Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food + Wine + Rum = Fun in Barbados

From the woman who sells the Trinidadian treat known as “doubles” outside the Trimart supermarket; to the fresh seafood at Oistins Fish Market; the local produce, meats and poultry of the Cheapside market; and restaurants known for their refined versions of traditional Bajan fare, Barbados has a lot to offer food lovers. Not to mention Barbados is the only
Caribbean island to have its own Zagat guide.

Chef Tom Colicchio (right) chatting with Nilou Motamed (left), editor of Travel + Leisure magazine.

So it is with this backdrop that the folks at American Express Publishing and Food + Wine magazine presented the first, "Barbados Food + Wine & Rum Festival," November 19-22. The event held throughout the island included cooking demonstrations and special meals with celebrity chefs such as Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai and Marcus Samuelsson; wine demonstrations with expert Anthony Giglio; and cruises with food and drink as its central theme. All of it washed down with large amounts of rum--the sugarcane based drink believed to have first been distilled in Barbados.

Chef Ming Tsai signing a book for a fan.

Local food experts played a major role. Peter Edey, Caribbean chef, editor television show host; and John Hazzard, co-owner and executive chef of Marketfive restaurant were among local food experts who held cooking demonstrations and food tastings. This was a program for locals to get to know the International celebrity chefs and for tourists to learn more about island food and drink.

Maria Ling DeMarco (who contributed to this story) with chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Philly and the World attended the opening night “Moonlight Magic” party at the Hilton Barbados. It was an outdoor event with live Caribbean music and plenty of food. On the beach a tent was set up where Colicchio, Tsai and British chef Fergus Henderson signed copies of their books for attendees.

The gnocchi station.

Hilton chef Angela Garroway-Holland led the food service with recipes from the visiting chefs. Local favorites such as Bajan fishcakes shared the night with Asian-influenced kimchee pork belly buns and Italian-themed gnocchi with sundried smoked tomato pesto. There were petite filet mignon, pepper-crusted roast beef and grilled prawns with watermelon and guava coulis. Robert Mondavi had a strong presence in the wine booth. Women from Banks, the local brewery, were serving draft and the bar featured, what else? Rum.

Petite filet

The blue and white backlit dessert table created a frosty appearance on the warm Caribbean night. The obvious standout visually was a pyramid made of profiteroles (left). There was a display of molasses brulee (below), an island twist on the traditional French dessert, topped with local brown sugar. And there were small replicas of rum bottles made of white chocolate.

There were many members of American Express Publishing in attendance led by Ed Kelly, president and CEO, Christina Grdovic, Food + Wine publisher, and Nilou Motamed, editor of Travel + Leisure magazine. Richard Sealy, Barbados minister of tourism, welcomed guests touting the island’s reputation for hospitality.

White chocolate rum bottles

As Sealy noted, this is not a one-off deal. The next event will be held November 18-21, 2011.

Prawn station

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip to Eataly

It was a cold Sunday afternoon in New York and we wanted to warm up with a proper Italian coffee, so we went to Eataly, the new mega-market with the best of all things Italian that opened August 31. More than two months later the place still had that new-store buzz.

The Lavazza café by the front door off Fifth Avenue was mobbed with tourists and locals. In a line that stretched into the pathway of customers wanting to go deep into the cavernous 50,000-sf space, a man in front of me was being photographed with different people. When it was his turn he was still involved with these pictures. The cashier finally asked for my order when he shouted for his drink. It was “The Fonz,” Henry Winkler.

"The Fonz" mingles with fans while waiting for coffee.

Waiting in another line for our drinks to be prepared, a tall stylish Italian woman with long blonde hair and plump red lips approached Winkler. Unable to speak English, she could only say the word “photo.” He obliged and when finished she smiled and struggling to speak as if both star struck and fumbling for the right words in English, she could only say, “Bravo, bravo.” Winkler took his drink to go.

Piemonte on left with espresso crema

Maria and I both wanted a bicerin (pronounced beet-chureen), a hot chocolate, espresso and cream foam drink. They were sold out so the cashier suggested a piemonte, a long espresso drink with cocoa and topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate flakes. Maria ordered an Espresso Crema espresso topped with frothed skim milk and in her case, sweetened with Italian orange syrup. You can rarely go wrong on a cold day with drink of coffee, chocolate and cream. But when using the best ingredients and having it prepared by skilled baristas, even when overwhelmed with customers, what you get are crafted drinks with balanced and rich flavor.

Waiting in line for gelato.

After our coffee we went inside the massive market. It was maddening and awe inspiring. There are areas for packaged goods, such as marmalades and panettone (the wonderful Italian sweet bread). There’s a gelateria, a Venchi chocolate counter, a second branded coffee stand selling espressos and coffee to go (Caffe Vergnano). And we’re still in the front room (opening picture).

The Rotisserie area

Further inside, the center of market, are the restaurants and fresh food stands. There are separate stands for fish, meat, poultry, fresh pasta, vegetables, along with corresponding restaurants. You can literally have a full-course Italian meal by going from one specialty restaurant to the next. But you would have to wait in line for each and every restaurant and spend a fortune. There are standing areas for drinks and Italian cheeses and salumi.

Inside the fresh pasta counter there are trays of fresh white and black truffles casually resting as if it’s just another tray of macaroni, with the addition of three-figure price tags. You can request truffles in the restaurants as well. I seriously doubt there is another retail outlet of any kind in the U.S. that has as many truffles on hand.

Past the fresh food and restaurants is the market, where you can do your grocery shopping. If you find that cutting your own vegetables can be difficult and time consuming task, just take them to the “vegetable butcher,” who will cut and prepare them for you. Fine Italian wine and crafted beer is available. Nearby are an Alessi cookware stand and places to buy Italian tableware.

Shelves of dried pasta.

In short you can buy all the fresh, prepared or packaged food you need to stock your fridge and pantry; have it prepared by staff members, or not; buy the cookware to prepare what you buy; and the tableware to serve what you bought and made; all under one roof. The added benefit is that all of the products are the best of what Italy and America has to offer.

The pasta restaurant

If you become overwhelmed with emotion from all of the fantastic food and you feel that you have to go to the source immediately, there’s a travel agent on site who will book your flight to Italy.

Eataly is the result of a partnership of Lidia Batianich, Mario Batali, and Lidia's son, Joseph Bastianich. These are chefs and restaurateurs who have combined celebrity with the chops to back up their public accolades. Another partner is the founder of the Eataly food concept, Oscar Farinetti. He wanted to create a food market based on quality local ingredients, a commitment to the slow food movement and value. He opened his first store in Milan. There are now five Eataly stores in Italy and three in Japan. The store in New York is the first in the U.S.


For a place with such high-end products from Italy and the U.S. and with what must be astronomical rents, there is value. For example the coffee drinks at the Lavazza Café run from $2 to $4.50, extremely competitive with other high-end coffee establishments who often do not have professional baristas and the same quality ingredients. The fresh pasta, the best looking and most diverse offering I’ve ever seen, is also competitively priced. At the other end of the spectrum, the $25 panettone is well overpriced.

We returned to Eataly Thursday evening to get a quick pasta fix before attending an event. Even though it was only 5:30 p.m., the pasta restaurant was full along with several of the other eateries. We chose the only place that had availability at the bar, Manzo, the Italian steakhouse, the most elaborate restaurant. Fortunately, it had pasta and some exceptional wine by the glass.

The seafood restaurant

For my pappardelle with sausage and radicchio trevisano, I had a robust Barbaresco. Maria chose a Rosato Refosco—a young, fruity wine from the Bastianich winery in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy—with her Tajarin Al Sugo D' Arrosto, thin pasta with a veal roast pan sauce. It’s one of those wonderful simple, regional Italian dishes that had me asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Alessi cookware

Afterward, we went to the Lavazza Café for the bicerin. It’s a layered drink with hot cocoa on the bottom, espresso and cold cream on top. The barista explained that the proper way to drink it is to try to get a taste of all three layers without mixing it. Not an easy task but well worth the effort. Hot and cold, sweet and savory a really great way to end a nice, light meal and head into the night.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Philadelphia Opera Company does it Again

The Opera Company of Philadelphia held another one of its surprise public performances. This time they shared the wealth of talent in the Philadelphia area by inviting singers from 28 professional and amateur groups throughout the region to perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" in Macy’s department store in center city.

The world’s largest pipe organ provided the music while 650 choristers startled and delighted shoppers by singing one of the best-loved choruses in all of music in the seven-story Grand Court of the former Wanamaker's department store.

It was sponsored by the Knight Foundation as part of its Random Acts of Culture series, taking “classical artists out of the performance halls, into the streets—and our everyday lives.” They are doing these kind of events throughout the country. The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and Macy’s also provided support for the event.

The chorus was performed October 30 and the YouTube video has already registered more than 1.6 million visits as of this November 13 writing. The video is below.

River Lights

The Light Drift installation with the Market Street bridge, 30th Street Station and Cira Center in the background. (photos from the Philadelphia Mural Arts program)

For three nights in October a section of the Schuylkill River in center city was transformed into a field of lights. On the water and along its bank vacuumed formed translucent shells were set up in a grid pattern and lit in constant changing glow of green, blue and white.

Known as “Light Drift,” the temporary installation was the brainchild of Boston-based artist J. Meejin Yoon and was created in collaboration with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The display was interactive in more ways than one. Not only did it encourage interaction with the art work but those in attendance, in some cases unwittingly, controlled the lighting effect.

Inside the shells—made of a non-toxic and fully recyclable material called Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG)—were Light Emitting Diode (LED) units, custom micro controllers and radio frequency identification (RFID) transmitters. The shells, also known as orbs, on the land respond to people in the area and use the RFID technology to communicate with the orbs in the water. The result is they change color. When someone approaches an orb on land, it communicates with a particular the line of orbs in the water and change into a milky shade of white. This is a transitional phase. When someone sits on the orb the line of shells in the water change from green to blue and back again.

On opening night, with soundscapes and new age music in the background, people milled about the orbs; touching and sitting on them while watching them change color on land and sea. Viewing it from above on the Chestnut Street bridge and “participating” with the display on the river bank with 30th Street Station, the Cira Center and the lit archways of the Market Street bridge in the background, there was calmness and warm feeling during the chilly night that no doubt was shared by others. It was a complicated installation but it appeared simple and pure in practice. It felt kind of magical.

Yoon is working at recreating the display in Boston on the Charles River. When the project is finished, the shells will be recycled.

Read more about it on A Daily Dose Architecture blog and see more images from Eric Höweler's flickr set. Below is a time lapse video of the Schuylkill River event.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pat Martino and Table 51

It was about 7:15 on a Friday night outside of Chris’ Jazz Café and I was talking to a woman outside the front door about my reservations for dinner and to see jazz guitarist, Pat Martino. I told her my name and that it’s a table for two and my wife was joining me in a few minutes. “Here it is,” she said. She looked at the woman just inside by the doorway and said, “Table 51.”

I followed the second woman past the crowded bar area through a narrow pathway against the wall passing tables full of people enjoying themselves and continued walking directly toward the stage. She stopped at the stage where there was a small table for two directly in front of Martino’s music stand. “Enjoy your night,” she said. “I certainly will,” I thought. The stage at Chris’ is only about a foot off the floor. I ordered a drink and the food for dinner. As the mushroom ragout, apple salad appeared so did Maria (she has a habit of appearing when food arrives). “Isn’t this a little too close?” she asked. I told her that’s a possibility.

As we were enjoying a shared dish of Jambalaya, Martino stepped out of the darkness of the tables, his signature Gibson in hand and made his way to the stage, along with his band mates Tony Monaco on the Hammond B3 organ and drummer Jason Brown. As soon as they got settled Martino counted off the first song and like a shot the three musicians began playing as if the building was on fire. Right then we both knew we had the perfect seat—an arm’s length from arguably the greatest living guitar player. Then I was upset because I didn’t bring my camera or my flip camcorder but quickly relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Martino, dressed in pressed blue jeans, leather boots, blue jacket, green shirt and orange tie on his extremely thin frame is the picture of integrity. It’s with this same integrity that he approaches his music and his audience. Still, composed, spending much of his time sitting on stool but getting up every so often during high-octane moments, his long bony fingers lie across the guitar as if he is playing all five strings at once. What he is doing is playing melody and rhythm with exceptional speed and clarity with a technique that I’ve never seen. In fact it’s difficult to describe his technique and style in ways one normally plays the guitar. It’s kind of a holistic approach. Technique, precision, speed and artistry all rolled into a single person. No matter the how fast he’s playing or how difficult the passage, each note has a clear, distinct ring.

A video of Martino playing a Chris' Jazz Café in 2008

A total contrast to Martino was Monaco, whose body lunges and jerks all over the massive wooden keyboard, his one shoe off banging his stocking foot on the long wooden foot pedals beneath the keyboard while his face stressed and contorted in undefined expressions. Halfway through the first song he threw his sports coat to the ground. The knot of his tie was already down to his chest. As the first song ended his face was a puddle of sweat. After the first song, Monaco told Martino, “It sounds great. I’m happy.” He wasn’t the only one.

I couldn’t see Brown who sat directly behind Martino, but I could hear his steady beat and the way he was able to keep pace and lead with the constant changes in rhythm and intensity of sound.

Guitar solo on "Impressions." Recorded at Chris' in 2007

Martino, who lives in South Philadelphia in the house where he grew up, plays in his home town about twice a year. He spends much of his time playing around the world. He is particularly popular in Japan. Before the show, I was saying to Maria that it would be great to see him perform in some pristine Japanese nightclub in front of an audience that appreciates Martino and Jazz more than Americans. However, after watching his performance from Table 51 in the casual, cozy confines of Chris’ Jazz Café, and then seeing him mingle with some neighbors and family members afterwards, I couldn’t think of a better place to see this incredibly gifted hometown boy.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Opera Company of Philadelphia ‘Flash Opera’ Event at the Reading Terminal

I don’t know what took me so long so post this, but on this gloomy rain-drenched morning in Philly it seems like a great way to warm one’s soul and enjoy the power of great music. It also seems appropriate as the Opera Company of Philadelphia begins its new season tonight.

This was recorded in April as members of the Opera company entertained the lunchtime crowd at the Reading Terminal Market with a performance of "Brindisi" from La Traviata in the aisles.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Boston’s Landmark Museum

In Boston, you can leave Fenway Park, walk through the secluded and bucolic Back Bay Fens and come out 15 minutes later outside of the white granite neoclassical façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

An installation called Signs & Symbols created by children of eight community centers throughout Boston.

It’s one of the largest museums in the U.S. with more than 450,000 works of art. Its European art collection alone contains 22,000 works dating from the 7th Century to the late 20th Century. It includes an extensive collection of Northern European art, particularly Dutch and Flemish pieces, which was my focus for the few hours I spent inside the museum.

Jan Jansz den Uyl, Dutch, Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork, about 1637

David Teniers II, the Younger, Flemish, Butcher Shop, 1642

Roelandt Jacobsz Savery, Flemish, Forest Scene with Hunters, about 1615

Of course, any museum of its size and statue has a strong collection of some of the world’s premiere art works along with some French and Italian gems. In addition, its lower floors contain objects and artifacts from ancient, Greece, Egypt and the Roman Empire.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, Dance at Bougival, 1883

Smiling Saint Malo, Normandy, France, about 1250-1300

Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Italian, Bacino di San Marco, Venice, 1734-40

Alcove Bed, Paris, 1787, stamped by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sene

Etruscan and Faliscan art of the Classical and Hellenistic periods

In November, the museum will open a new wing dedicated to American art.