We've started the New Year right by revising our menu and adding some interesting specials -pheasant fricassee with braised red cabbage and a mushroom strudel just to name two. Mushroom strudel made the menu in a fun way which illustrates Rick's spontaniety and the adaptability of our kitchen. Sarah called from the Marche Central one morning to say that morel mushrooms were in - I said to bring back half a kilo. Later that afternoon I went upstairs to rest before evening service and read a bit of "Kitchen Confidential." In it Anthony Bourdain referred to another chef's Mushroom Strudel as being one of his favorites. I came downstairs, Googled mushroom strudel and came up with a delicious-sounding recipe. Not even translating it into French or converting to metric I ran it to the kitchen and gave it to El Baz, our pastry chef. He made an absolutely divine puff pastry roll which was put on the menu immediately. A few days before New Year's I came downstairs through the kitchen and one of the waiters said there were two Americans who had come to surprise me. Very curious, I entered the dining room and there at Table 9 were Mary and Norman Tolman from Tokyo! I was absolutely floored, and speechless for a nanosecond. They had seen the New York Times and CNN pieces and were determined to work Casablanca into their travel schedule…which was done when they decided to have Christmas in Paris.
Mary and Norman's gallery in Tokyo was one of my favorite places, and they became great friends. As Norman had left the U.S. foreign service to open their gallery, I loved hearing some of their early stories and found a real common thread with some of my own. They came back after New Year's and trekked with me to the Marche Central one morning. We had oysters provided by Zohra, and Norman so appreciated her generosity he went to buy her a rose. "Take it, it's a gift, " said the flower seller. On to Michel, the fish dealer. There they saw manta ray, cleaned and skinned. They exclaimed they always ate it at Chez Figaro in Tokyo with browned butter, capers and lemon. Michel encouraged us to take some and try it as it was economical and easy to prepare. We took it back and had it prepared for lunch - Hicham the chef now used to these sudden impulses. It was delicious, and is now on the new menu. That night they came back to dinner prior to their 1:30am flight to Frankfurt to connect for New York…both making mental notes to opt for the RAM nonstop on the next visit! **Picture of us with Tolmans** I'm hoping to see more old and new friends in 2005, and I wish the best to all of you.