Showing posts with label U.S. Restaurant Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.S. Restaurant Reviews. Show all posts

Hinoki & The Bird Wears The Emperor's New Clothes

It was the obvious place for a door. I turned back to the valet for a hint, but he was driving away in my car. I hoped he was a valet as I ran my hand along the wide panel of a wall and pushed. A section gave way. I felt like I had passed the first test and made it inside one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles, Hinoki & The Bird.

Walking down the steps and into the dining room, I entered the backstage of a busy theater production. The hostesses had just pulled on their hunky boyfriends' over-sized shirts, and nothing else, and rushed off to work. These tall, glamorous women I'd follow anywhere, led me through the dark room, past a forest of Hinoki trees lining the walls like dancers waiting in the wings.

I arrived before Tom Landry, with whom I was dining, took my seat and enjoyed the great view of the stage show running in the open kitchen. I mentally applauded as a chef held a melon high in the air and deftly peeled it. I didn't see a lone, rogue, flashy star, instead each chef busied themselves manning their own station.  They wear black Henleys with a tiny red bird silkscreened on the right shoulder as a glint of exciting detail hopefully reflected in the cuisine.

Both Tom and I have huge appetites for life, fueled by great, adventurous food. He was just back from San Sebastian, Spain where he tasted two-count-em-two of the world's 50 Best Restaurants, Arzac and the forking fantasy Mugaritz. We had a lot of ground pork to cover.

We were excited to come here, we'd grown hungry as we shielded our eyes from all of the bright, flashing stars jumping out from reviews of Chef David Meyers' restaurant.

As I sat waiting about ten minutes, I got thirsty, but I distracted myself guessing which of the plentiful, young, bustling waitstaff would bring me food and drink. Mine caught me off guard by walking by my table six times.

He recharged my excitement as he filled my water glass, promising to guide me through my meal, explaining the spices and techniques used to prepare each item. The menu reads like a brothel full of exotic beauties from around the world, with many regions and ethnicities represented. But the house is clearly run by an elegant, Asian woman who has accessorized her dishes with miso, lemongrass and chili.

Once Tom arrived he sipped a refreshing, friendly Bird Cup cocktail, their take on a Pimms Cup, with muddled citrus, cucumber, mint and ginger. We huddled over the menu with our waiter like a group of guys deciding which girls to ask to dance. Cheerleaders are immediately asked, but there are some shy girls who, if given the chance, really tear that floor up. We high-fived our decision to avoid the popular selections and sample the more obscure offerings to give them a chance to shine.  

We ordered three fun plates: crispy marinated chicken with lemon aioli, fried oysters with black garlic aioli, and the chili crab toast with spicy cucumber and coriander. Our waiter was quarterbacking this meal, and we trusted his suggestion to send in a fourth player from the Inspiration section, coconut-curried mussels, sausage and cauliflower. Sausage made in-house sold me.

Soon the mussels were placed on our small, wooden table along with a thoughtful bowl for shells. The herbs lavishly heaped on top presented a fresh look for a mussels dish and released a flavorful, promising aroma. Nutty bread was crammed on the side of the bowl. 

Mussels with cauliflower and cilantro

My favorite part of mussels is dredging bread through the sauce, not caring if it drips on the table on the way to my mouth. But this bread had already been soaked in something oily, and on both sides. Dipping it was like kissing someone who had just been kissed by someone else. This dish was very good, but in the next moment the course of the meal took a turn I couldn't control.

Our fried oysters were dropped off onto our table, like an unwanted child abandoned at a bus stop by a parent late for work. Tom and I flashed each other a quick look of resolute understanding that we had to take these oysters in; they needed us.

Suddenly our conflict was complicated when a small board holding triplets of toast heaped high with crab was wriggled into our crowded house. The delivery person muttered cucumber as if hastily pinning an identification note on the jacket of a waifish child. I knew we had to love it too, like the others.  

Although concerned about the welfare of the other dishes, we kept eating the mussels. The broth was spicy from the chilies in the fennel-laced sausage, which was ground up and hiding in the bottom of the coconut milk broth. The mussels were steamed gently, resulting in plump, bouncy bites. I loaded cilantro and thinly shaved cauliflower on each bite and enjoyed the new flavorful crunch.

I watched a waiter carrying a plate of fried chicken circle our table three times. I knew it was ours, the tables around us had either eaten or were empty. He scratched his head on his way back to the expeditor, they chatted, then the waiter timidly brought the chicken over. We all worked together and made space for our exploded family.

By the time we reached the oysters they were cold. The oil had used the time to sneakily gather on top. Our seldom-seen waiter swooped in like a salesman letting us in on a great deal. We were lucky tonight: He'd not seen such a generous portion of fermented black garlic being offered with the aioli.

I wanted it to revive the oysters, but they'd flat-lined. I held their limp, dead bodies on my tongue for a moment out of respect. No garlic flavor said a timid hello or a sweet goodbye as I swallowed.

The poor crab toast! I could hear it crying on the wooden plank, getting limp and soggy like a dejected old man drowning his sorrows in a mushy quagmire. I wanted to put it out of its misery, but we were already mentally spinning plates.

I respect food and a chef who honors their craft and their preceding reputation. I want a good restaurant not only to prosper, but also live long. Something had misfired in the communication between me, my waiter and the kitchen to explain the rapid-fire, premature ejaculation of food. 

We didn't finish the really delicious mussels, ate what oysters we dared, then reached for the drowning crab. The once-crisp toast bent from the wet weight. Something chemically must have occurred as it cooled -- there was no flavor other than the fresh, cool cucumber.

I nervously offered Tom an inflationary million for his thoughts. He shook his head, searching for words and to loosen subtle flavor. We'd had plenty of time to discover even hinted at or hidden tastes. I'm not new at this - I challenge flirty undertones to turn my taste buds into a Jeopardy question. I was having aha moments back when Oprah was still having seconds.

It was then I realized we were eating the Emperor's new clothes. Tom and I both wanted to have the meal we had read about on Huffpo, in The New York Times and LA Weekly, where the chef seemed to open a vein and serve the reviewers some secretly sensational meal. I wanted to slam my fist down on the table like when Harry met Sally's orgasm, I'll have what she's having!

I was getting discouraged, but persevered. Concerned about the pace of our meal, we consulted the waiter. I honestly don't know what happened to the guidance he promised; we felt abandoned and avoided. I reminded him that we hadn't even ordered entrees and asked if he was concerned that our four plates had been served is such mind-bendingly rapid succession. He wasn't. 

I gently shared that we didn't want to finish our remaining fun plate -- the fried chicken still looming on the horizon -- and have a wide-as-a-hillbilly-tooth-gap of time between entrees. That weren't yet ordered. He recommended grilled salmon, as he believed it didn't get enough deserved attention. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut and ordered the sumptuous-sounding caramel braised kurobuta pork belly with radish and mustard greens. But tonight, apparently, I was going to dance with every wallflower in the room. For our second entree we chose the BBQ pork.

So many !!!!s had been bandied throughout Lala-land about the food, the service and the room. During my wait and dinner, I observed three independent elements under this one roof. First, the floor managers gathered on the patio, then near the kitchen window, then near the bathrooms in sequential, serious-looking tête-à-tête détentes. They didn't seem connected to the waiters, who hung out by the kitchen window, jumping into action if food popped up, like surfers happily goofing off until the next decent wave. The third group, the kitchen staff, kept their bandana-headbanded heads down and stayed on task behind the open kitchen. I wanted to sit in that kitchen and eat. 

Chef Myers' show pony, Hinoki scented black cod, sweet potato and pistachio, pranced on almost every table. The fish is covered by a smoldering, jagged piece of the Hinoki wood, perhaps singed from a flash in the pan. It rushed steaming by us, with a distracting double-slap of sensory sensations -- hear the sizzle, smell the food -- like fajitas. It added smokey regret to my already bumpy road less traveled.

My attention returned to our food. Fried chicken is my guilty treasure. But I was the one at fault, leaving it unattended for half an hour. If it were a dog locked in car, we would have been thrown in jail. I reached out and tore into the skin, expecting it to feel soft and wilted like an old lady's flabby arm, but it was still crunchy and crispy -- just hearing it crackle was almost enough of a taste for me. Neither the skin nor the very dry meat held any delicate flavor hidden in Haiku or subtitles. I tasted very little lemon in the aioli; however, there was a lemon on the plate and I squeezed that on a bite, resulting in no great affect.

We decided not to harden our arteries further on this particular chicken, and as our table was cleared, I tried to remember the details the waiter had given about the salmon. The menu lists the food but isn't descriptive, and he rattled the list off that he knew well, really really fast. He explained that the gentle grilling sort of roasts the fish. I think. Before it's grilled, it's marinated in mirin and some other stuff. I knew I should have ordered the sambal skate wing. I love skate, even with the bone, and don't find it often.

Our salmon plate looked disheveled when it arrived, not cared for nor skillfully prepared. I figured that a chef had quit, yelling, You do it then! as he stormed out. He knocked the expeditor unconscious and a bug-eyed dishwasher with spastic culinary dreams threw stuff on the plate and shakily shoved it through the window.

My first bite of salmon was alarmingly dry. This was turning into the type of meal where I'm already thinking of my trip home, and what drive-throughs I pass. Thankfully when I reached the thicker center, it was still moist. Had they used a piece of fish that was the same thickness throughout, there wouldn't have been unexpectedly thin, dry edges. As I ate it, the salmon had a back flavor, maybe from tea, that made it taste like the kind of attic dirt you find on a lamp and if you rub real hard, eventually a genie shines through. You still taste metal, but you get a wish.

The roasted or grilled or whatever BBQ pork saved me a Taco Bell driveby. Subtle flavor was released like freedom in each bite. I dipped some in the spicy sauce offered, some I ate brazenly bare, waving my fork gleefully in the wind. It was moist and tender. Tom and I literally chewed the fat.

The little plate to the left was a crime scene. Someone had tried to cover up the bodies of some freshly grilled/murdered, rubbery mushrooms with shredded scallions. They scattered sesame seeds on top to throw the search party dogs off scent. I was stunned that a chef would send this plate out. It made me think of schoolchildren I saw in Costa Rica last week all dressed up in plaid uniforms but barefoot. They were ready, just not well-prepared.

I needed dessert to be simple and fast. We both loved the donuts at Mozza, so in their honor we ordered the matcha donuts, dipped in koji milk. The gentle green color and the delicate flavor of the matcha represents everything gentle that I love and respect about Japan. Once in my mouth, America popped up in the too-thick outer layer of a crystal-y sugar crunch. Inside that, we found the simple, soft donuts. The koji milk drowned out any hyper-sweetness.

Our waiter gifted us with a fun mochi ice cream. The surprise of the occasionally hot shisito pepper dust on top cast a shockingly fun pop of color over our otherwise mediocre meal.

The mochi was trapped in caramel sauce that was deliciously, impossibly gooey. It's the kind of sticky your mother warned you about, and I hope to find remnants of it in my teeth, days later.

Our time at Hinoki was ending. Tom's an inspired designer, with princely good looks and matching polo-playing skills. I took my eyes off him and we both admired the beauty of the room, glad to see Chef Myers' example of abandoning the Starck white, bright rooms to nestle down into a warm, inviting cuddle. 

Our meal didn't match the promise that the wood-wrapped room held. At first, we were tiny birds sitting deep inside a precious Japanese box, waiting to be fed. Now, I felt hangry -- not full and a bit upset.

The check came on a little Hinoki wood plank branded with the tiny house bird. My eyes met Tom's and we silently mourned that precious detail not being carried throughout the experience.

When I got home, I flipped on the kitchen light and grabbed an apron. I remembered that the devil is in the details as I reflected on my dinner, and I glanced down to see that the devil had hopped on my blue slacks in the form of tiny, white pills of cotton fluff from the restaurant's white napkin. It's going to be hard to get all that off. I heard a collective moan reverberating throughout the city as the other mostly dark-attired Hinoki diners also discovered the linty parting gift from the linens. Dark clothes deserve dark napkins.

I only half-scrambled the eggs. It was late and I was starving, with no time to saute onions or slice mushrooms. The citrusy, woodsy aroma from the freshly cracked pepper rode up with the steam and hit me before I tore the tarragon into the bubbling skillet. I carefully rolled the omelette onto my plate as if I were turning the page of a good book.

I don't expect every meal to pop out of a fantastic cake and expertly dance with the skill of a stripper holding lit sparklers with her nipples. But I wanted more from the buzzing title Hinoki & The Bird, which had drawn me in. I didn't find this book compelling, so I put it back on the shelf and moved on. The library is so big. 

Hinoki & The Bird. 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (310) 552-1200

Cafe Boulud: Palm Beach -- "Paris Is A Moveable Feast"!

In 1993 Daniel Boulud opened his eponymous restaurant in New York City. He whipped the lid off of a pot and his fantastic French food popped up yelling Surprise! We fell in love.

Then in 2003, Daniel opened Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach. He put American-born chef, Jim Leiken at the helm. Daniel personally took Leiken by the neck and fed French food down his gullet like a duck being readied for a future life as foie gras. He relaxed his grasp and left the Florida ship in masterfully creative hands that conduct a marriage of French and American food each night.

Cafe Boulud Place Setting

It feels good just to approach Cafe Boulud. It's tucked away at the end of a one-way street, past classic stone mansions. Enter Boulud's sexy room and accept the French kiss on both cheeks from the warm, suntanned dining room. The powerful voice of Ziarra, who sings for your supper live every Friday and Saturday night, comes wafting from the lounge into the dining room, along with the aroma from the artisanal bread.

Cafe Boulud Dining Room
The restaurant looks like a visit to Paris when you are in love. Boulud's designer must've just met someone smart, rich and elegant. They spread that warm feeling over the tables, boldly painted the walls with passion, then danced around the room, plunking just the right hue of orchids in amber vases. The maître d’ winked as he flung out my orange napkin, as if to cover my excitement.

Just as we settled in, bouncing bronzed arancini amuse bouche rolled onto our table like Bentley's rolling through Palm Beach stop signs. When popped into my mouth, they had that crunch that I always think over-tanned people would have if I bit into one. And they were delicious.

Cafe Boulud Amuse Bouche Arnacini  

I kept my mouth closed over the soft, creamy rice, in case it tried to escape to re-apply sunscreen.    

Next came the grilled Spanish octopus -- which is the the new, super-sized calamari. Just ordering it conjured up images of a giant, swirling beast trying to grab me with one of its eight long sucker-punched legs. The shiny, spicy arugula is spun into a salad like wet seaweed beside the monster, making the meat look complacent and only curled up to sleep. 

As I cut into what I assume will be rubbery and tough, the knife slides in easily, making me feel heroic. It tastes fantastic -- it's been grilled like a lying witness, and I drag my bite through the tart blood orange sauce, running it brazenly across the dangerous-looking slash of squid ink.

This dish is like falling in love with someone who has substance. It's tender, smooth, full of surprises, and shows you a thrilling side of life that you'd feared. The sweet pepper couscous hops on your fork like pearls being lavishly bestowed on you by this rich undersea creature.  

Ziarra belted out Dim All the Lights and I think they actually dimmed as the risotto appeared, in place of a drumroll. Timing is the most crucial essence in risotto, and they pulled it off -- the right creamy-to-firm ratio. The pouf of foam on top made it seem like the sous chef pulled it at just the right moment, speeding it excitedly out to our table, where it eventually settled down. 

Cafe Boulud English Pea Risotto

I glanced over my shoulder when the foie gras and smoked duck marbre with pain d'epices, poached apricots and sauternes gelée slid onto our table. I swear I saw an heiress in one of Boulud's private booths licking this same slab off the chiseled stomach of her pool boy.

Cafe Boulud Foie Gras Terrine

The busboy discreetly looked the other way as I made small yummy sounds. The chef had gingerly deconstructed the ginger-laced d'epices element and left it up to us to spread it onto his soft brioche, placed discreetly on a silver tray nearby. I tried to mimic the heiress and the pool boy, but I am not that limber.

The French waiter had a more relaxed style here than some I've observed at Daniel NYC. Their sommelière, Mariya Kovacheva, has designed a wine list wilder than a bacchanalian orgy. Ordering wine can be challenging under pressure when you often have a waiter hovering in judgment. One of my fellow diners asked if a Sauternes was the best choice to go with an upcoming course. I expected a sharp look to drip down the waiter's long, aquiline nose, causing his lips to curl into a condescending smirk. Instead, he put one hand on his hip, the other on the empty chair back at our table, and leaned in -- suddenly we were all buddies in a Napa timeshare. He advised that a California Chardonnay would be a better fit. These moments often end in a high five.

I ordered the trio of heirloom pork with one fear -- that the apple wouldn't fall far enough from the pig's mouth to allow me to discern the subtle roasted differences between the cuts. But each one of Boulud's heirloom pork selections were their own man. The roasted tenderloin was moist and no-knife tender, and I wanted to spread the crispy shoulder confit all over my body. As I ate the yummy, fatty pork belly, I chewed on the very bouncy essence of the fire which drove flavor from the meat straight into the gelatinous fat. I sat in my chair doing mental abdominal crunches.
The baby carrots wore the sweet, tiny face of Alice Waters. Each looked as if the chef had reached out the back door and plucked them from the closest patch. Her plea for using local ingredients has been heard.

Cafe Boulud Pork Three Ways

Boulud lays his signature dish -- chickpea fries -- out for me as if they were Palm Beach itself -- a hot, colorful beach blanket spread on uber-soft sand. I muscled their dense, weighty bodies into the roasted red pepper coulis, realizing that looks can be deceiving. Maybe heavy in the hand, but they land lightly on the tongue.

Cafe Boulud Chick Pea Fries

The maître d’ paused by our table and asked, Are you enjoying your evening? He needn't ask if the food was to our satisfaction, if we liked the room or if the music made us feel like dancing -- he knew the answer to those was always a fast yes, yes, and oh hell yes. I love confidence when it can be backed up.

As the tagliatelle and egg was placed on the table, the perfectly cooked egg jiggled across the top, sending a subliminal note-to-self that maybe I should drop and retrieve my napkin twenty times as on-the-spot, secret core work. The yolk was poached so perfectly plump that it looked like ten pounds of sugar in a five pound bag.

Tagliatelle and egg 

The long golden pasta was tangled like lovers' legs, when, for a moment, as you blissfully lie there, you don't know whose gams are whose. A quick poke and you figure it out. I twirled and twirled my fork around with the reckless abandon of a drunk majorette, picking up yellowfoot chanterelles and luscious Parmesan cheese with each pass of the baton, the end of each bite dotted with sweet garlic chips like tiny savory sparklers.

I needed dessert to cool down. I eased into the cuddle of the gorgeous pecan-pear Belle Hélène. The level of detail that pastry chef Arnaud Chavigny crafted on the cut-out tart was tasted throughout every bite of the entire creation. 

pear dessert with cutout pear pastry and sorbet

Strawberries were in season, and looked as luscious as everyone in the room. This sweetly tart lime mousseline and super-bright kaffir lime yogurt sorbet happily puckered my lips into oooooooh.

Strawberry and key lime trio

Then, just as Ziarra queried What's Love Got to Do With It?, a star was born. His Vacherin was presented, frozen solid and cold as an ice princess.

blueberry buttermilk sorbet and meyer lemon curd

Photos can't capture bliss. The blueberry and buttermilk sorbet was wrapped into a precise and compact box, like a bride being readied to travel to her new home. The puffed floating islands of Meyer lemon curd were her dowry.

Music often plays at the most unpredictably apropos times of our lives, and we shouldn't stop it. To the tune of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, the check came and went. We walked out and passed the singer; I saw Ziarra's shoes before I heard her.

Cafe Boulud Lounge SInger
French food makes me believe in l'amour. This Boulud chef makes age-old ingredients lively, fresh and exciting, but not in the way that makes a wife suspect her husband of cheating when he tries a new move.

I was dining with two who had been one for fifteen years, and as we talked near the huge fountain in the palm-stuffed courtyard, one told me that his favorite dessert was still a French one prepared by his beloved. You may stare at an old, gnarled tree and have a hard time imagining it once a young, thin sapling, but a compliment like that from old lovers will make you believe in the timelessness of devotion.

This branch of Daniel's tree bears a different fruit than his New York City joints -- it's a seasonal and rich variety. It honors his true love of French cuisine and adds a dash of classic American boogie.

Cafe Boulud. 301 Australian Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida 33480. (561) 655-6060

New Orleans: Arnaud's -- Sounds Like Honor For A Reason

Hitching posts still line the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, like dutiful soldiers posted along your route. New Orleans is a loyal lady and left these stalwart stanchions to tie oneself to during a gusty hurricane, or after a gutsy brandy-spiked Café Brûlot at Arnaud's Restaurant.

Arnaud's New Orleans Entrance Sign
It takes a village of chefs to create a regional cuisine. Antoine's started the roux in 1840, Tujaques added some spice in 1852, Commander's Palace marched in about 1880, Gallatoire threw in his two scents in 1905, Brennan's stirred things up eventually -- and in the middle of 1918, Arnaud Cazenave turned up the heat in the Big Easy oven.

Their sign has been swinging in the wind a long time, and with a brash, permanent declaration, they tattooed their name on the sidewalk. These tiles represent the indelible memories from my fantastic experience at Arnaud's.

Arnaud's New Orleans Tiled Entry Sign
Wind whooshed as I pulled the ancient, sturdy doors open and activated a time machine. As I walked down Arnaud's fern-lined cement tunnel of a hallway, the lichen growing on the walls smelled delicious as it mixed with the aromas of cooking food. The noise of clinking glasses rattled me into re-entry and the gravitational pull of convivial chatter guided me straight into the ornate bar and back into a roaring time.

I landed on a stool, face-to-face with mixologist Chris Hannah, who shook me a ginger-laced morning mocktail. He's a master craftsman and showman who makes mixing a drink as gorgeous, timeless and dramatic as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner having a fight. 

The outside world has no idea what's going on in here. Even Prohibition didn't close this place, it just drew a thick, penetrable curtain and asked guests for a password. Time respectfully stands guard. 

New Orleans is a colorful deck of cards. Arnaud Cazenave shuffled into town, dubbed himself not a King but a Count and opened his restaurant. History, as rich as their Bernaise sauce, is ladled on extra thick, oozes out of the walls and all over their Filet Mignon Charlemond. He helped write the huge, legendarily mythic Creole Cookbook that the present owners and chefs at Arnaud's still honor.  

 At least once a day, preferably in the cool and quiet of the evening, one should throw all care to the winds, relax completely and dine leisurely and well. - Count Arnaud Cazenave

 When the time came to dine, we were led into the tall-windowed, bustling bistro on a circuitous path, over the tiled floor, between chairs, through the entire room, as if a game piece on a checkered board strategically being played.  We ended up at the best table, front and center. The room is bright and the diners free to be noisy. Vibrant jazz was playing, making the vintage crystal chandeliers clinkily dance the Charleston above our heads. Service is the star, and waiters deftly careen carts through tight spaces, stop and dramatically flambé bananas as if they are pulling a rabbit out of a hat, with an implied tada. You're onstage in the middle of a carefully choreographed, delightful musical production. 

I was lunching with two other television comedy writers, so when Captain Brian Owens snapped out of nowhere to whisk our chairs away, we all reacted to his courteous gallantry as if he were pulling a vaudeville gag, expecting us to fall for it and onto the floor. I was wrong and quickly learned that Brian doesn't just roll out the red carpet, he wraps it around you to let you know you're in great hands. 

Arnaud's New Orleans Private Dining Room
He is an expertly attentive waiter, and his crisp precision has reason and training behind it, like his perfect posture. I looked at the table. The bright white table linens make the venerable room crisp, like an old lady in a new hat, which always makes me smile. 

This is a place where everyone gets their own ramekin of butter as if it's a ration you are expected to use up. I did what I always do and eased my knife in and tasted the butter a bit to see if it's real -- as if discreetly copping a feel of a woman's boob during a hug to detect an implant.

Their menu is written like a politician's speech, with simple bullet points: Appetizers, Soups, Fish, Fowl, Meats, Desserts. Like a passionate fire-and-brimstone speaker, each dish goes off script in a flourished, detailed description to sway your vote: Alligator sausage tantalizingly seasoned in Arnaud's own creole mustard, conjures up an image of some bayou man wrestling the gator and hitting it on the head with a jug, then dragging it in the back door of the kitchen to haggle with the chef over the price.

That chef is Tommy DiGiovanni, who grew up in New Orleans. God personally handed him a jar of filé spice and put his other hand firmly on Tommy's head and kept him at about five feet tall -- saying, I need you close to the food.

Tommy opened my meal with a cork pop of an amuse bouche. Arnaud's Souffle Potatoes are reputed to have been a French chef's accident, just as monk Dom Perignon caused champagne. These puffy pommes de terre hit my tongue like carbilicious bubbles.
Arnaud's New Orleans Souffle Potatoes
I pity the next French fry I pick up.

New Orleans is called both the Big Easy and Fat City; it's a dangerous place that makes you feel glad to be alive. I whipped my belt off, tossed it in the air and ordered with the reckless abandon of a condemned man screaming out my last requests. 

Their signature dishes are highlighted in red like featured hookers in good lingerie positioned along a bordello's staircase. I asked for their Oysters Arnaud, Shrimp Arnaud, Turtle Soup, Pompano en Croute, Lousiana Quail Elzey and Smothered Okra.  

I waited for the Mardi Gras cuisine parade to dazzle me. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Brian and his team were my Krewe, ensuring that I had a ball. That they've been doing this since 1918 makes Arnaud's elaborate production a much longer running show than Cats. And Broadway never serves snacks.

As the oyster sampler arrived, I reached out and grabbed the lemon, appreciating the thoughtful seed-catching net. Suddenly, a distinguished, professorial man in great eyeglasses ran across the room as if my Jheri-curled hair was on fire, screaming Stop!! I dropped the lemon, and put my hands up in the air. It was Charles, the maître d', speaking in an accent like mysteriously seasoned food where I may not recognize the spice but try to figure it out. He admonished me to Let the oysters tell YOU they want lemon!  

Ah, New Orleans, cocktails and spankings before noon.

Arnaud's New Orleans Oysters Arnaud
Each oyster produced a wonderful, unique flavor pearl. In one I found andouille sausage, in another the chef hid artichoke hearts. My nose smelled bacon before my tongue detected Pernod in the Oysters Rockefeller. How long did I have before the absinthe's hallucinations kicked in?

I'm thinking about sending the Shrimp Arnaud to NOLA native Ellen DeGeneres for a makeover. Her trainer could shed ten pounds by shaking off half of the thick, sweet dressing. Her stylist could yank the plain iceberg lettuce back to 1950, and tastefully replace it on a bed of spicy arugula.

Arnaud's New Orleans Shrimp Arnaud
Squeezing these lemon slices was like trying to fold a basketball. The tomato was mealy; our table pitched that we'd like to see a seasonally appropriate foundation, like crispy cucumber.

I love fish in pastry. When I ordered the Pompano en Croute, Brian cautioned that it contained scallop mousse. Full disclosure, he whispered, looking over his shoulder, some people don't like creamed scallops, he said. I loudly invited all diners in the room who didn't care for creamy, rarely attempted scallop mousse to leave the city.

Arnaud's New Orleans Fish in Pastry
I hope Brian didn't think we were handfishin' hillbillies with our comparison to their fish in pastry and pot pie. It's a really high compliment. Pot pie is an amazing self-contained meal. Usually one has to microwave it and eat it alone watching Dynasty reruns in only underwear. I'm glad the Carringtons can't see me eating from the disposable tinfoil plate. But look at me now -- in Arnaud's fancy dining room, being waited on hand and foot, and served the same delicious cuisine.

I'd love to dart in the kitchen to humbly suggest livelier pastry on this fish entreé, the fin perhaps flipping up a bit, or the scales more pronounced. Maybe replace the dated sprigs of parsley with festive chopped confetti. I'd run out of the kitchen toute de suite because everyone in there has more knife skills than my one class got me.

There's no time for them to implement my ideas, when I met Chef Tommy he told me they serve about 350 lunches a day. As the food rapidly pops out from behind the line, it is handled like Lucy working a conveyor belt by his expert expeditor, who tosses dishes in the air like a master plate spinner. They fly up and out, safely landing on waiter's trays. The back of the house communicates with the front of the house with the expert rapidity of teenage girls texting.

We ordered a lot of plates, yet they all landed on our table with the fluidity of well-timed jets on a busy runway. It's no accident that our meal was handled by Captain Brian with expert military precision. He ran the Secret Service detail for Texas Governor George Bush. Bush's fire went out, Katrina called for help, and he responded by moving to New Orleans. The only looking back he does is to check on my turtle soup -- which the chef keeps locally delicious with a hint of Creole spice and Tabasco. Using a bit of lemon makes Chef Tommy, and the soup, bright.

Arnaud's is an open book and Brian is an excellent narrator. He traces the roots of certain cocktails all the way back to legendary local pirates. He told me that Arnaud's dishy daughter Germaine lived in the building until she died. I imagine a senile old lady, her gray hair loose and waving in the breeze, walking down in her nightgown in the middle of dinner service and tasting the soup from a guest's bowl. Mmmm, nice and spicy, she'd say, as she turned and left to resume her search for an old beau.

The oyster's absinthe might have kicked in when this dish arrived, as I conjured up a love story between Germaine and Elzey, a strapping young local hunter. Her father forbade their union, but young Elzey secretly delivered love tokens to Germaine of freshly shot quail to Arnaud's back door. One day, a half-asleep Arnaud picked one up, wrapped bacon around it, and unwittingly created this marvelous quail dish. Germaine dined on it nighty, smacking her lips with secret satisfaction. Quail Elzey: Partially deboned and filled with foie gras mousse and mushroom duxelle, wrapped with country-smoked bacon and served on a bed of truffle-infused Bordelaise Sauce. I do love impossibly fussy little dishes such as these, and Pia Zadora.

Arnaud's New Orleans Quail Elzey
And like Pia, this bird was a little tough, and high maintenance. Imagine Pia, as tiny as a quail, backstage in Vegas stuffing herself with pricey foie gras just because she could. She wrapped herself in exquisite sable exactly the color of this bacon. Sammy Davis, Jr., like this spicy, rich brown sauce, was all over her.

Like Pia's act, my comedy writing dining partners savagely grabbed the quail's tender body and ripped her to shreds. 

We didn't order dessert -- it just sort of happened. There was an unexplained bagpipe procession through the room, but, hey, it was Mardi Gras. You know, if you disregard the maudlin music bagpipes produce, and focus on the fantastic fact that the kilted players are usually commando under that itchy wool skirt, it's not so sad.

We were presented a chunk of marble destined for greatness, I used my fork as a sculptor's chisel and soon the velvety rich bread pudding was putty in my mouth. It had been slid onto the table alongside a Mississippi-bound barge of chocolate espresso cake, accented with the heroic swagger of local dark, rich and strong chicory.

Arnaud's New Orleans Bread Pudding

Arnaud's New Orleans Espresso Cake
Remember Charles, the kindly don't lemon your oyster maître d'? He silently swooped alongside our table and busied himself with bottles and a bowl on a cart. His unannounced process was fascinating; the mystery heightened by his silence. It was like watching a mime magician.

He expertly peeled a lemon and orange, but left part of the orange peel attached, as if to prolong it's nakedness. He must have felt bad about peeling it, because he tucked the lemon peel inside the orange, and started reattaching both peels onto the orange by sticking cloves in. I don't know who he thought he was fooling, the cloves were as obvious as the neck bolts holding on Frankenstein's head.

Peeling citrus must be a crime in these parts, because in a desperate move to hide all evidence, Charles poured liquor all over the orange, and lit it on fire!

The making of Arnaud's New Orleans Cafe Brulot
No one rushed him or tackled him -- I personally was too full.  He was unflinchingly stoic, yet brazen in his cover up, ladling scoop after scoop of flaming, liquid fire over the orange. As the cloves burned up, the peel was released. Soon the room smelled of burning orange flesh. When the fire went out, he sugar coated the experience by pouring the drinks into sugar-coated glasses.

Arnaud's New Orleans Cafe Brulot
Arnaud's showstopping coffee production, Café Brûlot, is boozily spectacular Judy Garland slurring and slinging out You Made Me Love You.

Brian could have spent hours by our table explaining why New Orleans is called the Paris of the South. But being a man of action, he took us around the entire mazey complex of rooms and showed us. We went up and down creaky back staircases, surprising smoking busboys and busting up trysts. The hallways and back passages are riddled with historically savory flavors and characters.Take a wrong turn and you end up on Bourbon Street.

We next passed through a dark, narrow catwalk. Brian paused before opening one door, seeming a bit reverenced. My heart stood still as he invited my quivering hand to turn the knob. Our eyes met -- he gently nodded Yes. I pushed open the resistant door, thick with memories and coats of paint.

I was in the very soul of Arnaud's entire establishment -- the famed museum of Germaine's glorious Mardi Gras days. Their honor to her legacy is actually moving and you can almost hear the screams of the revelers in the streets, celebrating her record number of festive reigns. Her life flashed before my eyes as the sequins' reflection bounced off the sparkly sweeping capes. The fanciful ball gowns behind the glass cases are beautifully maintained and magnificent, and so heavily detailed I know some nuns went blind sewing on beads, praying for the Bedazzler to be invented.

I love the behind-the-scenes tours, and really appreciated seeing this exhibit. If you can, I recommend asking for this special, calorie-free course. It's delicious.

Like every Mardi Gras, or any meal, Germaine herself, or even life -- the time always comes for us to leave. We all had a good, hopefully memorable run.

Brian, and Arnaud's, is why you come to New Orleans. Every day they walk in these amazing buildings and shake the legacy awake that was created by Arnaud Cazenave, and present it to their guests in the most honorable way. Chef Tommy stirs in his own spice to the well-seasoned traditional food.

Brian walked us down the the same hallway to leave Arnaud's that I had entered. Perhaps it was the outrageous colonial governor Marquis de Vaudreuil who turned New Orleans from marshland into a petite Paris back in the 1700s, but it's the current residents like Brian and Chef Tommy that keep it so.

I pushed the doors open, and sharp rain hit the satin of my umbrella, making me think that I heard glasses clinking behind me. I turned around, and almost hit a hitching post, but sidestepped just in time.

I'm glad that Arnaud's didn't get the signal that anything is over.

Arnaud's. 813 Bienville Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112. (504) 523-5433

Pink's Hot Dogs: Los Angeles -- Get in Line!

Gasp in Paris at legendary Lasserre when you taste their foie gras-laced pigeon, but faint when they glide the restaurant's ceiling open. They pop you like champagne, and spray you into the Paris night, making you one of the bubbly stars.

But that magic is weather dependent. I love reliant, good ole Pink's Hot Dogs in rain-deprived Los Angeles, where you also dine under, and often with, the stars.

I eat like a long-single middle aged woman writing a personal ad. I easily go from blue jeans to a ball gown. I like cozy nights snuggled up to a fire at home just as much as dancing the night away! I too, like long walks on the beach, as long as there's a restaurant at the end with valet parking.

Hey you, liveried Parisian footman: Raise that silver domed dish, let the birds within fly out and away, spelling my name in the sky. Hey you, lady with liver spots: Pull that Hoffy hot dog out of the vat, just as you've done since 1939, and stop it's wiener jiggle by soothing it into a white, fluffy bun.

You can speed down La Brea Avenue, hell bent on avoiding traffic and that homeless man. Blink and you'll miss Pink's small storefront; however, glance over and catch the Holy Hot Dog Grail short line of people waiting for Pink's, and you will screech your car into their narrow drive with the skill of a sex-starved Andretti.

Pink's wraps a weenie in bacon that keeps lines wrapped around the block. They don't care how big a star you are; everyone cues up, snakes through the ropes, reads the menu and changes their mind ten times before reaching the counter -- at Pink's pace. I lean out and peek ahead, cursing the family of six tourists in front of me, making me regret that crucial mistake that delayed my departure from home. From now on that cat feeds itself.

Sociologically, the same people that choke once they reach the ordering spot at Pink's are the same undeciderers who leave their bewildered mate at the alter. Geez, you had all this time and you don't freaking know? Are you effing kidding me? Sure, maybe you're not ready. Maybe you need to sleep with a few bridesmaids or eat a Martha Stewart dog or take a walk on the wild Rosie O'Donnell Long Island Dog side. But at the end of the day, at the end of the line, you have a lot of people waiting for you to make up your mind.

I'm not afraid of commitment and step up to place my standard order: a Guadalajara Dog (relish, onions & tomatoes, topped w/sour cream, a Chili Cheese Dog and a Tamale (chili, cheese & onions).  Sometimes other items jump on my tray, but I am a drunk immigration agent and look the other way.

The crew are buskers, slinging their dogs as performance art right in front of your mouth-watering eyes. They never judge, work as a team and happily crank out tray after tray of food with the same precise snap-happiness the hot dogs themselves give at first bite. Pink's has lasted longer than many of the stars' head shots hanging along the walls like trophies in an African Hunting Lodge.

The tamale and other Mexican food should be part of any order. I brazenly wear a white shirt, a foolish laugh at the futility of their tiny napkins vs. my chili skills. See my own dad in the background here? He's the geezer slinking away, disguised in shades, a fake beard and gimme cap, denying he knows me. Or to get another Polish Dog.

Sip wildly sugary drinks like Grape Crush and Bubble Up and get hopped up as you sit in the back parking lot at plastic tables. The umbrellas throw shade and keep God himself from reaching down and snatching your sinful 12-inch Jalapeno Dog.

Pink's has earned its reputation as the best hot dog stand on the West Coast. You have to stay hungry to survive in Los Angeles. That's why we are all so thin. Get fat and you don't get cast in a movie or asked out -- you get dropped like a hot rock, and forgotten.  Just ask.... oh, what was her name?

Pink's, providing perfect hot dogs. Time stands still, and you still stand in line.

Pink's Hot Dogs. 709 N La Brea Avenue,  Los Angeles, CA 90038 (323) 931-7594.

Bouley: New York City -- A Connecticut Yankee in King Louis' Kitchen

I paused before a closed antique store in Tribeca, staring in the still and vacant space that disregarded the city's busy outside noise. Movement in the next building caught my eye. Busy bakers rolled dough on huge marble counters. Flour dust filled the room like sawdust flying out of a lumber mill.  A short, white-hatted factory worker reached up, opened a high oven, and pulled out a long tray of bread, holding promise that pushed me onward.

Bouley Exterior

I stepped off Duane Street and into chef David Bouley’s mind. Apples purposefully line the vestibule's walls; they are a taste of what’s to come. Orchids spray confidently up and out of a Japanese jar, just as some of Chef Bouley’s food inspiringly springs from his loved time in Japan. Let the room spin, the French bench will catch you, and foreshadows the gilded dishes inside.

Bouley Foyer lined with Apples

The hostess politely handed me a pin-striped jacket, which I was humbled to wear; I was unprepared today. Passing through the lounge into the dining room, I looked up at the lacquered gold groin vault ceiling – those deep dents and joints must have been caused by countless pops of champagne cork assaults, echoing shouts down at me that lunch at Bouley is a celebration.

Bouley Vaulted Ceiling

Chef David Bouley was born in Connecticut, but the doting kisses from his very French mother touched his heart and linger there. Her influence rattles and shakes in his soul, uncontrollably pouring onto his plates. His modern restraint uses butter sparingly, replaced with health-inducing herbs and vegetables for flavor.

Bouley's famous five course lunch tasting menu for $55 isn’t a secret, it’s a thrill. He dispatches his perfectly executed food in personally designed dishes as uniformed soldiers to the tables, on the able-bodied arms of well-trained and passionate waiters. An effective general must be loved by his troops. Here they share a belief in his mission.

Nicholas was posted to my table. He walked me through my meal like an expert docent at the Louvre giving a tour of the most important pieces for a first-time visitor who hadn’t enough time to see the entire collection.  

Anyone can see the Venus de Milo, but don’t miss the intimacy of Van Hoogstraten's “The Slippers", at Bouley became The Carpaccio of Kampachi is fantastic, but today you shouldn’t miss the Big Eye Tuna in Apple Foam. We went course by course through the menu, like I was picking college classes and he knew how far the campus walk between each one was. When he says, and then you’ll have the Valrhona soufflé it's a hint at my graduation.

I held my menu close to my chest and looked around hoping the other diners couldn’t hear him.

That's how they run out of food in a kitchen like Bouley, founded on the belief that only seasonal ingredients are to be used, and when they are used up, poof, it's over.

Bread is wheeled out on a cart and hawked by a slick carb Carny. Chef David plucked an apple from the entry wall, and held it in his hand, daring his baker, Aboubacar Diomandé, to snatch it. He did. And among the olive, fig, saffron, and walnut, baked a masterloaf laced with al dente apples.

Take several different slices, you'll need them to dredge sauces from the bottom of your bowls. Yes, I do that here, careful not to also dip in the sleeve of my borrowed jacket.

The flow of amuse bouche started with an apple blini of Scottish smoked salmon. I was puzzled: it looked like a makeup sponge, resting on a puff of foam base.

Bouley apple blini of scottish smoked salmon

I threw a panicked glance to the different cutlery on my left, then to my right – I knew they were all lined up in a specific order that I did not wish to rube-ishly violate. I am one fish knife shy of drinking the finger bowl.

I shot Nicholas that help me look Julia Roberts threw to Hector Elizondo when unsure of the escargot procedure. Nicholas narrowed his eyes and nodded a silent it’s cool to pop the entire thing in your mouth – we’ve all done it. My tongue effortlessly lifted the blini to the roof of my mouth; it flew up and was gone before I knew it, leaving me with smoked salmon to savor and chew, enjoying trace amounts of sweet honey.

An oyster with kiwi carpaccio and a tiny sansho pepper is Bouley’s respectful and playful amuse bow to Japan. I gently closed my mouth around the oyster and popped it in one bite. The sweet and sour kiwi instantly turned briny into sparkly.

Bouley oyster and kiwi carpaccio

Bigeye tuna swim peacefully in the Atlantic ocean, but even the keenest can't keep one eye, big as it is, on every hook, and sometimes one gets yanked from the sea. The chefs here lovingly rehab the tuna, cuddling it in a protective, puffy bed of tart, lemony apple foam. Osetra caviar is applied as ointment.

Bouley apple foam, big eye tuna,osetra caviar

I know booths at farmer’s markets sell professionally foraged mushrooms, but I like to think that Chef David did the foraging personally for my plate.

Busy as he is, he wakes early, and decides to skip the fish market. He dons rubber boots, grabs a bucket and walks into the figurative woods that all chefs live nearby. This is his quiet, reflective time, and he contemplatively solves sauce-breaking problems as he picks up a wild hen-of–the-woods mushroom, scratches the flesh, sniffs it, and tosses it into the bucket. Dawn turns into day, snapping him out of his trance and he heads in the kitchen to pluck a chicken.

The roasted mushrooms were sprayed with a garlic foam. Each has the good taste and inherent common sense to stay unique in the crowd and offer distinguishable flavors.

Bouley forager's treasur of wild mushrooms

The plate is a fungilicous wine tasting, and I held each bite-sized mushroom up on my fork and twirled it as if spinning a glass of wine to watch the "legs" form. The toro I love and heretofore have only eaten raw, was broiled, turning it a singed brown, and making it appear as a mushroom, hidden on the plate as the mushrooms themselves were hidden in the woods. The little poofs of truffle paté dabbed on top were perfectly rich, and the welcome gilding of the lily Bouley's lobby had promised.

I looked down at my plate and wondered, what is Chef David smoking? Milk. He covers his black cod, seared like foie gras, in the inventive stuff like a starlet taking a sudsy bath.

Bouley's black cod in smoked milk

Kumquat foam from his own Kent, Connecticut farm is cozied up on the side, adding refreshingly citrusy effervescent bubbles.The milk hints at a French fish stew Bouley's mother might have made.

I watch a trail of uniformed waiters march out of the kitchen in single file. They match the taupe walls, preferring that the stark white china they hold be the pop of color in the lavish, perfectly-lit room. Each course is presented all at once to the party. Diners lean in close over the table to look at each others plates, and into each others eyes.

This room is so sexy you could have wild, acrobatic sex in a secluded booth, stuffing chunks of soft bread in your limber lover's mouth to quiet them down. Hush darling, it's lunch and deals are being made.

Nicholas orchestrates the staff with quiet cues and gestures -- as a plate is whisked away a fork swings in and lands to my left, as a film trailer's coming attraction. Nicholas did time at Daniel's Boulud Sud and it shows. He believes one year at Bouley is ten years knowledge elsewhere.

Chef David spent time with Joel Robuchon, and presents a savory homage  -- a crispy bread made from health-fortifying Kuzu, spread with Robuchon's potato puree and Bouley's truffle paste. I felt better immediately.

Bouley's kuzu bread, Robohon's potato puree

Many of David's dishes are thrilling, as represented by his signature porcini flan. I dredged my spoon in and scooped what I thought were all of the components, and savored the peppery bite with the skepticism we all reserve for sure it's famous, but why? We cast that same doubt as we gaze at art, staring up at the thick black slashes of Motherwell and tsk-tsking, I could do that. But you didn't. I dug deeper and hit the golden paydirt of flan, the smooth thin custard layer lined the bottom.  Now as I ate these fully-intended and complete bites of Alaskan crab and Japanese dashi, the reputation was validated.

Bouley's signature dish, porcini flan

His Rouget fish is fried so crispy I thought I was eating delicate fried fish fins, like my brother used to love as a kid at family fish frys. The bowl was dotted with rare and still-firm steamed bright green romanesco -- the delicate beauty of this exotic vegetable reflects the intricacy of a Cambodian dancer's headdress. I grabbed each tiny one and dragged it through the tangy sauce as if I had conquered a beauty.

Bouley's Rouget

I hated myself for picking up the sharp, bone-handled knife the assistant waitress had placed beside my bowl before my dish was presented. She had a new, cute haircut as precisely trimmed as the slice I was served of slow braised Kobe style beef cheeks with blue kale gnocchi. 

Bouley's beef cheeks

In a split second I over thought the need for the knife and poked it in. The beef met my knife and fell apart with the fragility of a crushed lover. I felt foolish and tucked the soiled knife's blade under my plate, wanting to go in the kitchen and first apologize to the chef for doubting his skill to make impossibly tender meat, and then to the overworked dishwasher for making him wash the knife.

I stabbed each teensy tiny gnocchi, and if I sent one scooting across my plate, good, I deserved to miss. I guiltily enjoyed the braised Hungarian-style flavors accented with the delicate sour taste of creme fraiche.

Nicholas carried the hefty pot holding the chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and clover hay out to the dining room and placed it before me. A hero's trophy after battle. I looked inside the pot and realized that this was the kindest, most benevolent way to be cooked. It's as if the chicken is still in his warm coop, laying on his familiar bed of hay and alfalfa. As the dough is packed around the lid to seal his fate, he is slowly and obliviously lulled to tender perfection at a high, bone-numbing heat.

Bouley's chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and hay

This is how the Egyptians entered the afterlife. Throw in some food and a cat or two, seal their tombs, and they'd phoenicianly rise on up into eternal happiness, just as the steam arose from the glass pot as Nicholas unsealed the baked dough and pried it away.

I have no idea if I ate thigh or breast meat, or a part I'd never known before and perhaps magically sprang up from this baking method. It was as tender as Adele singing to her own baby.

Bouley's chicken en cocotte with alfalfa and hay

The kale puree made a bright, healthy, flavorful foundation for each cheese-soft bite. Looking good is the best revenge I told the pretty purple brussels sprouts as I led them through the reduction provided by the roasted chicken's grassy bed. 

A white chocolate cloud appeared, floating on torn Origami paper. I was told to eat it quickly, that it's truly a cloud and disappears.

Bouley's white chocolate cloud

Green tea is dusted on top as fingerprint dust, to prove it's existence. I dug past the foam, greedily scraping the more formed, icy bottom, not caring if I ate paper.  One can ponder the fragility of life, or devour it completely before it's gone.

If service could be ordered as a meat temperature, I'd always order mine well-done, as opposed to rare, which is the way I eat meat. I can't swallow well-done meat nor disinterested service. In either case, I just chew and chew and end up frustrated, wishing they both could be sent back.

Nicholas has a passion that peeks out of his eyes, curls into a pleasant smile, runs down his arm and out his steady, confident hand with which he places a plate on the table. His expertise on the Bouley craft made my meal taste better. Well done, Nicholas. So rare.

The parade began of sweet courses, sending my brain a note that my meal was winding down. The stem on the tall parfait glass was very long, and looked fragile and top heavy. I wanted the glass to be okay; it deserved Betty Grable's leg treatment and needed to be insured by Lloyd's of London to protect it from breaking and ruining the contents.

Bouley's vanilla mousse, lychee sorbet parfait

Like closing credits on a film, the ingredients rolled onto my spoon. Vanilla mousse, clementine puree, lychee ice cream. My tongue spotted the glittery drag queen star demanding top billing -- I loved her in everything -- Crystallized Honey.

Chef David lives upstairs. Most of us pad into the kitchen late at night and have cold cereal for a snack, but when Bouley gets hungry, he bolts downstairs, his open robe flapping in the breeze. He cranks up Vivaldi, and in the lyrical solitude of the night, wracked with insomnia and inspiration, he creates my decadent dessert: hot Valrhona chocolate souffle, coffee ice cream, and chocolate mousse. The white coffee cloud is impossible, but it's there, too, subtly curved into a smile on the side of the bowl.

Bouley's Valrhona chocolate souffle

I lingered in the dining room, then passed back into the chic lounge. I'd been wearing Bouley's better coat for a while and it was deliciously comfortable, so I took a little extra time as I surrendered the loaner jacket and pulled on my own overcoat.  I paused in the apple-lined vestibule, appreciating it more the second time around, and wondering if the closed door led to the kitchen.

I hung on a bit before leaving, as if I had been kicked out of a bar at closing time but wanting another drink. I made a promise to someday take one of his cooking classes and visit his Japanesey sister-kitchen, Brushstroke.

Back on Daune Street, I passed multi-colored tulips springing up from their planter reminding me Nicholas had tucked a bag of Bouley macarons in my pocket. I patted them as I walked away, smiling.

Bouley exterior

Bouley. 163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013 (212) 964-2525