The legendary chef answers the question…What did you eat today, Jeremiah Tower?
I thought the slice of raw wagyu beef caressing a little cylinder of room temperature rice on my first night in New York could not be surpassed no matter how many days I was there. I wanted to come back to Brushstroke every day for that slippery meat, but on the second day it was clear that I had lost my faith that New York can surpass when, at a friend’s apartment, I cooked burgers made from well-larded Mangalista pork that were 60 percent bacon from the same farm. Smoky and juice-running-out-of-the-corners-of-one’s-mouth delicious. That was Sunday night and Monday at 1 pm I was walking from a frozen 52nd Street into La Grenouille–to a breathtaking interior dominated by rose and yellow diamond-colored anemones and parrot tulips. While sipping on an impressively perfect 1990 Pol Roger I looked at the menu of my favorite restaurant when I was a graduate student in the late 1960’s. For me then, it was that Michelin “worth the journey.” After cauliflower in almond cream, fried sweetbreads with celery root puree, old-and-new-fashioned quenelles de brochet (made with real pike, no less) and their sauce (as it should be made with fish and shellfish essence, a hint of Béchamel, sprinkle of cream, and a mount of butter), and then classic oeufs a la neige with spun sugar on top, I knew it still was. Our democratic vote for what to eat had ended with my host ordering Dover sole meuniere with mustard Hollandaise, ending with the restaurant’s famous Soufflé Grand Marnier with GM sabayon sauce, which he spooned down into the hot and steaming soufflé giving off breaths as he opened it. One would not be blamed for thinking these meals were enough to still the culinary soul, but others decided I needed more and took me to the new restaurant of the brilliant more-up-than-coming chef, Michael Toscano. It was a night in the lower floor of Montmartre. When I tasted the chicken liver puree covered with fried chicken skin on some warm pain de champagne toast, and fell silent while I wondered if I could help myself to my neighbor’s portion, I knew I had better stop. Greed was taking over from lust.
I rested for a couple of days with nothing but the 3-pound pastrami sandwich from Carnegie Deli and some wonderful raw King Mackerel with ginger at the John Dory Oyster Bar in the Ace hotel, until the final night. It was the penthouse of a friend of mine on lower 5th Avenue with a view of the Empire State Building from its wrap around terrace (New York had warmed to 40 degrees that night) that nearly took my breath away from the 1996 Salon – perhaps the best of this my favorite champagne that I have tasted. Until I wrapped my lips around an aged white Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave. My breath had not returned and I was too stunned to say anything when I tried to find words as a La Tache from the legendary 1969 vintage appeared in the host’s hands. When I finally cried out my pleasure at the first whiff from my balloon glass, my enthusiasm brought forth another bottle: that other La Tache, an old Vosne-Romanee “Les Gaudichots” now even rarer than the L. T. Fascinating history between those two properties. Since the mid-19th-century, they were listed as the same land and fought until 1933 when Edmond Gaudin de Villaine bought it all. Then the Nazis arrived and some feuds were re-ignited, but that is another story. My story ends at a Houston airport stopover on my way back to Mexico with a sandwich. I sat down in my only favorite place in that airport and ordered without looking at the menu: a fried ham and cheese taking form as a croque-monsieur on pain de champagne and a glass of Joseph Phelp’s Insignia. No point going out with a whimper. // Jeremiah Tower