Clips

11.08.2014

Take a stroll down memory lane with Indochine co-owner Jean-Marc Houmard on the restaurant’s 30th birthday

Bianca Jagger, Calvin Klein, Kate Moss, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol — innumerable icons have frolicked at New York’s Indochine for three decades of decadence, beauty and notoriety. Since 1984, the institution has remained a bastion for fashion’s elite, art world superstars and the crème de la crème of New York downtown society.

Opened by restaurateur Brian McNally, Indochine has accomplished the next-to-impossible—maintaining its reign as an eatery and playground for the cool kids of the moment, without pandering to the trends and whims that rule its patrons. Its retro décor has proved perpetually chic, a constant (and often copied motif) amid the chaos of an insatiable city always hungry for the new and the now.

Jean-Marc Houmard, the magnetic, soft-spoken Swiss who came to New York for a law internship in 1985, fell in love with the boîte the first time he found himself amid its legendary palm fronds. Under McNally’s tutelage, Houmard worked his way up from server to maître d’ to owner, when along with Huy Chi Le and Michael Callahan, he purchased it from McNally in 1992.

Now, on its 30th birthday, Houmard dishes on how Indochine remains forever young.

The Aesthete: How does it feel to go from server to co-owner of one of New York’s greatest restaurants?

Jean-Marc Houmard: About a year after I came to Indochine for the first time as a guest, I started working here. I couldn’t believe that I was actually working here… Brian McNally created this place and it was kind of scary to take over, like orphans, who are suddenly the masters of the place. The thought that I would someday own Indochine had never crossed my wildest imagination.

Indochine has always had an air of exclusivity, has it changed over the years?

If there’s an air of exclusivity it’s happened organically. Anybody can make a reservation. There can’t be a door policy at a restaurant, but of course, we have so many regulars that you save some tables… Prime spots are reserved for those loyal people who’ve been coming here for years.

If you could define a dress code for the restaurant, whether it’s enforced or not, what would it be? 

Either be chic or be interesting. I love when people go all the way… those people will get a prime table, just because it makes the room interesting, it’s fun, and people made an effort, and I think that effort should be rewarded. The most fabulous outfits are always on Malcolm Harris, he wears these terrific gowns and veils; he has a regal air.

Please describe your best “Power Table,” moment.

The first night when I started working here, Andy Warhol was hosting a big table—that was definitely a moment I will always remember: coming from Switzerland and being in the same room as Andy! At another booth was Bianca Jagger, at another table was Halston, it was one of those nights when I said, “Wow, I’m in New York—it’s like what I’ve seen in magazines and I’m in the same room as these people.” That was a pretty special moment.

Indochine’s fully stocked bar awaits the evening crowd.

Go ahead, namedrop your regulars…they won’t mind. 

I don’t really want to name names because the ones I don’t mention get upset.

Have you ever been star-struck in your own restaurant?

There have been legends here. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward came a year before he passed away. Hubert de Givenchy, these names that you grow up as a kid knowing as just names, and then here they are, in your restaurant. It’s kind of amazing.

Best-selling dish? Best-selling cocktail/drink?

The classics, the spring rolls, the ravioli, the spicy beef salad—those are the classics from Day One. The Indochine Martini, it’s a pineapple and ginger infused vodka.

In a city that feeds on the new and the now, what’s your secret? 

It’s not a formula, it’s just a bunch of things that need to click … from the food, to the room that works with lighting that’s flattering. The booths have a sense of privacy but at the same time are a stage… If you have Mick Jagger sitting in one of them you notice him, but at the same time you respect that he’s in a booth… it’s his private area.

What is it about the palm fronds? 

It’s iconic. If you see a picture of someone with our mural leaves, you just know it’s at Indochine, you don’t need to read the caption. It’s like the Stork Club of the ‘50s. [It’s about consistency.] Martin Whatoff, a British man who comes three times a week at 4 in the morning, has been doing the flowers since Day One. Marlene has been our reservationist for 30 years. She handed me my application form when I came here for a job.

Editors’ Note: Interior photos used with permission from Indochine. Celebrity guest photos used with permission from Indochine published 2009 by Rizzoli International, New York. Top photo: Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel and Kenny Scharf at the opening of Indochine in 1984. Jean-Marc Houmard in front of Indochine’s famous palm fronds (photo by Karen Gfeller).

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Reviews

10.07.2014

élan definition

“I’ve had plenty of foie gras pops in my day,” my mother announced as we cobbled together our order at her recent birthday dinner at élan. Now I ask you: how many people can say that?

Alas, this was my first–though hopefully not last–opportunity to try a fig-centered lollipop of foie rolled in crushed pistachio. My parents, on the other hand, clocked many a hedonistic evening starting with foie gras pops at David Waltuck’s seminal TriBeCa gem, Chanterelle. As a child, hearing the word chanterelle was confusing for me because it meant either that I was going to eat some delicious mushrooms, or that I would have to spend an evening with a horrid babysitter while my parents enjoyed a sumptuous meal in the music-less downtown dining room where bringing a child, no matter how well-behaved or precocious, was ill-advised. If the latter were the case, however, it also meant that the story of an extraordinary meal would follow and if I stayed up late enough, I could fall asleep with my mother’s mellifluous voice: “We started with little popsicles made out of foie gras…then Daddy had the ravioli, tender potato-stuffed pillows with truffle shaved atop like fragrant confetti…gamey venison with wine-soaked prunes that tasted of Christmas…” This was my lullaby.

Rabbit Terrine

It’s a habit in my family for my mother to recount every detail of what she’s cooked or eaten. When I was a teenage tour guide in the caves de Champagne of Moët et Chandon, calling home tearful and lonely at dusk from a payphone in the seedy center of Epernay, I used to have to remind my mother that I didn’t need to know every nuance of the trout en croûte, cassoulet or coquille Saint Jacques she’d prepared for dinner the night before: “That sounds delicious, Mamma, but this is, like, long distance.”

While we are on the subject of speaking to my mother on the telephone, I might also mention that she often asks me to “hold on” while she has a conversation with her dachshund, Guinevere. There’s a distinct lack of urgency in most conversations with my darling mother. Very often she’ll go off on a tangent about the fragrance of the lilac bushes beside her vegetable garden, or for that matter, how her zucchinis have grown in size so outrageously in a week, that they are now only suitable for zucchini bread. Her stories meander in her melodic, perfect elocution through many a circuitous, deliciously detailed discursion before arriving at an adorable (albeit anti-climactic) point.

But I digress. Back to élan and its fabulous foie gras pops, its excellent seafood sausage with sauerkraut in a shallow pool of tangy beurre blanc, both much appreciated holdovers from Chanterelle. We gobbled a rabbit terrine, laced with herbs and hazelnuts, springy from poaching in the fatty meat. Pickled veg and a most excellent house mustard (served also with the irresistible pretzel bread at the start of the meal) got our taste buds going.

Sea Urchin Guacamole

While not everything struck such high notes (don’t you dare tell me something has sea urchin in it and then be stingy on the delivery…it makes for one angry uni addict!), dishes such as grilled mackerel with crispy, oily, beguiling skin and clam dashi risotto with unapologetically fishy broth brightened by yuzu were excellent and unmistakably influenced by Japan. While the Chinese-inspired “General Tso’s” sweetbreads with bok choy, orange and chili was audacious and attractive for its brashness. Waltuck’s food is playful and the perfect definition of the exasperating catch-all, “New American.” He borrows cleverly and combines adroitly. If there was music in the dining room at élan, or if it maintained the shrine-like tinkling silence of Chanterelle, I noticed not, so rapt was my attention on the food and on my family, right where it should be.

General Tso's Sweet Breads

The meal proved an apt map for our ancestral patterns: my mother’s characteristic restraint (how exactly does one refuse a foie gras pop?!); my father’s habitual gluttony (post foie pop he chose the duck burger with caramelized onion, bacon mayo and, you guessed it, foie gras, which rather exploded when we cut it but was undeniably decadent and delicious); and my svelte auntie’s predictable discipline with an appetizer as her entrée. Daddy was telling terrible jokes and passing notes to a sommelier pal at a neighboring table. Mummy was smiling wide and gushing over her birthday bites. The meal and room were familiar, perhaps outdated?–yet nonetheless highly enjoyable, much like family itself. In fact, it was a reminder of just how good I had it, growing up Morrell in the perpetually reinventing, ever-enticing food scene that is my hometown, New York, New York.

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Clips

09.20.2014

Photography duo Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers document an ode to the season: a meal close to their hearts, sourced entirely from close to their Catskills home. 

On a recent Saturday, a coterie of food-loving friends spearheaded a feast at Table On Ten, the Bloomville, New York, restaurant that has become their nexus. The excuse—not that they needed one—was a celebration of the late summer season, the rich local soil and the bounty that springs forth from it, coaxed by organic farmers and foraged from nearby shrubs and streams by enthusiastic cohorts.

    Rabbit by Gentl & Hyers

Everything for the feast—from chicory to flowering chocolate mint, bee balm and duck breast, even that pesky “immature sunflower”—was procured from within 25 miles of the restaurant. “We got dried mushrooms from a shoeless man who lived in a hut in Big Indian,” says chef John Poiarkoff of The Pines in Brooklyn, who conceived the nine-course menu. He was aided in the kitchen on dishes such as trout with dill crème fraîche, charred leeks, dill flowers and black mustard greens, by The Pines’ owner and Catskill native, Carver Farrell, and chef Camille Becerra of Navy. Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds bakery made the corn custard pie with pickled blueberries and poor man’s pepper.

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In fact, the story of this meal—and of the motley crew who manifested it—is as layered as an onion, as potentially delicious and as versatile. Table On Ten owners, Justus and Inez Valk-Kempthorne, built a sanctuary where old pals and new come to languor and eat, chat and chuckle over Campari-laced cocktails and pizza from their wood-burning oven. It’s a place to rejuvenate after a day in the fields, whether those fields are literal or metaphoric. Theirs is a camaraderie of soil and harvest, life’s ineluctable cycles, the passage of time and the meals that connect it all. Tianna Kennedy, farmer and proprietor of nearby organic Star Route Farm, sums up the fellowship simply: “It’s the right time to be here amongst the best group I’ve known.”

Cheese by Gentl & HyersEdible flowers by Gentl & Hyers

 

 

Menu

Tomatoes, corn, whipped ricotta, garlic croutons, flowering chocolate mint and anise hyssop

Beet stuffed nappa cabbage, potato and yogurt puree, potato broth, wood sorrel

White pine roasted carrots, immature sunflower and white pine pistou, chicory, pine oil

Roasted and pickled cauliflower, Miranda cheese and roasted onion béchamel, jalapeño, flowering thyme

Trout, dill creme fraiche, charred leeks, dill flowers, black mustard greens

Shitake ciriole, braised rabbit, roasted garlic, bee balm

Duck breast and leg, cranberry beans, pepper and rose hip chutney, nasturtium

Ouleout ice cream, peach and beer compote, granola, honeycomb, beer caramel

Corn custard pie, pickled blueberries, poor man’s pepper

 

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All images by Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers of Gentl & Hyers.

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Dead Rabbit, Gentl & Hyers
~ ~ ~

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Recipes

08.23.2014

It’s often those who are familiar, with traits reflective of my own, yet impossibly foreign that I fall hardest for. Tangiers, the Moroccan city at the northernmost tip of Africa, falls into this dreamy “Interzone.” The caress of its Mediterranean breezes, its cold, crystalline Atlantic waters, the bonsoirs and mercis uttered at cocktail hour on a terrace atop the kasbah, the fragrant spices in its rich taginesI know these nuances. But then there are the secretsthe skin hidden behind hijabs, the foreign Arabic words falling out of open windows like petals, the five-times-daily muezzin that tolls across rooftopsthese are the mysteries that quicken imagination’s pulse.

Asilah, Morocco

Lured by my best friend, antique tribal textile and jewelry dealer, Emilie Irving, I went to this far-flung land and fell madly for it. It’s understandable why literary greatsPaul Bowles, William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Jean Genet, to name a fewflocked here for inspiration (often in the form of intoxication) and solace from society’s rules. Everywhere the air smells of orange blossoms and adventure. Europe, just nine miles across the Straight of Gibralter, feels a world away. In terms of illicit sex and drugs, it’s more subdued now, perhaps, but Tangiers still has the magnetic seduction of a scoundrel’s utopia.

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Unlike the many luminaries who visited before me, I was tame in Tangiers, but I could feel the magic of what’s lured artists and experimenters there for eons. In the medina, a Berber woman with a creased face pushed prickly pears into my palms, and (much to the consternation of my traveling companion) I ate them, pulp dripping down my chin, as I spoke to her in my threadbare French through a nearby butcher who translated to her native tongue. Simple salads of tender octopus, cherry tomatoes, hummus and zaalouk eaten peacefully at midday at Le Salon Bleu in the kasbah, where it’s always deliciously windy, will stay with me. Savory breakfast pancakes with tangy local cheese and honey will remain the ritual I long for, and the scalding mint tea, sweet and opaque in delicate glasses, thrice daily to quench my dusty throat.

Lunch at le Salon Bleu

The following recipes from Food & Wine are by Paula Wolfert, the award winning writer of The Food of Morocco.

Zaalouk (roasted eggplant, tomato & cumin salad)
Serves 4

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 pounds)
4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
1 cup drained, canned diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Using a fork, prick the eggplant in a few places. Add the eggplant to the casserole, cover and cook over moderately low heat, turning once, until charred on the outside and soft within, about 40 minutes.

Transfer the eggplant to a colander set in the sink. Using a sharp knife, make a lengthwise slit in the eggplant; let drain for 10 minutes. Scrape the flesh into a bowl, discarding the skin and any hard seeds; mash to a puree and transfer to a large skillet.

Using the side of a large knife, mash the garlic to a coarse paste with 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the paste to the skillet along with the tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, cilantro, paprika, cumin and cayenne. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Trout with Preserved Lemons, Raisins and Pine Nuts
Serves 4

Two 8-ounce skinless trout fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons golden raisins
6 scallions, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/8 inch thick on the diagonal (1 cup)
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/8 inch thick on the diagonal
1 teaspoon honey
1 preserved lemon—pulp removed, peel rinsed and minced (see Note)
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a shallow dish, season the fish with salt, black pepper and cayenne; spread in a single layer. Sprinkle the fish with 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the dish.

In a small bowl, cover the raisins with warm water and let stand until plump, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, combine the scallions and carrots with 4 cups of water and simmer the vegetables over moderate heat until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the honey, preserved lemon peel, raisins and pine nuts, season with salt and black pepper and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes longer.

Slip the trout into the broth, cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the fish is just barely cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drizzle the fish with the olive oil, garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and serve.
Note: Preserved lemons are cured in salt and lemon juice. Other flaky white fish may be substituted for the trout.

Where I stayed:

El Minzah – a “grand hotel” built in 1930 in the middle of the city that was renovated in the 1970s, has a décor somewhere between the Chateau Marmont and the hotel in The Shining. A pool scene of fantastic “people watching of Europeans and Moroccans working on their tans after a daily buffet lunch of prepared salads, stews, fried fish and dessert.

Hotel Nord Pinus – the loveliest boutique hotel at the top of the kasbah, owned by a French woman with a sister hotel in Arles. Everything is impeccable, from the amber soap in the showers to the antique furniture and tapestries in the rooms. The restaurant and its adjacent decks offer a stunning view of the city, the sea and Spain across the Gibralter Straight. Excellent breakfast and dinner offered nightly. Impeccable.

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