OCTOBER 23: LEAVENWORTH, WASHINGTON
NEW YORK —
On a typical day at his downtown Bend restaurant, 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar chef-owner Joe Kim is in the kitchen at 10 a.m., preparing to open for dinner six hours later.
OCTOBER 23: LEAVENWORTH, WASHINGTON
Three weeks ago, he changed up the routine a little. He and his sous chefs took three full days to prepare a meal.
Granted, the stakes were a little higher. He was cooking for 80 guests. And they weren’t just any guests. They were supporters of the renowned James Beard Foundation, gathered in the country’s largest city to indulge in the culinary offerings of a kitchen wizard whose name is little known outside the Pacific Northwest.
Kim was invited early this year to cook at the James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, after receiving his third consecutive semifinalist nomination as best chef in the Pacific Northwest region. His meal was slotted a night before and after onetime “Top Chef” competitors from Florida and New York — hard acts to follow and precede.
The schedule required flying from Oregon to New York on a Monday, doing prep work in a rented kitchen space on Tuesday and Wednesday, then transferring the entire operation to the Beard House itself before lifting the Thursday evening curtain on an event billed as the “Modern Taste of Oregon.”
The menu, planned months in advance, featured four hors d’oeuvres and a six-course dinner, highlighted by scallops wrapped in king salmon and served with chanterelle mushrooms.
Kim is not the first Bend chef to cook at the Beard House. Ariana chef-owners Andrès and Ariana Asti Fernandez prepared a meal there in 2014.
Kim and 5 Fusion co-owner Lilian Chu brought a formidable team with them to New York, including sous chefs Corey Bailey, Erik Barin and Bryce Beard; bartenders Nicole Mann and Rian Steen; and Kim’s do-everything wife, Laura Kim.
“It’s an intimidating thing, cooking for 80 people with something that may impress New York diners,” said Joe Kim, who is preparing to open a second area restaurant (Ajii, on Bend’s west side) later this fall. “And it’s a big expense. But I think it’s worth it for the exposure and the experience.”
The Beard kitchen
Born and raised in Portland, James Beard (1903-1985) was the nation’s first celebrity chef in an era before there was such a thing. He had a national television show on NBC as early as 1946. He operated a cooking school in New York City beginning in the mid-1950s. He wrote 22 cookbooks, including the 877-page “James Beard’s American Cookery” (1972).
“In the beginning,” said close friend Julia Childs, “there was Beard.” She helped spearhead a campaign to preserve his simple Greenwich Village brownstone after his death. Since 1986, the James Beard House has been the home of the James Beard Foundation, which not only showcases the nation’s chefs but also provides culinary scholarships and industry awards.
Certainly, the house is understated. Only a simple plaque on the wall outside the front door differentiates it from others on West 12th Street. Three steps down lead to a door into the parlor, which opens to the kitchen, which opens to a delightful urban garden where Beard must have enjoyed many intimate meals. Stairs lead up to the main hospitality area and, one would assume, the gentleman’s bedroom.
This is what visitors find when they arrive at the Beard House. And just as Beard himself continued to make frequent visits to Oregon for his entire life — indeed, he ran a summer cooking school at Seaside from 1973 to 1981, and his cremains were strewn off Tillamook Head and Gearhart Beach following his death — Oregonians are doubly welcome here.
Photographer Barb Gonzalez and I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, enjoyed a good Greek moussaka on the Upper West Side, and adjusted to a three-hour time difference by sleeping late the following morning. We were wide awake for Kim’s 7:30 p.m. dinner (4:30 Pacific Standard Time) the next day.
Kim and his team, by contrast, had used their full three days to get ready. On Tuesday, they pickled the sunchoke kimchi for a Korean-influenced pork belly with bibimbap rice, and shelled the Dungeness crab for a “dirty water dogs” hors d’oeuvre, served in the garden. On Wednesday, they began carbonating Kumamoto oysters and fixing the melon-and-shiso marinade for Northwest spot prawns.
By Thursday, the sous-vide preparation of wagyu beef with spiced Brussels sprouts and Kabocha purée was taking shape; it would later be served with bottles of Drew Bledsoe’s 2011 Doubleback cabernet sauvignon, a sure crowd pleaser.
“Of course, it could have gone better,” a self-deprecating Kim later said. “In particular, the plating could have been more precise, getting it done fast enough to reach 80 diners at the proper temperature.
“But overall, it went well. I have a sense of pride in the food, and that we were able to do it as well as we did.”
The 5 Fusion team returned to Bend on Friday. We stayed in New York for several days after — to eat, to meet with East Coast colleagues, to enjoy some Big Apple sightseeing.
While the James Beard House is a high point of New York dining, it’s far from the only memory. In a city of 8.5 million, in which a dozen different languages may be overheard in conversations on every block, we experienced new taste sensations with every evening meal.
At the top of our list was Tapestry, a 70-seat fusion restaurant that opened in May in the West Village neighborhood. Indian-born chef-owner Suvir Saran, who previously won a Michelin star at Devi and who has been a featured judge on “Iron Chef,” blends spices and ingredients from the Indian subcontinent into foods more typical of other cultures.
Masala fried chicken came with peanut slaw. Baby back ribs were prepared with a chile-lime watermelon marinade. A rabbit mole tostada featured pepper chutney; roasted cauliflower came with tomato-spice jam.
Tapestry’s young director of operations, Jessy Peters, grew up in Southern Oregon and was delighted to learn we were visiting from Bend: She said her mother, Dana Fox, is director of client services at the Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center (SHARC), and had previously had worked in the Bend restaurant industry at Greg’s Grill and Worthy Brewing.
Another restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed was Ippudo, self-described as a “Japanese ramen noodle brasserie.” Restaurateur friends in Portland had urged us to descend a half-flight of steps to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood shop, steps from the Theater District. (There’s another in the East Village.)
After waiting 45 minutes for a table, we sat with other diners at a large horseshoe-shaped bar and indulged in a selection of unique appetizers (flash-fried octopus and king oyster mushrooms, anyone?) followed by big bowls of noodle soup in Kyushu-style pork broth.
In search of good Italian food, we discovered the intimate Trattoria Trecolori, just around the corner from our Midtown hotel. While there may not be such a thing as bad Italian food in New York — the multigenerational population of European immigrants seems to assure that the dishes will always be authentic, scratch preparations — Trecolori would be at the top of our list for a return visit. Service was professional and knowledgeable, and our main courses, a lasagna del giorno and vitello piccata (veal scaloppini), were top end and moderately priced.
We were glad not to have indulged our craving for Italian food in a walk through the Little Italy neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. The streets were absolutely swarming with New Yorkers celebrating the annual Feast of San Gennaro, honoring the patron saint of Naples, from which many immigrants came at the start of the 20th century. We arrived just in time to watch actor Tony Danza emcee a meatball-eating competition. It was, indeed, a raucous “pig-out.”
Shows and museums
We chose a Midtown hotel, Row NYC, that was clean, friendly, well-located near the skyscraping neon lights of Times Square and the Theater District, and which was (by New York standards) moderately priced. Our 10th-floor corner room wasn’t large, and the view was of alleys and water towers, but it had everything we needed, including a private bath and a hip coffee lounge and market-style cafe on the main level.
Half a block away was the legendary Birdland jazz club, where we were serenaded during an evening dinner show by the Grammy-winning Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. There were seemingly scores of Irish pubs in the neighborhood, and an ample number of Hell’s Kitchen “dive bars,” one of which, McCoy’s, saw actor Bobby Cannavale of “Vinyl” huddling with his posse late one evening.
But the main Midtown activity is certainly the theater, both on- and off-Broadway. Though we didn’t catch a performance on this visit, we could have chosen between current hits such as “Hamilton,” “The Book of Mormon” and “The Front Page”; long runs such as “Cats,” “Les Misérables” and “Chicago”; dramas, musicals, revivals or star-powered shows such as “The Cherry Orchard” with Diane Lane and “Finding Neverland” with Kelsey Grammer.
Instead, we fled the urban canyons, crossed Central Park by foot (pausing to pay homage to musician John Lennon at the “Imagine” memorial near Strawberry Fields) and visited museums.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, any room of which could have taken hours to explore, we focused our time on the classic European painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Here were 30 galleries of works by Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Picasso, and scores of other artists whose works have become as instantly recognizable as their names.
At the Guggenheim Museum, we were awed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, an inverted ziggurat masterpiece that opened in 1959 and is now considered a National Historic Landmark. The permanent collection features works by great 20th-century artists, but exhibition highlights are often the temporary shows, such as the current display of contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa, “But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise.”
At sunset, we took the elevator 86 floors to the open-air observation deck near the top of the Empire State Building. The 360-degree view extended not only north and south upon Manhattan, but also across the East River to Brooklyn and Queens, and west over the Hudson River into New Jersey.
South, just off the blunt end of Manhattan Island, a thin spike rose above an island at the mouth of the Hudson River — the Statue of Liberty. A short distance closer, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet, marked the spot where the Twin Trade Towers had once stood, and where the commemorative 9/11 Memorial and Museum draws visitors today.
To say that memorial was moving would be an understatement. Indeed, to many, it was emotionally wrenching. The 1-acre-square footprints of the two towers are now concave fountains, their waters flowing over tiered rock into an apparent abyss. On all sides, parapets are engraved with the names of all 2,977 victims of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, including firefighters and police, plus those of six victims of a 1993 bombing.
Within the adjacent museum, historical exhibits describe the attack as it occurred. They explore events leading up to the attack and, in the aftermath, its implications. “In Memoriam” commemorates the lives of the men, women and children who died; Foundation Hall houses memorabilia from the towers themselves.
It’s a short hike down Greenwich Street to Battery Park and Castle Clinton National Monument, from which Statue Cruises runs ferries on a regular schedule to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The 151-foot statue (which sits atop a 154-foot pedestal), formally named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” was given to the United States by the French government in 1886. It quickly became a symbol of freedom and new opportunity for immigrants arriving across the Atlantic Ocean by ship. (Its symbolic crown, long closed to visits, is now open by advance reservation.)
Between 1892 and 1934, most of those immigrants — 12 million in all — were welcomed to New York at Ellis Island, today administered as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument. For anyone whose ancestors arrived from the Old World during that era, its immigration museum is a fascinating place to visit.
Even more moving is an area where visitors may search for their ancestors’ immigration records. I located my maternal grandmother, Maria (Maja) Fredberg, who entered the United States from Sweden on the SS Carmania on Sept. 20, 1906. The ledger recorded that she was 19 years old and had $20 in her pocket.
I found the key to surviving New York, without being intimidated, was in getting around. Super Shuttle, a shared ride service, definitely provided the most bang for the buck in taking us from Newark International Airport to our New York hotel. Within the city, the subway network was very reliable and inexpensive ($2.75 a ride), even if the entry stairs and underground stations appeared a little sketchy.
We were OK with a taxi or Uber ride during certain times of day, especially later in the evenings; rush-hour starts and stops rendered street transportation much less efficient than the underground trains. We had the same problem with hop-on, hop-off, sightseeing buses, which seemed to take forever to get from one place to another.
Mostly we traveled by foot, putting in miles a day. Manhattan is a flat island; streets are generally straight, directions are easy to follow and we encountered no lawlessness anywhere. Quite the contrary: On one East Village street, I watched as a group of young men in hoodies emptied the coins from their pockets and offered them to an old man sitting alone on a concrete stoop.
Saving coins was one benefit of walking. Another, quite obviously, was exercise: We had to work off some of the calories from all that good food we were eating.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .