The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2017

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Page 38 of 116

38  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2017 WHERE WE'RE EATING T here are those who travel for golf, those who travel to surf, and those who travel for culture. Certainly, the readers of this magazine travel for wine and spirits, and there are also those of us—overlapping with the other worlds or not—who travel to eat. It can be an obsession—heck, no, it is an obsession. The notion of a wasted meal haunts me. Like a medieval scholar bent over an illuminated manuscript, I study guides and lists, speak to experts and locals, walk the streets, and scan for crowds; each strategy ensures I dedicate my days to figuring out what I want to eat next to make my tummy happy. And if I'm lucky enough to be in a city with prolific chefs, I try to collect the whole range of their cooking by visiting restaurant after restaurant. Basic rule: If they do it right once, then twice, they'll probably keep doing it right. Thus, in New York City—culinary mecca that it is—I've gone pretty much mad for everything that Mario Batali has wrought. My love affair with the cooking of the Man in the Orange Crocs began with a visit to his rustic Italian café in Greenwich Village called Lupa; from there, I moved on to the amazing crudo served at Esca, the brilliant pizza at OTTO (and at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, though much of the credit there goes to Co-Owner and master baker Nancy Silverton), and his take on Spanish cooking at Casa Mono and Bar Jamón. His influence also permeates the food served at the many branches of Eataly in New York, Chicago, Boston, and soon Los Angeles. For an Asian take, New York's David Chang and his Momofuku chain (Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, and Nishi) tend to be in quirky parts of town, occupying oddly-shaped spaces with long tables and wooden seats that offer all the comfort of sitting on a milk crate. And yet the food is always worth the trip. From his Montauk scallops with umami purée and preserved lemon to his lettuce-wrapped rice ssam with seven-spice beef brisket and slow-roasted pork shoulder, every bite is a journey to a land never seen before (and his fried chicken rocks, too). Speaking of chefs with a taste for quirk: On the other side of the country in L.A., we have Chef Roy Choi, who began his career combining Korean and Mexican dishes with his chain of Kogi BBQ trucks. He then moved on to brick-and-mortar creations like A-Frame, Sunny Spot, Chego, Alibi Room, LocoL, and several restaurants at the LINE hotel in Koreatown. The singular defining factor is that Chef Choi does like his spice. This isn't cook- ing for the faint of palate; it's for those who want to dive in with abandon. This is not to say that one-offs by creative and hugely-talented chefs aren't worth tracking down, but this is about a strategy that's part of a larger strategy. Obsessing on a singular chef with a proven track record gives you a step up, and then, when you have time, you can find the unique eateries you'll be bragging about for months to come. The namesake dish at David Chang's Ssäm Bar is a slow-roasted pork shoulder served with raw oysters and various accoutrements. The crudo at Mario Batali's Esca in Midtown Manhattan. by Merrill Shindler Chef-Driven Meals VERTICAL RESTAURANT TASTINGS WITH SOME OF COOKING'S BIGGEST NAMES PHOTO: WILLIAM HEREFORD PHOTO: KATE PREVITE

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