Category Archives: Dining

Felix Salmon Is An Idiot

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[Photo courtesy Eater NY]

It’s pretty much impossible to overstate how much of an idiot Felix Salmon is. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Many of Felix’s opinions, published on myriad platforms at unexpected moments, strike me as smart and correct. But that’s a headline and lede I’ve always wanted to type, and Felix has offered the perfect opening with his deeply misguided Medium essay today about developer Aby Rosen’s decision to turn the kitchen and front of house at Manhattan’s iconic Four Seasons restaurant over to the power trio behind the Major Food Group: Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone, and Jeff Zalaznick.

Two personal memories of The Four Seasons. My first-ever visit there, invited by a flack to a business lunch with some chief executive something back when I covered telecom for a trade magazine in the late 1990s. I was ascending the carpeted stairs up to the dining room level when David Stern brushed past me on his way down the stairs. David Stern! The commissioner of the NBA! Way cooler than one’s average Hollywood celebrity sighting, to my mind then (and now), and a sure indicator of a true power lunch spot.

Second memory is from 2006. Eater had turned a year old, and someone in PR at The Four Seasons thought it a good idea to invite Leventhal and Steele in to have lunch and meet the front of house svengali, Julian Niccolini. After we’d been seated, Julian came over and joined our table. As the extremely animated conversation unfolded — Niccolini is not a quiet, reserved man — it became clear that he had only the vaguest idea of what Eater was. This frankly delighted me, as did his subsequent move in which he proffered a giant white truffle, then shaved more of it over our twin pastas than I have ever seen in one meal in my life, before or since, while screaming ecstatically throughout. After which he was off like a rabbit, hopping from table to table, bestowing truffles and good cheer throughout his kingdom.

That sort of showmanship epitomizes Niccolin’s Four Seasons, a place that every day features more wattage of the David Stern variety than any lunch spot in New York. Which is why it’s all quite amusing to read Felix’s take on the restaurant, which boils down to his analysis that The Four Seasons is a mausoleum that happens to serve food.

That the rooms comprising The Four Seasons — designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, the architects of the Seagram Building on whose lower floors the restaurant sits — are modern masterpieces is self-evident. That they are also landmarked, and hence unable to be tampered much with in any meaningful way, is also clear. “I think we are respecting and celebrating,” Rosen told Jeff Gordinier, mentioning plans to upgrade the lighting and the leather upholstery. Gordinier: “He stressed that any changes would be cosmetic, saying, ‘You won’t walk in there and say, ‘What the hell has happened here?’” Say it ain’t so!

Probably the biggest aesthetic decision awaiting the Carbone/Torrisi team faces is whether to retain the Garth Huxtable service pieces. As Pete Wells correctly points out, the newcomers would be fools not to, and I predict that they will. In fact, I’ll predict that pretty much everything about the current Four Seasons experience remains the same under new management, with one major exception: the food.

To Felix, that the food at The Four Seasons is terrible is somehow part of the charm of the place: “Is it French? Is it American?” he asks. “The answer is: nobody really cares. There’s more than enough reason to dine at the Four Seasons already; the last thing it needs is foodies.”

While I couldn’t agree more that the last thing any place or anyone needs is foodies, certainly it’s not too much to ask in 2015 that the restaurant have food worth eating. And the Carbone/Torrisi team brings that in spades. And while Felix characterizes their style as big, it’s a word that really only fits Carbone and, to an extent, Dirty French. The first Torrisi was, if anything, too small, and what they’ve got going over at Santina right now is festive more than it is large. The thread pulling their empire together, however, is the excellence of the food.

There are people out there who don’t like the brashness of the Torrisi boys; I get that. But that brashness is more a personal critique than it is a critique of their restaurants. And I predict that they will find just the right person to run the Front of House — an absolutely critical piece, as Sifton notes — one who can keep the billionaires as content as they were yesterday, except now they’ll actually be eating good food.

Finally, this strange aside from Felix — “No one would object if [Team Torrisi], say, took over the space at Eleven Madison Park” — deserves comment. Because first, uh, what? And second, because the Eleven Madison Park team of Daniel Humm and Will Guidera are in fact working towards opening what appears to be their own play at a midtown power lunch spot. The restaurant will be a double-height beauty designed by — wait for it — Sir Norman Foster. Here’s an actual quote from the developer: “It will be Four Seasons on steroids for the 21st Century.”

Some people purport to really like the service touches of the Guidera/Humm empire. Personally, I find them cloying and overly precious. I predict the billionaires will feel the same way, and that the reborn Carbone/Torrisi Four Seasons (under a new name, of course) will not only keep what everyone loves about the current restaurant but also won’t feel the need to juice its service with steroids to stand out.

The fun part is, we’ll only have to wait a few years to find out who’s right and wrong about all of this. Felix, care to wager?

Philly Part II: Zahav!

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[Hummus at Zahav, sooooo good.]

One other really cool thing happened at VAX last week: all the senior editorial leaders of Vox Media got together for the first time since the Recode acquisition. To make it a little more interesting, we did so at a Philadelphia restaurant that I’ve wanted to eat at since forever: Zahav. (Credit Amanda Kludt for making it all happen.)

Eater’s roving critic Bill Addison dropped by Zahav last summer and said the restaurant “defines Israeli cuisine in America.” We didn’t get as pure a Zahav experience as Bill did, given that we had a set menu for our 20-person group, but everything that came out of the kitchen amazed, starting with what Bill terms the “ubiquitous” hummus, which was anything but. Plates of mezze followed — carrots, beets, eggplant, more — and then skewers of deliciousness. That lamb!

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I only managed these two photos of the food amidst the merriment and chaos of the moment (Bill’s review has more shots). Chaos? Yeah so it was while the Verge and Recode teams were on the train to Philly from NYC that the news dropped about Dick Costolo stepping down as Twitter’s CEO. Which meant that when I walked into the private dining room at Zahav, there was Kara Swisher sitting on the floor against the far wall, madly typing and waiting for the call from Dick that resulted in this story. There was Peter Kafka, in a vestibule off the dining room, typing away on a glowing screen in the fading light of the day. And at the dining table, Ed Lee and Kenneth Li had both set up workstations where they were editing and publishing updates while the rest of us sipped our first cocktails.

My takeaway: These people are going to be a lot of fun to work with. (Also: go to Zahav.)

Vax Editlead dinner. Buttoned up but loose.

A photo posted by Lockhart Steele (@lock) on

Los Angeles and #eyg15

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On Monday, Eater hosted its annual Young Guns event at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, CA. This created a reasonable excuse for me to spend the weekend in Los Angeles, which I did.

Los Angeles is always great, but I’m over Abbott Kinney. This kills me, given the amount of time I’ve spent on Venice’s main drag over the past decade-plus, starting with a night sometime around Y2K at The Brig, when it was pretty much the only establishment on upper AK (or at least felt that way). Add in two dozen lunches at Gjelina, great dinners at The Tasting Room, and endless nights finished with MOP at Hal’s, and, well, I feel like I grew up in LA alongside Abbott Kinney.

But now Hal’s has shuttered (seriously, wtf) and walking down Abbott Kinney on Saturday afternoon, the sheer mass of humanity felt as dense and annoying as pushing through the crowds on 41st Street. There’s a Vince about to open, too, not too far from that giant Intelligencia.

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Though AK may have passed into its precitable adulthood, much of the rest of Venice is still growing up. I bedded down for the weekend at a friends’ place north and east of Abbott Kinney, a short walk from the year-old Superba Food & Bread. I walked in there Friday afternoon for a late lunch to find Alex Blagg and Neel Shah in a corner, writing, natch. Ordered the soft shell crab sandwich, above — a far more manageable take on Lafayette’s massive entire-crab-sticking-out beast — indeed, Superba’s is perhaps the perfect take on this dish. I dig Superba so much that I lunched there Saturday and Sunday too. This wasn’t a restaurant-checklist kind of trip, for whatever reason. (Sanity.)

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Stuck around Venice for dinner on Friday night, dining at the nearly-empty back counter at Gjusta. Dinner is a new offering at this uberhyped Gjelina spinoff, and no one knows about it so the crowds that haunt this hall in the mornings and at lunch are nowhere to be seen at night. Food-wise, the seafood stew (above) is fantastic, and the salads, chicken liver pate, and the like that Mimi and I shared were all spot-on. No liquor license as yet, though they’re gathering signatures at the register; NB dinner ends at 9pm.

I’d be thrilled to have Gjusta right near home, but not everyone is. LA Weekly food critic Besha Roddel hit upon this in her review of the place last week, which echoes my feelings on the hood: “Gjusta’s sister restaurant Gjelina is in some ways a symbol of the vast difference between Abbot Kinney now and the Abbot Kinney of an older, weirder Venice, and so to some residents Gjusta feels like the beginning of the end, the bringer of yuppies and even higher rents… It may or may not become a full-fledged restaurant. Either way, Venice’s gentrified future marches on, and this particular future tastes better than many of the alternatives.” The woman is not wrong.

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The rest of the weekend? Saturday night dinner at Sushi Zo downtown with the Webber; it’s pretty much the perfect omakase if the price can be stomached. Sunday hiking in Malibu with Mere and new friend Wyatt, followed by early evening oysters and beer at Blue Plate Oysterette on Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica (above). Sunday later-evening dinner found Team Eater at the reliable Rustic Canyon Wine Bar up Wilshire.

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The trip wrapped with its highlight, Eater Young Guns, aka #eyg15. Enough ink has been spilled on Eater not to spill more here (though do check out Eater’s package about the worthy 2015 winners). So, final bits: this was the most delicious thing I ate all night (and perhaps all year), the chefs were all amazing, and the afterparty hang down the street from the Viceroy at oldschool Santa Monica bar Chez Jay (above) was the perfect capper.

Until next year.

Momofuku Ko Wine Table

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Joanne has the practice of not naming anyone she dines with on her blog. Admirable restraint. Here, it’s the opposite: if we’re dining together, expect to get namechecked. In fact, expect more than that: after a few more months, we’re reviving Ken’s genius idea from back in the day and finding out who the various personages here can take in a fight. Stick around for that; good times assured.

Long way of saying that I went to a very special dinner at the new Momofuku Ko on Extra Place in the East Village last week with Joanne and Ken and Michelle and Lindsey, and Joanne beat me to blogging it. As per usu, Joanne’s got the complete rundown, so I won’t double up effort here. The crux of the thing is that the new MomoKo has two six-person tables adjacent to the horseshoe-bar where patrons normally dine, and executive chef Sean Gray and team are creating an experience that’s entirely different from the “normal” MomoKo deal — which, based on a friends and family tasting back in November, remains sublime unto itself.

Dave Chang explained it to me thusly: “I want the people at the bar to be jealous of the people at the tables, and I want the people at the tables to be jealous of the people at the bar.”

And so it shall be, eventually. We were only the second party to dine at the tables, which are being crafted as a wine-first experience by MomoSomm extraordinaire Jordan Salcito. Jordan and I talked in the days leading up to the dinner and picked four amazing wines to accompany what turned out to be a nine-course meal, depending on how you count things like amuses and canapes. Everything was a highlight, but especially the raw platter…

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… which everyone couldn’t not Instagram, even as Jordan and Sean looked on…

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… because the thing was it was a GIANT FISH STUFFED WITH SASHIMI, and that’s sort of the thing that in my experience one is drawn to Instagram. Pity the amazing uni atop pureed watercress, served with this course but in separate bowls, that didn’t merit the photographic attention.

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We were told there’d be pie, but who knew it would be meat pie, even after they showed us two perfectly roasted pheasants then severed up cuts from them alongside, both bathed in foie gras and black truffle sauce? If this isn’t one of my five favorite courses of 2015, then 2015 will have been a really, really good year.

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And that after that, we’d get an entire Tribute to an American Steakhouse, with creamed spinach encased in parker house rolls and twice-baked potatoes served along with the New York Strip? And yet, like Joanne, I wasn’t overly full either. It’s possible we’ve genetically adapted in some unforeseen way; studies to follow.

We finished with dessert and then canapes and still more wine. Mercy. All-in, we came to this conclusion: the Momo folks are crazier than ever, and God bless them for it.

Cosme

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[Duck carnitas at Cosme; photo by Daniel Krieger for Eater]

One goal for this blog is to use only photography taken by yours truly, but that’s not going to work for Cosme, the stunning Mexican restaurant from famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera that opened last fall. Cosme is shoehorned into one of those mid-block spaces endemic to the Flatiron which feature a small wall of windows facing the street and a space that stretches back into a forever darkness behind. This layout works well for few places, but it works at Cosme, especially since the owners torn down a wall halfway back in the restaurant that initially separated the bar area from the dining room. It’s a dark room, to be sure, but it works for the food, which is pretty much universally agreed to be great.

I’ve had two big meals at Cosme over the past two months, the most recent in the restaurant’s private dining room with a group of eight. Even more than the restaurant itself, the PDR is a dark den, made worse by the lack of noise baffles that made our dinner an echoey cacophony. At most restaurants, this would have been a huge problem. But the Cosme team made up for it as it does, with the food.

I haven’t had a bad dish at Cosme — or even a mediocre one. Everything here shines. Our PDR dinner was divided into five courses, with two or three family-style offerings per course. Course one, seafood: scallop aguachile, smoked raw sepia, octopus cocktail. Course two, vegetables: eggplant tamal, white ayocote bean sald, burrata with salsa verde and weeds. Course three, more seafood: broiled red snapper, half lobster pibil. Then, finally, the meat, which while fish and vegetables star here, must be seen to be believed. Which is why I’m putting Krieger’s photo of the duck carnitas at the top of this post (equally worthy are the other parts of our the fourth course: cobia al pastor and the New York strip steak tacos).

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The one photo I took that wasn’t terrible was the dessert course seen above (clockwise from top): husk meringue with corn mousse, sweet potato flan, and a chocolate ganache with mezcal and blood orange. As good as the rest of the meal was, this course may have been the highlight.

As our dinner wound down, someone in our crew spotted Pete Wells eating in the dining room. He hasn’t yet filed for the Times on Cosme. The immediate debate that erupted at our table about whether the place would get three stars — it couldn’t get four, right? Right? — recalled the early days of BruniBetting. And confirmed Cosme as a restaurant worthy of all the chatter it’s receiving.

A Defense of Schiller’s

Well, he was.

I am duty-bound to respond. Which I did immediately with a Schiller’s playbook tweetstorm. But the more I thought about it — and the more the Eater team prodded me — the more I realized I had more to say on the matter. So I wrote a blog post intended for publication in this space.

Under new terms and conditions recently negotiated with Eater’s Amanda Kludt, however, I offered right of first refusal on the Schiller’s blog post to the Eater NY team. They accepted. Which is why my Defense of Schiller’s now appears over there, my first blog post for the Big E since relaunch.

You mad? Stay mad.

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Tuesday’s List, Mostly Restaurants Edition

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Harder than it looks. Fell off the wagon hard last week in the depths of Eater bug-crushing. Still trying to find a rhythm to this practice. Typing this while on a conference call (suboptimal).

URBANSPACE
They’re the main competitors to the Smorgasburg team, and far lesser known from a brand perspective despite having been at it for a whole lot longer. (This NYTimes story comparing the two is a nice balanced read.) UrbanSpace opened a two-block stretch called UrbanSpace Garment District a block from the Vox NY office in mid-September, and it’s been nothing short of a miracle for midtown lunching. If you work nearby, because you read this blog, I share with you a top-secret research document created by the 10th Floor of Vox Media that may well change your life as it has changed ours.

ALDO SOHM WINE BAR
AKA, How to Up Your Midtown Game for Fall. Across the courtyard from Le Bernardin, its longtime sommelier (and great guy) Aldo Sohm gets his own wine bar. The space is midtown to the core — high ceilings, cool metallic finishes, everyone in suits. But the seating options are nicely varied: there’s a large central sofa that wraps around the middle of the room; high boys on the sides, and a wine table/bar at the back of the room. Night we were there, Eric Ripert was roaming the room, greeting the crowd. That’s because there’s a small menu, too; the $6/per chicken drumsticks, coq au vin style, highly recommended.

BIRDS & BUBBLES
Is Sarah Simmons’ new eatery, tucked into the subterranean space that used to be Grotto on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side. We’ve known Sarah since before she started CityGrit, so can’t possibly be even-handed about this, but our group dinner at Birds & Bubbles a few weeks back blew our group away. Nothing remained in the two fried chicken baskets. The challenge here will be overcoming the space, which breaks Ben Leventhal’s rule of subterranean dining (namely, that people don’t want to do it, for some unnatural spidey-sense reason). Perhaps, like Lure, Birds & Bubbles can break the mold.

ATERA
Ryan Sutton gave it four stars today on Eater; I’ve never eaten here and can’t imagine wanting to, despite the convenient Tribeca location. (Okay, maybe the Lounge Burger for $20. Maybe.)

MICHELIN STARS
It’s reckoning day in the world of NYC restaurants, as establishments find out their Michelin stars, or lack thereof. Amazing to me how huge a deal this remains in the industry (and, sure, the media). That said, surveying this year’s list, I’m on board with Blanca’s elevation to two, very happy to see a group of places I love get one (La Vara, Betony, Pok Pok, The River Cafe), and on board with the Sushi Nakazawa shutout (am I the only Eater staffer ever not to love my meal there?).

IPHONE 6
Don’t own it yet. Calm down, people who keep seeing me and asking me if I’ve upgraded yet since my public proclamation to do so. It’s standard operating procedure to wait a month to ensure against (a) critical early hardware problems; (b) critical early software problems. I’m targeting a trip to the West Coast in mid-October as ideal upgrade time. Stand by. Meantime, full credit to Fred Wilson for this. Intrigued to see the outcome.

Fall Dining: Dirty French

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The hottest restaurant of the early Fall season is Dirty French. I know this not just because I read Eater — although its coverage certainly offers plenty of hints — but because of my inbox, which at this second contains emails from three separate friend groups all plotting ways to convene at Dirty French as quickly and frequently as possible. In this, I wholeheartedly support them.

The restaurant is the latest from the Torrisi/Carbone team of Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone; the duo are taking a divide-and-conquer approach to their expansion, so Rich is in the kitchen at Dirty French while Mario plans to take the helm at their long-awaited restaurant adjacent to the new Whitney at the High Line. Dirty French is situated inside Sean MacPherson’s new Ludlow Hotel, which finally animated the deserted high-risk husk of a building at the top of Ludlow Street that’s sat vacant and unfinished since the real estate downturn. The vibe is classic MacPherson, more similar to the Bowery Hotel than one might expect given his triumph at The Marlton; wood beams wouldn’t have been my move on the Lower East Side, but hey, this is the new new Lower East Side and if wood beams are the thing then wood beams are the thing.

I’ve dined at Dirty French twice, once walking in and sitting at the bar, and last night at a full-fledged, fuck-yeah-it’s-Tuesday-Night dinner. I loved both meals. The trick, of course, is getting in.

Though I am hesitant to contradict something Eater wrote just yesterday, it should be noted that the walk-in dine-at-bar move can be pulled off right now at Dirty French, if you know what you’re doing. (I dined in this manner on Saturday night, and had two friends successfully echo the move on Monday night.) The trick is to play nice with the front of house staff manning the podium by the door, then make your way past them with minimal fuss and settle in at the surprisingly uncrowded bar. Then ask for a menu — the barstaff seems particularly nice for a restaurant this hot, which is a huge bonus — and get going. Your bar order: the ham (served Momofuku-style), a plate of oysters, and then take it from there.

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If you’re amused that I explained the how-to-eat-at-Dirty-French move as essentially “dine at the bar” — well, you’ll see it’s not quite that simple or assured if you give it a whirl. And in a few weeks, when the restaurant is totally overwhelmed, it won’t even be a remote possibility. So now is the window. Go.

Restaurant of the Summer 2014

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[Photo by Daniel Krieger/Eater]

Everyone knows that Charlie Bird was the Restaurant of the Summer for New York City in 2013. So who wears the crown in 2014?

Each restaurant of the summer contender shares a few key characteristics. First, it opens for business sometime in the spring or early summer, no later than July 1. Second, it’s got a design and vibe that feels like summer, and ideally even a certain take on a certain kind of summer. Third, delicious food. And finally, it must be the kind of place you find yourself going back to without really thinking about it.

Back in June, I had a great dinner at The Clam on Hudson, a seafood restaurant from Market Table’s Mike Price. But I didn’t find myself going back. The first time I went to Team Carmellini’s Bar Primi on The Bowery, though, I knew I’d be back again. And I was, hitting it up on consecutive Monday/Tuesday/Mondays, three straight weeks. It took until the second time there to learn that the the dish to order is the Fiore di Carciofi (above), of which Eater critic Ryan Sutton wrote, “Contemplate the artichokes. Lamboglia folds the meaty vegetable into a pudding-like mixture of mascarpone and eggs, pipes it into a long tube of pasta, bends it like Play-Doh and finishes the affair with smoked bacon. It is essentially what lasagna would taste like if it were shaped like a pinwheel and prepared by a chef with a Michelin-star, an accolade that Carmellini is long overdue for.”

Bar Primi took over the old Peels space, which seems appropriate insofar as there was perhaps never a more disappointing restaurant in recent downtown dining history than Peels. The old Curbed office was a few blocks away, so we were there on opening day, savoring the biscuit program, and again soon after when they rolled out a fried chicken sandwich you could carry away in a bag. But over time, the issues accumulated: surly staff, inconsistent food, and, most oddly, the fact that Michael Wolff was sitting at the counter most every morning I went in for coffee.

The upstairs room of Peels, though, was always gorgeous, and it’s basically the same vibe now at Bar Primi, with the bar slightly reconfigured. It’s a great summery room, airy and bright. And it’s got a great chef, obviously; worth noting that on my three-week Monday/Tuesday/Monday run, AC was in the kitchen each time. All of which helps to make Bar Primi the Restaurant of the Summer 2014.

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[Photo by Daniel Krieger/Eater]

But in a twist, Summer 2014 in Manhattan features a second, equally worthy, restaurant of the summer. It’s Claudette, a new restaurant on Lower Fifth Avenue from Carlos Suarez. I’m a regular at Rosemary’s, Suarez’s joint on West 10th. Claudette’s a harder place to be a regular but one hell of a great place for a summer dinner. In a genius move, Suarez ripped off the old greenhouse that extended onto Fifth Avenue and handicapped restaurants like Cru that once occupied this space. Now, with the tall doors thrown open to Fifth Avenue, it’s a totally different place. The menu here is Mediterranean by way of the south of France (get the chicken tagine or fresh fish). All of which helps to make Claudette the Second Restaurant of the Summer 2014.

And now, without further ado, onward to fall.