An Eater Critic’s Night Out With TikTok Food Influencer @stephtravels_nyc

During my first visit to Zou Zou’s, a clubby Eastern Mediterranean restaurant that specializes in flaming cheese platters and $130 riffs on halal-cart-style street meat, I invite along someone like me: a fellow anonymous restaurant reviewer — of sorts. As the waiter brings over a glammed-up meze platter, my companion, the person behind the TikTok account @stephtravels_nyc, whips out a device known as a Lume Cube and starts filming our appetizer.

The period of filming is not brief.

Steph — who asked to be identified by her first name only, citing general privacy as well as a corporate day job — pans her iPhone slowly around a collection of elegant ramekins: carefully swirled hummus with black garlic, kabocha squash with sliced almonds, and green tahini under white foam. The panning takes over 120 seconds. The Manhattan-based TikToker has brought along her friend Olimpia, an engineering student, to manipulate the handheld lighting as she films. Perhaps, at some point while dining out, you’ve accidentally let the flash go off while photographing your rigatoni or whatever, turning heads at nearby tables and creating a bit of momentary embarrassment? Imagine letting that flash go off for two minutes straight.

@stephtravels_nyc’s dining companion lights up a platter with a handheld light.

A waiter comes up, presumably to check on how we’re enjoying our first bites. This is for naught, as no one has tasted anything yet. By the third minute, Steph and her assistant are engaging in slow motion depictions of dredging soft bazlama bread through chickpea foam. The light is still on. Around the fourth minute, a manager comes up and asks us to see if we can try to blind fellow patrons a bit less, while also noting the restaurant is into… whatever it is we’re doing. I am petrified by the minor scene we’re causing, to the point that I consider retreating to a bathroom stall with a strong martini. “We’re shameless,” Steph says.

It isn’t until the fifth minute that we start eating. What had just occurred is the most intense flurry of hand posing, lighting, arranging, filming, and

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Food Critics: A sneak peek at new spots coming to the Kansas City food scene | KCUR 89.3

Restaurants are still struggling with supply chain and staffing issues but food writer Jenny Vergara believes owners are “hopeful that, going forward, people will return to restaurants and that there will be some sort of sense of normality as we continue to figure out how to deal with this moving forward.”

Vergara notes that “this is the time of year that’s pretty sleepy,” so while waiting for spring to arrive, she offers this rundown of food and drink establishments set to open in the metro in 2022.

If you can’t wait that long to dine out, Jenny also offers a few places you can enjoy now.

Acre: Opening this spring

This spring, chef Andrew Longres will open his first restaurant, Acre, up north in the Parkville Commons shopping center in the spot where the former New London Café once operated. Named after his grandfather’s farm in Liberty, Missouri, Longres’ restaurant will serve modern Midwestern cuisine with all ingredients strictly sourced from this region and prepared on a live-fire, Argentinian brasero-style hearth that can be seen from the dining room. Having worked both locally as the executive chef at the now-shuttered Bluestem and The American Restaurant and nationally at the acclaimed French Laundry in California, Longres will focus on hearty entrées featuring locally sourced beef, pork, chicken, duck and game, when in season. His dishes will use live-fire cooking to add flavor to each dish, with a fresh focus on sides that include handmade pastas and a rotating mix of seasonal vegetables. The bar program will have locally made beers and spirits with a thoughtful list of wines from around the world. Although his roots may be in fine dining, Acre will be a much more casual affair, as Longres wants his place to be a neighborhood spot where families can come and dine together. Acre, 6325 Lewis St., Parkville, Missouri

Brady & Fox: Opening this March

Chefs Shaun Brady and Graham Fox have been cooking together for many years – but always working for someone else. From their time at The Ambassador Hotel to Brady’s Tavern, these two friends

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Six of our critic’s favorite new food books

At year’s end, with the all-consuming project — our annual guide to L.A.’s 101 best restaurants — behind me and some holiday downtime forthcoming, it’s a pleasure to turn my attention briefly from restaurants to excellent, recently published cookbooks and food-focused literature. There are many, and I’ll continue to highlight standouts in this space in the coming months. Here are six favorites that are as immersive and rousing to read as they are to cook from — ideal for last-minute gifts, or as a personal escape in these exhausting times.

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Food stylist, photographer and culinary tour guide Hisham Assaad wrote his first cookbook, a celebration and archive of the foodways of Beirut, during two catastrophic years in Lebanon: an ongoing economic and political unraveling that accelerated in 2019 (and continues today), followed by the pandemic and worsened by the explosion in the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. Assaad doesn’t sidestep or sugarcoat these realities as he illuminates the cultural fundaments that endure. Reading the introduction, you want to amble the city’s streets with him, studying the pastiche of architecture, maybe stopping for soujouk (Armenian sausage) and ending with a drink in Mar Mikhael. The recipes include the street foods closely associated with Lebanese cooking (falafel, shawarma, savory pies). Even more valuable for home cooks are the sustaining family-style dishes that express the soul of the cuisine. Start with the simple fasoulya wa riz (fragrantly spiced lamb stew with rice) and an autumnal variation of kibbeh made with pumpkin.

"Black Food" by Bryant Terry

“‘Black Food’ is a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora,” Bryant Terry writes as a preamble to the absorbing anthology with recipes he edited. The book, beautifully photographed and illustrated, overlaps essays, poems and dishes from more than 100 contributors; it’s a collection into which you can disappear for a long afternoon, gripped by one clarion voice after another.

Chapters have powerful, self-evident themes (their subjects deepened by the pandemic and 2020’s

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