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February 18, 2008

Meat and chocolate

Filed under: Chocolate,Restaurants — Mr. Henry @ 11:34 am

Twice in one week Mr. Henry has eaten chocolate on meat. Is this a new national trend, a millennial generation mania? If so, why hasn’t anyone informed Mr. Henry about this before? He is supposed to be in the forefront of food fashion, not outside waiting behind the ropes.


At Columbus Circle, the AOL Time Warner Center is a bizarre amalgam of the authentic and the ersatz. The towers are handsome enough, if twin towers are what captivate your urban fantasies. Personally, Mr. Henry finds them deeply, doubly uninspiring. The interior is an essay in wasted space. Vast hollow chambers wind slowly round a half circle. Upstairs the celebrated Allen Room with its view down Central Park South is flanked by an awkward trapezoidal foyer larger than the performance hall itself.

Per Se (menu pris fixe, $275) and Masa, arguably the two best restaurants in the country, share a common hallway entrance from what looks like an upscale shopping mall, a decor suggesting Dallas or Short Hills. However, on a rainy Wednesday evening last week a veteran New York bum borrowed this entrance as a staging area to clean his soaked and blackened feet. Ah! New York City! Where wretchedness and superabundance reside side by side.


Down one flight at Cafe Gray, Mr. Henry could not resist ordering the loin of pork with braised shoulder and braised belly because they were finished with “chocolate stout” – a very light, subtly aromatic, slightly bitter chocolate ale. It was a remarkably appropriate complement to pork’s mild flavors.

giada.jpgLast night at Mary and Michael’s house, the worldly and curvaceous Donna, fresh from a day of rock-climbing, cooked an imaginative short ribs with tagliatelle topped NOT by Parmesan cheese but by finely grated bitter chocolate, a recipe borrowed from Giada Di Laurentiis.

Lighter and less insistent than Parmesan, the bitter chocolate awakened taste buds not otherwise aroused by the sweet round flavors of slowly braised short ribs. It was a success made more exciting by being so unexpected.

Will chocolate hamburgers be the next new thing? Let’s see….ketchup and bitter chocolate together, isn’t that almost a salsa molé?

November 2, 2007


Mr. Henry is brand loyal. For decades he has kept the same barber, tailor, dentist, doctor, mechanic, and partner in marriage. For decades he has used the same personal products – the same soap, the same shampoo (the 2-in-1 kind, nothing fussy), and nearly the same toothpaste (now opting for one with more peroxide). He would still be buying Noxzema shave cream had they not removed most of the menthol and “improved” it into a goopy, flowery mess.

Change for its own sake pains Mr. Henry. (It is impractical, after all, to be an iconoclast unless you find some new, genuinely improved icon as replacement.) Though a religious and political firebrand, in personal habits Mr. Henry more closely resembles a hound curled up by the fireplace.

Notwithstanding these noble instincts, when first he tasted Choctál, in an instant he knew he would stray.

Heading for the ice cream locker at Zabar’s, he literally stumbled over the Choctál lady blocking the aisle. Peeved, he tried to sweep right past her. Doesn’t Mr. Henry KNOW that chocolate ice cream always disappoints? After years of disappointment, he no longer grouses about the lingering aftertaste of Hershey’s syrup lurking in every common brand. Now to satisfy his chocolate ice cream needs he simply shaves Scharffen Berger bitter onto Häagen-Dasz vanilla. Can there be a finer, simpler postscript to a meal than this?


Yes, there can.

With one reluctant spoonful of chocolate from Ghana, he was a goner. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame – guilt at having strayed from his allegiances, shame at what little self-control he foresaw he would marshal – he bought three pints at a serious $7.00 each. Because it is an ice cream made with gelato technique, that is, with less air, the intensity of Choctál satisfies after only a single scoop. The price, therefore, is not outrageous.

The taste is absolute heaven.


There are four flavors of chocolate, each from a single region. The darkest is Dominican, a spiraling, swooning ascent into chocolate valhalla.

The most enticing to the Henry household was Ghana, which, though still a dark chocolate, concludes with a bright, joyful, almost fruity finish. The Madagascar vanilla is unequalled in delicacy of aroma.

When he recovers from rapture, Mr. Henry will face the inevitable melancholy. First, he will worry about his waistline. Second, he will brood. Will this mid-life dalliance lead to more perilous infidelities? His remorse will surely be dark and bitter.

May 19, 2007

Tiramisu & Stinky Accusations


Emboldened by freely wandering the antique byways of Rome, Little Henry’s friend Stinky launched an accusation that Mr. Henry will not permit to stand uncontested in this or any other forum:

“Mr. Henry talks a lot about cooking but never does any!”

Ha! Only weeks ago Mr. Henry prepared a tiramisu at home that even the skeptical Stinky admitted was a bona fide, authentic, and glorious tiramisu.

It wasn’t exactly cooking, mind you, because no heat was applied. But it greatly impressed the crowd. Here for his gentle reading public so long ignored because he has been re-arranging his life, his office, and his books, Mr. Henry offers up a recipe of sorts, or rather recipe guidelines, for la vera tiramisu di Signor Henry.

Don’t worry. The thing is failproof. You can fudge any proportion and it turns out just fine.

Mr. Henry’s Tiramisu

6 eggs
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
splash of scotch
1 large tub mascarpone (500g)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 package ladyfinger cookies (200g)

First brew some coffee quadruple strength (In deference to the children Mr. H. chose decaffeinated.) and let it cool to room temperature or colder. Grate some good chocolate like Scharffenberger, mixing half a bar of bittersweet withScharffen.jpg a modicum of unsweetened to intensify the flavor. Have close at hand, as well, a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. (Mr. Henry believes this to be sound advice for any recipe.) For this recipe, Mr. Henry chose The Macallan.

Separate six eggs. Whip the whites until stiff. Cream the yokes together with a cup (or more) of confectioners’ sugar, beating until the color becomes pale. You raw-egg worry-worts at home, please relax. The sugar preserves the egg. In the fridge the concoction will stay perfectly fresh far longer than it will survive repeated servings to you and yours.

Finally to the creamed yokes whip in a splash of scotch, dark rum, or any other spirit appropriate for a coffee, chocolate, and mascarpone confection. This last touch brings a perfume to the dish that separates it from a quotidian custard.

With big gestures and a big rubber spatula, lightly fold in the mascarpone and then the egg whites. Ecco! Mascarpone custard cream. Now you build.

Slice the ladyfingers in half lengthwise if you like. (This is a decision more of style than of taste.) Spread half of them loosely in a deep dish pan. Using a pastry brush soak them – yes, soak them – with coffee. [A Mr. Henry Dictum: Italian desserts must be either soggy or hard as brick.] Cover with a layer of mascarpone custard cream. Then cover the cream thoroughly with half the grated chocolate. Repeat the procedure to create a second story. Chill until set, at least three hours.

Mr. Henry is reminded of an equally false accusation hurled his way by his diminutive and opinionated life-long consort, Mrs. Henry, namely, that whenever he gets an idea for a new dish he feels compelled to purchase a new kitchen utensil. This is falseness itself! Mr. Henry always makes do with whatever is at hand. (A recent purchase of a Le Creuset oval enameled gratin pan was NOT an indulgence. Someday soon she will thank him for it, and mean it sincerely.)

As an example of his resourcefulness, on the morning after returning late from JFK he prepared a fine breakfast of marmalade and crackers borrowed from several of Italy’s nicer hotel breakfast baskets and conveyed trans-Atlantic in Aunt Bev’s backpack. Although there are grocery stores within walking distance of his apartment, Mr. Henry prefers not to conduct his marketing at 3:30 a.m., an hour when he receives stares from street strays and riff-raffy youth.

He prefers the adoring glances he believes he got in Florence from American college students envious of his casual insouciance and his fluency in Italian. He did not actually witness these glances, mind you, being too polite to stare slack-jawed at breathtakingly beautiful young women. Mr. Henry, you see, has faith in the unseen.


June 21, 2006

Ryo Takes the Cake

Filed under: Celebrity,Chocolate,Japanese Food — Mr. Henry @ 7:10 pm

At his opening party, Ryo Toyonaga posed with a cake perfectly crafted in imitation of his sculpture on display at Charles Cowles Gallery.

The photo is by the celebrated downtown chronicler Roxanne Lowit. The cake is by the Leonardo of desserts Sylvia Weinstock.

As a rule, Mr. Henry does not approve of foods that cause confusion. The very mention of fusion cuisine makes him reach for his pastry gun. This cake, however, was a masterpiece of tromp l’oeil.

April 9, 2006

Mr. Henry Eats Chocolate With a Knife.

Filed under: Chocolate,Japanese Food,Mr. Henry — Mr. Henry @ 2:22 pm

To be more accurate, he pierces it with a sharp-pointed dagger and picks up the pieces with his fingers.

Chocoholics please take note: The foil-wrapped bar of chocolate is a thing of the past. Now chocolate arrives en bloc.

Mr. Henry has eaten chocolate in many ways and many places but employing a dagger is a notable first. In doing so, he has changed his life to a small but not unimportant degree.

Would not Richard Lionheart after a romp with the dauphin have unsheathed his [other] dagger to carve himself a slice of mutton or cheese? (At “room temperature” in a northern European castle, cheese must have been desirably firm, and Scotch whisky’s ancestral concoction must have been at its perfect temperature, as well.)

Did not the great Alexander himself, peckish on a hill in Ctesiphon, eat his pickled eels with a dagger? (To have conquered the known world and still not have either Scotch or chocolate at your table seems to have been more a strategic than a tactical error, wouldn’t you agree?)

This connection with antiquity comes courtesy of the elves at Scharffen Berger whose block of bittersweet 70% cacao now sits out on a dedicated cutting board next to Mr. Henry’s cheeses.

Place the dagger point just behind the edge and push firmly. The chocolate yields very slowly at first. Then, like an iceberg calving, a geological morsel falls away.

When Neolithic man pushed his thumb against a reindeer antler on the face of his flint matrix, with only modest pressure he was able to pop off a flake as sharp as glass. Like those pressure flakes, each piece of daggered chocolate has edges and points, broad smooth parabolic planes and knobbly rough patches.

However, the temptation to snarf chocolate all day long must be long resisted, else Mr. Henry seek chocoholic counseling which he cannot afford. Lying on the counter, the dagger presents a primal attraction not unlike a putter, a pool cue, a Frisbee or a yo-yo. Before the mind is engaged, the hand reaches out.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Seizing the trend towards artisanal chocolate, last year the Hershey’s empire purchased Scharffen Berger, a Berkeley outfit started by a couple of Napa Valley oenophiles eager to explore the New World’s most pleasurably addictive food. Consequently their chocolate can be found now at their own boutique on Amsterdam Avenue brightly appointed in yellow and brown like a shop from 18th-century Turin (where chocolate was first drunk together with coffee — the divine biccerin).

Mr. Henry finds it curious that nowhere on the Scharffen Berger site can you find any mention of Hershey’s ownership. No matter. Mr. Henry does not divulge all the secrets of his past, either. He supposes that when John Scharffenberger sold his eponymous champenoise company, he sold the rights to his name, too — hence the new space between Scharffen and Berger.

For the record, Mr. Henry’s name is not currently for sale.

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