Blue Ribbon Brasserie

I am the only person in New York who hasn't been to Blue Ribbon.

No, not the sushi place. And not Blue Ribbon Bakery. That doesn't count, my friends inform me. You have to eat at Blue Ribbon, the restaurant.

Lest you have trouble distinguishing between these various Blue Ribbons, as I did, it's called Blue Ribbon Brasserie, est. 1992, during Soho's waning glory days, and it's on Sullivan Street. The whole world seems to think it's the best thing since Sullivan Street Bakery bread, sliced or unsliced. People like to say they eat at Blue Ribbon because they like the food, but who really cares? They like Blue Ribbon because they think it's cool, and for the most part, it is.

Sadly, there was no table free for Les Moonves and Julie Chen on the night I finally visited Blue Ribbon, so they left. Vincent Gallo lurked around the bar area (though fortunately he did not offer to sell us his sperm). The lighting was flattering and the room humming.But after years of hearing the hype, I was disappointed that the interior looks like any other ordinary restaurant. I thought it was supposed to be...drum roll...Blue Ribbon.

The brasserie, which serves an eclectic mix of food, from pu pu platters to hummus, is famous for the fact that they stay open until 4 in the morning, a nice perk, but one that would have been more useful to me when I actually stayed up until 4 in the morning. It's also famous for the wait. On a Saturday night at 9pm, we were told it would be 2 1/2 hours until we could sit down. It turned out to be 1 1/2, which was fortunate because one of us was about to devour the maitre'd by then.

The first course was fantastic. A dozen oysters, half Kumamotos, half PEI Malpeques, were the best oysters I've had in New York in recent memory. They tasted as if they'd been plucked out of the sea just a minute before. Alongside this came a cucumber in the tiniest imaginable dice, tossed in a vinegary dressing as a gazpacho-like accompaniment. Very creative, and a perfect complement to the oysters. The sauteed calamari was so good we ordered it twice. A simple combination of extra-virgin olive oil, sauteed garlic, and thin ribbons of calamari, it came tossed together like bucatini in a bowl.

Why do they bother? I wondered. Blue Ribbon could coast by on reputation alone, but here they were turning out excellent starters. It may be the reason celebritrons have stuck around here but abandoned most of the other Soho places.

No wonder Blue Ribbon's raw bar is fantastic; they presumably share their purveyors with Blue Ribbon Sushi up the street. Alas, the second course was not as impressive as the first. Salmon was good but ho-hum, and weird planko-like potato flakes adorned the top of the mashed potatoes. The waiter recommended the fried chicken as one of the best entrees, but when the plate was set in front of me, I realized with slowly growing horror that I had ordered the exact same TV-dinner-esque meal featured in this highly disturbing Wonder Showzen video a friend showed me earlier that day. It was as if I'd walked out of Super Size Me and my subconscious directed me straight to McDonald's. That awful coincidence wasn't Blue Ribbon's fault. I did wish, however, that the fried chicken hadn't been so dry.

Something I never would have ordered, the tofu ravioli, was the best entree of the bunch. Made with rice flour, they were more dumplings than ravioli and came with two dressings, one of which was spicy. "Who thinks to do this for vegetarians?" my vegetarian friend cried.

We couldn't stay awake for dessert. It was 1 AM by then, and we had been at the restaurant for 4 hours. Goodnight, oysters. Goodnight, Vincent Gallo. Goodnight, Blue Ribbon.

Blue Ribbon Brasserie
97 Sullivan Street, between Prince and Spring


Winter in Union Square

Most New Yorkers seem to be more concerned with staying warm than looking fashionable these days, though some managed to do both. Bomber hats with earflaps are incredibly warm and in style; if you want one and can't find any left in Manhattan, they're available for $32 on L.L.Bean. Other trends: white sneakers with skinny black pants, mirrored aviator sunglasses, silver, 80's jewel tone colors, and cold feet - flats and leggings leave a sliver of skin exposed.


Sunday Ragù

Every winter I like to make a huge vat of meat sauce and freeze it in small portions for the bleak months ahead. Though I am not copying any particular restaurant version here, the recipe is derived from Regina Schrambling's nearly perfect recipe for lasagna that appeared in the Times years ago. The lasagna was great, but I was floored by the sauce. I tweaked it to make it more Italian-American than authentic Italian - more tomato, more oregano, less meat. Even a dash of garlic salt at the end, though yes, I know that is cheating.

Make it while watching Goodfellas on a Sunday afternoon. Just remember to keep stirring the gravy.

Sunday Ragù

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup finely grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
6 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick and diced
1/2 bottle good red wine, preferably Italian
3 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen organic
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 whole cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
sea salt to taste
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 pound of Italian sausage, a mix of hot and sweet
1/2 pound ground sirloin
1 egg
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only (about 3 sprigs)
flour for rolling
garlic salt to taste

Heat 1/4 cup of the extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion, carrot, minced garlic, and pancetta, stir once, and reduce the heat to low. Continue stirring for 10 minutes, until the onions are wilted. Add the wine, bring to a boil, then simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the wine is mostly reduced. Open the canned tomatoes and snip them in pieces with kitchen shears while still in the can, then add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot. Add tomato paste, oregano, and smashed garlic cloves. Add salt and pepper, but err on the side of undersalting at this point, because you still have a lot of reducing to do. Bring to a simmer, then cook uncovered over the lowest heat for 1 hour. Don't let the sauce stick or it will burn.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Combine the ground sirloin, egg, cheese, minced garlic, parsley, and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Roll the mixture into golf-ball size balls, then roll the balls in a plate of flour to coat them. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides over medium-high heat. Do not cook the meatballs all the way through, just brown them. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and reserve.

Slice the sausages open lengthwise and turn their meat out of the casings into a clean skillet set over medium-high heat. When they really begin to sizzle, turn the heat down to medium-low and saute until they are about halfway cooked. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. As Lidia Bastianich says, if you season each individual element of the sauce before combining them all, chances are you'll get a final product that's seasoned to taste.

After the tomato sauce has been cooking for 1 hour, add the sausage and meatballs and stir. Continue to simmer on the lowest heat, stirring at least once every 10 minutes, for at least another 1 1/2 hours (or until Goodfellas has ended). Don't forget to stir the gravy.

When the sauce is done, fish out the meatballs with a large spoon, chop them finely, and return the meat to the sauce and stir. Taste for seasoning, adding oregano and garlic salt as necessary.

How To Cook Pasta:

Fill a 5-quart size pot at least halfway to the top and throw in a handful of kosher salt. Yes, a handful. Never fear, you won't be consuming all the salt, just the salt that's absorbed by the pasta, a tiny fraction of the total amount of salt. The point is to make the water thoroughly salty, because then the boiling point is higher, and the pasta will be al dente and slightly, pleasantly salty.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta. As soon as the water returns to a boil, set a timer to the minimum time on the package directions. When it's done, drain the pasta and return it to the still-warm pot. Stir in butter for an Italian-American take, if desired, until it is absorbed the the pasta. Add several spoonfuls of hot sauce to the pot, turn the heat on medium, and stir for a minute until the pasta begins to absorb some of the sauce. Pour into a bowl, top with a bit more sauce and a sprinkling of fresh grated Parmesan.

Variations on the Sauce:

For ragù Napoletano: Order the pancetta as one large 6-ounce piece and cut into large chunks. Cut the sausage into 1-inch chunks. Prepare the rest of the recipe as above, but at the end of cooking, remove all the meats and the garlic cloves. For a particularly refined version, you can pass the cooled sauce through a food mill. Serve with the reserved meatballs or sausage, or just as a sauce for pasta. Warn the vegetarians.

If you get hungry while making the sauce: You can always eat the Beaujolais Nouveau version of the sauce, that is, a bright, less complex version that's only just ripe for the picking. After an hour of cooking, before adding the sausage and meatballs, spoon a small amount sauce over pasta.

To freeze: Let the sauce sit overnight in the refrigerator, then ladle into 1/2 pint containers (for one serving) or pint containers (for two). I keep takeout containers for this purpose. Good for up to three months in the freezer. Reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

Makes 10 portions.


Del Posto Enoteca

The room is hushed. Piano music tinkles in the background. Nearly everybody in the joint is talking business over a nice bottle of red and a good Italian meal. But the place is so well soundproofed, carpet and cushions everywhere, foam padding the underside of the tablecloths, you couldn't even hear the guy at the table next to you if he was planning a hit. Now if only Artie would quit coming by with that pathetic bandaged hand of his and going on and on about the specials.

That last part didn't happen. But all night at Del Posto Enoteca, we felt as if it might. Having read about the enoteca on one of Ed Levine's top 2006 lists for its $41 prix fixe, I expected Del Posto's to be like the front room at Gramercy Tavern - an energetic, casual setting with diners spilling over from a bar that stretches along one side of the room. Del Posto has the long bar, but the dining space surrounding it has the muted, formal feel of a suburban Italian restaurant that prizes itself on being "the best" in the area. My chef friend mentioned the Sopranos, and from then on I couldn't help thinking of the place as a mega-Vesuvio's, Artie's dream come true.

Unlike Vesuvio's, Del Posto is known for its great food, so we came in with high expectations. These were matched by the first course and gradually deflated by the ones that followed. Was it just an off night? Give me an expense account and I'll give you an answer. But there was no doubt this was a Mario Batali operation when lardo, which first appeared on the table as a spread for bread, reappeared decadently drizzled all over the beef carpaccio, which had a fabulous sashimi-like texture. Lift up the carpaccio, and underneath you'll find a pool of wonderfully fragrant extra-virgin olive oil. Tender, delicate calamari came fried in the lightest tempura-like batter and had a lingering spiciness from the cherry peppers and lemony tang from the capers. The octopus with fried celery and beans was tender and sweet.

Moving on to the primi, we got into wildcard territory. The veal and cauliflower ravioli were amazing, but the bucatini was a strangely bright shade of red and had too much heat and salt. Was Del Posto trying to do a version of Sara Jenkins' red wine spaghetti at 50 Carmine (R.I.P., 50 Carmine) with an inadvisable cherry pepper reduction? The gnocchi with ragu bolognese, with its subtle hints of fennel and nutmeg, was much more successful.

Who would order the best entree? It turned out to be the fiancée of the Master Orderer, who, as was mentioned in this Café Gray review, always manages to order the best dishes on the menu by employing some sort of gastronomic ESP. His skill must have rubbed off on her, since she was enjoying the bass with lentils as my chef friend picked at her so-so cod. The lentils introduced a nice new flavor to the mix, which was beginning to taste of the same few base notes after three courses. Also - and I can't believe I am saying this, since I am a confirmed saltaholic - many of the dishes at Del Posto Enoteca were oversalted. The lentils were the one ingredient that could cut through the salt. My steak braciolona, which, though it was cooked rare, tasted only of the red wine marinade through and through (and some more salt). We pronounced it "weird."

The service was also strange. Extremely attentive one moment but M.I.A. the next, our waitress seemed to realize at one point that we were waiting 30 minutes between courses after the enoteca got slammed at 8 o'clock. She refilled our wines-by-the-glass for free, which was particularly fortunate because the wine there can run $24 a glass. Next time I'll order a bottle.

Fiancée of Master Orderer again triumphed at dessert with the rich chocolate cake that tasted of amaretto. My chef friend managed to break through the shell of her tarte without the assistance of a jackhammer, though it was a challenge. And by then I had a cold coming on, so all that I could taste of the gelato was that it was cold and vaguely chocolatey.

As we were leaving, we saw a lone woman with short, fluffy hair, reading glasses and a pink cashmere scarf sitting at the bar, staring out into space. No one in Del Posto's businessman clientele seemed to recognize her, but we stopped by to say hello to Lidia Bastianich. I hope she scolds her sous-chefs as she scolds her television audience about oversalting .

I bid my girlfriends goodbye, trundled into my new Porsche station wagon (paid for in cash), and sped off towards the Holland Tunnel.

Del Posto Enoteca
85 Tenth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets


Closed for a Private Party, And You're Not Invited

The Times mentioned this phenomenon in a Styles article this Sunday, but I think it deserves further commentary. Also, I wrote this on Friday, alas.

Did it seem like there were a lot of private parties in restaurants this past fall and holiday season, and you weren't invited to any of them?

I'm thinking of Frederick's Downtown, which was suddenly "closed for a private party," presumably an impromptu one, as they informed me the night before my reservation was to take place. The reservationist offered to reschedule and throw in a free bottle of champagne, but my own party of three was left with nowhere to eat that night.

At least they called. At Cookshop, my OpenTable.com reservation was unceremoniously cancelled by the restaurant at 9:47 the night before. I learned about this change in status from an OpenTable email.

Then there was the little matter of the Little Owl, which told my potential dining companion we probably would not be able to eat there until after Thanksgiving, since they were "booked for private parties" until then. She called in early October. That's certainly a lot of parties. No doubt the Little Owl's 26-seat space is a big draw for corporate events?

Another restaurant that shall remain unnamed, since they kindly relented in the end (OK, as with the Styles article, it too was the Waverly Inn), also cited a private party as reason we could not dine there. After a persistent effort on my friend's part, we managed to get ourselves on the books for a slot after nine p.m. As we were led to our table I wondered, where are the torn streamers and trampled confetti I'd imagined, the empty champagne glasses and detritus of cake? Indeed, it looked as if there had been no party there at all.

I really would like to entertain you with another blog entry today, but I'm afraid I'm closed for a private party.


Net-A-Porter Hot List

The spring trend report is in from Net-A-Porter. If you don't know what Net-A-Porter is, by all means do your fashion homework. A few outtakes:

* mini dresses, especially Milly's
* jersey
* florals
* retro-futurism
* silver accessories, especially shoes

Natalie Massenet & co. mention the Waverly Inn, all the way from London. They're also betting on lucite heels? Let it not be so... Yet I'm afraid this online luxury site is almost always spot-on.

Net-A-Porter, The A to Z of What's Hot Now


Ye Waverly Inn

I was there the night Ellen Barkin threw a glass of water in Ronald Perelman's face. Sadly, I didn't see it happen, but that was all the inspiration I needed to keep coming back to the Waverly Inn.

With Page Six headlines like this one, most New Yorkers would be hard pressed to say they're attracted to the Waverly Inn for the food alone. After a slightly rocky start, the kitchen is turning out meals that are "surprisingly good," as Nathan Lane would say. It's Yankee cuisine - very American, with British touches. The prices are low, as they were to attract artists when the Olde place first opened.

But first, the setting, because this is one of the most special interior spaces in New York. The buiding itself dates to 1845, though it didn't house the Waverly Inn until 1920. The inside retains the low ceilings and slanted floors of the olde Waverly Inn. The gray-maned owner Graydon Carter often holds court in the see-and-be-seen front dining room, which winds back into little nooks and opens into a second dining room with a fireplace (an excellent place for a tryst, if only there weren't so many media people around). Antiqued mirrors give way to more walls painted ruby red, and an elaborate mural of various famous people in sometimes lewd poses of Greek revelry snakes along the far wall. The dining room feels more like old London than any place I've been in New York. It's truly a wonder.

A brief survey of the food, since, as mentioned, it's not really the point. The frisee salad has just the right lemony, vinegary tang to balance the creaminess of the poached egg, and the lardons are toothsome. The vegetable plate won't win any prizes for presentation - it arrives as a slew of sauteed vegetable nubs - but it certainly tastes good. A moment of reverence for the biscuits. So light and flaky, they are the ultimate Yankee version of a non-buttermilk biscuit. It would take superhuman willpower to resist devouring the whole thing, especially when it's slathered with the sweet butter that comes alongside. I've only seen the popovers at the Harvard Club inspire the same kind of fanatacism.

The chicken pot pie is an Olde Waverly Inn standby. The creamy chicken stew inside is exactly what it should be, if a little bland. But the pastry! The crust that tops the pie makes the whole dish. It makes me want to burst into the kitchen and demand, "Who are you?" to the pastry chef.

One signature dish here, the macaroni and cheese with shaved truffles, was once just the Monday special but is now available every night (see preview menu, below). I didn't get it, alas, because I loathe truffles, but everyone else seems to think it's great. My friend opts for the tuna tartare, and like most of the dishes here, though it isn't wildly creative, it is fresh and well put-together.

A note on getting in: Though the restaurant is still "not open," it is possible to eat there if you frequent the bar until the staff recognizes you, and it also helps if you live in the neighborhood. If you don't know where the intersection of Bank and Waverly is, that's probably a sign that you should do the rest of us a favor and just stay away.

Ye Waverly Inn
16 Bank Street, at the corner of Waverly
no phone


Shop Telluride

One last survey of Telluride. First off, few places in the country, nay, the world, are as great for shopping as NYC, so I generally find it a pointless exercise to even attempt to shop in the provinces. Nevertheless, one must entertain oneself somehow.

That said, of all the ski shops in town, Slope Style has the coolest gear. The selection of Burton, ORage, Roxy, Element, and Paul Frank ski wear and winter clothing has been chosen with an expert eye. I love these Vans by Roxy, a spinoff brand of Quiksilver, below.

Slope Style
South Oak Street and Main Street

But I wasn't feeling steezy enough to sport the boarder gear from this shop. The best store for all sorts of practical ski gear is Paragon Ski & Sport (no relation to New York's Paragon Sports).

There is a debate in the ski gear world about capilene vs. merino as an underlayer. Capilene, a synthetic fiber, has been championed recently by brands like Patagonia. The other side of the debate holds that natural fabrics like silk and merino wool were always used as an underlayer, even back when skis were wooden, so if ain't broke, don't fix it. Finely-knit merino wicks and breathes, doesn't need to be washed all the time, and doesn't retain odors. The 80's prep in me gravitated towards the merino CB Icebreaker (yes! the very same CB Sports brand of the 80's). Paragon Ski & Sport is one of the few places in the U.S. where you can find it, and only offline.

Paragon Ski & Sport
213 West Colorado Avenue

Telluride Sports is the most tourist-oriented of all the ski shops, but their selection is comprehensive. They fall on the capilene side of the great underwear debate. A good place to go if you dropped your gloves off the ski lift and need another pair, fast. On the day I visited, they were selling Pucci skiwear for half off. I didn't even know Pucci made skiwear. Mix that up with your Chanel skis!

Telluride Sports
various locations

A purveyor of hippy-dippy clothing for women and men, Down to Earth carries a few things in questionable taste, like excessively bejeweled Western-style handbags and ties by Jerry Garcia. But you'll also find some nice things in the jumble, like these sweaters, right, made of soft llama's wool, beautiful embroidered cashmere sweaters by Raw 7, and handknit ski hats like this Union Jack version below. In this town full of millionaires, you'd better act fast if you see something you like, or it'll be snapped up by the next customer.

Down to Earth
122 East Colorado Avenue

Finally, if you have any time in Telluride between skiing, eating, and shopping, hie thee to the Golden Door Spa at the Peaks Resort in Mountain Village. I could move into the locker room here. Steam room, sauna, a whirlpool bath, showers, hair dryers, beauty products, even complimentary hairbrushes are all at your disposal when you book a 50-minute massage for $125, a great break during a strenuous week of skiing (and shopping and eating). The other spa selections on the menu (below), like the detoxifying sea mud wrap that leaves your skin beautifully soft and bright, are quite tempting. Coated in a seaweed-like substance and wrapped in plastic for 30 minutes, I was a human California roll. A very relaxed one.

Farewell for now, Telluride. Til next year?

Needle Off the Record Moment: Bar Room at the Modern

Three stars for the Bar Room at the Modern?!? Is the Times' Bruni on crack? I'm not dissing the food, but let's face it: the Bar Room at the Modern is a major sheila hangout. If you don't know what a sheila is, she's the kind of 20-something girl who orders Champagne by the glass, favors low-cut and/or backless tops, and generally travels in packs to "hot" places found on Citysearch.

Babbo got three stars, for chrissakes. When I see three stars, I think of the kind of place I can take my parents without worrying about them freaking out about service or loud music, a white-tablecloth place like Eleven Madison Park, for instance. But at the Bar Room at the Modern, you can barely walk through the bar area without some sheila spilling a cosmo on you. Maybe Bruni likes that sort of "conviviality," but Mom wouldn't.

Please, Bruni Digest! Hold your silence no more! Frank is crying out for your attention.

Two Upstarts Don Their Elders' Laurels
(Not even going to touch that headline with a ten-foot pole...)


Go Long on White Trenches

Prediction: White trench coats, belted high on the waist with a full skirt, will be the It coat of the spring. They're already making a splash as resort wear, and some New York women are breaking them out now during the unseasonably warm weather.

Pictured left is a white trench in the window of Coach on lower Fifth Avenue. Below is the Marc Jacobs version, available online at Bergdorf Goodman. The Marc Jacobs color is listed as "metallic beige," but hey, it looks white to me.