Back row, left to right: Ed Brown, Gabrielle Hamilton, Mitchell Davis, Gavin Kaysen, Andrew Zimmern.
Front row, left to right: Ed Levine, Michael White, Doug Psaltis
Eight prominent New York foodies
James Beard House, Manhattan
April 1, 2009
Topic Du Jour:
The New York food scene
Watch the Roudtable Discussion
SkyTV | Episode 1: Momofuku Ko
SkyTV | Episode 2: Iconic Restaurants
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods
on The Travel Channel
Ed Levine, seriouseats.com
Doug Psaltis, executive chef, Smith’s
Michael White, chef, Alto, Convivio
Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner Prune
Ed Brown, chef/owner, eighty one
Gavin Kaysen, chef de cuisine, Café Boulud
Mitchell Davis, vice president, The James Beard Foundation
Everyone’s talked about the recession so far. Is this a good thing for people making a pilgrimage to New York? Could it help drive more people to come here and eat out and check out more things?
Sure, in certain ways, yes. When serious eaters come to New York now, they’re always going to have great ethnic and funky food, and that’s unchanged. That gorgeous mosaic, as one of our former mayors called it, is just constantly expanding. But from a fine-dining perspective, there are bargains to be had. I think prices are going down on food cost, as some of the folks here can tell you, but also prices on menus. So there is an opportunity.
Now does that mean that it doesn’t cause every one of the people at this table to sweat, including someone who’s the publisher of a food website? Absolutely, but there’s no doubt that there is more seriously delicious food available at this moment than there’s ever been, just in terms of affordability. Now, everything is relative, right? Caviar still costs what caviar costs. White truffles still cost what white truffles cost and all that stuff. But you have more choices that you’ve ever had, you know, in terms of getting a great meal for $50 to $75 a person.
Not only that, but for reservations . . . the iPhone put in an application for Open Table, and in one month it became 1 percent of their business. It’s insane.
is northern Italian, very wine driven, we have 2,600 selections. It’s obviously a lot more difficult to weather the storm. But we have lots of loyal customers here for lunch and/or dinner two to three times a week even though we’re in Midtown. People often ask me, “How are you weathering the storm?” And I think it’s by providing value –it’s an expensive restaurant, but we also give a lot of value.
Are chefs in this town to a large degree slaves to one equation, to the balance between their art–and what they want to create–and having to keep their doors open? I think that’s why all those menus have roast chicken and salad, a grilled piece of salmon, the roasted pork tenderloin. Is the beauty of New York that we can have both here?
Well, it’s a great question– it’s an easy question, and it’s a complicated answer. You guys are the practitioners, but I always liken it to Broadway. Everyone comes to New York and thinks they’re going to see the most cutting edge show they could ever see on Broadway, because Broadway is where it’s at. And you get here, and you’re like, “It’s another old musical from 1955,” and people are a little stunned that something more interesting isn’t happening on Broadway. I feel like for restaurants to do business in New York City is hard. I mean, yes, you have the adulation of fans and a lot of people who take food very seriously and appreciate their chefs in a way that I don’t think they do everywhere else, but you also have the highest rents and the highest food costs and the most difficult hours of any restaurant city in America, I believe that wholeheartedly.
In New York, there’s tremendous competition, and the scene is so vibrant, and there are so many good cooks. What people come to New York craving is authenticity and honesty. So that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it in every restaurant in every dish. My whole thing as a writer since I started was I’m going to tell people where all the honest food is.
Ed, you’ve been cooking in this town longer than anybody else at this table, so how has that changed for you?
We are the infants in food culture. But we think we’re like this established culture. In fact, people use the term “modern American.” Versus what? Versus ancient American? I think that while this time sucks, especially for a guy like me who finally goes out on his own, you know, economically, those left standing are going to grow tremendously, because we’re all forced to be better, leaner, stronger. Somebody used the word honest, honest about whatever you are, clean, straightforward.
What are some New York restaurants that have stood the test of time, either because of their icon status or their ability to continue to reinvent. If you have family–the grandparents–are coming in from wherever–where do you take them?
MD: Tavern on the Green.
Well, starting at the super high end, from my own experience recently, Daniel NYC
– it’s just an absolute super meal, superior service, superior everything, every possible detail. You couldn’t go wrong.
It’s the quintessential New York restaurant.
The best chicken, cooked the best way, every time. And then outside of that maybe take them to a steak house–I’m very controversial about where my steaks are. I sill think that one of the best steaks in the city, just a steak and nothing else, is a Luger’s.
New York for me is–I love Barney Greengrass.
For what it is, it’s fantastic.
And for what it costs.
A quintessential New York experience. I once wrote that they figured out how to simultaneously slide you the food as they walk away from the table. That’s really hard to do.
Where you would take someone who’s visiting is a different question from where would you go eat. It’s so different, which is another thing that makes New York so vibrant in restaurants, because people are coming here from all over and want that experience, but also people live here and want another one.
If you want one experience where you aren’t in a crowded environment, I might send somebody to Gramercy Tavern
because of the level of civility that you’re going to experience, without pretense. The tables are well spaced, and you can have a conversation. As I get older, I really treasure being able to talk to the people I’m having dinner with. And it’s not particularly old–10 years, but I regard it as iconic in a certain way. I took Nate Appleman from A16
in San Francisco, and he had the ham sandwich, you know, and it’s just a great ham sandwich.
The people who are coming here now are not unsophisticated at all. Everyone’s getting the whole local stuff, so I would take them for a drink at Angel’s Share.
They make such incredible, well-made cocktails.
One place just came to mind, because we’re all talking about in Manhattan. I finally got out to Franny’s
for the first time.
Franny’s is really good, and not only that, if you’re heading to Brooklyn for a pizza, you might as well go to Lucali
I’m going to say something controversial just because I want to. Somewhere I would go, and it depends, of course, on who’s asking–I think you can’t answer this question unless you know who’s asking– I’m going to say the Four Seasons,
if you order the oysters and steak tartare. It is the first American restaurant. It created this idea that we all live in now, that there could be a glamorous, powerful, moneyed American restaurant that you couldn’t compare to a French restaurant or to an Italian restaurant or to a Chinese restaurant, and it was iconic. I mean, it’s even in a skyscraper, which I love, and it feels like a bank, which I love, and I walk in there and I want to own every piece they have, like everything that’s been designed.
So what are some new trends?
Obviously, there’s been pizza in New York since Lombardi’s
, and I know a little bit about New York pizza. But I think the sea change in pizza, which started about five or seven years ago, when Anthony Mangieri opened Una Pizza Napoletana,
is that they took pizza seriously. And it was more than just a slice–a convenience food that New Yorkers especially have come to count on. We all love eating a slice. It’s a great mobile lunch. But what’s happened to pizza in the last few years in New York is amazing. And it’s not just happening in New York, right, it’s happening in Minneapolis, it’s happening in St. Louis, it’s happening in San Francisco. But the point is it’s good pizza made by people who care and who want to do right by that. In New York, an amazing number of pizzerias have opened, even in the last year. The other trend I was thinking of was the fish shack, and that probably did start with Rebecca Charles in New York. No, obviously, there were fish shacks in Maine.
Also, Jasper White has done that.
Right, but Jasper White opened Summer Shack
after (Rebecca Charles’s) Pearl [Oyster Bar].
What she did is really what all of you guys are talking about, right? She had worked for Anne Rosenzweig and a bunch of really talented people in New York, and then she said I’m going to server lobster rolls and chowder and do whatever.
Every line cook at some point is like, “I’m just going to open a taco truck.” And how many people do it?
It’s happening. It’s happening now to a degree that is staggering. If I can extend your pizza metaphor, because now I get the point you’re making–it’s not pizza. The big trend that you see, if I can put words in your mouth, is that there’s been a liberalizing, a freedom that has been granted for a variety of reasons, to take, a fish shack, a taco truck, a pizza joint, whatever your background or skill level is, and devote yourself to one thing and do it well. I was just a Pizzeria Bianco
in Phoenix two weeks ago, and what amazed me most about it wasn’t the quality of the food, which blew me away; it’s that Chris Bianco still has this passion and drive and joy.
In Minneapolis-St.Paul, we now have in one of the local parks our second sort of fish shack, a place to go and get fries and fried fish and fried clams, because people in our neck of the woods love a walleye sandwich or shore lunch–as historically relevant as any dish in the Midwest–and as long as that’s on the menu, it’s a safe harbor.
A taqueria is in the whole thing. Now it’s like people opening taquerias–you don’t have to go and work for a Mexican restaurant, you don’t have to go off to Mexico.
Mitchell, what do you think? Give me a trend.
Well, picking up on what everybody said, the trend is young cooks who after some training are realizing they’re really not doing what they want to do and are opening places like momofuku ko.
It’s the idea that you can do what you want and possibly be nice to your customers or possibly not be nice to your customers, however you choose, and try to make a go of it. It is a really exciting development in restaurant. I mean, Paul Bocuse as the one who said the most exciting thing to come out of nouvelle cuisine was that suddenly the chef’s name was on the door. That’s what accounts for Brooklyn, which is a borough of really interesting restaurants run by young people who are interested in cooking good things and finding their speed.
Who’s the New York chef you most admire right now? Tell me the fist name that comes to mind.
That’s really hard. There are a lot that I really admire.
Gabriel Kreuther [The Modern
]? In that environment, he doesn’t pull it back, and it’s full on. It’s not necessarily polite.
I’m going to say Daniel–this is a town of amazing cooks, and many of them are at this table–but I feel like what he has done, he’s given a ton to New York.
His crazy generosity, the fact that he can’t even open a casual restaurant when he tries. He never holds back.
Before anybody else mentioned it, I had the same answer: Daniel, for the same reason. He was the first serious chef that I met in New York just in general. And I met him through Alex Lee, who was one of my squash partners. And one day Alex said, “Would you take Daniel on a New York eats tour?” I took him to Russ & Daughters
–but at every stop, his passion and appreciation and acknowledgement of what all of those people were doing was really mind-boggling to me.
Last question. You are away from New York for one month and you come back, what’s the first thing you have to eat?
Where do you go for dim sum? If I said let’s go somewhere right now, where do you take me?
I would go to East Ocean Palace
I would also say–I would also say probably Russ & Daughters.
Sushi. I’m spending a month and a half in Italy every summer, so I get back and I want something Asian.
Where do you go? Who has the killer sushi?
I go to 15 East
I probably would come back and just have that American steakhouse experience at Peter Luger
–steak, hash browns, creamed spinach. No broccoli.
Watch the Roudtable Discussion
SkyTV | Episode 1: Momofuku Ko
SkyTV | Episode 2: Iconic Restaurants
If you go:
15 East, 15 E. 15th St., 212-647-0015
A16, 2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, 415-771-2216
Alto, 11 E. 53rd St., New York, 212-308-1099
Angel’s Share, 8 Stuyvesant St., New York, 212-777-5415
Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave., New York, 212-724-4707
Café Boulud, 20 E. 76th St., New York, 212-772-2600
Daniel, 60 E. 65th St., New York, 212-288-0033
East Ocean Palace, 11315 Queens Blvd., Flushing, 718-268-1668
eighty one, 45 W. 81 St., New York, 212-873-8181
Four Seasons Hotel New York, 57 E. 57th St., New York, 212-758-5700
Franny’s, 295 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, 718-230-0221
Gramercy Tavern, 42 E. 20th St., New York, 212-477-0777
Lombardi’s, 32 Spring St., New York, 212-941-7994
Lucali, 575 Henry St., Brooklyn, 718-858-4086
The Modern, 9 W. 53rd St., New York, 212-333-1220
momofuku ko, 163 1st Ave., New York
Smith’s, 79 MacDougal St., New York, 212-260-0100
Pearl Oyster Bar, 18 Cornelia St., New York, 212-691-8211
Peter Luger Steakhouse, 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-387-7400
Pizzeria Bianco, 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-258-8300
Prune, 54 E. 1st St., New York, 212-677-6221
Russ & Daughters, 179 E. Houston St., New York, 212-475-4880
Summer Shack, 149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, 617-520-9500
Tavern on the Green, W. 67th St., New York, 212-873-3200
Una Pizza Napoletana, 349 E. 12th St., New York, 212-477-9950