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NEW YORKER CORNER: Picholine by John Mariani
Dining with Kids
by John Mariani
It's never easy.
1) The Two-Hour Rule: Never bring a child to a restaurant where the meal is likely to last for more than two hours, from sit-down to check-payment. Kids simply cannot be expected to sit still for any length of time beyond that, and for most of them, even that amount of time is an endurance test. When choosing a restaurant, therefore, you should choose a place whose service is fast paced, where seating will be immediate and where the niceties of deluxe dining--little canapés, sorbets to clear the palate, petits fours after dessert--are not going to extend the dinner hour interminably.
3) Feed 'em Right Away: Once upon
a time restaurant tables were already set with bread and butter or
brought the moment you sat down, a perfectly reasonable tradition based
on the assumption that people sitting down to eat would like something
to eat pronto. These days, however, the bread and rolls may not hit the
table until after you've gone through the process of ordering (the
ridiculous assumption being that you'll stuff yourself on bread and not
order an appetizer). Children especially need fuel early on, and
by six o'clock they are ravenous and their blood sugar is plummeting.
Therefore, frequent restaurants where there is something to them
immediately to nibble on or ask the busboy to bring it on ASAP.
4) Eat Ethnic: Granted a lot of kids can't stomach anything beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and French fries until they turn eighteen, but you owe it to them to try to educate their palate. And I've found that ethnic restaurants with plenty of finger foods are a good way to get them interested. Italian, Mexican and Chinese restaurants are particularly good for this kind of persuasion. In the case of Chinese and Mexican restaurants, there's always the requisite nibbles brought to the table within seconds of your arrival--either crispy Chinese noodles with cloyingly sweet duck sauce or corn chips with salsa. In the case of Italian eateries, there'll always be a good loaf of bread and some breadsticks. Kids are always ravenous the minute they sit down at a restaurant, so you've got to be fueled up or they flop and get ornery.
Much as I hate that tacky Chinese-American
assemblage called the pu-pu platter, it does entertain the kids while
them to try shrimp, chicken, dumpling and other items. And they will
move up to General Tso's chicken, maybe even steamed whole
fish--especially if you offer
to eat the
eyeball if they try the fish. My younger
son learned to love frogs' legs at
a Thai restaurant because he thought they were chicken legs (no, I did
them they were!). And my older son started off a passion for sushi at a
Japanese restaurant by popping one of the
5) Ask for Mom: On numerous
occasions I've found that restaurants run by
pop are usually extremely gracious to children. I recall one instance
6) Order Everything: Perhaps the best piece of advice I can impart is to order a whole lot of different dishes from the menu, allowing no more than one choice of their own per child. I've found that by loading up the table with a number of dishes--especially finger food items--that the kids invariably taste them and end up liking three out of four of them. There's something about the aroma of good food when they're hungry that sparks them to try the little brown crispy thing or the goopy white stuff that smells nice. More than once my sons have tasted the teeniest-weeniest morsel of something like fresh tuna with black peppercorns or pork chops with vinegar peppers and begged to exchange their plates for mine. One of my sons even discovered he liked caviar, though within a year he hated it again.
6) Let 'em Go!: In picking restaurants I've tried hard to choose those whose location allows for my kids to get up and leave the table and wander around safely in the garden, on the lawn or along the water. I would often eat in the dining room of the hotel we stayed at because the children could leave the table and go upstairs to watch television. I have a casual agreement with my sons that if they behave themselves for the first two courses, they may scram as of dessert. And believe me, they'd rather miss dessert in the dining room in favor of a cartoon and a Milky Way from the minibar.
7) Try the High Road. . . Once:
You're never going to convince your
experiencing the grandeur of a great restaurant is going to be good for
but I think that you should at least once bite the bullet and drag them
deluxe dining room where they will be expected to behave.
I wouldn't make this venture too early in
their lives--although girls are probably ready for it long before
when you sense that you might just be able to pull it off, prepare them
the restaurant) at least a week in advance and on a day when they don't
better things to do (like hanging with their friends at the galleria).
Tell them what they're in for and say you expect
do their very best to stay quiet and awake, without too much rocking
forth, tipping over glassware or insulting each other when the waiter's
In the end, I really do believe that
restaurants are places where children can learn to behave, pick up some
and be part of something very special. The look of sheer delight on my
faces when they tasted their first real French baguette in a
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
For thirteen years Picholine has been the best restaurant on the Upper West Side and easily the most serious about its cuisine and service, thanks to chef-patron Terrance Brennan (below), who also runs Artisanal in midtown. Both restaurants have made a very high reputation for their devotion to cheese service (Artisanal has more than 250 and sells them on premises and through mail order.)
But Brennan has always been a chef of the first rank, and his menus have never betrayed a style that is sophisticated, tasteful, and very cosmopolitan. Restaurants like Picholine (which refers to a French olive) could exist in other cities, but it fits into the Lincoln Center-Central Park neighborhood with the same panache as does the far older Café des Artistes.
Recently Brennan closed the restaurant for three weeks for a total re-do, replacing the once-homey gingham checks and medieval tapestries with cool gray tones and a wine colored, patterned carpet, retaining the beautiful chandeliers and making the lounge (below)very sleek. I think the dining room could use more color--gone are all tapestries and paintings--but it is a very elegant room amidst a sea of casual eateries on the Upper West Side.
Suits and ties on the waitstaff do not, apparently, encourage male guests who wear what they damn well please, which brings the ambiance down a few pegs, and I wouldn't make a reservation before 8 PM, lest you get run over by the pre-theater crowd on their way to the concert or ballet.
Once seated after 8 PM, everything is in calming balance again, and first thing you do is to peruse the 600-selection winelist overseen by wine director and g-m Jason Miller. Then come an array of fine breads; curiously enough there are no olives--picholines or other--set on the table to nibble. Those tables, by the way, are dressed with very good linens and napery, thin wineglasses, and fine silverware--all three fast disappearing from newer, edgier dining rooms, alas.
Those who deplore the demise of haute French cuisine are clearly misinformed, and Picholine is one of many thriving examples that prove the opposite: French haute cuisine is found throughout America, even if the very formal trappings of places like L'Orangerie in Los Angeles (due to close in December), Maisonette in Cincinnati (closed earlier this year), and La Caravelle in New York (shuttered last year) are no longer in fashion. At Picholine you might begin sea urchin pannacotta with a chilled ocean consommé and osietra caviar--the kind of dish that takes enormous focus to bring off well--or a poached egg en cocotte with polenta, braised pork belly and truffled toasts, which would make as good a breakfast as appetizer for dinner.
Sautéed sweetbreads with vegetables à la Grecque and a mustard-raisin emulsion was something quite novel, while sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi with Gulf shrimp, chanterelles, and a parsley pistou was good but too overloaded, as French renderings of gnocchi invariably are.
The fish courses included wild salmon lightly smoked, with a warm salad of Provençal vegetables in a hot oil, and a well-turned black sea bass with fennel marmalade, panisses, olives and orange. Squid ink linguine added little to sea scallops and calamari, but the chorizo ail and paella broth certainly lifted the dish. Very delicious indeed was warm lobster with chanterelles, rhubarb, and a vanilla brown butter that hearkens back two decades to the days of la nouvelle cuisine. Pompano is not a fish I find travels well above the Mason-Dixon Line, but the grilled version at Picholine was very good, with avocado, watercress and a ginger-lime vinaigrette.
We moved on to meat dishes, first a Scottish red-legged partridge of good flavor with parsnip "French toast" and a chocolate-huckleberry sauce a tad too sweet. Buffalo medallion with patatas bravas and pimenton de la vera had real taste, which buffalo often misses, but the surprise of the evening was a dish I thought sound cloyingly bad: a take on chicken Kiev, with braised lobster mushrooms and "liquid foie gras." Just thinking of liquid foie gras oozing out of the chicken made me wince, but in fact, that is what classic chicken Kiev is, except with butter under the skin instead of duck fat. Well, it turned out to be a really glorious dish--extremely rich, of course, but of such wondrous flavor from both the bird and the foie gras that it became one of my favorite dishes of the year.
Of course we had to have cheese from Max McCalman's magnificent selection, and we were extremely pleased with them, even if service of cheese in the U.S. always seems to take twice as long as it does in Europe.
Not enough cheese? Order the yummy cheesecake ice cream sandwiches with a trio of dipping sauces. Warm caramel was poured over an apple studded buttered brioche, with apple salad and salted caramel ice cream. A passion fruit cannoli with coconut tapioca and exotic fruit soup was refreshing, and a chocolate soufflé with candied pine nuts didn't seem to need fennel ice cream, For those who like desserts with peanut butter and jelly, they have one here (which I passed on).
The lounge at Picholine
Picholine seems re-energized in its new decor, and so does Brennan, whose interests beyond its walls sapped some of the pleasure of going there. But, along with with Chef de cuisine Craig Hopson, he's here now most of the time and cooking better than ever, keeping the flame lighted for French cuisine of a very high level, even if it is infiltrated with great ideas from other food cultures.
Picholine offers two menus at dinner, two courses at $64, with each additional course $14, and a seven-course tasting menu at $115. The restaurant is open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner, and on Sun. for dinner only. Address: 35 West 64th Street; Tel. 212-724-8585.
LIKE, WHO DOESN'T?
"True to its family-style roots, San Gennaro's shows a confident hand with pasta dishes: We especially liked the rigatoni Bolognese ($15.95) for one, with its chunky sauce and al dente pasta. A close second: gnocchi with pesto ($14.95 for one). But I wish the lasagna ($15.95) was just a little more vertically impressive -- I don't like my lasagna close to the ground.--Charles Passy, "San Gennaro," Palm Beach Post.
In Gary, Indiana, an ice cream shop is serving a flavor called "Cold Sweat" with three kinds of peppers and two hot sauces that is so hot customers must sign an agreement before tasting it. The owner says he created it for his Hispanic customers.
*On Oct. 10, J. Emanuel Chocolatier will launch a chocolate wine truffle line with a wine and chocolate tasting at and Bacchus Bacchus Wine Made Simple shop in NYC. Third generation chocolate maker Tad Van Leer will speak. Tastings at and $30 pp (includes a Riedel crystal wine glass). Call 212-875-1200 or visit www.bacchusnyc.com.
* In NYC on Oct. 12 “Spain’s 10” chefs, incl. Chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Juan Mari Arzak of Arzak, Martín Berasategui of Berasategui, Alberto Chicote, Paco Roncero, Quique Dacosta, Dani García, Enrique Martínez, Joan Roca, and Paco Torreblanca, will kick off in partnership with ICEX (Spanish Foreign Trade Institute, Foods & Wines from Spain) with a gala dinner prepared by 7 of Spain’s most innovative chefs to benefit the James Beard Foundation. With ICEX, on Oct. 13 in NYC the
* On Oct. 16, The Arc of Hunterdon County will hold held its 14th gourmet food and wine tasting, "A Taste of Generosity," at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, in
* On Oct. 23 the 14th Annual “Feast With Famous Faces” will be held at NYC’s Pier 60 Chelsea Piers, to benefit the League for the Hard of Hearing. Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, will join restaurant chairman Vincent Scotto of Gonzo and 40 restaurants serving their signature dishes; co-chairs Kassie and Jim DePaiva, joined by other cast members and fellow stars from TV’s “One Life to Live,” ”All My Children,” ”As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light,” will also be on hand, along with TV news anchor Jim Ryan and 40 newscasters; also, a grand raffle and parallel silent auction; corporate sponsors include Moët Hennessey, and Wine Spectator magazine. VIP tix $500 pp; general admission $350. Call Susan King, at 917-305-7804, or write: email@example.com
* On Oct.25 Jefferson Wilkes of J. Wilkes winery will be at 62
* Beginning Oct. 26 , Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 Restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta will prepare a series of 8-course dinners paired with French wines for 9 diners seated at the Chef's Table. Philip Verre, Deputy Director of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, is host for the evening, offering lessons of history and culture about the High Museum’s exhibition, Louvre Atlanta, concluding with a private, after-hours tour of the Louvre Atlanta exhibition, with round-trip transportation to the exhibition in a 2007 Mercedes G-Class. $500 pp. Call 404-253-3840.
* From Oct. 26-Nov. 19 in
* From Oct. 26-Nov. 2 Adobo Grill in Chicago will celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” with special menu offerings, demos by Sugar Skull Artist Miguel Angel Quintana at both locations and a cooking class by Chef/Partner Freddy Sanchez at the Wicker Park location. Reservations for the cooking class are required, and can be made by calling 773-252-9990 or visit www.adobogrill.com.
* From Oct. 26-29 The Scottsdale Celebrity Chef Golf & Spa Invitational presented by Bon Appétit magazine will feature chefs Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai, Todd English, Bradley Ogden, Ted Allen, and Amy Sacco.Visit www.BonAppetitGolf.com or call (888) 383-8472.
* From Oct. 27-30, the 4th Annual
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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