What’s the plural for Batterberry? If it were a type of berry, obviously it would be Batterberries, but Michael and Ariane Batterberry are people. Indeed, they are probably the prince and princess of the New York food writing world. The archduke and archduchess at the very least. They founded Food & Wine magazine many years ago, and then founded Food Arts, where Michael is still editor-in-chief. They are gracious, warm-hearted, charming people who despite their long stint on the dining scene seem still to approach each meal with an open mind and curiosity.
I don’t see the Batterberrys all that often, but this week I dined with them, twice.
The first dinner was on Tuesday, at Sandro's, the Upper East Side Italian restaurant of Sandro Fioriti. He was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his arrival in New York.
You don't hear much about Sandro these days, but he is very much loved and appreciated by New York’s gastroscenti, for his full-figured jocularity almost as much as for his food.
It was before my time, but I’m told that Sandro introduced Roman cuisine to New York when he landed here in 1984 and opened his first restaurant, with the help of Tony May, the father, or maybe the uncle, of Italian fine dining in New York.
Since then Sandro has moved around a lot. He is famously as peripatetic as John Tesar, perhaps even more so, donning a toque, imbuing a restaurant with aromatic Roman goodness and then mysteriously doffing his toque and vanishing into the night, or to the Hamptons, or St. Martin.
He has stayed at his current restaurant for nearly two years, since he opened it in autumn of 2007.
A-List people came to the celebratory dinner, including former New York Magazine critic Gael Greene, former New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, and the Batterberrys.
Tony May came, too. Incidentally, his new restaurant, SD-26, the Madison Square Park incarnaton of his recently shuttered flagship, San Domenico NY, is scheduled to open on September 9.
Sandro's food is still old-school Roman — fried artichokes, a light spring vegetable stew, batter-fried cuttlefish that reminded me of how pedestrian most calamari is by comparison, hunks of roasted veal in ragù.
Then the next night, I was at the James Beard house, eating the savory food of Ben Pollinger and the desserts of Jansen Chan of Oceana.
Oceana, too, is leaving its current location on E. 54th — the lease expires next month. It’s moving to the McGraw Hill Building (49th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, right near Del Frisco's), where it, too, is planning to open in September. The Beard House dinner was intended as a preview of what they were planning on doing at the new restaurant, which will be a bit more laid back than the current Oceana.
At Sandro's the Batterberrys and I had talked about Ben and what a fine chap he is, but for some reason I still hadn’t expected to see them at the Beard House last night. In fact, I hadn't expected to see anyone that night that I’d seen the night before, so (this is quite embarrassing), I wore the same necktie two days in a row.
What can I say? It’s my Sovereign Beck “bloom” tie, and it’s really very sharp.
Back when business attire was required in NRN’s offices, just a few months ago, I never would have worn the same tie two days in a row. I wouldn’t have worn the same tie twice in the same week. But now that our dress code has changed and I don’t wear ties that often, I have become lax.
Anyway, if the Batterberrys noticed I was wearing the same tie (different shirt, of course, I mean, come on) they didn’t say anything. They wouldn’t say anything, of course, because they’re not bad-natured jerks.
I had a good chat with Jim Poris, another Food Arts editor, who sat to my left (he scooted down when the Batterberries arrived so they could sit down more easily) and talked a bit with Nick Livanos, who owns Oceana (and Molyvos and Abboccato and a number of places in the suburbs) and was seated to my right. I made Nick laugh with my conversation with two Italians at the table, one from Florence and one from Milan. I told the Florentine what I think of Florence, which is that I understand why so many famous sculptors come from there, because Florentines are so beautiful that you want to sculpt them. I told her about one of the most flattering moments in my life: I was in Florence, strolling along the Arno River in clothing I had just bought, and some guy walked up to me and asked me directions, as though I actually looked like a local.
I loved that. Too bad I had to tell him “No Parlo Italiano.”
I told the Florentine with whom I was dining at the Beard House that I was Jewish and that I always thought that Jews looked like Italians’ ugly cousins.
That’s when Nick laughed.
What I ate and drank at the Beard House:
Razor Clams with Citrus and Yuzu
House-Salted Cod Tempura
Smoked Trout with Cherry Raita
Monkfish and Shiitake Spring Rolls
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
Fluke sashimi with rhubarb and cucumber (the rhubarb and cucumber were a broth with just a whisper of tarragon in it)
Raymond Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Braised Widow’s Hole oysters with chanterelles and ramps
Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco 2007
Wild Alaskan coho salmon burgers (served with potato chips tossed in fines herbes, something I’d never seen before)
Cloudline Pinot Noir 2007
Whole-roasted wild striped bass stuffed with arugula, olive, tomato, and Swiss chard
Joseph Drouhin Véro Pinot Noir 2006
Lychee and raspberry salad with buttermilk sorbet
Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Asti NV DOCG
A plate of doughnuts (which Ariane declared were the best doughnuts ever, ever).