After somewhat disappointing meals at both Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I was ready to throw in the towel and eat hot wings for the rest of the trip since, clearly, the Fancy Category wasn’t cutting it. Little did I know the winner would be, yes, a fancy restaurant—Jean Georges’s flagship on Columbus Circle—but for its decidedly affordable two-course $38 lunch offered Monday through Saturday (dinner is $98 for three courses).
I am lucky to say that I have been to Per Se once before. It was a little over two years ago on the day my brother Oliver got married. Everyone agreed that the five-course lunch was breathtaking. My Japanese sister-in-law, a professional collector of breathtaking meals (who inexplicably remains a size zero), called it “possibly the best I’ve had.” We nodded in agreement. Regretfully, we could not say the same about our most recent trip. Sure, the food was intricately prepared and beautifully presented, but—hang on—the fish was overcooked and the frog’s legs were underseasoned? My brother Matthew, who had chosen the 9-course vegetarian menu, was left deflated as well. There were some amazing high points, like his Salvatore Brooklyn ricotta agnolotti, but then perplexing dishes like a massive hunk of Amarelo da Beira Baixa cheese that he would have had a hard time finishing if it were the only thing he ate. Chef Thomas Keller has created a global reputation that rests on his OCD-like demand for perfection. But this wasn’t it.
Let’s talk logistics. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is in Westchester, 45 minutes north of New York City by train. Unless you have a car, you have to be able to eat your three-hour-plus meal in time to take the last train back to the city at one in the morning. Or pay an exorbitant fee for a taxi to drive you back at that hour. My advice? Either find a way to eat at 5:30pm or plan a lunchtime outing on the weekend when you can take in the sights of the farm and its surroundings (or, on a personal note, have enough light to take photos in the “no flash zone” dining room). The lake and trees looked nice by moonlight, but are much more enjoyable by day, I’m sure.
A few weeks ago, Slow Food USA challenged Americans to make a meal that costs five dollars or less per person—about the cost of eating fast food—to prove that eating pure (not processed) food doesn’t have to be expensive. It also had the corollary effect of proving that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as rice and beans. According to Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel, more than 30,000 people took the challenge, and 5,500 events were held that day. Me? I attended Slow Food Urban San Diego’s event in Little Italy and then devoured Chef Chad White’s $5 stew at Sea Rocket Bistro (recipe below). I also asked some fellow San Diego food bloggers to chime in with the $5 recipes they love, and I hope they will inspire you to cook for family or friends tonight. Nothing brings everyone together like a home-cooked meal, and there’s nothing better than being in control of the good ingredients going into it!