unrolled of rolled and fitted in the pan) for up to two months. Once baked, the pie can be kept at room temperature (or refrigerated) for up to 5 days.
ServingsOne 9-inch (23cm) pie
For the crust
1 1/4cups (175g)
4 ounces (8 tablespoons, 115g)
unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche
apple cider vinegar
flaky sea salt,to finish the pie
To make the pie crust
1. Assemble the pie crust by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (It can also be made in a bowl with a pastry blender or in a food processor.)
2. Add the cubed butter and mix on medium speed until the butter is broken up into little pieces roughly the size of corn kernels. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water and mix on low speed until the dough begins to come together. If it appears dry, add the final tablespoon of ice water.
3. Stop the mixer and use your hands to gather the dough, and shape it into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch (35cm) round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23cm) pie plate or pan. Ease the dough into the dish and trim the dough hanging over the edge, leaving about an inch (2.5cm) of dough hanging over. Fold the overhanging dough under the rim of the pie. Crimp the rim of crust and return the pie dough to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until firm.
To make the filling
5. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Line the pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake the dough until it starts to set around the edges and turns a light golden brown. Remove the foil and weights, and continue to bake until the crust is very light golden brown. If it puffs up during baking at this point, gently press it down by poking it with a fork a few times and using a spatula to tap it down. Do not bake the pie shell until dark brown. Remove the pie shell from the oven to a wire rack. Reduce the heat of the oven to 350ºF (175ºC).
6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, flour, salt, vanilla, and honey. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then mix in the sour cream and vinegar. Scrape the filling into the baked pie shell. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the center is almost set. It should still jiggle, but not be watery. (If the edges of the crust get too dark during baking, use one of the techniques listed in the headnote to mitigate that.)
7. Let the pie cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt before serving.
Variation: Replace 3 tablespoons of the sour cream (or heavy cream) with bourbon or dark rum.
I get it. Some people have an aversion to making pie crusts. They’re worried about which fat to use; some recipes insist on butter for flavor, others advocate vegetable shortening as the key to success, and lard has its fans. Then there are the processes of rolling out the dough, and baking it, that makes people pause when they want to make pie.
I understand all these things (and for the record, my preference is always butter), but and it’s nice to have a crust that you can transfer into a pie plate or pin, press it in with your hands (no rolling!), and fill with whatever kind of filling that you want, including chocolate, lemon, pecan-chocolate, pecan-ginger, or the one shown here – salted honey pie.
This pretzel-based crust is also easily adaptable to gluten-free diets by swapping out regular pretzels with gluten-free pretzels, so there’s no excuse not to make it.
Pretzel Pie Crust
The mixture will be a bit crumbly before baking, when you're pressing it into the pie pan, but will form a nice crust after it's baked and cooled.
I grind the crumbs in a food processor, but I don't mind if they're not too fine. A little extra texture is sometimes appreciated. If you don't have a food processor, you can put the pretzels in a sturdy zip-top freezer bag, seal it (expressing the air out of the bag as you do), then running a rolling pin over the pretzels to crush them.
ServingsOne 9-inch (23cm) crust
1 1/4cups (140g)
6 tablespoons (85g)
melted unsalted butter,plus additional butter for preparing the pan
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Lightly butter a pie plate or pan with butter.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the pretzel crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until the crumbs are saturated with the butter and everything is moistened and evenly mixed.
3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pie plate or pan and use the heel of your hand to press the crust mixture across the bottom of the pans and up the sides.
4. Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's slightly golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
Storage: This crust can be refrigerated for up to five days, baked or unbaked. It can also be frozen for up to two months.