Thank God more people read this blog than peruse Kathie Jenkins’s column in the Pi Press because that way I can rest assured that one of my fave new eateries gets a fair shake. I know firsthand that it is possible to have a bad meal in a great restaurant; I have had several myself over the years, but her first peek at Porter & Frye puzzled me.
Jenkins railed on the food to a degree that I found laughable considering she must have gone there during the first three or four nights of opening to make her deadline.
Who would so harshly judge a restaurant so early on? I also found it puzzling that she ate so many items on the bar menu and failed to differentiate that tidbit of info in her abbreviated remarks. But mostly because I find her experiences in eating food (both at P & F and elsewhere) so remarkably different than mine, I just had to point out the obvious. Despite my respect for her personal opinion and emphatically stating I believe that she is simply writing her own ‘truth’ about her experience there, I am in shock. Anytime she wants to have dinner there, I would love to take her and give her a primer in what makes for great cooking. I adore the food at P & F. Steven Brown has assembled a fantastic brigade, and this group can really cook.
But don’t take my word for it. I had dinner there on Wednesday evening. I took Tony Mantuano from Spiaggia in Chicago, one of the best chefs in America and a legend in the business, winner of multiple Beard/IACP awards. I was also entertaining Lawrence Keogh from Roast in London’s Borough Market. Roast is one of the best restaurants in the world, and Keogh has helmed kitchens in two different two-star Michelin restaurants and has directed of one of the most forward thinking, organic, sustainable slow-food movements on the planet in his role on the board of Borough Market. Also in attendance was Robert Gadsby, chef at Soma in Houston and formerly of Noe in Houston and Los Angeles, a man who has worked all over the world with Alain Chapel, Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, and Alain Ducasse. Addlyn Thao and Nana Chen came from Beijing and Taiwan, local talent was also represented (Lenny Russo was there), and we ate on what I think was the fifth night the restaurant was opened. Porter & Frye BLEW THIS GROUP AWAY.
The food Brown is doing is entirely familiar to his fans, and if the restaurant management can warm up the room a tad, this restaurant is destined for greatness. The food is world-class. I find it unfathomable that Jenkins could have had such a dud of an experience there.
We began with a squash soup amuse with fried sage and truffle; wolfed down a stunner of a Greek salad that featured a garnish of tomato puree, which had been turned into a sunset-colored crisp of tomato candy; inhaled seared tuna with shishito peppers, sea salt, and lemon; devoured grilled swordfish with a sauce I though tasted like the delicious child of the illicit coupling of white anchovies and a tonnato sauce; and we greedily demolished what is easily the best reason in the five-state area to eat chicken in restaurants again: A chicken thigh boned out, stuffed, and cooked sous vide until it literally melted in your mouth and then crisped before being plated, so it ate like a lacquered Peking-style duck. It came over polenta with red-onion marmalade, a stunner. We had a sous vide lamb roulade of both loin and forcemeat over a shank or shoulder confit, which came on brilliantly braised pistachios. We finished the meal with mignardise and a warm, chocolate tart with nutmeg foam and carrots that were crisped and candied. Even local pastry legend Marjorie Johnson couldn’t contain her glee.
After dinner, when Brown came out to meet my out-of-town pals, he got the third degree from Tony, Lawrence, and Robert, all of whom were thrilled with their dinner, awed with Brown’s technique, and stunned at the level of cuisine that was being executed in the first week of P & F’s opening. When Gadsby and Keogh can’t figure out how a chef accomplished a level of finish on a dish (we are convinced Brown is keeping the secret to his swordfish a secret), you know you have really pulled a rabbit out of a hat. This is a must-go restaurant, and along with LBV, Porter & Frye is cooking at a level above and beyond what anyone else in town is doing.
BTW, Mantuano has a new book out in April that will be a huge hit. He is also opening up a Spiaggia in South Beach this summer. Gadsby is opening two new eateries this spring in Houston, where he is literally the hottest table in town. Don Cheadle is playing Gadsby in the new Will Smith project based on the life of a prison inmate to whom Robert gave a job and mentored in the food biz several years ago. Keogh has his hands full with all his activities and is working on a partnership between Borough Market and La Bouqeria in Barcelona while managing to earn every accolade that the European press can toss his way.
Congressional hearings into the Westland/Hallmark meat packing company brouhaha could have spawned plenty of laughs and puzzled glances if it wasn’t so achingly sad and disturbing. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schaefer, the pathetically disingenuous scumbag who runs the Ag Dept., actually said under oath on Thursday that “we do not believe this is a food safety issue” when commenting on the horrific conditions and his own agency’s ineffectual stupidity (the plant has five inspectors assigned there). How could those inspectors miss the obvious endemic abuse? And why not use digital cameras in all slaughterhouses that stream video to the USDA, FDA, and Ag. Dept. as Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl suggests? It is cheap, easy to do, and would save money to boot. And since our tax dollars fund those agencies, we deserve to see inside them, once and for all. Schaefer is a vile and pernicious man who is solidly in the pocket of BigAg. It is shameful that he, as the man charged with protecting our health interests, is the only one defending the process and the slaughterhouses. We need people running these agencies who will stand up and loudly decry the industry for its transgressions and work diligently to make our food-supply chain safe for all Americans. He is simply an apologist for the rule breakers.
Hope you saw me on the Today Show this morning; I’ll be on Access Hollywood next Tuesday.