Friday, November 24, 2006

Knives Out: Gordon Ramsay at The London

By Nicholas Allanach

I admit it, I’m no Frank Bruni; in fact, I'm a horrible cook and am only useful in the kitchen when washing dishes (a weakness I'm in the process of correcting). Needless to say, I love fine-dining and am a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay. Admittedly, I probably admire the man more for his shrewd and unforgiving management style than his food. But who cares? Besides, as I already mentioned, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to food. Nevertheless, when my friend invited me out for lunch last Sunday to eat at Gordon Ramsay's newest (and perhaps most ambitious) venture, Gordon Ramsay at The London, I couldn't resist.

Many of us are already familiar with Chef Ramsay's relentless pursuit for perfection. Likely this image does not come from having the opportunity to eat at any of his nine restaurants, but because of Ramsay’s celebrity stature as the host of three reality television shows. Although some critics (such as fellow kitchen bad boy Anthony Bourdain) have cautioned that Ramsay's star power could potentially deter New York’s foodie elite from frequenting Gordon Ramsay. Bourdain writes, “Mostly liberal, moneyed New Yorkers, who like to think of themselves as world-weary, cynical and sophisticated, might not take a shine to a chef known mostly for appearing on a reality show.” Of course, for all the “moneyed” New Yorkers who won’t go to Gordon Ramsay their seats will likely be taken by those who’ll welcome the surprisingly affordable menu (in comparison to Ramsay’s pricier neighbors).

When dining at Gordon Ramsay, diners will have a choice of either sitting in the casual hip bar that offers small plate fare and seating for 70 or the more formal, and intimate, dining room with seating for 45. For larger events, Gordon Ramsay at The London will offer three private dining rooms for special event functions. Guests at The London Hotel will also be able to enjoy en-suite dining. Obviously, logistics alone (not to mention ruthless food critics) are shaping this project up to be a mammoth undertaking for Gordon Ramsay and his chef de cuisine Neil Ferguson (who has been with chef Ramsay since “the hard arse days” at Aubergine). Of course, the notoriously competitive Ramsay doesn’t seem to be too intimidated by the odds stacked against him. As he claims in a recent online interview, “I’m used to pressure, I’m useless without it.”

When I dined at Gordon Ramsay I did not see any of this pressure; of course, why would the diners see any back of the house intensity? We sat in the formal dining area which is (unfortunately) rather tacky and gave me the impression of sitting in one of the quickly thrown together dining room sets often seen on Ramsay’s "Hell’s Kitchen" television show on Fox. Of course, it’s obvious Ramsay is more concerned with his food and service then setting; however, there is nothing epic or intriguing about the overall layout. Even the staff in many ways bears the signature Ramsay look (as if they too just stepped from out of the television screen), the host was a young French man (of course) with slicked-back hair. The waiters and waitresses were all smartly dressed with tightly fitting suits and ties. There was even the inevitable “cow” (this time an overweight offish looking food runner, who Ramsay himself at one point reprimanded for “speaking too much with the customers”). Not surprisingly, chef Ramsay himself came out and made his rounds to welcome diners to his restaurant.

I’m not even going to try and criticize the food, but will at least tell you what I had to eat and my initial impressions of the dishes. To start, the kitchen brought out a complimentary cappuccino of white beans with grated truffle, which was delicious and a perfect warm-up after coming in from a blustery afternoon. For my starter I had the fillet of trout over braised potatoes, morel casserole and horseradish velonte; again, delicious and a perfect follow-up to the cappuccino soup. For my main course I had the rump of lamb, confit treviso, spiced tomato jam and golden raisins paired with a glass of Reisling. This dish was very flavorful; the spiced tomato jam with the delectable lamb slices was a delicious combination. Finally, I had the chocolate mousse with chestnut and caramel for dessert.

Despite the bland atmosphere, my meal was seasonable and delicious; moreover, it was great to actually catch a glimpse of the man himself in action. Whether Gordon Ramsay will make back the 6.5 million dollars of his own money he invested in this venture, is anyone’s guess. Of course, chef Ramsay is also gunning for another three Michelin stars and the approval of New York’s foodie elite. All worthy battles for a man who has never shied away from competition or challenge, if tough is what it takes to make it in New York, Ramsay will succeed. Admittedly, having an affordable fine dining experience from one of the world’s premier celebrity chefs won’t hurt.

Monday, November 20, 2006

My "New" New World

By Nicholas Allanach

Over the past few weeks, people have told me that feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness, commonly experienced while going through a divorce are similar to those one confronts when someone we love dies. I’m not sure I totally agree with this assessment; of course, I also don’t think I’d be able to say which I’d prefer over the other. After all, if someone dies, (assuming they don’t commit suicide) it’s not like they can control it; whereas with divorce someone has willfully decided—often against the wishes of their spouse—to call it quits. Thus, the “dumped” must accept they’re no longer the primary object of the other’s interests or affections. Such wounds certainly take time and energy to heal but ultimately, love (as Marilyn Manson sang) “burns its casualties.”

My efforts to reach out and regain the love I once shared with my wife failed. We’re done and only she holds the answers as to why (or at least I’d like to believe she knows the answers, but I have a suspicion she’s really lost right now). Past posts on this page reveal brief glimpses of the thoughts and feelings this experience has had on me, but this will be the last of such posts. Whereas, I’m certain there are still tears to be shed and questions that will need to be answered, I can now say, with all honesty –I’ve moved on. I’ve accepted my wife’s decision to end us (then again , I really never had any choice) and (despite my dreams for our future) I can only thank her for the new new world I now live in without her.

The adventures I wanted to have with my wife are gone, but the ones I now chart for myself have just begun. As I embark on this new journey there are still a few things I need to flesh-out before taking any wobbly first steps; after all, it would be foolish to assume the unsettled has been resolved, or that I do not still wish things could have been different. Inevitably, life and love doesn’t always conclude with neat and tidy resolutions; thus, I can only do my best to confront this recent complication with what little certainty I did retain during my adjustment.

My initial instincts were to never trust anyone again (or at least not at the level I did with my wife). After all, why trust if you’ve been burned so many times before? Of course, my overreaction was short-lived. I understand we must (despite how vulnerable it makes us) trust people, if we cannot be confident others are willing to stand beside us (because, ultimately, they too hope others will stand besides them) then all is lost. Certainly, there are people who take advantage of trust and when we fall victim to such abuse we can at least be thankful we’re no longer so naïve. Certainly, the world is a viscous and cruel place, but it is also one full of caring and reliant people. Accordingly, just because my wife damaged the trust between us and then decided she is incapable of holding herself at all accountable to life’s many challenges and responsibilities, does not mean the hundreds of other women I see everyday suffer this same disposition. In fact, despite my personal experience, I still strongly believe in trust and know I will find it again.

I thank my ex-wife for all the love and experience she let us share. I’m happy nothing can ever take back or change any of those days we spent together. Although she shut her eyes to the world I wanted to show her, mine remain wide-open to the one she revealed to me. She made me less rigid, more relaxed, and aware of my anxieties. She cultured my pallet to fine foods and wines. She loosened up my hips and put fire under my feet, so that I’m now confident enough to dance like any other fool on the dance floor. My wife showed me patience, humility, and in the end wisdom. I thank her for making me less naïve and even more honest then I was before, but not so closed off from this world that I will be incapable of loving again.

Am I alright? …Well, as alright as anyone can be when they’re heart has been cut out of their chest and kicked around on the floor. But ultimately, love “burns its casualties” and I welcome the immolation, as I also welcome my new new world. I only ask you to accept these burning wings.

Our clock stopped.