Lee Wolen of acclaimed Chicago restaurant Boka takes us through his beloved NYC foods and chefs, and tells us why he can’t find a favorite Mexican restaurant in the city.
Boka chef Lee Wolen.
Chef Lee Wolen knows New York dining—after all he spent three years as the sous chef at the city’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. But the Ohio native moved back to his Midwest home turf and now works as executive chef/partner at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Boka (1729 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-337-6070). This week, Wolen is back in NYC for his Michelin Star dinner at the James Beard House.
At the dinner on Thursday (December 17, 7 p.m.; members $130, general public $170; tickets on jamesbeard.org), Wolen will serve hors d'oeuvres like crispy nori with crab and avocado, and mains like marinated yellowtail with fennel, almonds, and persimmons paired with decadent wines. We asked Wolen for his NYC dining picks, and found out why he has yet to find a favorite Mexican spot in NYC.
What is your favorite place to eat in New York, and what do you order there? LEE WOLEN: My favorite place to eat when I’m in NYC is Xi’an Famous Foods. I always order their liang pi cold-skin noodles.
In your opinion, who is a rising-star chef to watch in New York? LW: Abram Bissell of The Modern.
If you could have dinner with any New York chef, dead or alive, who would it be? LW: Eric Ripert!
What New York City neighborhood do you think has the best food scene? LW: Honestly, I think they are all special in their own way. All neighborhoods are very different and I don’t think one is better over the other.
What are you most looking forward to about the James Beard Foundation event? LW: I’m really looking forward to cooking in a place that is so valued by the culinary world. I’m honored to be able to cook there on behalf of my restaurant, Boka.
Can you share one of your signature recipes with us? LW: One of my favorite recipes is our chilled white gazpacho with strawberries and almonds. It’s easy to make at home either for yourself or when you’re entertaining.
What kind of food does New York need more of? LW: I think New York could use more Mexican restaurants. I haven’t found my favorite spot for Mexican yet and I think it is because there aren’t as many options!
Chilled White Gazpacho with Strawberries and Almonds
4 cups green grapes, washed 2.5 cups English cucumber, peeled and diced 1/4 cup green pepper, seeded and diced 1/2 cup almonds, toasted 1/4 cup baguette, crust removed 2 sprigs tarragon 1/4 cup olive oil 4 Tablespoons sherry vinegar 3 Tablespoons salt
1 loaf of baguette 1 cup chopped cucumber 1/2 cup sliced grapes 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
In a large bowl, marinate everything for 6-8 hours making sure the bread is completely soggy from the oil and vinegar. Remove tarragon, purée in blender on high and strain. Season with more salt if needed. Garnish with cucumber, grapes, and almonds.