Monday, August 20, 2007


One of the benefits of food writing is eating. (Yes, I did just link to myself.) This is often done during an interview. At Restaurant Daniel, I had a madeleine that would've impressed Proust. At the French Culinary Institute, I sampled a consommé with morels out of Jacques Pépin's bowl. That said, it wasn't all haute cuisine. At some point during my interview with Pépin, the old-timer talked about the basics:

I tell young chefs particularly ... to work in depth rather than spreading out. By this I mean that you can take five very modern dishes, like a lobster roll and a hot dog and a hamburger if you want and a BLT sandwich or whatever, it doesn’t matter. There is always a way of doing it better. For example, in Connecticut where I live, on Route 1, there is a small place called The Clam Castle in Madison. It just opened in the summer.... The guy does a lobster roll with, what do you call it, a Philadelphia roll, the flat roll--we actually invented it in Howard Johnson--the hot dog roll. So he browned them on each side gently in butter. There is a nice crust on the outside. He opened it, put like close to half a pound of lobster in good butter inside, salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice. And Jean-Claude [Szurdak], after over 60 years as a chef, he’d [come] back to Connecticut and said, “Let’s go have a lobster roll.” He will remember that lobster roll. Likewise you will remember the greatest hamburger or hot dog or anything. You can always have a better mustard. You can always have a better bread. You can always have a better little thing. So, for a young chef, try to work in that direction, to do things better, rather than inventing a combination that no one has ever had.

Last Tuesday I went to The Clam Castle on Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut. The place is sort of a shack adorned with fishnets and harpoons. And for $12.99, I did in fact have one of the greatest lobster rolls ever. The meat was succulent and falling off the sides. (On the other hand, I would skip the clam fritters.) I also could not resist getting The Clam Castle t-shirt, which has printed on the back: "For Clamergencies, call 203-245-4911."

I think I'm having a clamergency right about now.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the article very much. I have always loved to cook, but only recently started delving into the world of restaurants and the personalities in the kitchen. The Food Network used to be instructive, but now I can hardly watch.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

How awesome is Restaurant Daniel? My wife and I go there every year for her birthday and sometimes twice for some other special occasion as well, and as yet have never been anything but thrilled with the meal.

Victorino Matus said...

Dear Hammer Player:

Restaurant Daniel is indeed truly amazing though I've only eaten dessert there. My wife and I had come by for after-dinner drinks and besides giving us a tour of the kitchen (spotless and silently running, needless to say), Daniel sat with us for a good twenty minutes chatting. At one point, my contact lens had become irritated and Daniel got up and told the bartender to fetch a bottle of rewetting drops, which he produced five minutes later. Not only is Daniel a great restaurant, I told him, but it's a good pharmacy too!

(In passing I mentioned I was taking my two aunts out for brunch the next morning at Café Boulud. The next day, after our meal, I asked for the check repeatedly until a manager told me the brunch was on the house--they refused my credit card though I did leave a nice tip. And fortunately I was not reviewing his restaurant--in which case I would not have been able accept his generosity.)

Anonymous said...

I live in Long Beach CA (just beneath Los Angeles, where the ocean is correctly located to the south of the land mass, just as it is in Connecticut), and every time I return to New England, I make sure my first (and also my last) stop is in Madison at the Clam Castle ("In case of Clamergencies. . ."). While there are some items of food that Southern California does quite well, when it comes to fried clams, the local versions rate almost as poorly as what passes in L.A. as "pizza". Also, the T-shirts are now a collector's item (thanks to me, who buys out the remaining stock at the end of the season and brings them back to LB). The BEST fried clams (with bellies, thank you very much) in the whole wide world! I'm flying back in 10 days from now, and my family knows exactly where to drive me directly to!