Les Halles Park Avenue

The man-crush on Anthony Bourdain may belong squarely to Wade, but when we recently found ourselves in New York again, I was actually looking forward to visiting the restaurant Les Halles on Park Avenue where he is “chef-at-large”.

I’m not usually keen on going to places owned by celebrity chefs. Often the staff is rude and pretentious, the food mediocre and it just annoys me that the celebrity is the focus rather than the food. However, knowing that Bourdain is usually fairly self effacing and willing to eat just about anything, I figured it would be a pretty good dinner. Plans were hatched, reservations made and eventually six of us met up for dinner: Wade, Angel and myself all from UltimateFoodie and our friends Leslie, Nigel and Josh.

Mixed Grill at Les Halles

We started out with a round of various ‘amuse-gueules’; Angel had escargots, Leslie enjoyed a salad, and Josh and I both had Gratinée de Halles which was their classic onion soup. The soup was divine, but frankly was served just a smidge too hot and though Angel generously offered to share his snails, I wasn’t interested in trying them again.

For our main course, Angel ordered Sauciss Alsacienne, Josh had steak au poivre, Leslie had steak with frites, I indulged in the Magret de Canard au sauce grenade, and Wade and Nigel went head to head on the Planche de Grillades.

Sausages at Les Halles

Now, when we dine out, the camera is usually passed around and everything is documented for later discussion and blogging. This night, I had tacitly decided to keep the camera put away in lieu of simply enjoying the meal. Then the waiter put down Angel’s plate of Sauciss Alsacienne. We both looked at his plate, then he looked up at me and in a moment that was simply two minds with but a single thought, I reached for the camera. Perched on the mushroom mashed potatoes were two alsatian beer sausage, side by side, flanked by round potato chips in a structure that would be instantly recognized as phallic by even the most cloistered.

Magret de Canard at Les Halles

After a bit of high-schoolish sniggering (hell, it was a hilarious plating!), we all had our plates and tucked into our respective dinners. My Magret de Canard au sauce grenade was really quite lovely with the duck breast thinly sliced and feathered out across the plate and dressed with pomegranate sauce. Unfortunately, the last slice of duck was tough and never should have made it on the plate. The sauce however was fantastic and I even enjoyed it with the turnip and potato gratin that also graced my plate. I think that was the most indulgent moment I had that night as I’ve basically stopped eating potatoes altogether and I savored every forbidden morsel.

Wade is defeated!

Eventually, we all finished our dinners except, surprise surprise, Wade. The Planche de Grillades that he and Nigel both ordered were nothing but a veritable feast for the meat lover with generous helpings of lamb chop, hanger steak, merguez, steak, and thick cut bacon paired with french fries, roasted tomatoes, and a provençal dressing. Nigel, who is training for a marathon, put away his entire dinner as well as several of Leslie’s frites. Our dear Wade however had to run up the white flag. We mocked him briefly, but then it was time for dessert!

I ordered profiteroles, which was supposed to be a cream puff filled with vanilla ice cream and served with chocolate sauce. The waiter set down this beautiful dish before me, the round profiterole on one side of the rectangular white plate with several succulent raspberries and on the other side of the plate was a small pitcher of chocolate sauce, presumably so I could dress the dessert myself. I was totally annoyed that the waiter proceeded to dump the entire pitcher of chocolate sauce over my dessert! I wanted to slap his hand and yell at him to stop touching my food! In retrospect I should have just sent the entire thing back because I was wholly disappointed in the dish. The profiterole might as well have been a cannelloni it was so hard.

I can’t recall what everyone else had for dessert save Angel. He ordered Crêpes Suzette which was prepared and “flambéed” with Grand Marnier table side. That was fun to watch, despite the fact that our table placement left a lot to be desired and waiters kept walking between us and the man preparing his dessert.

Overall pros of the dinner: fabulous company, the duck and lamb and steak au poivre were all delicious, Angel chose fantastic wines as always (and snaked the bill! Don’t worry, we’ll get you back!), and his dessert was great.

Overall cons: the wait staff, with the exception of the man that kept my water glass constantly brimming, were really brusque and harried and slightly inept, the restaurant was horrendously loud…definitely not a date place, my chair was on the corner of the table and I was bumped all night by staff as they rushed by, and they touched my dessert!!

Still kinda peeved about that.

My favorite gift so far – Rachel Ray Yum-o Family Cookbook

Yum-O Family Cookbook

Lots of people bag on Rachel Ray (my anti-hero Tony Bourdain included) but I think she has done something that advanced the cause of eating well and bringing family into the kitchen more than most with her “30 Minute Meals” show on FoodTV and her cookbooks. She has shown people that making really tasty home made food doesn’t have to be an “hours of sweating over a hot stove” production.

As a father of 2 (and my 7 yo daughter is my kitchen shadow) I am stoked to have pulled Yum-o! The Family Cookbook out of my stocking yesterday. This book doesn’t get too complex with the flavors and keeps the recipes kid-friendly both in terms of palate and in terms of technique, while encouraging some culinary adventure by incorporating some Asian and Italian flavors and some interesting twists on American favorites.

I made the PB-J Extreme Sandwich (a traditional  toasted PBJ + honey, banana, turkey bacon and cinnamon)  for my daughter’s brunch this am and it was a big success. I threw a little twist on it omitting the thinly sliced banana (didn’t have any) and using some awesome Cinnabon Cinnamon Bread instead of the whole wheat bread it called for and Molly was stoked.

I think it’s soooo important to get our kids into the kitchen with us as early as we can and have them help us with age-appropriate tasks.   It encourages a healthy respect for food and eating and it really does get them to try more varied types of food – after all – if they help make it, they want to try it.

If you have kids and are struggling with the “same old same old” recipes and want to get your kids involved – pick up a copy today.

Your Body is NOT a Temple. . . it’s a Playground

Great question… when I picked this domain up a couple of months ago on a domain auction for $5, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it.

The answer became pretty clear as I chatted with my partners in crime Joel and Karen.

We’re passionate about food. Gourmet food, fair food, home cooked food, food porn, desserts… bottom line is, we like darn near all of it, or at least are willing to try it once.

My favorite TV shows are “Foodie” shows like Top Chef, No Reservations, A Cook’s Tour and Bizarre Foods. I totally aspire to be an insane culinary adventurer like Bourdain or Zimmern. In fact, I think I will govern my culinary exploration and writing here with the acronym “WWTD” which of course represents, What Would Tony Do?

I’ve learned a lot about food and had my eyes opened to a lot of things by Anthony Bourdain through his awesome books Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations and The Nasty Bits. It’s about experiencing what you are passionate about and enjoying it as much as you can. Not being afraid to try something weird if it seems like it might be good (heck… if it’s just well seasoned and not proven poisonous, it might work for me.

Stick around for all kinds of foodie experiences – we’ll do the high brow, the low brow and everthing in between.

Bon Appetite