Mike Colameco’s ninth season of Colameco’s Food Show airs this Sunday at 6 p.m. on WNET. The onetime executive chef at the Ritz Carlton worked in kitchens for 27 years before leaving the industry at age 40 to raise his kids. In addition to the TV show and weekly radio show (Food Talk on WOR 710 AM on Sundays at 10 a.m.), he just put out a book last month: Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to NYC. Does our city need another restaurant guide? “There isn’t any book like it,” asserts Colameco. “Anyone that I know who knows food thinks that Zagat is a joke. I like to tell stories.” Read his latest tales in this week’s New York Diet.
Saturday, October 3
The first day and a half you’re going to have me in Cape May, so this is a real slice of my life because I go back and forth between the city and Cape May. My son’s still at home — he’s a senior in high school — so we had a huge, typical weekend breakfast: A big pile of bacon from the 8 o’Clock Ranch, home fries, and some great organic eggs from a farm down the street from me. 8 o’Clock Ranch is this great organic ranch up in in De Kalb Junction, New York. You call them up and the next day their meat’s on your front step.
That was breakfast/lunch.
For dinner, I went to my local fish market and we had some fresh local squid that I cleaned and beautiful scallops — ’cause Cape May’s a big scallop town. I just flash-grilled those up and served them with a sauce I made with homemade roasted red peppers — the kind you burn, then peel, then marinate — capers, parsley, dried oregano from Italy, a couple splashes of lemon juice, olive oil, and a little garlic. You drizzle it over the grilled fish; I love to eat like that. And we had a big pile of local string beans from the farm down the street. That was dinner.
Sunday, October 4
I do my Sunday morning Food Talk live from Cape May, New Jersey, and I make no bones about it. I talk about the weather in the town all the time on the weekend show.
For breakfast, we just changed it up a little bit. There’s a place near my apartment in the Village called Myers of Keswick. It’s a British store on Hudson. I discovered it by accident because I used to take different routes to the Chelsea Market. One day, I just peered in the window and I’m like “What is this place?” It’s this amazing jewel of a store. The owner is this wonderful curmudgeon-y British expat who came to the U.S. in the sixties/seventies and his dad taught him how to make sausage and those little meat pies the British do. The whole store is British stuff: British cereal, British tea, British coffee on one side, and the other side is the stuff they make fresh every single day. He makes amazing sausage. If you’ve ever had brunch at Pastis or Balthazar, that’s where McNally gets his stuff. He sells to a lot of restaurants.
I buy little breakfast-link sausages called chipolatas and Cumberland sausage, which is a bigger link sausage that is a little spicy, with a fair amount of ground white pepper. On Sunday in Cape May, we had the Cumberland sausage, chipolatas, and a big pile of home fries done in the same big old cast-iron pan. When they’re all ready, you slide ’em over to the corner and crack some eggs in there. And we had bagels from Gourmet Garage. I always bring them home on the weekends. So that was breakfast. When you eat like that, you don’t eat lunch for sure.
I do work out seven days a week. Either I swim or I run. You have to in our business, otherwise you end up looking like Orson Welles in the later years.
I came to New York after the show and went to the Manhattan Cocktail Classic that took place all last weekend. Sunday night was the big closing party at the New York Public Library. There was a huge jazz band. The event sprawled out from the entrance, up the steps, down the hallways and we drank a lot. I was with friends. And there was great food! There was really nice artisanal ham, smoked salmon, roast baby suckling pig, and a bunch of different cheeses on another tray — that’s the stuff I can remember. It was one of those kind of nights: a grazing, cocktail night. I got home at like 1 a.m.
Monday, October 5
I went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to buy a guitar and I had lunch at Marlow & Sons. When they first opened we did a piece on them for the PBS show. I sat outside — it was windy, but beautiful — and had Chilaquiles. I didn’t even know what it was, but it sounded cool. It was a Mexican-style braised beef in this really interesting beefy-cilantro broth with tortilla chips underneath that picked up all the broth. Floating on the top was two sunny-side-up eggs. It was hangover food. Out of the kindness of their heart, they sent out a little dessert, too, which I really need like a hole in the head. It was a fruit tart, apple or pear; it was good. And I had some kind of lager.
I got my guitar after — you know how these places are, they don’t open till like noon — from Southside Guitars. It’s a cool guitars store; I got a 1964 Gibson ES-330. I had my eyeballs on it, I couldn’t resist. Then I worked out.
At night I had dinner at the new Oceana. I really like Livanos family, and I think Ben [Pollinger] is really talented guy and so is Jansen [Chan], the pastry chef. We had a lot of food. We started with marinated oysters, monstrously fresh oysters with a modern mignonette sauce; sea-scallop sashimi, which were humongous, sweet scallops sliced thin that he lightly marinates in a little citrus juice with fresh sliced pepper; blue marlin crudo, thin slices of the loin drizzled with really crunchy sea salt and really good extra-virgin olive oil. With that, they served a little cava from Spain.
Next course was red-snapper seviche and fluke tartare on the same plate. Their tartares are just so good. With that they had a 2008 Kremstal Grüner Veltliner. It was a really unusual Grüner: floral and herbaceous. It almost reminded me of old-world Sauvignon Blanc that I like.
Next was grilled opah from Hawaii, a delicious kind of fatty fish; coconut-glazed mahimahi; wild Long Island striper, crispy-skin-side up. Really good and really simple. Then we had some side dishes they’re playing around with served in those cast-iron things with the lids that you see in steakhouses. We had potato gnocchi gratin; a nice side of okra, lightly braised with eggplant and tomato; wilted spinach; and napa cabbage sliced thin and quick sautéed so it was still crunchy, with hot peppers in it. With that they poured an ’07 Burgundy, a Macon.
The same people that criticize Marea and Oceana and maybe Le Bernardin for getting their fish from all over will go to Sushi Yasuda, and Kyo Ya, and say “Wow, it was amazing.” You know, where are they getting their fish? I think there is a sort of funny double-standard thing that goes on. If you want to open a great restaurant in Manhattan, and you’re aimin‘ high, then you bring in ingredients from all over. Local’s cool, and yeah there’s a carbon footprint, but if you eat at Thomas Keller’s restaurants, Daniel, restaurants at this level, they want ingredients that are the best and the freshest, and that means you’re going to fly stuff in. And I’ll tell you, with sustainable seafood I don’t know what you’re really going to eat off of the East or West Coast of America and not great criticized for. I’m really into this because I live in Cape May; it’s a big fishing town; I talk to the people at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; I talk to the guys in Alaska; I talk to fisheries. What isn’t overfished? Cod is overfished, scallops, oysters we’ve had trouble with, people say squid and skate are overfished. Name a fish on the East Coast that you’re encouraged to eat? What are we supposed to do? I don’t lose sleep much over that.
They were killing us. After that we had another fish course, of course: Grilled Alaskan king salmon with sautéed chanterelles and a halibut that he does saltimbocca-style so it’s wrapped in prosciutto and seasoned with a little bit of sage. With that we had a Pinot Noir from Oregon. We’re not done, there’s still more food! I can’t believe we ate this much. Out came this really amazing roasted stuffed branzino, which is 99 percent likely farm raised from Italy, and a whole curried pink snapper. The branzino was great; it was stuffed with greens, olives, and mushrooms and was boneless; put back together again; sliced in big chunks; and served with the head on. With that we had a Rioja.
After that we had the whole dessert cart: a frozen pear chiboust, a Kadota fig-almond tart seasoned with a black-pepper-mascarpone cream, and a little black mission fig sorbet. We had an apple-confit mochi cake that came with coconut tapioca and an horchata sorbet made from rice water and seasoned with cinnamon. Then we had a chocolate-custard brownie, a friend of mine’s wife was there and it was her birthday the next day, so they put a candle on that. There were six of us. I was with an old friend of mine, Bill Evans, who’s one of the great sax players around. We’ve known each other for 25 years. He used to play with Miles Davis when I first met him as a young man. We met at Gleason’s Gym. He used to box, and I used to box. And there was marscapone panna cotta with a Concord grape granite that was crazy good. And if you go for no other reason, go there and order the doughnut platter. It’s insane. You get four or five donuts and one of them is this salty-caramel-custard doughnut that should be illegal. It’s so good. One was an Earl Gray-tea-glazed regular-looking doughnut . There was a cake-style one that was walnut-frosted with fall spices in it; there was a fritter, like a Pennsylvania Dutch-style sour-cream-apple doughnut . And then, as an homage to Entenmann’s, there was a chocolate cocoa-nib doughnut hole.
Tuesday, October 6
I didn’t have breakfast; I worked out really, really hard. I went to the gym and swam a 2,000-yard workout.
Then I met a friend for lunch at little owl and I was a good boy and just had a little bowl of cavatelli, which [Joey Campanaro] does in a light tomato sauce with fava beans, and if I’m not mistaken, a cured ham, and a little bit of Pecorino cheese. I had that with a glass of water.
Dinner was at A Voce, the new one. Michelin Guide came out that day, and Susan Magrino asked me if I would emcee a panel at Borders on the second floor of Columbus Circle right before that. It was a great panel: Danny Meyer, Jean-Georges, Kate Krader, Jean-Luc Naret, who’s the head of Michelin, Lee Schrager — the South Beach/New York Food & Wine Festival guy, and Mimi Sheraton; she was great. I’m a big fan. And then most of that panel plus a few people sauntered over and had dinner at A Voce. Who couldn’t make it? Danny Meyer had to go somewhere. I really like [chef] Missy Robbins. She was nervous because here she is feeding Jean-Georges, the head of the Michelin guide, and Kate Krader. The reservation was made weeks and weeks ahead and I think she was kidding. I know when I was a chef you love to cook for other chefs and food people. You’re in business for the public and that’s great. But when you have people who come in who really know food; whose life is like yours; and you know they’re gonna get it; you love jumping through hoops.
On Tuesday there were ten or twelve people at the table, and she sent out five big plates, metatypical Italian plates of salumi, lardo, prosciutto di parma, and something called nduja; it’s like a sausage, a forcemeat, but it’s never in a casing, so it’s very strange looking. It’s really porky, spicy, kind of unctuous, chewy, really delicious. On the vegetable side there was pickled fennel sliced real thin; roasted Italian onions called cipollinis glazed with balsamic and some black pepper; roasted sweet and hot peppers; pickled cauliflower with golden raisins; and then, because it’s fall now, thank goodness, little roasted acorn squash. And they were pouring a Taittinger blanc de blanc. Then she sent out our first course: a homemade bacala. She takes fresh, local Northeast cod, salts it for probably a day to begin to dry it and cure it, rinses the salt off, and then treats it like braised bacala. That was served lightly dressed with a pan jus of raisins, oven-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, a kind of olive called taggiasca, and underneath there’s a bed of these little batons of fingerling potatoes, matchstick cuts. It sort of hints at that sort of salt-cod-potato brandade, deconstructed and improved. For wine we had a Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, which is one of those super Tuscan whites. From whom the vintner was, I’m guessing it was a Chardonnay with some oak on it. It was really good. The next dish was a small half-moon-shaped ravioli. She said she played with it all weekend to get it right. It was so freaking good. It was really delicate filled with taleggio cheese, but like fonduta style, so it was melted. She wanted it to be rich and unctuous but the mixture kept breaking on her when she was playing with it, and then she finally got it right. And then the sauce was killer: sliced porcini, brown butter, and shaved truffles on the top.
Next was Colorado lamb chops, roasted whole and then sliced so it came out meaty and rare, garnished with nibbens of lamb sausage, out of the casing, and served on a bed of lentils with a light jus from the lamb. Spread around it was that thing Italians love: mostarda, mustard made of stone fruit, plums and peaches; it was really good. And the wine, if I’m not mistaken, was a Nebbiolo-based wine from Alba.
Dessert was a chocolate-espresso tart and as if that wasn’t enough bomboloni, fresh little yeast donuts filled with custard, fried and then dusted with granular sugar. They were great. On the par with the Oceana donuts. I remember how A Voce used to do them. In order to do them right, you make the dough ahead of time; let it rise once; knock it down; put it in the refrigerator during service; and all through service you pull out little sheet trays that will re-poof and you fry those. So it’s constantly fresh all through the night. They’re done a la minute. Mimi loves them. Great meal.
Wednesday, October 7
I worked out, then met my cameraman uptown because were filming a show for PBS on the Livanos family. We started around lunchtime at Molyvos, which is their Greek taverna. I was talking with Jim Botsacos, the chef, so I was just nibbling on his food all day: feta cheese, cucumbers, Long Island heirloom tomatoes that were just great. Tomatoes were so bad this year. I tried to grow them and mine got that late blight. I ate olives and at one point had some really good Greek yogurt with figs he had stewed, and some Greek wine. That will be the tenth episode of this season. I was also filming at Oceana that night filming but I didn’t eat, just nibbled.
I came home; cleaned up; and met a friend for dinner at Bobo. I want the place to work. It used to be the old John Clancy for those long in the tooth that remember New York. John Clancy was this great seafood restaurant, old-style, so I kind of I love the space because it has this New York village-restaurant pedigree. And Bobo’s cool: it’s romantic it’s got candles. The first time I was there I was at the bar, and the sound track was really neat, retro. Then I realized the sound track was coming off of records, real LPs from a turntable, and the disk jockey was the bartender downstairs. They still do that.
I was there with the original chef and I wasn’t crazy about it; and I was there with the second chef and I liked it much more; I hadn’t been with this chef, which is why I wanted to go. I love what I do and I’m lucky to do it. The only thing I don’t like about it is that I can’t go to restaurants that I love a lot nearly as much as I want to because in order to comment on the New York restaurant scene you’re really obliged to go to new places or go places where there’s been a change: A Voce one night; Oceana one night; and Bobo one night. I would have loved to go back and eat at Peasant or go to my old friends’ restaurants, but I can’t do that nearly as much as I want. This was my first chance to see [Patrick Connelly’s] food. I liked it! It was completely different stuff from what I had been eating the past week. It’s more of a grazing menu. We started with a little tasting of tuna and avocado, then next to that was a fried oyster in its shell. After that was what he called a BLT, that was really deconstructed. It was bibb lettuce with a tomato sliced on top, and the bacon part was crumbled. Then there was a squash soup that was served in a little tiny green squash. I think the soup was a play on that Thanksgiving side dish. The squash was the color of sweet potato, and it had little marshmallows in it, and little candied pecans or walnuts floating around in there. It was a little sweet, but I think intentionally so. After, we had tiny fried pickles stacked up like a pile of logs with a crab dip that tasted to me like lump crab meat folded in with cream cheese. The other dish in that course was my favorite thing: A sliced duck confit with a side of rouille sauce, little pickles, and a bowl of big leaves of red Swiss chard. The idea is you use the leaf as the wrap. There’s a Korean dish that’s very similar to that where you use whole romaine lettuce leaves to wrap up grilled meats with a little white soy paste. I love that dish.
After that: Local brook trout done — in a kind of homage to old-school cooking — like trout almondine. But in the brown butter was fresh purslane, and two-inch spears of asparagus. I had to put my glasses on and pick one up and find the asparagus tip to figure out what it was. My dish was a hazelnut duck breast with the skin side up, sautéed kale, parsnips, and little pieces of chorizo. They had a half bottle of an Oregon Pinot Noir with that, it was a perfect pairing for fish and duck. And the last thing, mercifully, was this really simple chocolate pudding with a little cookie stuck on top. It might have been biscotti. It was a long day. I should take cameras, but that would turn dinner into some sort of surgical operation.