Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Les Halles

Alex Brown of Counter Culture and Lindsay ponder their choices.

It's getting late after La Marzocco Out of the Box and I'm running out of places to dine. Fatty Crab won't answer their phone and there doesn't seem to be a decent place to eat in the Meatpacking District since Florent closed.

As with any trip to New York, I've got Les Halles on the mind. Ever since their Washington DC outpost closed, I've been lost and without a regular old brasserie to dine. So many places want to fancy it up or give it an "American" twist. How about a simple onglet and excellent fries? Maybe a little foie gras on the side?

Kimmy and Aaron Ultimo of Ultimo Coffee do the same.

Luckily, Les Halles always delivers and I'm planning a cross town excursion with Team Spro. The only problem is that it's raining and a real pain in the butt to hail a cab in the rain. After waiting half an hour, Kimmy puts it to the metal and we're off to the subway, switching trains and walking across blocks and up and down stairs in the rain and humidity. As we emerge from the ground right next to the entrance of Les Halles, I'm soaked.

Joining us tonight is Kent Bakke of La Marzocco, Aaron Ultimo - The Coffee Lord of Philadelphia, Alex Brown of Counter Culture and Vince Fedele, the developer of the much touted Extract Mojo - along with usual suspects Lindsay and Kimmy.

Foie Gras Poele aux Pommes - sauteed with apple, walnuts & calvado.

The food is never too esoteric at Les Halles, and that's just the way I like it. Give me a lobe of foie gras sauteed with some kind of fruit, a grilled chunk of hanger steak, a pile of crispy fries and a bowl of coconut ice cream, and I'm absolutely thrilled.

Everyone else had a range of plates from stuffed ravioli to sausage and more steak. A nice way to cap off a coffee visit to the city.

Vince Fedele of Extract Mojo fame with La Marzocco's Kent Bakke.

Onglet aux Poive - off menu.

Our wine - Mas du Roches, Cote du Rhone

My favorite: coconut glaces.

Death Match

Lindsay, Kimmy, Wiggles and Devlin listen to the Death Match rules.

Death Match.

Even the words conjure fear in the hearts of gladiators.

Tonight is the La Marzocco Hand Brew Death Match pitting baristas against each other in a mano y mano fight to the death for prizes. The person with the highest scores for presentation, taste and Extract Mojo scores wins.

A modicum of pilfering accompanies any coffee event.

Almost as many brew methods as Spro Hampden. Almost.

Koach Kimmy and Devlin in a pre-Death Match warm up.

I don't want to know and didn't want to ask.

Lindsay working the Eva Solo.

Counter Culture's Phil Proteau flexing his chops.

Kimmy preps her station.

Almost ready.

A certain amount of concentration and meditation is required for brewing Chemex.

Vince Fedele running the Extract Mojo.

Devlin in perfect Aeropress form.

Mike, Vince and Mike representing Hotel California Tequila.

Spro Girls Steal La Marzocco Banner.

Riding In Cabs With Baristas

Kuidouraku Ramen

La Marzocco Out of the Box

Lindsay, Devlin, Kimmy and Phil work out the kinks on the new Strada.

Back (or front?) panel.

Grouphead pressure gauge on the manual Strada.

We're in New York City for the La Marzocco Out of the Box event showcasing the up-coming Strada. Already I know we're going to buy one. We end up parking next to Chelsea Market, perusing the shops and find the venue. As we stop in to say hello, Mike Lanz and Mike Delgado are encouraging us to jump on the machine and have a go. A quick call later to Devlin and Kimmy and our crew is assembled to play around a bit.

What was meant to be a five minute pit stop on the way to do a cafe crawl turns into an hours long session checking out the machines. I'm grateful because it's quite difficult to get any serious facetime with a machine in a trade show or group setting - and Kimmy seems to be putting the Strada through it's paces.

A cool modded Buono kettle. Seems like I'm the only one who thought it was cool.

Pressure profiling, the possibilities seem immense. So much so that I don't spend much time on the machine because I think that one needs to spend days/weeks of serious focus with the machine in order to discover its possibilities. Instead of trying to evaluate the machine with unknown coffees on different grinders and in a crazy environment, I've committed to buying one, bringing it into Spro and really have a go with the Strada.

While some people have encouraged me to go for the manual model, I think the true potential lies in the electronic version. On that machine, we can "record" the pressure profile and/or manipulate it via computer, save it, download and dump the profile to other groupheads or other machines.

And while I'm certain that our baristas are capable of reproducing a pressure curve manually, I don't want them to do that on a daily basis. A line barista needs to focus on getting the drinks out speedily, efficiently and consistently. By utilizing the programmability of the Strada, our baristas can then multi-task while preparing the drinks - like getting the milk staged, pre-heating the cup, grinding the coffee, wiping the station, and the myriad of other tasks that the professional barista must handle on a minute-by-minute basis.

Industry types watch Kimmy with grand expectations.

The Laser-like Focus.

Pedal this bike and control the espresso machine pressure.

No "Thank You" Ninth Street

Third Wave baristas everywhere are up in arms about the comments La Colombe's Todd Carmichael wrote in Esquire magazine. And while Carmichael's claim to make good coffee might be hollow, is he wrong about Third Wave barista attitudes?

Our stop at Ninth Street Espresso yielded us surly female baristas who choose to toss out simple courtesies such as "thank you."

At least the barista pulling our shots was a hair more courteous than the one at the register.

The Lobster Place

Jacques Torres

This Lid Makes Us Grumpy

We're in New York City for the La Marzocco Out of the Box event and found our way to the Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea where they have chosen lids with a wide lip that are uncomfortable for drinking.

Why? It's levels of finesse that are missing in the coffee industry.