East Village Erupts

By now you probably know about the huge explosion that rocked the East Village on March 26th, claiming the lives of two people and injuring several others, not to mention the destruction of three buildings.

Preliminary reports point to plumbing without a proper permit resulting in reckless safety measures and a gas explosion.

Could this tragedy have been avoided?  Sure.  But that would take a series of policy changes this city has yet to address even under the esteemed former Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure.

Many NYC buildings are over fifty or sixty years old or more, and are patched together every day by less than professional or approved workers, just to keep the building functioning.  Landlords charge exorbitant rents to their tenants, both residential and commercial, but refuse to update outdated infrastructure with the profits.  The city in turn collects enormous taxes from these landlords and commercial tenants via real estate taxes and spends those funds elsewhere.  The monies could be used to enforce stricter measures against these landlords to ensure that all buildings are up to date and following all safety codes.

Since the implementation of the food grading system,  tens of millions of dollars are collected from hard working small businesses each year.  These monies could be used to make sure that restaurants are safe too.

But like a dam which sprouts a small splinter in its wall, the city puts its thumb on it, then a pinky, until it has run out of fingers or viable means of plugging up the leaks.  The result is Happyland, The Fire last year in East Harlem, or the current tragedy that has decimated East 7th Street and Second Avenue.

Rather than employ more inspectors, or use the collected taxes to do something about New York City’s failing infrastructure, tomorrow will be business as usual.

A restaurant owner is not an expert in plumbing, or gas pipes,nor holds a degree in engineering.  The fire department comes to inspect the system once, signs off on it and that’s it. A restaurant owner enters into a lease assuming the building’s infrastructure is sound, safe, and up to code.  Much to anyone’s surprise, this is often not the case.  And to top that off when a business owner calls for help, the chance that the contractor is actually qualified is 50/50.

It can only be called fortunate that these type of tragedies have not occurred more frequently, or claimed the lives of more people.

If not for the courageous acts of firefighters and residents involved in the disaster, many more lives could have been at risk.

It is time for priorities to be set for safety first, above profit, greed and any other agenda.

Let us pray for all those affected, and help keep the East Village alive by supporting the community in any way we can.










Mi Buenos Aires Querida

Mi Buenos Aires Querida

What do you do when waves of snow are coming your way? Make like a bird and head south. So in celebration of my 45th birthday, I packed my swim trunks and headed to Punta del Este, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Forecast, sunny and 85 degrees. NYC outlook, below zero and tons of snow.

First stop, Punta del Este, the Latin American version of the French Riviera. After a lengthy plane ride (over 12 hours), a hunger the size of a sumo wrestler developed. So before the bus transfer to Montevideo, we visited the Mercado de la Puerta. Just think Chelsea Market in size or La Boqueria and then replace the stalls with parrillas, grill restaurants, everywhere, with the wonderful aromas of smoking meats and woods and charcoal, a veritable smokehouse open marketplace. Hypnotized and mesmerized by the sights and smells of all that beef, it is difficult to make a decision where to begin. Families sitting in front of enormous selections of grilled meats, organ and otherwise, washing it down with bottles of medio y medio (sparkling wine mixed with white wine, a bit sweet), or enjoying whisky and tannat.

We chose to sit outside, where I tasted the mollejas (sweetbreads) and some rib steaks and lamb ribs, modest fare to start, but all so wonderfully cooked and smoky and tear provoking. We had started this trip on the right foot. Meatapalooza had begun.

I stayed in Punta Ballena, a short drive to Punte del Este, with my good friends Joe and Emir in a condo complex overlooking the vast ocean, complete with pool and indoor grill. Every home has an indoor grill with chimney. The days were spent bronzing under the warmth of the sun, eating strange Italian sandwiches for lunch (some version of tomato, melted cheese and ham) or terrible pizza (shockingly awful), looking towards the evening for the nightly grill activities. We shopped twice, purchasing plenty of rough cuts of meat and provoleta (cheese to be grilled) as well as tannat and more medio y medio. Aside from the trips into town for shopping, pastries from Les Delices, and gelato from Freddo, there was no need to leave the vista and sun’s embrace.

I learned a special grilling technique o control the cooking temperature of meats perfectly. It involves two sides of the grill. One where you start a wood fire, and when the embers fall, you rake it over to the other side. When you have raked enough over, you start the grilling.

After a week of baking and quite frankly getting sunburned,regardless of diligent spf protection and application, we took the journey to Colonia del Sarcamento, an old town that was once a battle point. You can still see the old fort and canons and historical trappings. We found a wonderful sleepy wine bar, El Buen Suspiro, with eclectic food and a great wine list. Many of the wines were locally sourced and all reasonably priced ($20 to $100). We spent the night drinking and looking at the moon and stars.

The next day we took the Buquebus, the famous ferry that takes travelers to Buenos Aires in under two hours. As Americans, we had to purchase entry tariffs to the tune of $160.00 per person. It is valid for ten years and must be purchased in advance. This shows you how badly the Argentine economy is suffering.

We stayed in the Palermo Soho district, a hodgepodge of old and new, with shopping and restaurants vis a vis Soho, NYC.

We stayed at the Rendez Vous, a boutique hotel with Jacuzzi and terrace. The staff was fantastic and extremely helpful. The rooms modern and well appointed. We learned quickly that restaurants were willing to give us a better exchange rate if we paid with US dollars. This led to the understanding that if you exchanged dollars for pesos in the casas de cambio that dot Florida (nabe), you could get up to thirteen to one as opposed to the official 8.66 to one the bank or credit card charges. In other words, if you are thinking of coming to Buenos Aires, bring lots of cash. Most shops and restaurants will give you a better rate.

Buenos Aires has many parillas and pizzerias. Many of them are standard in terms of menu. We had one good pizza at Guerrin, a Grand Central Station sort of place, reasonably priced and well crafted. The rest of the pizzas on the trip were forgettable and poorly constructed.

We visited two of the more popular parrillas, Don Julio and La Cabrera. Don Julio was rustic where La Cabrera a bit modern. But both delivered in terms of quantity and quality. Late nite bustling, there are long waits past ten pm and even at lunch time, so time your seating or make a reservation. After sweetbread, provoleta, morcilla (blood sausage), empanada, and chinchulines (lamb intestines or chitterlings), there is barely any room for dry aged strip or ojo de bife (rib eye), but we ordered any way, hoping the malbec would break down some of the protein fast enough for us to make it to dessert. After these two huge meals, we turned our attention to fine dining.

Even in early February, it was still a bit humid for my taste in Buenos Aires. Our days consisted of waking up late, grabbing a coffee and heading to a different neighborhood. What ends up happening is shopping, gelato, and lunch. Murillo for leather goods, Recoleta for Madison Avenue type of shops such as Tramundo by Martin Churba or Mariano Dappiano. Centrico for handmade leather shoes, or new sunglasses or lenses with Latin American flair at Sante Fe Optica. Michelle made out like a bandit. Quite a haul.

This would bring us to merienda (happy hour), a time for siesta or drinks, and what better place than Bar EL Federal, as old school as they come. We had very strong, proper negronis and sloshed home to the Jacuzzi, Havana Club cuba libres fashioned in the hotel room.

We couldn’t quite catch up to the schedule of dining past 11 pm and then hitting the cocktail bars. Cocktails first and then dinner, and then we’d see if we could party like a porteno.

Some fine cocktails were served at The Harrison Speakeasy, where the bartenders travel frequently to bolster their craft. In a club setting, the Victoria Brown bartender showed a deft hand, albeit under the pressure of the booming sound system awaiting the night crawlers to creep in until the wee hours of the morning. For a funky milieu, try Mundo Bizarro. Perhaps the best in the group for total package is the stalwart Floreria Atlantico in the posh Recoleta area, entrance via a staircase downstairs from a cool flower shop, a speakeasy with distinctive Argentine character.

The fine dining scene is alive and well. Just take a look at the Latin America Top 50 restaurant list. Though many hail from Peru, Buenos Aires has its fare share. Our first choice was at I Latina in Murillo, where flavors of Latin America are combined to bring comfort in its familiarity and impress in technique and fusion.

A beautiful front garden leads to a tropical setting in a townhouse with high ceilings and open kitchen and striking artwork from Chef Santiago Matias’ mother. Warm Caribbean décor and colors sets the right mood for the whole experience. Fine bow-tied servers with excellent tableside manner guide us through the wine and courses. A duo of white corn arepas set the stage with avocado and goat cheese, delicate , spicy and bright. Then followed a bread basket made of coconut, banana and chipa, unusual and hearty. Beef cheek mole followed, rich and deep, with a hint of mescal, for me the star of the evening. Prawns accented in pineapple and fennel resonated true Caribe. Then the Baru style ceviche changed my mind about the mole. Perfect marriage of mango, coconut and lychee. Pulpo ensued in a stew, tender and moist.

The pork tenderloin smothered in a coffee sugarcane reduction worked least for me. I’m just not a fan of coffee in food. The coffee flavor usually overpowers the whole dish. Avocado and aguardiente ice cream anchored the dessert. We drank malbec, which, as much as I would like to love, just doesn’t pair well with several course tasting menus. This would be a theme throughout our meals.

We also tried out Tomo 1, again a Latin America top 50 housed in the Panamericano Hotel, where chef Federico Flalayre weaves his magic in a more traditional portena gourmet style. Chef was gracious enough to pose in a picture with me.

The cooking had a strong backbone in bistro style, with dishes such as chicken liver mousse and buffalo bresaola. Pristine Patagonian shrimp and dumplings, pumpkin soup, mushroom ravioli and trucha, beef tenderloin and Cornish game hen, finished by a series of flans and parfaits with tropical fruit flavors. We drank chardonnay throughout the meal, switching to malbec for the meat course. Fede is rocking it.

At Tegui, in Palermo Soho, the setting was rich in urban feel, complete with side garden of palm trees with open roof to the starry night sky. The food was more experimental here, giant steer’s horns adorning the front of the open kitchen towards the rear. The flavors spanned a spectrum, starting with beet yogurt and smart tomato salad in different textures. Octopus and shrimp in a corn soup make its presence well represented, interrupted only by another fruity bread course. We sipped a curried carrot soup out of a wooden bowl, and then ate lovely sardines with broth. Pork and beef tenderloins made their appearances in various smears and sauces, topped off by a fruit compote and some chocolate. The wine service was off. Our somm failed in trying to find a wine of my taste even after lengthy discussion. Otherwise a stellar experience.

The next night we hit Aramburu bistro, not feeling up to the challenge of another ten course tasting menu of molecular gastronomy. And what a relief it was to have straight forward bistro food. Simple beef carpaccio with cous cous and mushrooms, rocket in simple vinaigrette, a potage of seafood, mussels in a curry broth and grilled rib eye steak. Dessert was a dish of arroz con leche granita, wildly textured and cool, as well as some chocolate cream. Actually can’t wait to come back and try the whole shebang at his flagship.

We watched the Super Bowl in Buenos Aires, which proved a tad difficult. The few bars that aired the finale turned the whole event into a NYE production. We were told to arrive several hours before if we wanted a table. So we got Mexican take out at La Fabrica de Taco, went back to the room and watched a great game.

We really wanted to try some apartment restaurants, but a few were closed or the timing never worked out.

Buenos Aires, a city of fading glory, European charm and architecture, a cultural hotspot, complete with many great traditions and a rising food trend, offering great shopping and entertainment for all.







Dough vs. Doughnut Plant

Ever since the Doughnut Plant opened in Chelsea, I have sent countless tourists to walk the High Line and end up at the Doughnut Plant as a reward, to be followed by a stop at La Maison de Macaron, and a civilized cup of joe at Stumptown or Cafe Grumpy.

But for the past month Dough has become my mistress.  While I still am loyal to the Doughnut Plant, Dough is that much better.  The texture is light, airy and ethereal.  Just the plain old glazed doughnut is a work of art, head held eye stacked up against great flavors such as salted caramel, hibiscus and dulce de leche.  On a previous visit I had lemon meringue, topped high in a white cumulus cloud.   Swoon.

The nearest police precinct should get a discount, but I hope the men in blue stick to the Plant instead.

Doughnut Plant                                          Dough

220 West 23rd St.                                    14 West 19th St.


While I am in the kitchen…

The summer has been very busy for me into fall, what with a complete staff overhaul.  Gone are all the familiar faces at Pata Negra.  They are on to greener pastures and I wish them the best.  Things have finally stabilized, and I have been able to sneak out once or twice a week.  Not enough intel for full reviews, but here’s a sneak peak of the work in progress.


What a gorgeous space inside the revamped hotel where the thin crust pizzas are heavenly topped and the people watching is fun too.  So many great choices for wine and excellent apps make for a blockbuster hard to get into Danny Meyer winner.


Montrachet 3.0 is a comfortable restaurant with all the trimmings, with food that is made with finesse and a wine list that is very reasonable.   Octopus terrine is inspirational.  Testa is the best I’ve had in a very long time.  Lamb for two brings it home. Tribeca is back on the map again.


Alphabet City defies the real estate market once again with a small nondescript space on fifth street serving as a canvas some some good cooking, solid technique with Asian inflections.  Don’t miss the chicken liver mousse or deviled eggs.


Jacques Costeau meets mixologist in this two layered den of infused vodkas, bourbons and absinthe concoctions.  Live bands do play downstairs and the joint is transporting.

Dear Irving

Absolutely stylish cocktail lounge on the second floor right smack in the middle of Irving.  Bar is attractive, but back room is time trasnporting, a stark contrast to the bling of the front room.  Drinks are not as exquisite as in some other all pro dens, but overall the experience is way positive.


If it were just for the punches alone, sorrel is so delicious, this rough and hewn bar belies its expertise in cocktails.  Sleeper on ave C.


The wine list at now defunct Manzanilla has been added to an already smartly chosen list which can only marry well with the delicately smoked southern cuisine that is a star here.


Yet another attempt at some authentic tapas falls a bit short in execution.  Tapas look pretty, but are not packed in flavor.


After waiting some time, Rosemary seems to be a resto tailor made for women of all ages with crowd pleasing vegetable dishes and ho hum pastas.  The reasonable wine from $40. and $60. columns offer good value.

Gansevoort Market

Not as cool as Essex Street, but a welcome addition to the waste land b & t meatpacking district.  More grocery stalls are needed ala Essex St., but all in all a good thing.

Bubby’s Meat Packing.

A brunch wasteland with not enough parking for all those baby carriages.

Russ and Daughter’s Cafe

Bagels and cured fish done at a very high level.  A good wine list to boot.


Sandwich shop in Fashion district with good flavor combos.  Price tag may be a tad too high though.

Aldo Sohm Wine Bar

Aldo hits all the right notes in this grand project around the corner from Le Bernardin.  Smart Austrian style tapas and yak cheese serve as a vehicle for the real star, the well chosen wine list.

After a few more visits, full reviews to follow.  Next up, my short jaunt to the lovely food mecca that is Montreal.









Ludlow, VT 2.0

Every restaurant goes through staff changes. I try the golden rule of maintaining good relationships with my employees by giving them the tools for success, putting them in a position to earn the most money possible, and treating them as human beings with lives to live. The more I listen, the more I can be a flexible and understanding owner, keeping my employees as happy as possible by granting reasonable requests, paying better than the next owner out there, and not micro managing.

That’s why there isn’t much turnover at Pata Negra. Most of our regulars know the staff well, and often come back to spend time with them rather than me, who, as some of you know, is always trying to skip town, or work on my never ending cookbook, which I hope to publish one day.

In a flash of one calendar day, my dishwasher/busboy took off for Mexico, and my main cook got detained for an undetermined spell. That uncertainty propelled me back into the kitchen tout de suite, and it took a few days to get back up to working speed, and dig myself out of the weeds. Placed ads on Craig’s list yielded some 200 responses for the dishwasher job. Apparently there must be some degree that is being given out there for this task, but few for competent cooks who can handle real pressure. I picked the best two candidates and soldiered on.

The timing was definitely not right, both professionally and personally, but having scheduled a much-needed non-refundable trip to Vermont for a week, I put my business and myself in the unenviable position of a semi-trained brand new kitchen staff while I snuck away to the cozy environs of Eden. The alternative was to close, and thanks to former Mayor Bloomberg’s consecutive two years in a row 25% real estate tax increases, closing for a week is no longer an option.

Needless to say the gamble did not work according to plan, and I have some making up to do for some of my best clients. Old, rare wine cures much, and if you are of the affected, I am sure some bottles can be uncorked, and perhaps we can laugh about the ordeal together some time in the near future.

On the lighter side, I booked an ecopod (modulated eco-friendly home designed by freshpods) situated on Echo Lake in Plymouth, VT. Something about the lake water clears my head, calms me down and helps me to repair. Lying in the breeze overlooking the Plymouth State Park trees and mountains wields a blanket of security and serenity.

The change in latitude performs wonders. Add to that a few welcome food and wine changes in the town of Ludlow that are very exciting and worth the trip as well.

Angelina’s Market on Depot Street is serving Jack’s coffee from a vintage La Marzocco machine. Before that is was bring your own. Brooklyn transplanters Rachelle and her husband Jonathan are making real coffee, and the baking is even better. P&B fudge brownies and source cream coffee cakes from Sweet Tallullah (her baking co.) are delicious. Just don’t ask for decaf.

The Downtown Grocery (TDG) on Depot St. is humming as strong as the bee’s nests swarming over the discarded birch beer bottles at Curtis BBQ in Putney, Curtis is still serving up great ‘cue at that Mobil gas stop off Route 5. Pig was on holiday, but some new dogs were laying about.

TDG, Abby, owner and FOH extraordinaire and her team are still running a great show for local fare. Chef Rogan, her partner, is still crushing it with inspired technique and world flavors. Their Monday prix fixe is the best deal in the tri-state area, reminding me of a Paris bistro except that we are in Green Mountain territory, people, and I don’t miss the Rue de Tivoli as much when I am sipping wines from an eclectic wine list selected by Abby’s fine palate. Get there early or that blackened catfish you love will be crossed off the board before your heart settles on ordering it. Just don’t forget to buy the kitchen a round of ponies.

Across the street is the Wine and Cheese Depot (est. 1996), where you can save yourself all the trips to the cheese farms, because a great cross selection of cheeses can be found here. Just ask Leslie for a taste. Some good wine buying is the other half of the deal, and if that is not enough, than pass through the backdoor into the new wine bar Stem Winder. The menus and selection can be a bit overwhelming. Just grab a stool and ask for a taste. The wide selection of wines pair well with the tapas style food coming out of the ambitious kitchen. The wine bar is finding its groove, especially in the kitchen. Wendy or Elyse will find the right wine for your mood. Just beware of the infamous broken spoon parties.

Goodman’s Pizza has moved out of a space on Main St. held for fourteen years. And although I couldn’t get a straight answer as to why, the wood fired pizza is still just as good as advertised with bountiful fresh toppings and very reasonable prices. In its space is an admirable replacement, a Mex-Cajun-southern fusion joint called Mojo. Chef John and his wife Jodi spent a Halloween down in Nola and came back modifying their Tex-Mex food idea to include Cajun and all things southern style food. It’s an obvious marriage when you think about it, but they have the guts to try it out in Ludlow. Started with an appetizer of tempura battered poblanos, mild in heat but high in texture and flavor. These may be my new favorite tempura battered veggies. Of all the tacos sampled, the catfish reigned supreme, followed by well marinated steak. You can choose flour or corn tortillas (corn pls) and the mixes of house made salsas add layers of flavor for balance. The hand in the kitchen is light and deft, respect of the different cuisines observed. The white gumbo Jonah crab shrimp gumbo was delicate with layers of flavors, suberb on both a summer or wintry afternoon. There are burritos, enchiladas, and po boys too. No margaritas yet, but a proper coke in the bottle, and local beer on tap anchor the beverages. You will leave sated, and not break the piggy bank.

I just may have to bring some Pata Negra out here to see how Spanish tapas are received. The sky seems to be the limit out here in Ludlow.

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