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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

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                                  madangsui, nyc

Among New Yorkers, it’s an article of faith that if you find yourself to be the only non-Asian in an Oriental restaurant, you’ve struck gold. Like many clichés, the axiom is true. The only Caucasians who venture into Madangsui are generally in the company of Korean friends or business associates.

Located on the edge of the Koreatown neighborhood, Madangsui has been serving authentic BBQ since 2009. Each table is outfitted with a grill and mounted with a hood to suck up the delicious fumes from pork, chicken, seafood or Bulgogi beef. You are the master of your own grill here, but there’s a button thoughtfully placed on a nearby wall to summon help if you need it. These DIY meals aren’t cheap: Prices begin at $26.99 per person for pork and soar to $119.99 each for a combination of Bulgogi and different treatments of short ribs (regular, spicy and boneless marinated).

BBQ is far from the only option. There’s a large assortment of bibimbap (a Korean national dish that literally translates as “mixed rice”). You’re served a bowl of warm white rice layered with seared vegetables, chili pepper paste and soy sauce, and topped with your choice of protein. At Madangsui the dish is served in a hot clay pot, and the options include beef, chicken, octopus, tuna, eel and kimchee.

Sushi is available, although it’s far from the city’s best. There’s a variety of exotic soups that are confusing to the average Caucasian. And speaking of confusing: after you order, you’re presented with seven or eight small dishes. These include pickled radish, seaweed, sautéed greens, tender wild mushrooms, the inevitable kimchee, squash in a spicy tomato sauce, and several unidentifiable seafood items. The cheerful staff will guide you through them, although the language barrier is insurmountable at times.

If you still haven’t processed the departure of the late Anthony Bourdain, order some Yuk Hwe: shredded raw beef in sesame oil with egg yolk. As the yolk slowly spreads over the meat, all will be well again.

35 West 35th St., between 5th and 6th Aves; 212-564-9333; madangsui.com

        the michelin guide comes to guangzhou

Suppose Rip Van Winkle had been a foodie, a devotee of the Michelin Guide, and had fallen asleep in 1998. He would remember a culinary landscape that was totally dominated by France, with the rest of Europe grudgingly included. The United States, South America and Asia weren’t even considered as serious restaurant destinations, nor could anyone have imagined such a situation to be possible.

Twenty years later, the world is a very different place. Japan has more Michelin stars than France, and some of the world’s greatest restaurants are located in places such as Copenhagen, Spain and Manhattan. He would have been further surprised last week, when the Michelin guide to Guangzhou, China, was released.

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              to kalon: the importance of place

There are few vineyards in California---or anywhere else on the planet---with the importance and impact of To Kalon in the Napa Valley. The site was first planted in 1868 by Hamilton Walker Crabb, who purchased 240 acres close to the Napa River and named the property for a Greek expression meaning “the place of highest beauty.” In recent years it has been most closely associated with Robert Mondavi, who chose the vineyard as the home base of his winery in 1966 and said that it had “a feeling that was almost mystical.”

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           the confidence game that changed wine

The recent death of Hardy Rodenstock reminded many wine collectors of an earlier and more innocent era: a time when consumers could buy fine wines without worrying about whether they were fakes.

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    celebrate world gin day with a frozen negroni

For some people, every day is World Gin Day. If you’re not one of those folks, the date is Saturday June 9. Most cocktail enthusiasts will celebrate with either the trendy gin and tonic or the classic martini, which evokes nostalgic images of James Bond.

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              the unhealthiest appetizer in America

Every July, the Center for Science in the Public Interest announces their Xtreme Eating Awards, honoring the worst calorie-laden dishes in American restaurants. The winners usually rank high in the areas of fat grams and sodium content as well. Last year’s stars included items such as Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo, boasting 2,440 calories, 41 grams of saturated fat and 7,610 milligrams of sodium---well above the recommended daily intake for most human beings, and the proverbial heart attack on a plate.

This year, we didn’t have to wait for July. May 5 was the FDA’s deadline for restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus. Not everyone has complied, due to lobbying from Domino’s Pizza, convenience stores and supermarkets, but there are some horrifying results among the establishments who have chosen to follow the law.

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             talking tequila with pepe hermosillo

Since establishing Casa Noble, José “Pepe” Hermosillo has been a pioneer in the super premium tequila category. He took some time recently to share some of his reflections with us.

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       the single barrel tequilas from casa noble

Super premium tequila is hot: According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., category sales have increased a staggering 805% since 2002.

There was very little luxury tequila back then. The category was created in 1989 by Patron, who charged an unthinkable $40 per bottle at the time. Prior to that, tequila in America had been the drink of bikers, frat boys and bums. In fact, the standard method of ingesting it---downing a shot quickly, along with a dose of salt and lime---had been developed specifically to mask the aroma and flavor of the stuff.

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         flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar

                                                               By Ken Schechet

        Our roving correspondent looks at a culinary trend going mainstream

Did you know that olive oil can reduce the risk of many types of cancers? It can make you less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.  It can slow the aging of your heart, lower your bad cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke and of getting Alzheimer’s. Such are the claims made by the Olive Oil Times, (yes, there is such a publication), as well as many, many other sources.  There is a lot of evidence that the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can have a very real and positive effect on your well-being. 

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                        a primer on vietnamese food

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia

I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, France, and several Asian countries.  I recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what Vietnamese food was all about.

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                                 hanoi street food

                                                                      By Ken Schechet

Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.

Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction.  I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam.  According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago.  So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.

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                              singapore street food

                                                                    By Ken Schechet

This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been.  It is a constant topic of conversation.  Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten.  It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food”  (I didn’t make that up.  It was on a billboard.)  Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.

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                              singapore food wars

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly.  Of course, you need to try them both.  Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.

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                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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