The Shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue: Style, With Some Substance


IMG_5107

As hotel restaurants go, the shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue tries pretty hard.

Determined to cast itself as a New York restaurant, it likes to broadcast just how local it is. Its Web site rattles off a litany of New York purveyors — eggs hail from Feather Ridge Farm in the Hudson Valley; lox comes from Russ & Daughters on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which has been providing New Yorkers with smoked fish since 1914. And there's even a self-conscious little area that sells snacks made by small, lesser-known brands in New York.

This is all in line with the in-the-know feel that the hotel, part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts' chain of boutique properties, tries to give off. It's a pretentiousness you can already sense from the fact that it is the shop — spelled all lowercase, the hotel insists — and not, well, The Shop. (You'll have to check out my review of the hotel in the New York Times Travel section for more on this Andaz.)

How would the food stack up against all this posing? We decided to find out …

[Read more…]

Terzo Piano: Where Chicago Is The Art


CIMG9359

Terzo Piano is a restaurant that literally makes your heart skip a beat the moment you walk in.

With its high ceilings, crisp, white furniture, spare decor
and wall of glass windows providing a sweeping view of Chicago old and
new, it’s the embodiment and reflection of the city’s stunning Mies van der Rohe-infused skyline.

On a clear day, when light is pouring in, sending angular shadows shooting across the pristine, gleaming furniture, the space is just breath-taking. This restaurant, which just opened in the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern wing in May, truly does the city justice.

All of this, of course, combines to set some incredibly high expectations for the food itself.

But that, it turns out, is another story.

[Read more…]

Casatiello: A Marvel of Meat & Melted Cheese


CIMG8008

In my family’s Singapore kitchen this week, my mother carefully brought out a prized discovery from her fridge, nudging me to try it.

Inside the box was a lovingly swaddled loaf of bread, filled with slivers of ham and dappled with bits of melted and crusty cheese. A friend had given it to her and my mother had decided it was the best bread she’d ever tasted.

“Hey, I think I recently made something like this,” I said. 

“You DID?” came her incredulous response. 

Her disbelief was completely understandable — I rarely set foot in the kitchen as a child. And when I finally did start cooking in my 20s, I was initially more known for inedible cheesecakes than Julia Child creations.

As for baking bread, it’s something that seemed so difficult that I never considered trying it until I joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge in May. But baking a bread every week along with more than 200 bakers around the world has been a surprisingly empowering and therapeutic thing.

In a piece that I wrote for the Washington Post Food section about the proliferation of online cooking and baking groups, Jeff of Culinary Disasters talks about learning to be patient from baking bread for the challenge. Wendy of Pink Stripes says she’s become such a brave cook that she’s applied that confidence outside of the kitchen, too. (Wendy, who had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, took the plunge in December.)

As for me, I’ve learned gobs — about time management, the need for enough sleep, the importance of simply trying. Above all, through the exhilarating successes and occasional clouds of smoke, I’ve grown increasingly sure of one thing: If you set your mind to doing something — even if it seems impossible — you’re going to be able to do it. (And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have the fist-bumps of fellow bakers, pushing you along the way.)

And that’s intoxicating knowledge to have.

So, yes, Mum, I really did make casatiello, an Italian bread filled with cured meat and melted cheese that tastes just divine. And it was actually pretty simple …

[Read more…]

English Muffins: This Story Will Bore You


CIMG8166

Like bagels, English muffins had always been in the category I call “So easy to buy — why bother making them?”

But for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, I’d already tackled some key standards — challah, cinnamon buns, brioche. So I figured, what’s one more?

And besides, it turned out, making English muffins is easy — so incredibly easy, in fact, that nothing eventful happened.

As I whizzed through the steps, I began to wonder if I should have blindfolded myself or tied one hand behind my back while making them, just to have something fascinating to say about baking English muffins. Oh, the trials that could have happened! The tribulations! The smell of burnt cornmeal filling my apartment again!

Alas, none of that occurred.

[Read more…]

What Ciabatta Taught Me


CIMG6601

This moment, I had known it would come.

The one where I’m sitting on the floor of my smoke-filled apartment, staring at three rock-hard, blackened loaves and thinking, “I am a failure.”

Having never baked bread before, I’d known it was a little insane to sign up for the weekly Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where a group of more than 200 amateur bakers around the world bake a bread every week from a recipe in Peter Reinhart’s bread-making bible.

But then my first attempt — bagels — had gone well. And in the ensuing weeks, decent versions of brioche and challah followed.

I started to get cocky — I even promised chef Simpson that I would bring my first stab at ciabatta to his July 4 party. There would be two Italians there — who better to judge the quality of my first Italian bread?

Of course, this was all before the alarming amounts of smoke, the smell of burnt cornmeal seeping into every cranny of my apartment and, eventually, the surfacing of three dark lumps of what could pass for coal but were actually my “ciabatta.”

[Read more…]