Thursday, January 26, 2006

hat trick

December 23

One of my bosses (I have at least five bosses, and as many as 11, depending on how you define "boss") was celebrating her birthday today, so we went to Tintol, a new Portuguese tapaslike place near Times Square, where we drank Portuguese red wine from the Douro region and ate blood sausage and anchovies and chorizo grilled at the table and sardines and salt-cod stew and lamb meat balls and beet salad and patatas bravas. And goat.
The night might have evolved into karaoke, but I had to go to a see-and-be-seen party at the soon-to-open Morimoto. This joint venture between Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr and "Iron chef" Masahuru Morimoto is the fulfillment of a promise that Starr made to Morimoto when he cajoled the chef into opening a restaurant in the City of Brotherly Love. Basically, Starr said: Come to Philadelphia now, and I'll help you open a restaurant in New York later on.
It's supposed to be very cool, very fashion-forward Japanese-ish food. I had a string bean in a crispy white-chocolate shell; you be the judge.
The party was thrown by Gourmet magazine in celebration of its 65th anniversary, and pretty much the whole New York restaurant world was there, plus some visitors like Elizabeth Faulkner, who owns two restaurants in San Francisco: Citizen Cake and Citizen Cupcake. Coincidentally, she was in town competing on Iron Chef.
I met Elizabeth in Tulsa, Okla., last year when we both went to a workshop on cooking with gums and modified starches and other things that "molecular gastronomers" use. She said that in her Iron Chef performance she talked about the utility of using xanthan gum and locust bean gum together and that I would be proud of her.
When used together, xanthan and locust bean gum form a very good gel, in case you were wondering.
Name a famous or cool chef in New York, and he or she probably was at the party, except for Don Pintabona, whose restaurant, Dani, was opening that night (more about that in a moment). I chatted briefly with Zak Pelaccio of 5 Ninth and Fatty Crab, Josh DeChellis of Sumile and Jovia, Scott Conant of L'Impero and Alta, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, and others.
One of the things I really like about Dan is that he's an avid reader of NRN.
Notice how many fine dining chefs have at least two restaurants (Blue Hill has two locations).
Jean-Georges Vongerichten was there, and Jonathan Waxman, and Tom Colicchio. Everybody, even Rocco DiSpirito.
I was kind of surprised to see him. Rocco used to be the absolute darling of the chef world. They loved his creativity, and when they came to New York they made pilgrimages to his restaurant, Union Pacific. I knew a chef in Atlanta who named his dog "Rocco" in DiSpirito's honor.
Even ubercynic Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and host of A Cook's Tour, admired him, as he told me back in 2000, just as both of them were about to become quite famous.
I wrote profiles of both of those chefs that year. Soon afterward (and not related in any way to the fact that I wrote about them) Kitchen Confidential became a smash-hit and Rocco became the first chef, I think ever, to appear on the cover of Gourmet.
I remembered who was hosting the party, and then, of course, it made sense that Rocco was there. I said hello, asked him about his new cookbook. He seemed well.
I think it was Rocco DiSpirito's appearance on the cover of Gourmet, biceps bulging as he held a great fish, that was the beginning of the transformation of his career from medium-celebrity chef and restaurant operator to the guy who was declared "sexiest chef alive" by People magazine and then became star of reality TV show The Restaurant.
If you're not in the restaurant industry, you probably don't know how much that show was reviled by restaurant operators. I mean, they hated it. They fumed that it wasn't realistic.
Well, of course it wasn't realistic: It was reality TV.
One thing led to another, Union Pacific closed, and Rocco has gone on to write cookbooks, host radio shows, appear on morning news shows and so on.
Come to think of it, I didn't see Anthony Bourdain at the party, but I came late, and besides, he's not really in the restaurant business anymore, either, and is chef at Les Halles in name only.
I lingered, chatted with Gourmet food editor Ian Knauer, who was a fellow judge with me last year at the Third Annual Celebration of Vegetables (I'm not making that up) at the Culinary Vegetable Institute (that either) in Milan, Ohio. Nice guy.
It was nearly 11 when I left, but I still stopped by Dani, Don Pintabona's new place, to see if things were still afoot.
Theoretically that party ended at 10, but I was still greeted by Don's enthusiastic business partner, Noel Cruz, who handed me a cocktail. I hung out with Dante Boccuzzi, the chef at Aureole, and others. Dante and Don both commute from Long Island, and Dante suggested that I write a feature on chefs who commute.
I told him I'd think about it.

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