Category Archives: Classic dishes

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata RecipeA poet, journalist, author, and gourmet extraordinaire. Ronnie Hess grew up in New York City, attended the Lycée Français de New York and Julia Richman High School, and graduated from Hunter College, the City University of New York. She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hess began a career in broadcast journalism at Wisconsin Public Radio. In the 1980s, she was a reporter/producer for CBS News in Paris, spending nearly four years in France reporting on political, social, and cultural issues. After returning to the Midwest, she worked for Minnesota Public Radio and Chicago Public Radio and was a freelance writer/producer for the “American Justice” series that aired on A&E. Returning to UW-Madison, she became director of communications in the Division of International Studies, and taught middle school English in France during a sabbatical year.

Ronnie Hess and husband (Ron Rosner) in Lisbon. From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
Ronnie Hess and husband (Ron Rosner) in Lisbon

Hess has contributed to many publications – national, regional and local – including Saveur, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Milwaukee JournalSentinel. She was restaurant critic for several years for Madison Magazine and was a freelance arts critic for The Capital Times.

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata RecipeRonnie has penned two books in a series with one of our favorite publishers, Ginkgo PressEat Smart in France, and Eat Smart in Portugal (click through to read my interviews with her!). Eat Smart Guides are genius, teaching about history, culture, menus, language, and more for a country – and include recipes. They tell you how to decipher the menu, know the market foods, and embark on a Tasting Adventure. I love them, for the broad introduction to a culture through its cuisine, as well as the travel (and eating) inspiration contained therein. Highly recommended.

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe

Hess travels to France and Portugal frequently – find her at MyFrenchLife and

Cheese plate, Normandy (Eat Smart in France). From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
Cheese plate, Normandy (Eat Smart in France)

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Well, apart from salads, I have a few favorites: risotto, pasta and pesto, vegetable frittatas.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Yogurt. And granola in the cupboard. I make my own.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Lively conversation.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Bad manners. And not speaking.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Jacques Pépin.

In Belem's Jardim Botanico Tropical. From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
In Belem’s Jardim Botanico Tropical

Your favorite kitchen tool?

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
None of the above. It’s fish.

Favorite vegetable?

Chef you most admire?
Generally, it’s not one but all. They keep long hours, are always on their feet, working in stressful and often uncomfortable conditions.

Food you like the most to eat?

Chocolate cake for lunch in a restaurant in Provence. From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
Chocolate cake for lunch in a restaurant in Provence

Food you dislike the most?
I like everything. Well, I’d have a hard time eating certain insects.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
Water aerobics.

Who do you most admire in food?
The people who grow my food, bring it to market.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
Increasingly it’s my kitchen. Restaurants are too noisy and I can’t always count on the food.

What is your favorite restaurant?
Typically, a neighborhood restaurant, specializing in Mediterranean or an ethnic cuisine I would never cook. I love Indian food.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?

In northeastern Portugal in January, snowed in for several days in the village of Montesinho. From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
In northeastern Portugal in January, snowed in for several days in the village of Montesinho


Recipe: Vegetable Frittata

(Serves about 4 people)

vegetable frittata. From i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe

This is based on Mark Bittman’s recipe that was featured in the New York Times. You can vary the ingredients, depending on what vegetables you’ve got, so it’s never the same. My instructions are below but here are Mark’s.

You’ll need about 6 cups of sliced or diced vegetables. These can be raw or cooked but obviously if they’re raw, you’ll want first to add those to a large oven-safe sauté pan.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the vegetables and cook covered until almost done. (I start with onions and garlic and then add vegetables that need the most time, such as carrots, before adding green pepper or zucchini.)

Season with salt, freshly-ground pepper and any other herbs (fresh or dried).

Break 4-6 eggs in a small bowl, beat, and add to the frittata.

Cook until the eggs are set.

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
midway through cooking, with mozzarella cheese on top of the partially cooked frittata

At this point I usually add feta cheese and some grated parmesan cheese and finish off the dish under the broiler.

i8tonite with Eat Smart in Portugal Author Ronnie Hess & Vegetable Frittata Recipe
After grilling the cheese under the broiler. In this version I used carrots, broccoli, green and red peppers.

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Food Person Fred Plotkin: Opera Expert and Author of Six Cookbooks

i8tonite with Food Person Fred Plotkin: Opera Expert and Author of Six Cookbooks
credit Sanna-Mari Jäntt

Few people are experts, but then there are folks, like cookbook author and opera professional Fred Plotkin, who are knowledgeable on many topics. A native New Yorker, Plotkin became a student of opera while in college, working with various classical musicians and mentors, such as late mezzo soprano and director of the Lyric Opera House, Ardis Krainik, and well-known Broadway lighting designer Gilbert Helmsley. Always found in the back or front of the house, Plotkin has never graced the stage but has written compelling articles on the singing subject in books and articles. His bestselling and definitive tome Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, leads the pack for appreciation on the vocal art form. His literary essays have been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and Daily Telegraph, to name but a few.

Apart from being a fount of operatic history and knowledge, Plotkin, who has traveled to Italy since the early 1970s, has become a resource for all edible things in Italy. In the nineties, he wrote arguably the greatest book on eating throughout the peninsula, called Italy for the Gourmet Traveler (Kyle Books), making him a famous food person on this side of the Atlantic.

He recalls, “Italy, being the birthplace of opera, was a must (life experience) for me. Of course, eating and learning about the regional food became another obsession.”

i8tonite with Food Person Fred Plotkin: Opera Expert and Author of Six Cookbooks
credit Lana Bortolot

The book is currently in its fifth edition and, rightly, has become a must for all gourmands traveling to the boot country. Although still known as an expert on classical singing, Plotkin has become a foremost authority on Italian cuisine as well, penning another five bestselling and award-winning books including Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera, The Authentic Pasta Book, and La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. After writing about opera for many papers and magazines, Plotkin now finds himself interviewed about on all things epicurean, appearing in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and other leading food publications.

Plotkin can be found discussing his first love — all things opera — on Manhattan’s WQXR. And, in his New York City home, he resides in the kitchen with his mistress – Italian cuisine — making some of the best regional food from the country.

Food People Questions (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Everything Italian

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Parmigiano-Reggiano; Organic eggs; Sweet butter; Greek yogurt; Austrian apricot preserves; Organic Italian cherry nectar; Whole organic milk; Prepared mustard; Still water; Oranges; Lemons; Limes

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
The actual savoring of the food or drink being consumed.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Trendy, faddish foodiness, with no real awareness of what a food or ingredient means.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Carol Field

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Spade for cutting Parmigiano-Reggiano

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Italian; everything made with fruit.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Fish and seafood!

Favorite vegetable?

Chef you most admire?
Michael Romano

Food you like the most to eat?

Food you dislike the most?

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?

Whom do you most admire in food?
Organic farmers; Seed-savers; anyone who provides sustenance to those who need it.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
A tie: Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Liguria, two of Italy’s finest food regions.

What is your favorite restaurant?
Ristorante San Giorgio in Cervo (Liguria), Italy

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None. If I did, it would be of a bunch of cherries

Scrambled Eggs Recipe

i8tonite with Food Person Fred Plotkin: Opera Expert and Author of Six Cookbooks

One of the most difficult things to prepare, and among the most gratifying when done correctly, are scrambled eggs. Doing it right required LOTS of practice. Here is what I do:

Break two large or extra large eggs into a chilled glass bowl, taking care to not get any shell into the eggs. Beat the eggs only until yolks and whites combine. Do not overbeat. Fold in any added ingredient, such as small dollops of scallion cream cheese or a grated cheese, such as cheddar or gruyere. Do not beat the egg mixture if you are adding ingredients. Instead, give the mixture a quick stir.

Melt 1 tbsp. sweet butter in a non-stick pan over the lowest heat possible. This should be a pan you only use for eggs and nothing else. Add the egg mixture, let it set for about 15 seconds. Then, using a non stick (and non metal) spatula, gently move the eggs about, occasionally stopping for a few seconds to let them set. Keep nudging them and sliding them in the pan. No violence…no intense heat, no flipping, no active stirring. Gradually the eggs will come to the degree of doneness you desire and then slide them out of the pan and onto the plate. By cooking slowly, you allow the flavor of the added ingredients to permeate the eggs and also achieve the same temperature as the eggs.
– The End. Go Eat. –



i8tonite with Moe’s Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe’s Cornbread Recipe

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread RecipeWhat do you do when you love BBQ? You learn from the best – and then smoke, cook, and eat well. And, if you’re Moe’s Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez, you turn that business into a way to give back, teach, and provide great food. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Fernandez, originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, learned how to fire roast meats from Tuscaloosa BBQ legend Moses Day. From there, he founded Moe’s Original Bar B Que out in Vail, Colorado (where he went to culinary school) – and has gone on to grow a business with over 50 franchises in a plethora of states.

Fernandez’s mission is two-fold – to provide a unique and delicious dining experience, and to be a cheerleader for young entrepreneurs by providing opportunities and education.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

The geography of the popularity of southern cuisine, especially BBQ, is interesting to track. When we talked, Fernandez noted, “people love BBQ – it’s unique, and you know what you’re getting into. In Vail, people eat BBQ four times a week; in Maine, once every few weeks…and in the south, everyone is always bbqing!” At Moe’s, people enjoy a meat and 3 – which is an entree, two side dishes, and a beverage. A look at their menu shows me that it would be difficult to choose exactly which, to be honest. But one thing that I always love is cornbread, and so I’m extremely pleased that Fernandez picked that recipe to share with us!

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

What most impressed me, when talking with Fernandez, was his commitment to the growth and development of young entrepreneurs. Having been one himself, he knows how important it is to have a mentor. So most of Moe’s franchises are located in college towns, and hire young adults as staff. When these college students graduate, Fernandez helps them get a store. He said that he has a vested interest in these young people, and is always trying to figure out how to help them. When I remarked on this generosity, Fernandez said he’s humbled by his success, lucky as hell, and happy to teach and share what is important. Indeed.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread RecipeStop by Moe’s, in one of their 50 and growing locations (come to Michigan, Mike, please!), and know you’re not only getting great food, but supporting a business that is a cheerleader for their employees and creating small businesses that serve communities. Win/win!

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
40 years. My mother taught me to cook when I was young. She is from Sicily, Italy, and we cooked together every Sunday.

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fresh fish that I catch myself.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Various pickled vegetables, homemade jams, and homemade cured meats

What do you cook at home?
A lot of Latin food

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
One that knows about food and can tell when something tastes different. I love when they want to learn, because I love to teach.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
When they refuse to try an item I prepared “as it is”

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (Charcuterie)

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Kitchen Aid Mixer

Your favorite ingredient?

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

Your least favorite ingredient?
Liquid smoke

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean floor drains.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?

Favorite vegetable?
Golden Beets

Chef you most admire?
Frank Stitt and John Currence

Food you like the most to eat?
Fresh fish just caught

Food you dislike the most?
Overcooked Beef

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None – my mom would kill me.

Moe’s Original Bar B Que’s Cornbread Recipe


i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup yellow onions, fine dice
1/4 cup jalapenos, filet and fine dice
3 7-ounce packages Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread Mix

Beat eggs, add jalapenos and onions.
Add milk and then mix in 3 packages of cornbread mix.
Spray with Pam heavily (if old pan, add parchment paper to release) onto large 4×10 loaf pan. Pour in cornbread mix.
Preheat to 325. Bake 1 hour. When done, it should be firm to press. Do not overcook.
Using rubber spatula, slice into 12 slices at 3 quarters of inch each. It’s easier to cut cold or bread will crumble.
Brush one side with margarine or butter. Place buttered side down on griddle. Fry til crispy.


– The End. Go Eat. – 

My Favorite Dishes of 2016

As 2016 began, it was planned that Nick, me and the kids — Holly, the 11-year-old pitbull and our 7-year-old Frenchie, JJ — were moving to Denver from Phoenix. Our intention after twelve months in the Sonoran Desert was to relocate to the Mile High City for his work. Our last stop was the Rocky Mountains. However, after all that, we have found ourselves back in Southern California, where we had originally started. Not in Los Angeles – coming full circle — but in Newport Beach, behind the Orange Curtain. Still for Nick’s work, but with a fluffier job description.

It’s a good location for us. Far from the histrionics of the world’s entertainment capital. Yet, we discuss missing Camelback Mountain rising out of the valley, the vast blue skies and, of course, the food. Phoenix taught me that good eating can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. It doesn’t have to be in one of the anointed culinary islands such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

While living in Phoenix, I discovered deep blended roots of Mexican and Native American food. Indeed, it’s common for local hunters born of Mexican descent to shoot game such as moose or elk during the holiday season. The braised meat is then turned into Christmas tamales and frozen to eat throughout the year. It’s a practice that goes well beyond the area’s 114 years as a state. Originally, Mexican settlers joined with the natives crafting unique food and then in turn, became Americans when the 48th state entered the Union.

I bring this up because I read a well-known restaurant writer’s suggestions of “best food trends”. In her lengthy piece, she proffered gastronomic extravagances in Copenhagen, Paris, and of course, the Big Apple which is where she is based. I can always choose what is great elsewhere, from Singapore to Argentina, France to Greece. However, I think it’s our duty to describe what is “great” in America. Our culinary prowess is the myriad of cultures creating our nation – borrowing from here and there, making our own indigenous taste profiles such as fried chicken, pot roast or apple pie. Derived from other places, but made here crafting American comfort. We need to recognize that we are great, looking only to our dinner tables.

Unlike the writer, who travels often, I didn’t get on a plane this year except a roundtrip to Vegas and Phoenix. After almost two dozen countries and nearly 250 cities, I’m not big about getting on planes anymore; plus, I love the dining scene in smaller cities such as Phoenix, Portland and even in Orange County, California. They aren’t massive but what’s cooking is robust and lively.

As go into the new year, as a nation, we have dreamed up all types of unique food – Mexican-Korean tacos, Japanese sushi with Brazilian flavors, Thai with Texas BBQ– turning it into one melting pot of goodness. The ingredients simmering on the American stove is where we have always been welcoming, tasting little bits of this and adding some of that. Authentic American flavor is made from our fusion of cultures right here at home and it’s always been great.

Hoja Sante stuffed with Mennonite Cheese, Gran Reserva Barrio Café : Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (Phoenix, Arizona).

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza should be a nationally recognized chef and it’s a shame she’s not. She is a proud Mexican American born in the United States and is un-WASP-like most Food Network stars such as Giada, Rachel or even Paula Deen.  At her five restaurant mini-empire based in Phoenix, her cooking is Mexican but with European techniques. At Gran Reserva Barrio Café, her new restaurant which opened in spring 2016, Esparza’s creativity is evidenced in the simplicity of a melty hunk Mexican Mennonite cheese, wrapped burrito-like in a large hoya sante leaf and served with two smoky chili pastes. Simple. Traditional and yet still other worldly.

Image result for Hoja Santa Gran Reserva Arizona Latinos

The indigenous plant is not commonly found north of the border, and when it is, it’s usually used in stews and braises. Esparza uses it whole, instead of strips, allowing the anise flavor to compliment the queso’s milky texture. The venomous bite of the peppers is nulled by the dairy and leaving only smokiness. Texturally, the crunch of the leaf, emission of creaminess and a nullified heat is eye-opening. As I sat eating the dish, along with interviewing the Phoenix-based chef for Arizona Latinos, she imparted the history of the Mexican Mennonites and how they are still important to the agriculture of the country.

This gooey delicious dish is modest, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

Chicken Liver Pasta, Sotto:  Chef Steve Samson (Los Angeles, CA)

On a media tasting invite, I went through a selection of items chosen by Chef Steve Samson at his almost six-year-old restaurant Sotto. The cozy space is inviting with blue walls, wooden tables and chairs as is Mr. Samson, who is one of the kinder cooks in the culinary world.

Going through his menu, which is all yummy the standout, became the housemade Rigatoni tossed with Chicken Livers, Parmigiana Reggiano and Porcini. It’s a daring dish for Angelenos to embrace. First, there are the carbohydrates but second the livers aren’t normally found on regular menus much less Italian. Having traveled often to Italy, I didn’t recall pasta and innards used in this way and asked Samson where it was based. It was his unique twist on the typical Bolognese ragu. Instead of throwing away something tasty, he invented this earthy and rustic dish. I’m not fond of chicken livers – and I don’t know many people who are – but this I would eat every day for the rest of my life.


Jardineros (Garden) Tacos, Taco Maria: Chef Carlos Salgado (Costa Mesa, CA)

Taco Maria is a high-end eating experience much like the Rick Bayless’ chain Red O or even Phoenix’s independent Barrio Café (see above). White tablecloths, waiters with crumbers and sparkling water served in wine glasses, my type of my place, where a diner feels special. Located inside a mall within a mall, it is an indoor-outdoor space which is a good showcase for the unique tastes presented by Chef Carlos Salgado.

Much has been written about Salgado and for good reason, his fusion of California agricultural and Mexican cooking produce, arguably the country’s best tacos. Ordering a la carte during lunch, there are a five varieties of the national south of the border food: chicken, beef, pork,  fish and vegetarian. Exceptional eats every single one, wrapped with the housemade delectable blue corn tortillas found only at Taco Maria. (B.S. Taqueria gets their masa from here too.) The standout is clearly the vegetarian (jardineros) made with shitake mushroom chorizo, a crispy potato and queso fundido. Separately, each one would make a great filling but together, they create something truly different. The minced fungi spiced with traditional south of the border flavorings texturally give the chorizo a meat-like consistency. However, it’s the flavor which is a standout.

Pasta dishes, Tratto: Chef Chris Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)

Legendary chef Chris Bianco is  renowned for Pizza Bianco. Matter of fact, his pizzas have been called the best in the world by former “Vogue” food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. Therefore, when someone invites you to Tratto, his new restaurant which opened in early summer 2016 in the same mall as his world-renowned pizzeria, you go – but not for his pizzas. At his new space, he has opened his creativity to showcase other goodness derived from Arizona farmers; mostly notably, the wheat growers.

Bianco does everything else but pizzas. Old-fashioned, Italian food but a real display of southwestern growers. I don’t mean peppers, tomatoes and cheese but bold pairings such as beets and gorgonzola roasted in a fig leaf. All ingredients are sourced from the 48th state, crafting Italian food. Don’t question it but eat his handmade pastas which are carefully crafted by Bianco. Get off the carb diet and have a bit of heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Mole Negro, Talavera at Four Seasons Scottsdale: Chef Mel Mecinas (Phoenix, Arizona)

To reiterate, I’ve listed the dishes I’ve eaten over the course of the year which I remember fondly. Eating them, at the restaurant, the conversations around them and how good they are. Nothing comes as close to Chef Mel Mecinas and his mole negro and beef tenderloin.

Mole is probably one of the world’s most difficult sauces to make. Consisting of more than two dozen ingredients ground and simmered into a liquid, resulting in something edible which is complex, luscious and fortifying. Fish is too delicate for the earthiness but lean cuts of meat provide a great experience to taste the Mexico pottage which is what diners get at Talavera under the capable hands of Chef Mecinas.

Unfortunately, he no longer works at the restaurant where he was the Executive Chef for more than a decade. Greener pastures beckoned. However, one day I hope the world gets to eat his extraordinary mole.


i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash​ Recipe

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash RecipeFor over 25 years, Annie Mahle has honed her craft with both knife and pen. Annie and her husband, Captain Jon Finger, run the Maine windjammer, the Schooner J. & E. Riggin. Not only is Annie a maritime captain, she also is the captain and chef of her galley, where she has been cooking meals on her cast iron wood stove, Lucy. In the winter, she continues to create new recipes and shares them on her recipe and lifestyle blog, At Home & At Sea. Her third cookbook, Sugar & Salt: A Year At Home and At Sea – Book Two is the second in a series of cookbooks featuring a collection of recipes, crafts, thoughts, and stories from Chef Annie’s adventurous life on the coast of Maine.

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe

Chef Mahle notes, “In Sugar & Salt, I share more memories, stories, and recipes that are inspired by my life on the coast of Maine. Whether it’s through my cooking, crafts, or gardening, I’m always creating, and I hope that this book will be a inspiration for the reader.”


i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
My first cooking memory is of canning tomatoes with my grandma in her kitchen. Several years later, I had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. I started cooking professionally after I graduated from college and haven’t looked back!

What is your favorite food to cook?
Anything from the garden but kohlrabi.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Half and half, kale, leftovers.

What do you cook at home?
All of the comfort food.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
I love someone who is willing to try something new. Like oysters. And really savor that first bite.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Boorish or selfish sorts who are unaware of how much airtime and space they take up.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Ball jar.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine. Red. Although I do love creating new cocktails.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Lori Colwin, Laura Brody, Dorie Greenspan. I wish I liked James Beard more.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My santoku. One day I wasn’t thinking and used the tip to pry something open. Rookie move. The tip broke. But then Jon, my husband, ground the tip down to look like a blunt sailor’s knife and I love it.

Your favorite ingredient?
Flour. Or eggs. They can become so many creations.

Your least favorite ingredient?
Kohlrabi. Hate it.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash RecipeFavorite types of cuisine to cook?
The type you eat with family and friends.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork. Flavor, flavor, flavor.

Favorite vegetable?
A ripe tomato picked just off the vine on a warm summer day.

Chef you most admire?
Is it a cliché if I say Julia Child? Well, it’s true.

Food you like the most to eat?
I’m loving poached eggs, kale, and avocado for breakfast right now.

Food you dislike the most?
Food that is too clever for its own good. The sort that looks like the height of art on the plate, but leaves you still feeling hungry and wishing for a burger.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
I’ve never gotten a tattoo, but my crew has poked at me for years to get one. I think a tattoo would bore me after a time. If I did get one, it would be a ring of a knife, fork, and spoon around my wrist or bicep.

Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash with Poached Eggs and Asparagus Recipe

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe

Hash is usually made with leftover meat or fish from a previous meal. Feel free to substitute beef, pollock, or other flavorful fish in place of the pork.
Serves 4

1 1⁄2 cups diced parsnips, peeled; about 2 parsnips
5 cups diced red potatoes; about 11⁄2 pounds or 6 potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion; about 1 medium onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic; about 1 clove garlic
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
1 pound cooked pork shoulder or other tender pork meat, pulled apart with a fork into bite sized pieces
1 pound asparagus, ends cut or snapped off; about 1 bunch
Poached Eggs
Herbed Salt (recipe below)

Place the parsnips and potatoes in a wide saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork. Remove from water with a basket strainer or slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the water hot for the asparagus. In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and onion. Sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the parsnips, potatoes, salt, and pepper and cook until the potatoes begin to brown. Add the pork and sauté until the pork is warm. Remove from heat and cover.

Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute or until the asparagus is tender. Timing will vary with the thickness of the stalks. Remove from water with tongs, transfer to a platter and cover. To the same pot of water, add the vinegar (from Poached Egg recipe) and poach the eggs. Plate the hash, asparagus, and poached eggs and sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of Herbed Salt.

Herbed Salt
Makes about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Store in a glass jar indefinitely.

– The End. Go Eat. –

I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC’s Little Italy


I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little Italy. Photo by Patrick RasenbergA long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…honestly, it was only 30 years ago when New York City’s Little Italy seemed like a slice of Naples. The area wasn’t so sanitized and mafia guys, like John Gotti, would hang out in the one of the local trattorias. Now, they are all in Brooklyn like the last of the Godfather series. Then, laundry would hang from pulleys rigged between buildings and neighbors screamed at each other from across the street, “Hey Doris! I need some sugah!” That was Little Italy.

As real estate has become the number one money maker in the world, old Big Apple neighborhoods have transformed into shopping and eating meccas with name brand stores holding court. The web of streets below Houston and east of Broadway always had a lot of European charm with independent shops from butchers to bakers and candlestick makers, but it’s been joined by bigger outlets. Think of seeing the actor Steve Buscemi, long noted for independent films, next to George Clooney, Hollywood glitz, but it’s only because Steve is there that George came to the party. It’s a bit of a shock almost like one of these things does not belong. Yet, like all things in New York, they co-exist, peacefully and wind up working in movies together. (See Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.)

The Feast of San Gennaro, New York City's longest-running, biggest, and most revered religious outdoor festival in the United States. From I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little Italy
The Feast of San Gennaro, New York City’s longest-running, biggest, and most revered religious outdoor festival in the United States.

Probably one of the country’s most important ethnic festivals, The Feast of San Gennaro, started in the area. Originally, the event was to welcome new Italian immigrants to the area. Now, almost a hundred years later, the one day event has expanded into eleven and six urban blocks of food, raucousness and general good naturedness saying, “This is what New York City was like.” In September, it seems like the world, not only those interested in pasta and pizza, converge on Mulberry between Houston and Canal. Instead of paisanos walking the streets, it really is a melting pot of cultures eating sausages with peppers and onions, throwing darts at balloons, tossing ping pongs into fishbowls and carrying on…welcoming everyone to the neighborhood.

Balthazar. From I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little Italy. Photo by Sue and Danny YeeBreakfast: Breakfast at Balthazar should be on the bookshelf with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but there isn’t a book with that title. Ever since opening in 1997 Keith McNally’s ode to Paris has been a staple of the downtown demi-monde set. At dinner, it’s still one of the few places to see and be seen. Breakfast is normally not such a rush. it’s a quieter atmosphere with businessmen and female entrepreneurs holding court. Funny, to be recommending a French place while walking around Little Italy, but it’s a must.

  • Our Suggestion: Eggs En Cocotte. A classic dish not normally seen on menus but it’s really delicious and very easy to make at home. Here, though, they serve them with “soldiers” mean strips of toast without the crust. Just like our English “mummy” used to make.
  • Cost: $15.00
  • Website:

I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little ItalyLunch: Walking in New York is tantamount to running a gauntlet if you’re not used to it. Swerving and dipping. Spinning and sprinting. The onslaught of pedestrians is mesmerizing,  overwhelming and hungry-making which is why you need a hearty lunch. Head to Parm. One of those newly designed farm-to-table  sandwich shops but this one started on Mulberry Street and now has sisters in Battery Park City, Yankee Stadium, and the Upper Westside. (Everything has to be a conglomerate.) It’s fun and affordable. You can belly up to the bar and have a lunch cocktail ( I would) to wash down a delish  sandwich. It’s simple fare and without a lengthy menu.

  • Our suggestion: Order the Chicken or Eggplant Parm. Lightly breaded and crisped outside served on a freshly baked semolina roll with beautiful marinara and mozzarella dripping from the sides. Delicious and satisfying for the mid-day repast. And get that lunch martini.
  • Cost: $15.00
  • Website:

Cocktails: Spring Lounge. Sitting on the corner of Spring and Mulberry is a citadel to urban drinking. Spring Lounge, for generations, is the place where you’re coming for a shot of anything, with a beer or whiskey chaser. Holding up since the 1920’s, as the interior wood paneling can attest, it was first a haven for drinkers during Prohibition, meaning you could get your beer on. Now, it’s a bar with sister bars but you can still get pretty wasted cheaply. If you are so inclined you could join the Early Morning Drinkers Society which starts at 8:00am and yes, Virginia, people are sipping the toddy in the morning.

  • Our Suggestion: A shot of something with a cocktail. Go for it. We don’t judge.
  • Cost: Varies
  • Website:

I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little ItalyDinner: Jacques. I know, I know. You are in Little Italy, why the hell am I recommending two French places? Well, it’s because there are excellent Italians restaurants in every place but Little Italy. Head uptown to Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia or Mario Batali’s Babbo. Italians, like the LGBTQ community, aren’t in ghettoes anymore, they are everywhere. So…we’re going French in Little Italy at Jacques. Part of the charm is the escargot, the excellent steak frites, the French accented waitstaff. It’s like being in a real brasserie in Paris without the plane ride. The smoky yellow walls seem to be evidence of a bygone era when patrons and their tobacco habits have left behind the color as a souvenir. Tin signs are extolling French products also decorate the room with wood chairs and benches. It’s very New York-centric and symbolic of a changing neighborhood. They also have some excellent specials such as order a full meal for a couple and get a bottle of wine, meaning two entrees and two appetizers.

Flatbread at Jacques. From I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little Italy

  • Our suggestion: The escargot is excellent. Lots of buerre and garlic for dipping slices of French loaf.  Follow it up with the Pat LaFrieda Steak au Poivre. Medium-rare.
  • Cost: Escargot, $11. The steak, $29…you can’t find a steak for that price at your local butcher.
  • Website:

Crosby Street Hotel. From I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little ItalyWhere to Stay: The Crosby Street Hotel. An 86-room hotel outfitted with fabric covered walls and Easter egg colored chairs sits at the entry to Little Italy. It’s a modern looking structure tucked in amongst the last remaining tenements apartment building harkening back to New York’s roughed up days.

I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little ItalyFirmdale, the hotelier, does this weird thing saying it’s in Soho but really, it’s Little Italy. Soho is the mostly made-up of cast-iron buildings and is located on the west of Broadway. These are tenements. Regardless, it’s a beautiful, small hotel located off the beaten path much better than the Soho Grand which is just stuffier and older.


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I8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in NYC's Little Italy









The end. Go eat.









i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn Grits

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsIn September 2015, Chef Scott Simpson, along with his partners, opened the seafood restaurant, The Depot in Auburn, Alabama. It’s the  newest dining establishment in a town which is also home to the well-known University of Auburn. Overall, the southern enclave, although small compared to larger urban areas, is home to more than sixty thousand individuals, mostly employed by the liberally based higher learning institution.

It’s a far cry from the Southern California beaches where Simpson grew up and many of the global culinary regions where his chef skills were perfected. For more than a decade, Simpson worked at the JW Marriott, first in Palm Springs and then, cheffing at the property in Quito, Ecuador. He joined Capella Hotel Group, luxury hotelier, as the opening chef for many of their new global properties. He skillfully crafted menus for the room and boards’ restaurants in Mumbai, Bali, Mexico, Singapore, the Caribbean, and domestically, in the United States south including Washington D.C, Virginia Beach, and then to Auburn. At each global stop, Simpson acquired cooking nuances used in each cuisine.

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsSimpson says of The Depot, “It’s not Auburn’s normal cuisine. The area hasn’t had global food, so our objective was for the eating experience to be educational yet still be identifiable as having Southern roots.”

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsHoused in a former train station, The Depot was reincarnated as a restaurant, a Southern hospitality showcase to its Victorian birth and former life as a transportation hub. Original black and white tiled floors have a polished sheen, a massive shining chandelier dusts a warm glow over the tufted, leather booths and wooden tables. It’s breathtaking food hall for Simpson to display his virtuosity, skillfully turning the former rail station into a delicious seafood brasserie. From the menu descriptions, there’s an international traveler and culinary master manning the stove, with the flash fried cobia wings served with a buffalo buerre blanc, blackened amberjack with a hoppin’ john risotto, short rib osso buco with an ancho demi glaze. Each item plucked  is an ode to the Deep South combined with an international flavor.

With The Depot under Simpson’s adroit cookery talent, Auburn may have a destination restaurant to rival any of the big cities. Luckily, for the college town, Simpson is calling it home.

CHEF QUESTIONNAIRE (with a nod to Proust): 

How long have you been cooking?  Since I was 8. I have a picture of me on a chair so I could reach the stove and first cooked an omelet.

What is your favorite food to cook? Super fresh Seafood (It’s also my favorite NOT to cook – nothing like a delicious crudo or sashimi).

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsWhat do you always have in your fridge at home? Kerrygold butter, fresh garlic, cilantro, Hass avocados, lemons. Local farm eggs, cooked rice, raw tortillas, an array of international condiments ,and at least 3 distinct varieties of cheeses and some Albarino chilling.

What do you cook at home? “Somma Pasta” – I like to open my fridge and make a simple and spontaneous some-of-this and some-of-that dish. I love making creative pasta dishes. I received formal culinary training in Florence, and pasta is always a comforting and quick dish to make.

What marked characteristic(s) do you love in a customer? Adventuresome diners eager to step outside their norm and willing to trust me to introduce them to a new flavor or dish. Sharing guests who have enough appetite to keep tasting and tasting and sharing dish after dish at their table. AppreciativeI love customers who understand this is my artwork, I crave feedback and comments, I am always waiting to hear their honest assessment of the dish.

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsWhat marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? I confess I am disappointed in those guests who come in, smile, and say “everything was so wonderful and delicious,” and then terrorize you later that week on Social Media.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? We use clear square Cambro’s in the restaurant to be more space efficient and reduce potential breakage. At home, my wife and I like more eco-friendly, Pyrex style glass containers. They don’t get scratched from scrubbing or stained from a curry or a Spicy tomato sauce.

Beer, wine, or cocktail? Wine: I spent a lot of my life working in restaurants with amazing wine cellars. I am totally spoiled and have a strong appreciation for the pleasure of wine with food. Plus, I’ve never read a Bible story of Jesus changing water into anything else but wine.

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsYour favorite cookbook author? I really respect the meticulous research and commitment to the authenticity of chefs like Rick Bayless or Marcella Hazan. Many other chefs throw all that out the window in order to market a gimmicky twist. Many longstanding recipes and techniques are the way they are for a reason.

Your favorite kitchen tool?  Tasting spoons.

Your favorite ingredient? I think Garlic is delicious in most anything and the same for a squeeze of fresh lemon…and never underestimate the difference a great sea salt like Maldon makes.

Your least favorite ingredient? Sugar!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Waste something.

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsFavorite types of cuisine to cook? I really enjoy cooking Latin inspired dishes. Certainly I remain humbled by true Indian Cuisine. Still I try to satisfy myself with a semblance of Indian cooking I enjoyed there while working with some of the very best Chefs in all of India.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? I love them all, but beef is hands down what I most often crave – after fresh seafood. I start salivating when I see a tender juicy medium-rare steak. Fewer things are more satisfying than slicing into a perfectly cooked piece of properly aged, high-quality, well-marbled meat.

Favorite vegetable? Super tough question! Frequently I incorporate exotic mushrooms, or eggplant, which enhances many dishes. Also, I enjoy a very simple side of Sea Salt Maple Roasted Carrots that we pair with our Pecan Brown Butter Trout. Right now, I’m featuring some delicious Malabar spinach, rainbow chard, and Red Mustard frills, which are fresh and seasonal here in Auburn, Alabama.

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn GritsChef you most admire? I admire Jamie Oliver, simple pure style of cooking, his obvious, passionate enjoyment of cooking. More importantly, he aspires to more than selfish glory or feeding his own pocketbook – he puts his popularity and voice to much better use.

Food you like the most to eat? I enjoy bold spicy flavors. The cuisine of the Sun and Sea.

Food you dislike the most? Unauthentic, “mis-prepared” or ruined ethnic specialties.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? My art is all edible.


Recipe: Chef Scott Simpson’s Blue Corn Grits

i8tonite: Chef Scott Simpson from Auburn, Alabama’s The Depot and Blue Corn Grits


  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • 2 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons mascarpone
  • Crumbled artisan bleu cheese to taste


1. Bring salt and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Whisk in grits, and cook, whisking constantly, 45 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides of the pot.
2. Return to a boil; cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. (For a looser consistency, whisk in 2 to 4 Tbsp. water halfway through cooking.)
3. Stir in butter and mascarpone until fully melted. Garnish with artisan crumbled bleu cheese and serve immediately.

The end. Go eat.

(All photos courtesy of The Depot)

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris’s 8th Arrondissement

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementMany words have been written to describe Paris. We aren’t going to attempt a vain-glorious description ourselves, but trust us that the city is breathtaking in April. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and many others have sung “April in Paris,” an ode to the city and its springtime affliction. No other urban setting seems to blossom from relief of winter’s gray as does Paris when the March rains have abated and, in their wake, colorful flowers emerge. Yet Paris is also stunning in summer – although crowded, and during the holidays when delicate ornaments and poinsettias decorate many of the facades, buildings, and shops. Paris is beautiful, period, at pretty much anytime of the year.

The 8th Arrondissement, also known as The Golden Triangle, is defined by the boulevards of Champs-Elysees, Avenue Montaigne, and George V, producing one of the world’s most desirable neighborhoods. Indeed, many of Paris’s legendary hotels are situated in the area, including the grand Plaza Athénée, the incomparable Four Seasons, and the exquisite family-owned boutique Hotel San Regis.

Mostly residential and business-oriented, the area has become more of a shopping district, giving Rue Saint-Honóre a run for its euro as the most haute couture street in Europe. Along tree-lined Avenue Montaigne, visitors can shop a host of LVMH boutiques from Celine, Chanel, Gucci, and Dior to name only a few.

The area is also home to several Michelin-starred dining experiences. If you are a dining aficionado, experiencing one of a Michelin restaurants is an absolute must. The French are masters of fine dining, having pretty much invented it – and personally, I love the pomp and flourishes.

April in Paris (Vernon Duke/ E.Y. Harburg, 1932)

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

Till April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling
That no one can ever reprise

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementBreakfast: Paris’s Eighth arrondissement is one of the world’s most luxurious neighborhoods, known for the couture houses and the historic Four Seasons, George V sits regally amongst them. With its stratospheric ceilings, tapestry covered walls, and elegant cornicing decorating the rooms, this is French dining at its finest. Why have breakfast in the three-Michelin starred room when dinner is an epicurean delight? Mon Cherie, if it’s warm, the terraced doors are open wide and the glorious springtime sun dances through the clear glass vases of Jeff Leatham, the hotel’s artistic director and his legendary floral arrangements. (The Four Seasons, George V’s  hotel budget for flowers, at one time, was close to a half million dollars.)  Rainbow prisms dance through the vessels of water and into the 19th century hotel’s courtyard. You know you are in Paris. Sublime.

Our Suggestion: You think you’ve had scrambled eggs? From personal experience, I will tell you haven’t had deux oeufs until you them at Le Cinq at the Four Seasons, George V. At 18€  for a pair of eggs, whipped into clarified butter, there is really nothing more decadent or surreally edible than the pale, Easter yellow–colored curds. They are served with crust-less toast points, housemade crème fraiche butter, and a selection of jams and preserves. The large tapestried chairs and tables, as well as each place setting, were designed specifically for George V.

  • Price: 18€.  At the time of this writing, it equates to about $9 an egg but it does come with the toast. Coffee is separate. (Ahem.)
  • Hours: 7:00am – 10:00am
  • Website:
  • Address: 31 Avenue George V, 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 49 52 71 54

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementLunch:  Publicis Drugstore. A drugstore for your allergy medicine, a bookstore for reading, three restaurants including Chef Joel Robuchon, a perfumery, a bar, and a movie theatre. Take your medicine, followed by coffee at the bookstore – you read a little of Hemingway because you’re in Paris and that’s what l’americains do – then head to the cinema. (In Paris, people see films or cinema – never a movie or a screener.) Repeat. No need to go anywhere else. It’s an upscale, chic version of a strip mall. Nothing quite like it.

Our Suggestion: La Brasserie. Have a burger. Just eat it. It’s delicious and as you’re eating it you say to yourself, “Why aren’t American burgers this good? All. The. Time.” Have some wine to wash it down. If you get a window table, you can finagle your camera so the Arc de Triomphe, your food, and strolling Parisians are in one shot.

  • Price: 15€
  • Hours: 8:00 am – 1:00am
  • Website:
  • Address: 133 Ave de Champs-Elysees 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 44 43 79 00

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th Arrondissement Cocktail: L’Avenue. You’ve worn out your credit cards shopping up and down Avenue Montaigne only to come to the legendary L’Avenue. European celebrities, Hollywood stars, and the fashion elite hang out just to mingle like it’s a Vanity Fair party.  And the paparazzi hang out, waiting for their shot. It’s a must for any well-dressed, cosmopolitan tourist-  but it is very difficult to get into even after being open for over a decade. If you arrive early enough and settle in with one of your shopping bags from Chanel, Dior, or Celine, they will seat you for an afternoon aperitif. (This is a sister establishment to the famed Hotel Costes, and the Costes Brothers team, who created the omnipresent electronic-based bar music almost twenty years ago. You’ve heard it from Singapore to Buenos Aires to Greenland.)

  • Our suggestion: Order a glass of French wine or a martini.  Europeans never put enough ice in the cocktails.
  • Price: Varies
  • Hours: 8:00am – 2:00am
  • Website:
  • Address: 41 Avenue Montaigne, 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 40 70 14 91

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementDinner: Pershing Hall.  The hotel and restaurant is glorified by the fashion industry’s elite and is contained in a 19th century building leased by the United States. The hall was dedicated to the John J. Pershing, the only general to receive the highest rank of General of the Armies, during his lifetime. Designed by the late, fabled Parisian decorator Andree Putnam, who planned the interiors for Ian Schrager’s New York-based boutique property, Morgan’s Hotel. Heavy glass bead curtains partition separate dining areas. A vertical garden rises up six stories on one side of the inner courtyard, making the inhabitants feel as if they were part of Tarzan’s jungle without leaving the safety of Paris. This is a revered piece of design work which has now been copied the world over – and the best part, you get to eat there.

Our suggestion: Beef or tuna tartare. Tartare is very much a French gastronomic invention. Made with impeccable grades of meat, a “steak” is finely chopped with capers and herbs and topped with a raw egg. Delicious.

  • Price: Order the land (beef), 18€, and sea version (tuna), 18€, along with a side dish of Russian caviar served on a hard-boiled egg, 130€. To drink, a super cold martini or a flute of champagne.  That’s the way to roll.
  • Hours: Sunday – Monday, 7:00am – 1:00am, Tuesday – Saturday, 7am – 2:00am.
  • Website:
  • Address: 49 Rue Pierre Charron 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 58 36 58 00

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementStay: Four Seasons, George V

I know, I know. You’re thinking who is this guy who is going to recommend the Four Seasons, Paris? First, the French are the best at service. It’s not born from fawning obsequiousness, but a genuine pleasure in making sure guests receive the best. If you are happy, they are happy. Staying at any of the French hotels is definitely an experience, but if you’re in the 8th, and  have a few Benjamins to burn, this would be my suggestion. There is an indoor pool, one of the few hotels in the City of Lights to have one (except the re-modeled Ritz will be having one soon, too).

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: with South Beach’s Meat Market Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs

i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb RibsThere is something about South Beach Meat Market’s Chef Sean Brasel which reminds one of a Western movie actor.  His laconic descriptions about living in Colorado, tinged with the Midwest accent, bring to mind Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, a man of few words who allows his actions to speak, rather than blathering like a salesman (or a publicist). It’s the economy in his tone that displays his attention to detail. As a restaurant guest, you can envision him at his stainless steel eight-burner stove, seasoning his steaks according to the cut, a cowboy lassoing a cow before heading to the bull.

i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Miami Beach Dining Room, Meat Market

Sixteen years ago – on April 1, to be exact – Brasel moved to South Beach from Colorado, where his parents still live. He and his business partner, David Tornek, created Touch, a high-end concept restaurant complete with entertainment and glorious food. Brasel says, “It was perfect for the time. Food meeting nightclub. We – my business partner and I — needed to re-focus, and the question became ‘what do I want to eat?’” Hence, he created the aptly named Meat Market with three locations: South Beach, Puerto Rico, and Palm Beach. (Although, Brasel mentions another is on the way to Tampa.)

i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Mixed Grill featuring Steamed Crab Legs, Prime Deckel, and Petit Filet

It’s a luxury steakhouse, but the appeal lies not in just serving steak but the three-tiered menu as well as a special daily cut. There is a Meat Market’s Signature: New York, Rib Eye, Filet, and the sirloin which Brasel calls pichana, referring to the cut and its Brazilian name. (It differs from an American sirloin because the fat cap is left on, giving the beef more flavor.  Smart.) His House Creations allows Chef Brasel to produce inventive marinades and sauces with the meat, including a steak sampler. (When did you go to a steakhouse and get a sampler plate with wagyu, a filet, and a NY strip? Seriously? When?) The last of the trio is the Reserved Cuts, which feature big and rich portions of Niman Ranch Prime Short Rib or thirty ounces of an Australian Tomahawk Ribeye. There are other goodies on the menu, but Brasel built a steak house, so you eat steak. Clearly, you aren’t a vegan.

 Chef Questionnaire, with a nod to Proust:  

i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Meat Market. photo credit Ben Rusnak

How long have you been cooking?  I have been cooking since I was 15, so a long time!

What is your favorite food to cook? That all depends on the location of what and where I am cooking. If I am at work, I enjoy working on future dishes and playing with different concepts and ingredients.

If I’m spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon with friends cooking on a grill, then I will probably start planning five days before, marinating meats, sous vide, etc.

I also crave those smoky flavors that only a grill can give. I even go so far in my grill dreaming to pair different items with the type of grill I get to use; whether it’s a charcoal, wood or even a gas grill. Each one has its own characteristics that lend itself to specific flavor profiles.

And lastly if I am at home, I like making pasta. I don’t get much of an opportunity to cook it at the restaurant, so I take advantage on those rare days off. I also like to eat vegetarian-ish at home – making gnocchi the classic way right on the counter with no electric equipment, like they did in Italy years ago. For that same reason, I don’t own an electric mixer.

What do you always have in your fridge at home? Almond Milk, cold brew, fresh blueberries, Sriracha, and of course, lots of red wine.

 i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Meat Market: Tomahawk, photo credit Ben Rusnak

What do you cook at home? See above

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? The characteristics I love in customers are people that are not close-minded and are willing to be exposed to new carnivorous cuts. We have a lot of customers who specifically want the petit filet. Nothing against it, but that’s the vanilla ice cream of meat. I love it when a customer says, “Send me a cut I have never tried before,” and we can introduce them to something new. We have buffalo, wagyu and dry-aged Prime Certified Angus – all of which have more flavor than a normal filet, in my opinion.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? When you have customers who come into the restaurant and are already in a bad mood – it’s an uphill battle from the start. They come in already with a negative attitude and it’s hard to change that around. We can bend over backwards and offer them anything, but they won’t let us make them happy because they came in with that mindset.

 i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Meat Market: Meat Sampler, photo credit Ben Rusnak

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Can I choose Cambro? That’s what we use in the kitchen. But at home, I love Pyrex because it doesn’t hold any flavors.

Beer, wine, or cocktail? Anyone who knows me knows that I have a passion for red wine, whether it’s cooking with it, drinking it, or pairing it.

Your favorite cookbook author? I can’t say a certain cookbook author, but I can say that I collect books. I really enjoy reading all the chefs’ little stories about how a dish inspired them or the childhood memories they speak of in a recipe. Having said that, my favorite read still has to be Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Although it is not a cookbook, it is just so well-written and his perception and his ability to transcribe that into words had me laughing hysterically. He is an amazing author.

Your favorite kitchen tool? I use the micro plane tool religiously. From truffle to macadamia nuts to orange and lemon zest, it is the ideal tool to put that “je ne sais quoi” into your dish.

Your favorite ingredient? I know it sounds cliché but truffle oil. It has such an indescribable quality, giving dishes a light umami twist. Sometimes I’ll put it in some dishes and most people can’t even catch it. It just adds that little twist of complexity.

 i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Shrimp Ceviche

Your least favorite ingredient? Chicken. Ironically enough, I like to eat it but I feel like when I spend time cooking it, no matter what you dream up in the kitchen, at the end of the day, it’s still just chicken. I’ve done some special chicken dishes at Meat Market – with poulet rouge or corn-fed baby chicken – but it seems like customers are very hard to please when it comes to chicken. I think just plain old fried chicken done right is the best.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? This is a tricky answer because I like cooking and cleaning. I love creating and I crave the adrenaline rush from working the line even when it’s hot and slammed. I guess I have to say I don’t like having to tell the cooks the same thing all the time. As chefs, we all get tired of saying the same sh*# all the time. It can ruin my night if I keep telling them the same instructions I told them last night and last week. I guess that’s why chefs throw pot and plates! (Smiles).

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Living in Miami where it is such a melting pot of cultures, I really can’t limit myself to one type of cuisine. If I had to choose, I would say American with roots stemming from Latin America and the BBQ flavors of the Deep South. At Meat Market, I try to incorporate a lot of these different flavors and techniques into the menu.

 i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Meat Market: Wagyu Carpaccio, photo credit Ben Rusnak

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Beef without a hesitation. Most people just think beef and steak, but beef is one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. From charcuterie to marmalades to brines, cures, smokes, and of course, braises and roasts – there is a lot of creativity to be had with beef.

Favorite vegetable? I feel bad limiting myself to just one, but I have to say I had a deep admiration for pumpkin. There is so much you can do with it. I puree it, fluid-gel it, ferment it, pickle it, or just plain roast it. I can use it in so many different ways that it’s become a staple in my kitchen.

Chef you most admire? I have to say Chef Grant Achatz. I had the opportunity to visit Chicago and experience his 22-course menu at Alinea four years ago. His thought process is beyond imagination, and recently I went to his Alinea pop-up in Miami, and again, it was such an unbelievable experience. Who can imagine ever making a helium balloon out of green apple? He is the modern day Beethoven of food – beyond words.


 i8tonite: with Meat Market's Chef Sean Brasel and his Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs
Asian BBQ Lamb Ribs

Executive Chef Sean BraselServes 6
Lamb Rib Seasoning

  • 6 lbs. Lamb ribs
  • ¾ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup Herbs De Provence
  • ½ cup El Toro Chili Powder
  • ½ cup granulated garlic
  • ¼ cup ground chile mix (ancho, chipotle)

METHOD:  Using the seasoning, coat the lamb ribs and place in a pan for 4-6 hours in fridge.  Then, add a small amount of water to the pan, cover with foil and let cook at 275° for 3-4 hours depending on the thickness of the ribs.  Take ribs out of the pan and place on a sheet tray to cool.  Once the ribs are cold, section them into individual chops.

Lamb Rib Sauce

  • 16 fluid ounces hoisin sauce
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • 1/3 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1 oz. siracha

METHOD:  Place all ingredients into a blender and mix well.

Pickled Papaya

  • 10 Papaya (not ripe), julienned
  • 6 cups rice wine vinegar
  • 3¾ cups sugar
  • 4 oz. lemon grass
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 star anise

METHOD:  Bring all the ingredients, EXCEPT the papaya, to boil.  Let the liquid cool and then pour over the julienned papaya.  Cover and refrigerate.

Pickled Red Onion

  • 8 red onions, julienned
  • 6 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1½ lbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. chili flakes
  • 4 oz. sriracha

METHOD:  Julienne onions and put to the side.  Put other ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  Pour liquid over the onions and let rest.


  • ¼ cup of Napa cabbage, sliced
  • 1 oz. pickled red onion
  • 1 oz. pickled papaya
  • 2Tbsps. scallions, sliced
  • 1Tbsp. olive oil

METHOD:  Toss all the ingredients together until mixed.

TO FINISH/PLATE:  Place lamb ribs, a few at one time, into a hot fryer and cook until crispy.  Toss them in BBQ sauce and place them on a handful of the slaw; garnished with some chopped peanuts.

The end. Go eat. 




i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, CaliforniaThe city of Santa Barbara has been called The American Riviera. Matter of fact, as a travel destination, it’s been trademarked as The American Riviera under that name, bringing connotations of luxury and prestige. Beyond that branding, the area is home to truly great farming, including wine growing regions. There is also damn mighty fine eating if you get beyond the idea of high-end dining and leave that to the bigger urban centers. It’s not that the chefs aren’t capable and many of the small city’s dining rooms are decorated beautifully, but it’s why bother bringing a jacket or heels to a low-key area? After all, this is a coastal community and a college town, where flip-flops and shorts are de riguer.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California
Photo Credit: Terry Straehley

Interestingly, Santa Barbara provides a sublime campus for higher learning, as this is where – as noted – several colleges are based, including the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Antioch University, and Brooks College of Photography. Located along the Pacific Coast, about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara’s geography provides temperate weather, golden sand beaches, and incredible bike paths, supposedly evocative of the Mediterranean.

However, if cultural pursuits are really your interest, there is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Furthermore, Mission Santa Barbara (named the Queen of the Missions), is one of the twenty-one Franciscan missions in the state of California. Well documented in the eighteenth century history books, the traveling and gospel spreading monks dedicated to transiting the indigenous peoples into Christians did so via sub-standard means and torture.

Even with all the college aged individuals, there is relatively very little nightlife and the streets roll-up early. But the beauty of Santa Barbara lies not in its evening but in the early part of the day, when people – visitors and natives alike – take up more physical pursuits, such as kayaking, beach volleyball, and fishing.

Breakfast: Tupelo Junction Cafe

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

When Tupelo Junction first opened, it was cozy with no more than a dozen tables packed onto a small side street. The walls were covered in burlap cloth and white washed with touches of red gingham, giving the impression that Tom Sawyer and his girlfriend Becky were manning the cook’s station. Maybe about a decade ago, the restaurant moved to State Street, closer to the action. The charming atmosphere was lost, but thankfully not the creative spin on Southern dishes. You can eat buttermilk pancakes slathered in creamy pan gravy or apple beignets.

  • Our Suggestion:  Dungeness Crab with Potato Hash, Avocado Salsa, Poached Eggs, and Beurre Blanc. This restaurant is a touch of France, big scoops of the America’s South, and the California coast.
  • Price: $18.00. (It has big pieces of crab throughout and worth every penny.)
  • Hours: Breakfast is served daily from 8:00am to 3:00pm.
  • Website:
  • Address: 1218 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA  93101
  • Phone: (805) 899 – 3100

Lunch:  Brophy Bros.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

This is a wharf restaurant that is worth just driving ninety minutes along the Pacific Coast Highway to dine for lunch.  It’s truly a quintessential Santa Barbara dining experience, overlooking the fishermen’s boats as they bring in their day’s catch. If you decide to have dinner here, the second floor outlook is one of the most beautiful places in California to watch the setting sun. It’s a busy restaurant and can have a very long wait.

  • Our Suggestion: New England Clam Chowder. Living on the West Coast, where food is mostly about becoming a rabbit – chewing a lot of veggies, no carbs and dairy – this is one of the most deliciously, decadent soups imaginable. It’s very East Coast made, with lots of clams, potatoes, and cream. The only thing missing is the Maine mist and chill. If you do take an afternoon drive to Santa Barbara, come here and have this as a cup with a salad for lunch, with a glass of white wine, and your life will be as perfect as fairy tale.
  • Price: $5.00 for a cup; $7.50 for a bowl.
  • Hours: Open daily from 11:00am – 10:00pm. They do not take reservations. First come, first serve basis.
  • Website:
  • Address:  119 Harbor Way (Harborside), Santa Barbara, CA           93109
  • Phone: (805) 966 – 4418

Cocktails: Canary Hotel’s Finch & Fork

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

Smack dab in the middle of the town of Santa Barbara is the Canary Hotel. White-washed on the outside with a distinct Mediterranean/ Mexican/Spanish feel, complete with clay tiles, red-roof, decorative irons and wood, it can be a little precious. But it’s a great place to stop for a mid-day cocktail or an afternoon repast as you meander through the State Street shops. New American cuisine with freshly bought bounty is served at the bar daily and in the main dining room.

  • Our Suggestion: This is one of California’s great wine countries. You need to sample the wine while here.
  • Price: Varies depending on the winery.
  • Hours: Open daily at 2:30 pm – 11:30 pm.
  • Website:
  • Address: 31 West Carillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
  • Phone: (805) 879 – 9100.

Dinner: The Wine Cask

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

Created in 1981, The Wine Cask is Santa Barbara’s landmark restaurant bringing the area’s food and wine to the forefront of dining scene throughout California. Farm to table long before the term was coined, the owner, Doug Margeruem, has long been resolute in showcasing the Santa Barbara County’s rich agriculture, most notably it’s wine growers. If ever there was a quintessential dining place — a must place to dine in Santa Barbara — The Wine Cask is the place. It’s like going to Beverly Hills and never eating at Spago, or dining in New York and never eating at Gotham Bar and Grill. There are some restaurants that you have to eat at if you are in the area. The dining room, with its painted beam ceilings and massive fireplace to keep out the sea chill even in the heat of the summer, is one of the California Coasts most stately and stunning.i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

  • Our Suggestion: The food is delicious and the produce is brought in daily from nearby farmers markets and vendors. Probably the closest you will get to the farm without actually picking it yourself.
  • Prices: Varies but American Wine Country cooking at it’s finest.
  • Hours: Nightly from 5:30 pm. Closed Sundays – Mondays.
  • Website:
  • Address: 813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA                                91301
  • Phone: (805) 966 – 9463

Place to Stay: Simpson House Inn

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California

Out of all the hotels in Santa Barbara, this is the one beyond reproach. It’s a small bed and breakfast, with 13 rooms, and no two rooms are the same. Therefore, each time you stay, the experience is different. And unlike the other hotels, which are managed or owned by big corporations, wealthy developers, or billionaires, this is luxury hospitality at its finest. Built by the Davies family, Simpson House Inn became an award-winning bed and breakfast, the only one to be named a “five diamond” by AAA and by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway. Like all b and b’s, breakfast is served daily – but it’s completely vegetarian. If it was never mentioned, a guest would never notice. Also, there is a two-hour afternoon wine tasting with a bevy of tasty snacks before dinner. For this intrepid traveler, I find this to one of my favorite hotels in the world.

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California






Prices: Ranges according to accommodation and season. Prices can start over $250.00, but it’s worth every penny.

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i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet To Eating in Santa Barbara, California


The end. Go eat.