March 16, 2011

Food writer and West Villager Mimi Sheraton shares some Village faves and other food-related opinions

Food writer Mimi Sheraton has been a Greenwich Village resident for 67 years and with her husband, retired importer Richard Falcone, lives in a West Village townhouse. Sheraton, who served as restaurant critic for The New York Times for eight years, grew up in a food-loving Brooklyn household. She studied marketing and journalism at NYU, and began her career writing about home furnishings before switching to food writing for The Village Voice, Town and Country and New York magazine. She joined the Times in 1975. Among her 16 books, my favorite is her 2004 memoir Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life¸ which evocatively describes the “pleasantly shabby” Greenwich Village of the ’40s and ’50s stuffed with more than its share of Abstract Expressionist painters, psychoanalysts, potters and weavers. She also wrote this lovely tribute to our shared street, "West 12th Street by the Numbers." Although a few of the places Sheraton describes in her 2006 Times article are no longer in business, they are but very recent changes to a neighborhood that she has seen evolve for over 60 years. (Note the picture of the best vegetable purveyor at Abingdon Square, Nevia No.)

Here, Sheraton shares with Walking and Talking her thoughts on the West Village dining scene, New York City dining trends and other food-related topics.

What are a few of your and your husband’s favorite places for a quick lunch in the West Village? For a nice dinner?
Elephant & Castle for lunch. Tougher to pick for dinner. Between Gotham Bar & Grill, Wallse, Da Silvano, Perry Street...depends upon what you mean by "nice."

What foreign country or region do you most enjoy eating in?

In a recent interview in Capital New York, you made some tart comments about Brooklyn restaurants, food trucks, David Chang and Times critic Sam Sifton, which created quite a stir on the internet. What has the fallout been from that article, and do you have any further thoughts on those topics?

Fallout has been a lot of publicity and further blogging by others. Great exposure for me. I still mean what I said but I did go to Brooklyn on March 12th to see Diary of a Madman at BAM…worth the trip but I did not go to a [Brooklyn] restaurant.

What ethnic cuisine do you think New York City does best? Worst?
Italian is best. Mexican is worst.

If you could pick one global chef you would like to see open a restaurant in New York, who would it be?
Fergus Henderson, nose-to-tail chef of St. John restaurant in London.

What do you think of the global restaurant empires that so many chefs seem to aspire to these days? Who does it well and who doesn’t?
It is okay with me if they do them well, but I can't remember going to one such when abroad as I prefer to go to strictly local places when traveling, even within the U.S.

Do you ever order take-out? If so, what is your favorite place?
We rarely order take-out but if so, do it quite locally which means Good or Benny's Burritos on Greenwich Ave., or Tartine on 11th St. at West 4th. Have not found good Chinese or pizza take-outs. I'm never totally pleased with anything take-out…the food always seems to have lost its soul and is soggy and tepid, even from the best places. I’d rather prepare scrambled eggs or spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, or maybe even oatmeal with butter, salt and lots of black pepper.

Who is your all-time favorite food writer?
A.J. Liebling

What is your food guilty pleasure?
Not sure I feel "guilty" but I suppose that might mean hot dogs and salami of all kinds.

What bygone New York restaurant do you miss most and why?
Lutece, because it had wonderful authentic French food prepared by chef-owner Andre Soltner, who was totally dedicated, all in a pleasant but unpretentious setting with service to match.

What current food trend do you find appealing?
Southeast Asian, especially Thai and Vietnamese. I like the crunch and the spiciness but I wish we saw more of the serious, elegant dishes I had in Hanoi and not only the cheaper street-type food, however entertaining and satisfying that can be.

March 10, 2011

Dedegumo: Bespoke Japanese watches come to New York

The other day I visited a recently opened Japanese shop on the Lower East Side called Dedegumo. It's the first U.S. and first foreign branch of a Kyoto-based handmade watch shop, founded by designer Izumo Senko. For anyone interested in Japan and/or Japanese design, it's well worth a visit.

Atlanta entrepreneur Bob Guest fell in love with the shop during a business trip to Kyoto and decided to bring Dedegumo watches to New York. He found a tiny space on Orchard Street just south of Houston, hired Brooklyn-based woodworker James Harmon to craft gorgeous shelving for the tiny workshop/showroom, and installed reclaimed wooden floors from a Buster Brown shoe factory in Missouri.

The result is a Japanese-style jewel box of a shop that embodies the simple yet subtle aesthetic of shibui.
Guest hired six artisans, all of them designers or jewelry makers, to work two shifts in the tiny, well-laid out workshop at the front of the store, where visitors can observe them at work. One of them is my former Japanese classmate and friend, Kai.

A Nippy leather skiver and a built-in anvil fit snugly between two work spaces. Kyoto artisans from the main store flew in to train their New York counterparts, while Guest stocked up on watch parts from Japan and four miles worth of Italian leather for watch bands.

Bands, faces, and even the color of the watch hands can be customized, and each watch is made from start to finish by a single artisan, usually taking about three days to complete and quality check. Dedegumo’s 150 designs ($350-$650) range from the delicate to the quirky to the masculine, featuring hand-stamped brass frames and numbers, and intricately buckled leather bands.