I had the distinct pleasure of selecting and profiling three culinary brights for Plate Magazine's inaugural "Chefs to Watch" list:
>> Ann Redding and Matt Danzer of Uncle Boons in NYC, where I've spent many an evening sending my mouth on a delicious roller coaster ride across fiery banana blossom salads, grilled baby octopus with nam prik talay and rotisserie chicken with green mango salad.
>> Emily Crawford of The Corson Building and The London Plane in Seattle, two beautiful restaurants that I'd live in, if I could, just so as to have Crawford's lovely and clever Pacific Northwest-meets-Middle Eastern/Indian/Nordic dishes every day.
>> Jonathan Wu of Fung Tu (NYC), a thoughtful, measured talent serving some of the country's most imaginative and personal modern Chinese dishes.
Read about 'em, make their recipes, and go to their restaurants. DO IT!
Sunday afternoon is hot as hell, but it's cool in the shaded, AC'd corner of Forgetmenot on the Lower East Side. It's an artfully disheveled joint whose facade of effortlessness is blown by an indecisive DJ who keeps changing the track mid-song. Rolling Stones, Satisfaction? Too obvious. Joy Division? Wrong vibe. Jonathan Wu pays no mind, drinking a pilsner and telling his story as though it's bursting to come out. From high school (loved ceramics, sports, manual labor) and a University of Chicago English degree (the man's well-spoken) to the near-incomprehensible exactitude of the Per Se kitchen, the beauty of Venetian tartufe di mare (deeply cupped clams, eaten raw, that taste of truffles), and the genius of Anson Mills' Glenn Roberts.
Wu has been around; his story takes place in Blue Hill, Anissa, Le Bernardin, Per Se, Brest, Venice. He's found home, finally, at Fung Tu, the restaurant he opened on Orchard Street just last year. It's a place filled with stories: about the wallpaper (inspired by toon leaves, which his grandmother would pluck from her backyard tree and stir into eggs), the light fixtures (designed by his wife), the mishmash of inspirations behind each and every dish.
At Fung Tu, ribbons of celtuce (the lovechild of celery and lettuce) are paired with popcorn broth because the vegetable smelled like corn as Wu was peeling it. They're topped with a soft-cooked, Chinese-style black egg as a nod to Taiwanese eggs with bitter melon. And they are staggeringly delicious. Ditto for petite nuggets of fried sweetbreads lacquered with a sophisticate's General Tso's, and shrimp dip like a seafaring, China-bound Bolognese.
It's Chinese, but not just. It's Wu. He says: "My grandfather came in and was like 'Hey: I want mapo tofu.' I was like: 'Don’t worry, we’ve got something like that...kind of..."
We ate 20 courses, we drank local herb and root tisanes, and then we hit the pond. Midnight fishing at Fäviken, as (casually) told to Yahoo Food...
Two of my favorite things -- Berlin's Turkish Market and oat-y, coconut-y Australian Anzac biscuits -- were featured among 98 others in this year's Saveur 100, the magazine's annual compilation of edible, drinkable, readable and visit-able inspiration.
That's all well and good, but the two favorites that didn't make the cut are so damn special that they must be sung about, blogged about and shouted from the rooftops as Massively Excellent Things.
First: summertime butter at Fäviken, Magnus Nillson's isolated and beautiful restaurant in a historic barn in the wilds of central Sweden. The pat of richly golden dairy that waits on your table in the lofted dining room -- after a parade of snacks begins the meal downstairs (flax crackers with pureed mussels, dehydrated lichen and the like, accompanied by sherry-like fermented rhubarb juice) -- is made from the milk of six cows owned by a family a few miles down the road. The family doesn't have electricity, so often the butter sits at room temperature for a few days (until there's enough to deliver to the restaurant -- so said the server). This fermentation of such pristine dairy yields spectacular results; the butter is a savory, funky, heady thing, tasting of grass and animal and earth -- a standout in a meal where near everything was special. In the court of cultured butter, Fäviken's is king.
Next: Leila's Shop in Shoreditch, London. Its charm is in its stylish plainness, simplicity and warmth: eggs fried in a well-buttered skillet and topped with a few leaves of crisped sage; red chard with plumped raisins, pine nuts and onions caramelized with saffron; all cooked in a homey open kitchen and served with big slices of Poilâne toast.
The shop next door is packed (jumbled, even) with local cheese and charcuterie, cured Scottish salmon, a rainbow of produce from France, jams, grains, and dairy. While there, I eyed a stack of burlap bags in the corner and considered making a nest (and never leaving).