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Chef Dave Santos’s Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up
Nov 10th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Chef Dave Santos may be a free agent since closing his West Village restaurant, Louro, this summer, but he’s not taking any time off. I was lucky enough to get a reservation at his Nashville hot chicken pop-up in the Manhattan location of Bark Hot Dogs last week, where he was serving whole fried chickens using his special recipe that even the Tennesseeans in the room said was better than what they’ve had back home. My friends and I got two whole chickens with pickles, cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad, but we also couldn’t resist Dave’s fried chicken sandwiches and Bark’s super cheap pitchers of beer. The people around us who hadn’t reserved the whole chickens were oohing and ahhing over our tray of crispy battered thighs and drumsticks, and some of them even asked to take pictures. The only complaint I heard is that this was only a pop-up and we can’t have Dave’s hot chicken every day.

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so crispy and glistening

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
a line back to the entrance of people waiting for hot chicken sandwiches

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so good we had to take some home to eat later!

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

“Musical Pairing” Dinner with Barbara Werner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Jul 24th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

Recently, I’ve been watching the movie Silver Linings Playbook a lot, both because it’s been on HBO and because I’m a sap. There’s this epic scene where Bradley Cooper’s character is desperately trying to find his wedding video in the middle of the night, and Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” plays over his frantic search. I try to imagine the scene without the song, and it’s just nothing by comparison. And I’m sure we all have these movie moments where the music mattered so much to us and really made the scene. Chef and author Barbara Werner has figured out that the same can be said for music and food with her new book series and app, Musical Pairing: The Art of Harmonizing Music to Your Meal.

When Barbara invited me to a nine-course music-paired tasting on her at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House near Times Square last week, I expected that she’d just rented out the upstairs meeting room for the atmosphere and would be having a caterer serve us tiny one-bite plates, enough to give us a sample of what an actual musical pairing dinner party could be like. After the first course, I was dying to know the caterer’s name. Because I am dumb. Of course it was Ruth’s Chris food we were eating, and it was all incredible.

My friend Kim and I were seated at a U-shaped table with other journalists, bloggers, photographers, and eaters,

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

and in front of each of us was a set of Frends headphones in either rose gold or black that were ours to keep.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

When Barbara Werner began speaking, we couldn’t help but stop sipping our champagne and admiring our new electronics, because the woman is a real charmer. She was funny. She was honest. She spoke openly about being divorced and how much she loves being a single woman but how she hates the way restaurants announce to all of the other diners that she’s alone the moment she walks in the door. “Table for ONE? Do we have a table for ONE LONELY PERSON?” She didn’t want to have to join Match.com just to be taken out to dinner, she said, but she hated the stigma attached to treating just herself to dinner. So Barbara started wearing headphones while she ate to block out the clatter of silverware as the server removed the extra setting from her table for two, and that’s when she realized that something special was happening.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

To start the evening, Barbara’s assistants hooked us all up to iPods,

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

and then servers brought our food to us as we began listening to the song Barbara had decided to pair with that particular course. She said that she’d specifically chosen headphones versus piping the music throughout the room over loudspeakers to ensure that we’d know it was the music that had made the meal so memorable and not the fantastic conversation we were having with the people next to us.

Our example course was a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, something we all knew well and could use as a baseline. As our dishes arrived, a classical music piece began playing. It was fine. The ice cream tasted like ice cream. But when they switched us over to “Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major”, the ice cream suddenly tasted . . . different. Brighter. Creamier. I knew it was just the power of suggestion, but did I care? If I stop feeling pain because of a placebo pill, I’ve still stopped feeling pain, right? It was a little bit exciting to me to think that my brain could be won over by a couple of violins. I was also probably won over by the fact that this woman was serving me ice cream for an amuse bouche.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

The rest of the night would only get better from there, thanks to Barbara’s song choices and this sampling of the Ruth’s Chris menu.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
ahi tuna on cucumber with spicy mustard

Barbara explained that her pairings are derived from a simple mathematical formula that takes into account the type of protein, the way it’s cooked, and then all of the side dishes and sauces. Since this tuna wasn’t cooked, its musical pairing number was small, so she needed a song with a matching small number. She was looking for a steady beat with no big sweeps, not a lot of dynamics. What she ended up with was “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. I absolutely loved the spicy wasabi and ginger with the freshness of the tuna and cilantro.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
veal osso buco ravioli

Barbara has a culinary degree and comes from a long line of butchers. She was a self-described nerd in school, a choir geek, and learned about whatever music her crush of the moment was into to make boys like her. And she’s great at talking about food. The way she described the classic veal osso buco had my mouth watering even before the dish was anywhere in sight. This one was infused with saffron and was so rich and buttery. I’m not sure I’d heard of Florida Georgia Line before the dinner, and I don’t usually listen to country music, but “Cruise” had me wanting to dance in my seat and sing along.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
fried calamari with sweet and spicy chili sauce

I don’t eat a whole lot of squid in my life, and I was actively trying to control my portions so I’d be able to save room for the THREE COURSES OF DESSERT, but I couldn’t stop shoving this stuff in my maw. Set to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Let the Rivers Run” (the theme from Working Girl), it was bursting with red pepper flavor that’s making me salivate even as I type this. The lemon we squeezed over the whole plate was the perfect bright contrast to the heavy batter.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
tempura onion rings

And speaking of heavy batter, next up was the biggest onion ring I’d seen in my life. Barbara called this “the greatest stoner food known to man” and paired it with stoner music, “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones. The coating on this was so thick it went from crunchy on the outside back to doughy again on the inside. I loved getting the best of both worlds, and really, the fact that this was a tempura batter meant that it was surprisingly light. I loved the Thai flavors of the dipping sauce.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
crispy stuffed roast chicken breast with sweet potato casserole

Next up was a roasted chicken breast paired with Cream’s “White Room”, perfect for the herbaceous cream sauce that burst out of the chicken when I cut into its crisp skin. But the star of this dish, and maybe reason enough on its own to visit Ruth’s Chris Steak House, was the sweet potato casserole with a pecan crust. It was CANDY. It could’ve easily been dessert. And did I taste a hint of orange in it? The fact that no one is writing love poems to these sweet potatoes is a crime. The Best.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Finally, we got to the Ruth’s Chris signature: a petite filet mignon medallion with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. This is the dish that inspired Barbara to write her Musical Pairing series. She was at Ruth’s Chris one night by herself, listening to Luciano Pavarotti sing “Nessum Dorma”, when she was inspired to figure out why this song and this food went so perfectly together. The song was so epic–probably too epic for my taste in any other setting, actually–but there was this moment when I was spooning these potatoes drowning in butter into my mouth that I thought I’d never be able to eat steak without music ever again after this.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
whipped banana cream pie

Harry Connick, Jr. sang “It Had to Be You” to us as we ate this mini banana cream pie that was more fresh banana than pie. We loved how it was just lightly sweet and how it was so much more “real food” than banana pudding is. The espresso martini it was served with was all chocolate and sugar, on the other hand, and of course I loved that in an entirely different way.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
bread pudding with whiskey sauce

This was like an apple pie stuffed into a bread pudding with all of its cinnamon and fruits. It was paired with The Mamas and the Papas’ “Words of Love” and a creamy whiskey sauce that seemed to also have a whole lotta powdered sugar in it.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC
chocolate sin cake

This really needs no description, because it’s all in the name. Eating this cake is a sin. Especially after eight previous courses and ice cream to start the whole night off. It was so dense and decadent that half of the room left their plate nearly untouched. I, on the other hand, ate nearly all of it but left behind a single bite to show that I’m in control of my appetite. And I’ll regret that decision every day of my life.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Several years ago, when I was a faithful minimum wage bookstore employee, I was so excited to read This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession the moment it arrived in the store. I was dying to know why music affected me so much, influenced my mood so intensely. What the book basically told me was, “We have no idea.” But even if I don’t know why my connection to music is so meaningful, it is. And well, my connection to food is embarrassing at times. As I sat listening to this Florida Georgia Line song I had never heard before and was finding it so unbelievably catchy, I wondered if the food had as much to do with me liking the song as the song had to do with me liking the food. It’s been a few months since I’d had a good tasting menu, so maybe it was partly just that I was experiencing the euphoria of an overly-full belly, but I kept exclaiming, “This is the best night of my life!” Loudly, so my friend could hear me through her headphones. And she was feeling the same way. Whether or not we can pinpoint the science behind musical pairing, we’re dying to host a music-paired dinner party full of the very best/truly, truly terrible songs our iPods can produce.

If you want to do the same, check out the beginnings of musicalpairing.com for videos and contests, and try the beta app at mpwebapp.com to see actual song suggestions based on your menu.

Musical Pairing Dinner with Barbara Werner, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, NYC

Thanks to Barbara Werner and Ruth’s Chris Steak House NYC for an amazing time!

Ruth’s Chris Steak House
148 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019 (map)

Virginia Craft: Artisan Virginians in Chelsea Market
Jun 18th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

Last night, Virginia Tourism took over Chelsea Market for the Virginia Craft event celebrating the state’s artisan food and beverage purveyors. I was invited to attend by the Lou Hammond PR agency and brought my boyfriend along for what I expected to be a quiet night of sampling hams, but it ended up being a party packed with people aching for oysters, bourbon, and beer. The breweries and restaurants in attendance were represented by people who really cared about their products and talked lovingly about their local, organic, heirloom ingredients. Virginia is for lovers . . . of good food and drink!

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC
Chalkboard art by Carolina Ro Design and Alex Russel

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Tables set up around the room all contained one food company and one drink company, which made for some excellent pairings.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Our first stop was Foggy Ridge Cider. Cider’s my go-to at a bar, but Foggy Ridge’s Serious Cider was something entirely different than I’ve ever had–a very light, very mineral, very dry cider that reminded me of a wine but tasted like apples. It was so neat to hear about the different types of heirloom apples they grow, one of which was thought to have gone “extinct” until twenty years ago.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Beth from FOODE served us this beef brisket over organic cheddar grits with organic kale salsa verde that had a delicious little kick of spice.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC
VAT OF TINY BISCUITS

My dream come true, thanks to FOODE.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Caromont Farm was on hand with two cheeses that were washed-rind yet managed to be mild and balanced: a raw milk cheese using milk from their neighbor’s farm and a goat milk cheese using milk from their own goats. They call these American cheeses in the style of European cheeses and won second place in that category last year from the American Cheese Society.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Blue Mountain Brewery was offering two of their beers, a very light and crisp Kolsch 151 lager and a Full Nelson featuring their home-grown Cascade hops.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Chef/owner Ian Boden was serving a lamb dish from The Shack featuring Border Springs Farm lamb, peas, rhubarb picked in gin, and soy sauce lees, which is the solid left behind when the liquid soy sauce is drained away. They were surprisingly mild, and the overall dish was well-balanced with sweet, savory, salty, and sour flavors.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Chef/owner Harper Bradshaw had a lovely blue crab dish from Harper’s Table with buttermilk, cucumbers, peanuts, and lime. Each flavor came through so well, and yet the sweetness of the crab was still the star of the show. As were the wood-grain compostable plates.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Complementing that was the Faux Rickey by bartender Todd Thrasher of PX using Catoctin Creek Distilling‘s Watershed Gin, home-grown basil, and lime juice. The basil foam made it impossible to drink. And also awesome to drink.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Sister restaurants Comfort and Pasture were serving this smoked trout/deviled egg/pickled apple combo on a sumac wafer. Smoke is irresistible to me.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Belle Isle Craft Spirits was making an old fashioned the old-fashioned way with their moonshine, which they had smoked. It was intense, intensely delicious, and perfect next to the smoked trout.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Co-owner Ryan Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters was offering two types of oysters and a clam, grown at different places in the Chesapeake Bay to give them varying levels of brine ranging from sweet to knock-your-socks-off salty. My boyfriend also thought their cocktail sauce was killer.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC
the backdrop for the band

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC
feasting under the Chelsea Market lights

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC
the guys from Shooting Point Oyster Company talking about their fare

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Catoctin Creek Distilling gave us a shot of their rye whiskey and a cocktail made with rye, ginger ale, orange bitters, and lemon peel. I’ll be making this one at home. A lot.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

I believe this tiny ham biscuit was from Edwards Ham, but it arrived out of nowhere on a tray from an angel/server. The first time I had Surryano ham was on a tiny biscuit at North in Providence, Rhode Island, and this one was comparably tasty with its clear, sweet porky flavor.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

A. Smith Bowman Distillery had seven- and ten-year aged bourbons that we each drank neat and were truly taken by the smoothness of both and the stronger flavors of vanilla and caramel in the longer-aged version, which was impressively from a single barrel. The gentleman serving the whiskey was actually the person who samples the seven-year barrels and decides which of them will be mixed together for the bottles of seven-year and which are perfect enough to go on aging for the single-barrel bottles. What a life.

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

Virginia Craft @ Chelsea Market, NYC

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